Key Actions by:

Standard 3: Accurate and cost-efficient proposal budgeting.

Develop an accurate and cost-efficient proposal budget including a budget narrative based on project activities and timeline, and in accordance with CRS policies and donor requirements.

Work with partners to develop detailed budgets and budget narratives in line with the project activities schedule and staffing plan, and adjust as needed.

  • Why

    Partner budgets are an important part of a CRS project budget, given partners’ role in implementing many field-level activities. CRS accompaniment of partners as they develop their budgets:

    • Helps the partner to create a budget that is realistic, complete and meets CRS and any donor requirements.
    • Ensures a shared CRS and partner understanding of the costs involved in implementing and managing the project.
    • Ensures that CRS and partner budgets “tell the same story.”
  • How

    This key action contributes to the following ProPack I “standards of quality”:

    • The budget and budget notes are congruent and “tell the same story.”
    • Technical and finance staff and stakeholders work in tandem on the activities schedule and budget drafts.

    Follow these steps to work with partners to develop and finalize accurate, detailed partner budgets and budget narratives:

    1. Prior to starting the budget development process with partners, the proposal coordinator, technical lead, and decision-maker (the latter as needed, e.g. for particularly challenging partnership issues) work with the budget lead to confirm that CRS and partners have the necessary information and understanding to work together effectively to develop the partner budget. This may include:
    • Updating or confirming the partner’s projected budget ceiling. Though CRS should have provided each partner with a preliminary figure at the beginning of the proposal development process (see Standard 3, key action 1 for guidance), subsequent project design discussions and initial budget development may have led to refinements in the project scope, scale, timing, and individual partner roles and responsibilities, which in turn may have affected projected budget breakdowns.
    • Confirming that partner leadership is comfortable with the preliminary project activities schedule and the partner’s responsibilities within that schedule (remember that the activities schedule is a key input for project budget development).
    • Reviewing any partner capacity assessments and action plans completed as part of project design (see Standard 1, key action 2), or other assessments which include information relevant for budgeting project-specific partner capacity strengthening.
    • Confirming the approach for partner budget development (see “Tips” in box below).

    Tips for budgeting with partners: Budgeting can be a sensitive issue and may require an individualized approach with each partner. The CRS proposal development team must promote an appropriate balance between clarity and transparency with respect to each partner’s programmatic and geographic project scope, and efficiency and sensitivity in the process of developing partner budgets. Developing the project Proframe, identifying and scheduling major activities, and, as possible, defining the major unit costs and cost drivers are all important steps to complete in a participatory process with all partners present. Detailed partner budget development may need to be done separately with each partner. Discuss the most appropriate approach as a proposal development team.

    1. The budget lead adapts (as needed) and shares budgeting guidelines, formats, and templates (developed under Standard 3, key action 2) to assist partners with developing their own detailed budgets and budget notes. These should include any unit cost guidance for activities or costs that will be presented in both partner and CRS budgets.

    Pay close attention to proper partner budgeting for project transitions: As highlighted in ProPack I, ensure partners have the information they need to properly budget for project transitions, including start-up and close-out (see Standard 2, key action 3 for more guidance on start-up, scale-up, and close-out planning and activity scheduling). An accurate understanding of the timeframe for project transitions and the level of effort involved in managing these transitions will greatly reduce project management headaches and help with realistic and accurate resource planning at CRS and partner levels.

    1. The budget lead, in conjunction with appropriate members of the proposal development team (e.g., proposal technical lead, any sectoral leads, proposal MEAL lead, and the FM or HoOps), meets with the partner(s) to construct or support refining of partner budgets.
    • CRS-partner budget development may take place as part of an “activities schedule and budget workshop” as outlined in ProPack I, or through a series of joint and individual partner workshops and meetings, once CRS and partners have developed the overall activities schedule.
    • Whatever the approach to developing individual partner budgets, make sure both programming and operations staff, especially finance, jointly review the activities schedule and develop the budget and budget narrative.
    1. The budget lead reviews each draft partner budget for realism and completeness on its own, and for coherence in relation to the draft budgets of CRS and any other partners. Pay special attention to:
    1. The budget lead, with support as needed from other CRS staff, accompanies partners to revise their budget and budget narrative if required.
    • Realignment may be necessary if a partner’s first budget is too high or too low.
    • Realignment also may be necessary due to project design refinements, such as in geographic coverage or type or scope of activities.
    • Realignment can be a capacity-building opportunity. Consider providing written feedback on changes needed (and include this written feedback in the proposal handover file). This documentation is also useful for understanding the rationale for project budget decisions later in the design or start-up/implementation process.
    1. The budget lead incorporates partner budgets and budget narratives into the master budget files and sends to the proposal coordinator for circulation for review.
    2. The budget lead ensures partners make changes based on any feedback from regional review.

    Who prepares partner budget narratives? CRS should provide partners with a template and a model for how they should prepare budget notes for the donor/funding opportunity. However, there may not be time to have the partners develop well-edited budget notes, particularly for partners with less experience with donor expectations and requirements for budget narratives. For a complex proposal, a CRS proposal development team member (e.g., the budget lead or budget narrative writer) can review, edit, and finalize partner budget notes.

    1. The proposal coordinator ensures partners receive the final version of their budget and budget narrative as submitted to the donor.