How to Prepare a Budget for Your Nonprofit Organization

Developing a sound budget that provides the Board and Executive team the key information for Planned (based on the budget prepared at the beginning of the year) vs. Actual (what is actually spent per category on a weekly or monthly basis) is critical to the success of a nonprofit.  Grantspace, a service of Foundation Center, provides an excellent collection of information and tools for nonprofit budgeting.

Project Budget

All budgets have two common elements: your estimate of the true costs of the project and your anticipated income to meet those costs. Your expenses will be direct costs—any personnel and non-personnel costs that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t have the project–and indirect or hidden costs, also known as administrative costs or overhead. Your income consists of any grants or contributions plus any earned income earmarked for the project, such as ticket sales or fees for services.

Some different approaches to budgeting:

  • Income-based budgets first determine how much income you realistically think you can count on and then include expenses that can be covered by that amount.
  • Incremental budgets are a percentage increase or decrease of an existing budget.
  • Zero-based budgets start at the very beginning, examining priorities and testing all assumptions about where money will come from and how it will be spent.

Remember a budget describes your project in numbers just as your proposal describes it in words. To create an effective budget, make sure you know your project thoroughly. Many funders will look at the budget component of your proposal before they read anything else.

Other basic nonprofit budgets:

  • Organization-wide operating budgets: For small nonprofits with just one program, the proposal budget and organizational budget might be the same. For larger nonprofits, an organization-wide operating budget accounts for everything the nonprofit spends to carry out, evaluate and administer all its programs and activities.
  • Capital Budgets: Used for construction and other big, one-time spending projects that often take more than a fiscal year to pay for.
  • Cash Flow Budgets (Cash Flow Forecasts): An essential planning schedule that tracks when money is expected to come in and go out.
  • Opportunity Budgets: An expansion planning tool that can be used whenever extra funding becomes available.

As you can see, budgeting is a process. Here is a checklist to help you get started.

Listed below are websites where we’ve found samples and instructions on creating a nonprofit budget.

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