Preparing Your Proposal - Pre-Award: Proposal Preparation & Submission

A. Overview

Faculty planning to apply for external funding have much to consider. Some of the most commonly asked questions are: What funding sources are available? With what University policies must proposals comply? How is a budget developed? By what process do potential grantees receive University approval of their proposals? How long is the proposal approval process?

To assist faculty in preparing and submitting proposals, the Sponsred Programs divides the proposal process into stages: development, preparation, approvals, processing, and negotiations. During each of these stages, the principal investigator (PI) must take into account certain University policies and procedures. This section describes the policies, which governs each stage of the process, along with procedural guidelines. In addition, Grants Management has included policies and procedures governing two special cases: industry-sponsored clinical trials and sub-contracts.

B. University Policy on Submitting Proposals

Grants Management is responsible for submitting all proposals for grants and contracts for research and other scholarly activities to public agencies (federal, state or local government), private non-profit research organizations and industries. The Grants Management staff assists investigators in preparation and submission of all proposals. Except for certain fellowships awarded directly to individuals, PI's or program directors may not apply for, or receive, funding directly from sponsoring organization's without receiving University approval. ALL PROPOSALS MUST BE PROCESSED THROUGH SPONSORED PROGRAMS AT EITHER THE MAIN CAMPUS OR THE HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER (HSC).

Grants Management also works closely with the Office of Development and Alumni/ae Affairs (ODAA) to help secure funding for the University. Grants Management is responsible for assisting faculty in locating corporate and foundation support for sponsored activities. ODAA is responsible for the solicitation of private sector development funds from corporations, foundations, associations, and individuals. Therefore all proposals for sponsored projects to private foundations and corporations must receive approval from both Grants Management and ODAA.

C. Proposal Development

One of Grants Management's primary functions is to assist faculty in identifying potential external funding sources, although faculty and researchers may also discover potential funding sources by other means. As faculty identify such sources and begin to formulate proposals, they may want to take advantage of certain Grants Management services.

The investigator is fully responsible for the preparation of all applications for support of research or scholarly activity, always keeping in mind adherence to the specific instructions provided by the particular funding agency. Grants Management can provide interested faculty with agency guidelines and application forms. Grants Management may be able to assist the investigator in identifying a key contact person at the funding agency. Please note, because ODAA is charged with negotiating with private foundations and corporations, that office must be notified if a foundation or corporation is to be approached as a potential funding source.

While investigators must first ensure that the proposals satisfy funding source requirements, they must also fit proposals to certain criteria established by Grants Management. To help investigators meet these criteria, Grants Management staff offers assistance in preparation of all necessary forms, representations, certifications, assurances, and other non-technical data. Investigators are invited to contact Grants Management directly to discuss proposals under development. Because the criteria for contracts are often more complex than for grants, investigators considering these types of proposals are particularly urged to contact Grants Management.

On certain projects, investigators may want to consider working with collaborators to enhance the scope and quality of the proposal. Grants Management can assist investigators in identifying potential collaborators with expertise in their area.

D. Proposal Preparation

General Information

Grants Management must approve all proposals before it submits them to the appropriate external funding agencies. Grants Management approval hinges on its receipt of both a completed proposal and a completed Grants Management Approval Form (SPAF) from the investigators. In order for the full proposal to be reviewed, approved and submitted by the deadline, the SPAF must:

  • contain all required signatures, including those of the appropriate Department Chair and Dean. Therefore, investigators are encouraged to contact the Department Chair and/or Dean as early as possible in the proposal preparation process, particularly when proposals include matching resources, release time, additional space, renovations, or other requirements needing department, college of school or University approval;
  • arrive at Grants Management no later than ten working days prior to the deadline date of the proposal. Additional time should be allowed for proposals involving special clearances, such as for human subjects or animal care. Also, allow extra time for contracts, because they may require additional review by Grants Management. Due to the high volume of proposals submitted by the University, Grants Management cannot guarantee that a proposal received less than ten working days before the deadline will be submitted to the funding agency on time. When preparing the proposal, the PI should also note the following general guidelines:
  • because most agencies want one individual to serve as contact point for day-to-day administration of an award, when co-investigators are involved, one party should be named PI;
  • agency funding decisions may take more than nine months. Investigators and project directors should anticipate such waiting periods and plan their efforts accordingly.

Budget Preparation

Upon identification of a potential funding source and formulation of a proposal, Grants Management determines that the investigator should develop a budget. Based on the criteria that Grants Management uses to prepare and evaluate proposal budgets, it established some general guidelines for investigators. Proposal budgets should include at a minimum:

  • all appropriate direct costs items;
  • correctly applied fringe benefit and indirect cost rates; and
  • funding source requirements.

Furthermore, the budget should conform with one of the budget category patterns currently available in Banner. Grants Management recognizes that agency requirements do not always permit an exact correlation between Banner account numbers and their budget categories. However, investigators are encouraged to discuss individual issues with their department administrator or Grants Management staff.

The budget should contain separate figures for University contributions and funds being requested from the agency. Should an award be forthcoming, investigators must inform all appropriate administrative offices of the University's obligations.

Budgets may not be presented to a funding agency without appropriate review by Grants Management. Therefore, PIs or and/or financial officers should consult Grants Management early in the proposal development process to ensure preparation of an accurate budget. Upon receipt of the SPAF, the completed proposal and properly signed budget, Grants Management commences with internal approval of the project.

Budget Specifics

Investigators preparing proposal budgets should consider the following specific policies and procedures:

  • Personnel
    The University encourages the use of external support for academic year (nine or ten months) faculty salaries. Salary support received for sponsored activities conducted during the academic year may result in release time from teaching or service activities. Faculty members are asked to contact their departmental chair and Dean early in the planning stages of their proposal to discuss release time.

    Depending on the sponsoring agency's regulations and approval of the Dean, University faculty on academic year appointments may earn additional compensation above base salary during the academic year (see Faculty Guide for details).

    During the summer months, faculty on academic year appointments may receive additional salary from a sponsored project. The monthly rate cannot exceed the applicable base salary (1/9 of the academic year salary for each of the summer months: June, July, and August). The salary from the prior academic year determines summer compensation. Faculty must obtain permission from the appropriate Dean and Department Chair to teach during the summer sessions in addition to fulfilling a commitment to the sponsored activity. Faculty who choose to use their external support for summer salary only are not entitled to release time during the academic year.

    The Personnel category should include all individuals necessary to conduct the proposed sponsored activity. The category should list the names of all personnel involved directly in the project; proposed, but unfilled, position titles; individual percentage of time devoted to the proposal; and applicable salary and fringe benefit rates.
  • Compensation
    Compensation includes salary/wages and fringe benefits that an employee receives for their efforts on behalf of the University. University employees are eligible for compensation, which is an allowable direct charge to the project, for all time and effort devoted to a sponsored project.
  • Salary
    Salary charges should be based on the same rate of pay as the individual's other University work. Salaries paid to persons hired exclusively for work on sponsored projects may not be materially different from those paid to other persons in the University with similar qualifications for similar work. Salaries proposed in project budgets for each position are not guaranteed amounts. Actual salaries are subject to approval by the Office of Personnel Services (OPS).
  • Percentage of Effort
    The percentage of effort that a faculty member commits must be equal to or greater than the percentage of total salary drawn from project funds. The work schedule must be adjusted so that total effort does not exceed 100% of available time.

    Individual colleges/schools may require faculty to devote a specific amount of time and effort to scholarly activities with appropriate salary recovery to be included in the proposal. The maximum level of support on sponsored activities should not exceed 90%. Funding agencies assume that all investigators have at least some administrative or teaching responsibilities at their institution.

    Many external agencies require effort reporting. Effort reporting does not correspond to a specific number of hours worked. Any additional pay for a faculty member must be approved by the appropriate Dean, or in the case of certain Center Directors, by Grants Management.
  • Graduate Assistant Compensation
    Compensation to graduate assistants involved in sponsored projects should be assessed at the same rate as compensation to graduate assistants assigned to academic departments within the same discipline. During the academic year, graduate assistants are considered full-time if they work fifteen weeks per semester and twenty hours per week. During the summer months, graduate assistants may work more than twenty hours, but should not exceed forty, if course work and research permits.

    The Graduate School, or the student's college/school, may contribute graduate tuition support on sponsored activities. The student's particular department may also contribute funds when full overhead is received, the overhead received exceeds tuition, or when the college/school has recovered costs available to the departments. Grants Management must approve these cases. Please contact OPS for the minimum amounts for graduate assistantship stipends.
  • Part-time Staff
    Part-time staff is defined as staff working less than thirty-five hours per week. Some part-time employees may be eligible for benefits depending upon the bargaining unit. Rates for part-time employees should be consistent with University rates. Please check with Grants Management for current rates.
  • Fringe Benefits
    Budgets must include fringe benefits as direct costs to all sponsored projects. If they are full-time, employees on sponsored projects are eligible for University benefits. A full-time appointment for faculty is defined as 80% effort for at least one academic year; for most part-time staff and faculty, the fringe benefit rate is 8%. Post-doctoral employees do not receive full fringe benefits.
  • Hiring Staff
    The PI should submit a HRS Employee Requisition and HRS Position Questionnaire Form for classification of each proposed position at the time of the grant or contract submission. Some standard position descriptions are available through OPS. OPS classifies and recruits for positions when an award is made. The hiring of full-and part-time staff on a sponsored activity follows the procedures and receives the approvals of OPS just like regular university hires excepting positions such as graduate (6301), teaching (6302), research (6303), assistants (6303), and post-doctoral employees (6580) which do not require a competitive search or affirmative action procedures. Post-doctoral fellow appointments do require the approval of the Dean.
  • Consultants
    Consultants on sponsored activities may be either external consultants/independent contractors or internal consultants.
  • External Consultants/Independent Contractor
    All external consultants must meet the requirements set forth in the University Consultant/Independent Contractor Policy and Procedures. Direct questions about whether to classify an individual as an employee or a consultant to OPS.
  • Internal Consultants
    If internal faculty consultants are used on a project, the budget must include a footnote stating that University faculty members are being compensated in addition to base salary. The consultant's time will be limited to the equivalent of one day per week. The rate of compensation should be consistent with the employee's base salary.
  • Equipment
    Equipment costing more than $5000 must be itemized along with estimated costs. The proposal should provide adequate justification for all equipment purchases for the sponsored activity. Equipment purchases from awards ultimately become University properly, unless otherwise specified in the award.
  • Travel
    The University Travel and Business Related Expense Policy and Procedures governs all travel and requires strict adherence. The proposal should identify the type and extent of travel and its relationship to the sponsored activity. The authorized university travel agency, World Travel, must handle all University business travel arrangements including transportation, hotel reservations, and other travel related activities. When preparing a precise travel budget, PIs should consult World Travel. If the PI considers foreign travel, the proposal should contain relevant information and budget justification.
  • Indirect Costs
    All proposals submitted for external support must include the current and appropriate University indirect cost rates. There are varying rates for on-campus, off-campus, sponsored activities and instructional projects. In some cases a faculty member may request approval from Grants Management for an indirect cost rate that is different from current rates. Requests for exceptions must be in writing and approved by Grants Management prior to submission of the proposal.

    For industry sponsored, fixed-price contracts (other than clinical trials), the University applies an indirect cost rate of 25% on the total direct cost of the project budget. If the direct cost budget developed by the PI does not include this indirect charge, Grants Management will add the 25% rate to the contract budget. When an investigator negotiates the budget with a company sponsor, the total budget for any fixed-price contract must include this 25% indirect cost. All fixed-price contracts must recover 25% overhead.

    Grants Management is the ONLY University office with the authority to approve the appropriate amount of indirect costs. Failure to secure Grants Management approval may result in reduction of direct cost support.
  • Cost Sharing
    Some funding agencies require the University to share certain cost expenses. These expenses should be discussed with the Department Chair, Dean, and Grants Management early in the proposal development process. The Department Chair, Dean, and University, must approve all requests for the University to provide matching funds. In certain instances, the investigator may be required to raise the matching funds. The SPAF must identify the project's source of all matching funds.
  • Space and Renovation
    During development of a proposal, a faculty member must consider the amount of space and any renovations that may be necessary to accomplish the specific aims of the proposed sponsored activity. Any requirements for additional space or renovations must be made known to the Department Chair and Dean and must be indicated on the SPAF prior to proposal submission. Any special configurations of the space as well as the amount and location should be specified on the Administrative Space Allocation Committee (ASpAC) Priority Projects form. It is the responsibility of the Department Chair and Dean to review the space needs with the PI. If the PI's department or Dean cannot provide space, they may make a request to OVP/Research and ASpAC. Predicated on a reasonable request, OVP/Research and ASpAC identifies additional space. If unable to accommodate the project on campus, the University may rent space off campus. Academic relevancy, rental cost, overhead returned to the University, and length of project all factor into the decision.

E. Proposal Approvals

All members of the University responsible for the particular sponsored project must sign the SPAF. By signing the proposal, the units listed below accept accountability as assigned to them by the University. All principals should thus take the following criteria into account when evaluating the proposal for signature.

Principal Investigator (PI) or Project Director

The PI, in signing the SPAF, agrees to:

  • accept responsibility for the intellectual content of the research or scholarly activity that is proposed;
  • accept responsibility to discuss quality and completeness of both the fiscal and technical portions of the proposal;
  • ensure that all necessary approvals are received prior to submission of the proposal to an outside funding source;
  • consult, early in the development process, with the Department Chair and Dean to inform them of plans for preparing a proposal, and to discuss any special requirements that may be necessary, such as additional space, renovation of space, graduate student tuition support, or matching funds;
  • avoid conflict of interest;
  • adhere to the principles of responsible conduct in research or other creative work;
  • assure that the sponsored project is conducted safely and in accordance with University, federal, state, and local regulations;
  • meet deadlines for the submission of the proposal and for the completion of reports to the sponsoring agency;
  • accept primary responsibility for administration of the awarded activity;
  • use funds for the awarded project appropriately, and to ensure that all expenditures are consistent with the terms and conditions of the award;
  • report potentially patentable or other commercial results in accordance with the University Invention and Patent Policy;
  • complete the work on schedule and within the project's agreed upon budget; and
  • assure compatibility with the total academic assignment.

Department Chair and/or Center/Institute Director

The Department Chair or Center/Institute Director must approve all sponsored activities seeking external funding prior to proposal submission to the Dean and Grants Management. In certain cases, Center/ Institute Directors are delegated oversight responsibilities. The signature of the Department Chair or Center/Institute Director or designee on SPAF indicates the acknowledgement of the:

  • research or creative activities that are being conducted in the department;
  • research or creative activity conforming to the short or long-range objectives of the department;
  • needs of the proposal in terms of space requirements, materials, staffing, or health and safety hazards associated with the conduct of the activities (the Department Chair may need to discuss the special requirements with the Dean before signing the SPAF form);
  • commitment to provide any necessary requirements if the proposal is funded;
  • approval of advance release time for designated faculty;
  • coverage of any over expenditure or disallowed expenditures from departmental funds;
  • adherence to all applicable college/school and University procedures; and
  • competency of the PI to conduct and manage the proposed project.


The Dean or designee, in signing the SPAF, assures that he or she:

  • acknowledges the proposed project;
  • recognizes the project as compatible with the institutional goals and objectives of the college or school;
  • makes available staff and space necessary for conducting the project;
  • recognizes personnel descriptions as appropriate and consistent in the college/school;
  • notes all aspects of the proposal which may have an effect on budgets as well as procedures specified to meet these obligations;
  • identifies post-doctoral appointments which satisfy college/school requirements; and
  • identifies any over expenditure or disallowed expenditures that may require coverage from college/school funds.

Grants Management

Grants Management is the only University office authorized to sign a proposal which seeks external funding. The PI must obtain all appropriate signatures before submitting the proposal to Grants Management. In signing on behalf of the University, Grants Management assures that the proceeding entities:

  • execute their responsibilities;
  • meet the special requirements of sponsoring agencies;
  • complete the proper internal clearances;
  • advise the appropriate officials of regular policy or any parts of the proposal that call for major fiscal or academic arrangements;
  • accept the projects terms as outlined in the proposal.

Vice President for Development and Alumni/ae Affairs

In some cases, the Vice President for Development and Alumni/ae Affairs may be required to sign the proposal. Upon signing the proposal, ODAA assures that the project adheres to the guidelines promulgated by the specific corporation or foundation. Grants Management coordinates all required signatures with ODAA.

F. Special Approvals

Graduate Assistantships

In most cases, the University will not provide support for graduate assistantships on sponsored projects unless full overhead is provided on the grant or contract. Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the Graduate School and Grants Management.

Use of Human Subjects

The Institutional Review Board (IRB) must review and approve use of human subjects in research. Research Review Committees are on the Main Campus and HSC. Each committee has slightly different formats and requirements. For proper forms and guidelines specific to the appropriate committee, please refer to Section X in the manual and Appendices I & J.

Use of Animals in Research

The Animal Use and Care Committee (IACUC) must approve the use of animals in research.

Use of Recombinant DNA or Biohazards Research

The use of recombinant DNA, infectious agents, or other biohazards in research must be registered with, and approved by, the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC). There is one university-wide IBC that includes all University affiliates.

Environmental Health and Safety

For projects involving hazardous procedures, including Biologicals and Chemical Hazards, Radioactive Materials, Toxic Chemicals, Controlled Substances, Ionizing and Non-Ionizing radiation, and use of recombinant DNA or RNA, the PI must complete an Assurance on Hazardous Procedures.

  • Recombinant DNA
    Prior to the initiation of research that includes the use of non-exempt recombinant DNA molecules, those projects containing DNA from any pathogenic organism, more than 50% of the genome of any eukaryotic virus, or the formation of recombinant DNA's containing genes for the biosynthesis of toxic molecules, must include a protocol to the Office of Environmental Health and Safety Services for consideration by IBC.
  • Radioisotopes and Radiation
    The Radiation Safety Office must approve the use of radioisotopes, radiation producing machines, lasers and non-ionizing radiation in sponsored projects.
  • Biological and Chemical Hazards
    All investigators submitting applications that involve biological or chemicals hazards are required to complete and submit a notification of the proposed activity to the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

G. Processing Of Proposals

The full proposal and accompanying completed SPAF, including necessary signatures, must be at Grants Management ten working days before the funding agency's due date. Failure to have appropriate signatures on the SPAF may result in the proposal being returned to the PI without University approval. Due to the high volume of applications submitted by the University, Grants Management cannot guarantee that a proposal will be submitted to the funding agency on time if it is received less than ten working days prior to the due date. If the PI anticipates delays in meeting this schedule, he or she should communicate in advance with Grants Management.

The requirements for completing a proposal for a contract are typically much more complicated than those for an application for a grant. The investigator should allow Grants Management additional time to process the administrative component of the proposal.

The completed SPAF, bearing the signatures of the Department Chair or designee, Dean or designee, and all other appropriate endorsements, assures that all University officials involved in the conduct of the proposed sponsored activity have reviewed and approved the proposal, and agree to fulfill any and all commitments set forth in the proposal.

H. External Review & Negotiations

Upon receipt of a submitted proposal, the funding agency reviews it for approval. The PI should be prepared to respond to requests from the funding source for modifications, additional information, or revisions. For large programs, many federal and state agencies send a site visit team to confer with faculty and administrative personnel involved directly, or indirectly, with the proposed project.

Funding sources may negotiate reductions in the project's direct cost. Any final negotiations of the budget are handled by Grants Management in consultation with the PI. If the investigator is notified of a reduced award, he or she must consult with Grants Management to determine the budget categories to adjust. As opposed to across-the-board reductions, some agencies may accommodate investigators who justify reductions to specific line items. If the funding source deletes charges in certain areas, the University may compensate with available specific funds. For example, the University may have funds to purchase a piece of equipment for the project instead of the investigator accepting a reduction in salary support. If there is a significant reduction in funds, the investigator should attempt to negotiate a reduction in the scope of the activity to be performed, such as omitting a particular "aim" in the application.

I. Special Cases - Industry Sponsored Clinical Trials

The University is committed to, and supportive of, industry-sponsored clinical trials. In order to evaluate new drugs/medical devices or new uses for approved products for support of applications to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the University conducts clinical trials. The University is responsible for negotiation, approval, oversight, and compliance with appropriate regulations and guidelines governing clinical trials.

Authorized representatives of the University and the corporate sponsor must sign formal contracts/agreements prior to the initiation of the project. Both parties must either sign or mutually agree upon the agreement prior to release of IRB approval. Suitable research agreements include the following components:

  • designation of PI;
  • inclusion of beginning and ending dates of the project;
  • authorization of budgets and schedules for payments/patients completing the protocol;
  • inclusion of the number of patients expected in the protocol;
  • ownership of completed forms and data collected;
  • ownership of inventions;
  • publication rights;
  • confidentiality of proprietary information;
  • indemnification clause for clinical studies;
  • company coverage of patient adverse reactions to the protocol;
  • independence of the parties;
  • assignability of the agreement;
  • conditions governing termination;
  • certification as to sovereignty of the agreement; and
  • designation of responsible representatives.

IRB requires that only a physician who is a University employee with an academic appointment may serve as a PI for clinical trials or when human subjects are exposed to more than minimal risk as outlined by the federal Office for Protection from Research Risks. The PI is responsible for obtaining appropriate departmental approval prior to requesting University approval. The PI should present the University's requirement for a clinical research agreement to the corporate sponsor. A representative from the company should contact Grants Management to develop a mutually agreeable clinical research agreement to govern the conduct of the project.

To qualify for a complete institutional review of the proposed clinical research, PIs must submit all necessary documents along with a complete copy of the proposed request for funding and/or the full company protocol. Because the President or the Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer are the only two officers who can execute contract agreements on behalf of the University, the PI should submit all required information at least one month prior to the expected date for patient entry to the project. University reviews include, where applicable:

  • project budget review and proposed approval;
  • IRB Review of Human Subjects Protocols (Appendices I & J);
  • Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Review for use of Non-Human Animals;
  • Institutional Biosafety Committee Review of Recombinant DNA;

J. Special Cases - Sub-Contracts

If the University receives an award and a portion of the activity is to be sub-contracted to another entity, Grants Management assists the PI in development of a sub-contract which outlines the sub-contractor's role in meeting the requirements of the award. Grants Management forwards the sub-contract to the sub-contractor for review and signature. Upon return of the executed document, the PI should complete a Financial Impact Statement. Grants Management forwards the sub-contract and Financial Impact Statement to University Counsel, where review and appropriate signature(s) and seal (if necessary) are obtained. When the University is the recipient of a sub-contract similar procedures are followed. Please direct any questions on sub-contracts to Grants Management.

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