Budgeting collaborative projects, like H2020, is never an easy task. Since each partner’s budget proposal needs to be reviewed, negotiated, discussed, refined, and approved (with budget change requests) within the time constraints, the larger and more complex the project is, the more difficult it can be to manage this process. Though it can be tough to arrive at a final, agreed upon budget, there are many things you can do to make the whole process and its management easier for yourself and your partners.
Meanwhile budget planning is one of the most crucial stages of your project proposal’s development. Your budget is the prediction of expenses and the breakdown of costs that demonstrates the required resources for the proposed project, and serves as a plan for funders to know how the organization will operate the project and spend money in every project phase.
Essentially, the requested grant amount for any grant application, including H2020, is the bottom line of any grant application.
So how can your proposal and grant application get a desirable outcome, given that it must present the justifications for the cost estimates required for the successful operation of the project?
Strategic planning will allow you to use your team to use your budget plan as a baseline for measuring the performance of your project. This check on how the project is progressing begins as you collect the actual costs once the project starts.
Best practices and top consideration for creating a successful collaborative project budget
Understand the expectations of H2020 and/or project evaluators
What to ask yourself:
- What expectations need to be met?
- What does the project and the participants need to do to meet these expectations?
- How can we prove that we can use the proposed budget to accomplish the goals of our collaborative (H2020) project?
Prior to starting the budget plan it’s important to ask yourself the questions above. A strong budget will seek to meet the expectations of its evaluators and prove that the budget and its funding is in line with the project objectives and goals. A good budget proves that you’d be able to effectively and efficiently manage funding to successfully accomplish project goals. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate to funders that you’ll be able to stay on target and follow through with your objectives; basically that your project is worthy of their support. The best way to do this is to make sure that costs are reasonable, transparent, allowable, and related to the research proposal.
Start the budget planning process by examining and considering your project activities and their costs
What to ask yourself:
- What are the costs of the project activities?
It can be difficult to switch between goals and objectives to activities, but once the project outline is clear, planning the budget will become easier. One of the easiest and most logical ways to plan a budget for your proposal is to start attaching costs to your project activities. This is why this vital step is presented at the end of the main application section 3.4 in H2020 grant applications.
Choose the right tool to prepare, modify, and manage your budget.
What to ask yourself:
- What are the pros and cons of the tool I’m using?
- Is it reliable?
- Can it handle the workload?
- Is it secure enough to meet security requirements?
Tools like Excel are extremely useful, but consider switching to more powerful and advanced tools to get your budget to the submission stage as efficiently as possible. Some of the downsides of tools like Excel are that it can’t handle issues with consistency, it can overload from having too many versions from different partners, the data isn’t displayed in real-time, and it's not secure.
3 easy steps to your perfect project proposal budget
Use the powerful budgeting tool EMDESK to efficiently design and budget projects of any scale and complexity. EMDESK provides a singular platform where all your team members and partners can prepare and manage the budget based on your work plans. One of the biggest benefits of EMDESK is that during the consistent process of budgeting, the latest data along with any and all changes are instantly visible and trackable for everyone. Sums and funding are calculated automatically, so you can focus on the budget itself.
Step 1: Eliminate redundant communication
Streamline the collaborative budgeting process by using a singular central platform like EMDESK; which offers real-time partners’ budget views. Stop the endless cycle of emails with new document attachments by taking advantage of EMDESK’s real-time budget views that can be easily edited and shared with others.
Step 2: Use H2020 templates that consider all H2020 guidelines and requirements
Stop creating your budget from blank sheets and worrying about meeting all the EU regulations. It’s easy to make sure the budget is being done correctly from the very beginning using EMDESK’s H2020 templates. EMDESK templates have been created to consider H2020 guidelines and requirements: applying rules, organizing the budget into the right categories, and applying the right indirect cost rates & funding calculations.
Step 3: Refine the budget using customizable personnel cost rates or cost categories
Start by estimating the efforts and costs your participants are accountable for, including personnel costs, then allocate them to the required activities as planned in your project schedule. Go further and refine the budget using customizable personnel cost rates or cost categories on EMDESK. Benefit from being able to organize finances into cost categories with different overhead and funding rates. EMDESK auto-calculates them depending on the cost rate you choose. Easily get the latest information about your budget in one click using custom views, filters, and tags to analyse and fine-tune your resources.
Since it’s difficult to estimate the size and cost of a project, proposal budgets can change over time. EMDESK allows for flexibility and budget changes, assuring that different budget versions are safely stored and versionized, so you can go back to previous budget versions anytime to update and adjust them according to a new strategy.
Budget proposal example
Further we illustrate a proposal budget example in EMDESK tool, which is based on the work plan created in EMDESK tool as well.
For each Work Package (WP), you can easily define in EMDESK which participant would be incurring what cost. In this example, for WP 1 our consortium proposes a total price of € 290,910.00. The table below provides an overview and breakdown of this budget amongst participants and cost categories, as well as shows the share of indirect and direct costs.
Costs categories overview
You can easily get a separate overview of personnel, travel, equipment, or other costs by setting the required filter in the “Cost Category” tab. Here’s the example of the overview of personnel costs for WP 1. Remember, when you apply a filter in the “Cost Category” tab - you will get an overview only of a certain cost category, not the overall cost of the WP. Thus, in this table € 140,085.00 refers to the overall personnel costs for WP 1.
If you want to get an overview of, let’s say, personnel costs across all your WPs - make sure you don’t have any filters in the “Activity” tab. Here’s the example of the overview of personnel costs for all WPs, to which personnel costs were allocated. As we can see from the table below, in our proposal budget example personnel costs were allocated to WP 1, WP 4, and WP 7, and constitute € 476,585.00 of the whole budget.
Make sure you record all costs, also the ones that don’t fit neatly into any of the general categories, like personnel, travel, or equipment. Below is the example of the other costs for WP 1. To provide more information about these costs, we’ve added into our table the “Description” tab (there are also other tabs you can add into the table and easily customize your budget overview). So, the listed cost of €102,000.00 in our example refers to conducting a survey, as well as purchasing a software, lab materials, and laptops. Making such clarifications works well for the budget transparency.
Note, if your proposal needs other parties to complete the work, you also need to include subcontracting costs. In the example below, the table lists € 30,000.00 of subcontracting costs for WP 1, showing the participant they will be connected with (in this case participant 6) and what the cost is for (which cost categories). Subcontracting costs usually include things like survey agency payments, external consultancy fees, any fees related to contractors using special materials, such as lab materials, etc.
Personnel costs calculation
As personnel costs usually make up the main part of a budget proposal and are very often the most common field for potential errors, here’s the example of personnel cost calculation using EMDESK budgeting tool.
In EMDESK you can specify cost rates by each person, team, or the whole organization. In the picture below you see how we’ve specified cost rates for teams working for Participant 3 - Steinplatte Innovation GmbH. We used Person Month (PM) as the unit of measurement (other options - Person Day and Person Hour) and set the salaries for each team. According to this data, EMDESK will automatically calculate personnel costs for Participant 3.
Dos and don'ts to create a winning budget proposal
- Precisely estimate the budget. This approach is the best way to win a grant.
- Adequately justify the budget. This will multiply chances of winning a grant.
- Start budgeting by estimating staff costs, as they often constitute the biggest share of a H2020 proposal budget.
- Stay transparent about why you need that specific amount for your budget to support your project.
- Consider using a bottom-up approach when planning your budget. This approach results in a more accurate and realistic H2020 budget description. Despite requiring more effort from all the partners involved, it will allow you to accurately define the role of each partner and help H2020 evaluators to get a clear image of the division of work and efforts for the project’s work plan.
- Overestimate; while overestimating by a small percentage may be a good way to deal with budget variations that may occur during the project (e.g. inflation or currency fluctuations), overestimating by too much reduces a project’s value.
- Underestimate, as it may compromise your ability to deliver research. This will also be picked up by H2020 evaluators.
- Neglect using a budget proposal template as a guide or reference.
- Spend too much time and effort on redundant communication with your team members and partners. Solve this issue by starting the budgeting process together using real-time ENDESK budgeting solutions.