Proposal Preparation

Institutional Requirements

 All grant proposals that designate the College as the recipient of sponsored project funding are subject to an internal, presubmission review and must receive written approval from the department chair, the director of faculty grants, the budget director, and the dean of the faculty. Some proposals may require additional administrative review depending on the nature of the project. Examples of proposals requiring advance approval are those involving: 

  • Signature of an institutional representative

  • Matching funds and/or institutional cost-sharing

  • Federal and/or state assurances of compliance

  • Institutional nominations

  • Indirect costs

  • Collaborative efforts with other institutions

  • Animal or human subjects research

  • Contracts or subcontracts

  • Foundation or corporate support

 The two-page form for review and approval of external grant applications, called the Transmittal Form, should be completed and circulated with the proposal well in advance of the submission deadline.

Transmittal Form as a fillable Word document
Transmittal Form as a fillable PDF document

Fellowships: Fellowships for research differ from grants in that they are usually paid directly to the applicant, not to the institution, and often provide only personal expenses such as stipend, travel, and some research expenses. Nevertheless, some fellowship awards—for example, NEH Fellowships—require that the recipient devote full time to research during the award’s tenure. In any case where a fellowship will require the faculty member’s absence from, or reduction of, teaching and administrative duties during the academic year, the department chair’s and the dean of the faculty’s approval must be obtained at the time of the application. Whenever possible, faculty members should adhere to the College’s schedule for notice of intended leave, that is, by September 10 of the academic year preceding the leave. In order to facilitate internal and external publicity and accurate recordkeeping, please inform the director of faculty grants of all fellowship applications and outcomes.

Preproposals and Letters of Intent: Some funding programs may require the submission of a preproposal as a means of managing grant competitions with large numbers of applications. If you plan to apply to such a grants program, you should treat the preproposal with the same care that you would a full proposal: the budget should be as accurate as possible and all approvals must be obtained. A letter of intent is also used by some funding agencies to gauge expected submissions; in most cases, the letter is not an instrument in the selection process. Contact the Faculty Grants Office if a letter of intent is required.

Obtaining Approvals: For both grants proposals and fellowship applications, substantial advance planning is essential. The faculty member should notify the Grants Office of the planned proposal as soon as possible, to determine the kinds of assistance the office can provide and to obtain or confirm specific items of information. It is recommended that a draft proposal be submitted to the director of faculty grants at least two weeks before the deadline date to ensure adequate time to obtain the necessary approvals. The dean of the faculty requires that all external grants proposals be submitted for his review not less than one week before the mailing or submission deadline.

The Faculty Grants Office maintains a copy of each submitted proposal or application, budget information, and significant correspondence with the granting agency. When an application is submitted, one copy of the entire proposal must be sent to the Grants Office. The grants director will send a copy of the cover sheet and budget pages to the Business Office.

It is also important to keep the Faculty Grants Office up to date on the status and outcome of all grant proposals, both for tracking purposes and for identification of checks and award letters that come to the President’s Office.


Online Proposals

Although many funding agencies continue to require that proposals be submitted on paper in multiple copies, an increasing number are now requiring that proposals be filed electronically. Online submission can make proposal preparation much more streamlined and efficient, but it does not supersede the College’s institutional approval requirements. In other words, even if the technology permits the principal investigator to complete, upload, and send the proposal completely independently, he or she should not do so until the project has received institutional approval.

Federal funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are moving proposal submissions from paper copies to the online Grants.gov system. The National Science Foundation (NSF) continues to use its FastLane system, as well as Grants.gov. Faculty members who plan to submit proposals to federal funding agencies should contact the director of faculty grants well in advance of any deadline, to ensure that the necessary accounts and permissions have been set up. Proposals are submitted only by the director faculty grants and only upon completion of the institutional approval process described above.


Proposal Writing

Grant proposals for research or project funding may differ widely, but in order to be successful they must answer a core set of questions: What question/problem/topic do you intend to investigate and why is it important? What do you expect to find/prove and how do you intend to go about it? How will you measure progress or impact? And what qualifications and accomplishments make you the right person for this project? In addition, a successful proposal must be well suited to the funder’s program guidelines and must include workplans and budget requests that are realistic.

Some important points to keep in mind:

  • Start early – Allow plenty of time to discuss your ideas with colleagues and others outside your discipline even before you start to write. These discussions may help refine your argument and methodology and may bring related research to your attention. If possible, complete a first draft with enough spare time to share the text with critical readers.

  • Read the guidelines carefully and follow all directions – This includes requirements about length, format, and even type sizes and page margins. These may seem trivial but they are not: some federal funders will not even review a proposal, however meritorious, if it does not meet these practical requirements.

  • Proofread – Errors in grammar and spelling make a bad impression on busy reviewers.

  • Don’t be discouraged – Preparing grant applications is challenging and time-consuming, and it is always a disappointment when the answer is negative. Many grants competitions have very high applicant-to-grant ratios, but success is still possible. Federal funding agencies such as NSF and NIH will provide reviewers’ comments to unsuccessful applicants and often encourage resubmission. Keep looking around: A proposal that is turned down by one funder may be adapted for submission to another.

Web sites with tips about proposal writing:

Books in the Faculty Grants Office (and may be borrowed):

  • Effective Writing Strategies for Engineers and Scientists by Woolston, Robinson, and Kutzbach
  • Guidelines for Preparing Proposals by Roy Meador
  • Getting a Grant in the 1990s: How to Write Successful Grant Proposals by Robert Lefferts
  • From Idea to Funded Project by Jane C. Belcher and Julia M. Jacobsen
  • The Grants World Inside Out by Robert A. Lucas
  • The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing by Jane C. Geever and Patricia McNeil
  • Total Proposal Building by Richard Steiner


Information for Budget Preparation

Cost-sharing and matching: Both cost-sharing and matching refer to a financial commitment on the part of the College. Cost-sharing refers to the reallocation of already budgeted resources from the department or College to support part of the costs of a sponsored project. Sponsors usually indicate what kinds of contributions are eligible for cost-sharing. Cost-sharing may be mandatory or voluntary. Mandatory cost-sharing is that which is required by the sponsor in order for the proposal to be eligible for funding. Matching occurs when the College agrees to allocate new funds beyond those provided by the sponsor to support a project. The ratio of the match is usually set by the sponsor. Any cost-sharing in a proposal requires the approval of the budget director, the dean of the faculty, and, in the case of matching funds, the vice president for development.

Facilities & administration costs (F&A, or Indirect costs): Federal regulations (OMB Circular A-21) define cost principles for educational institutions. Facilities and administrative costs are defined as those “that are incurred for common or joint objectives and, therefore, cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity.” Facilities covers such College costs as depreciation and use allowances, interest on certain debt, equipment and capital improvements, operation and maintenance expenses, and library expenses. Administration is defined as general administration and general expenses, departmental administration, sponsored projects administration, student administration and services, etc.

F&A rates for most federal grant requests are set every three years, in negotiation between the College’s Budget Office and federal auditors from Region I of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The current rate, in effect from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2010, is 67 percent of salaries and wages. For research projects that take place off-campus, the rate is 30.9 percent of salaries and wages.

It is the College’s policy to recover indirect costs as allowed by funding agency guidelines. Proposals submitted by members of the faculty should use the predetermined F&A rate whenever allowed. If the funding agency will not permit the full rate to be charged, consult the Faculty Grants Office.

Personnel costs: For most research proposals, faculty members may request summer salary support for up to two months, calculated as 2/9 of the academic year base salary. Grant requests to support non-faculty personnel (e.g., administrative positions, student assistants) must conform to the salary scale and benefit eligibility of regularly budgeted college positions. Grant-funded positions of six months’ duration or longer, and of half-time or greater are eligible for benefits as defined in the College’s benefit plan. The funding request must cover the full cost of salaries and benefits for any grant-funded position.

Benefits may include the employer’s contribution to FICA, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, medical coverage, life insurance, and pension plans, depending on the person and period of time in question. The current average benefit rate for regular, full-time employees is approximately 31 percent. However, the actual rate to be included can vary: for example, in most cases when a faculty member is requesting summer salary for himself/herself, the only applicable benefit is the employer’s contribution to FICA, at 7.65 percent. Faculty members are urged to consult with the director of faculty grants on personnel costs in grants budgets. Benefits costs are treated as direct costs in proposal budgets, but are not counted against the salaries and wages base for the purposes of calculating the F&A amount.

Project proposals that cover more than one year should factor in salary and wage increases in subsequent years. Currently a rate of about 3 percent is appropriate, but check with the Faculty Grants Office when preparing the budget. Salary increases will affect the amount budgeted for benefits.

Student workers: If grant funds are requested to cover student research assistants working during the summer, the rate of $9.50/hour should be used; this is based on the rate currently used by the Faculty Research Committee for the Student Research program. For grant-funded student work with lesser responsibilities, refer to the rates set by the Financial Aid Office for work-study.

Grant requests for student summer support should add the cost of the employer’s FICA share at 7.65 percent. Full-time students are exempt from FICA withholding during the academic year.

Project directors and principal investigators are responsible for making arrangements as needed for summer on-campus housing for student research assistants. Contact Amy DeBaun, Director of Campus Life, as soon as possible. The cost of summer housing and board (currently estimated at about $110/week) is sometimes contributed by the College as cost-sharing or matching, but this request must be approved by the dean of the faculty at the time the grant proposal is submitted.

Travel: The College rate for mileage reimbursement is $0.585/mile; grant requests should not exceed this rate. All budgeted travel charges should be based on reasonable and customary costs.