Writing the Proposal
Proposal Developer's Guide
A Basic Guide to Budget Components
In order to navigate the world of sponsored programs, it is useful to understand the terminology employed and be aware of the responsibilities of the main players.
A sponsored program is a research, training, instructional, service, or related project supported by external funds that are received by the University on behalf of a member of the University community, and for which the Project Investigator or Project Director and University are accountable. Such funds are provided as a result of a formal communication with the sponsor, such as a letter, application, or other written proposal signed and submitted by the authorized University official. A sponsored program will normally have one or more of the following characteristics:
- The sponsor has published guidelines, applications, and/or procedures for requesting support;
- The use of funds awarded is restricted to support for a particular project;
- The award includes specifications for project performance and/or outcome;
- The sponsor requires, as a condition of the award, programmatic, technical, and/or financial reports, which are subject to external audit.
- The resulting award for a successful application would result in a cost-reimbursable grant.
If you believe that your idea or project does not share one or more of these characteristics, then perhaps your project might fall into the "gift" category. In that case you should contact your Dean and determine if it might fit within the established University priorities for the Development Office which can be found by searching "Development" in the search box in the upper right corner of this page.
A proposal is a formal statement of a project for which external support is sought. While a proposal can take several forms, as discussed below, in general it will:
- be initiated from a disciplinary or educational perspective;
- be characterized by a statement of need or purpose with a finite set of goals or objectives;
- include the development of a product, such as a technical report; and
- request a specific sum of money, usually with a detailed budget, for accomplishing the project.
The Principal Investigator (PI), or the Project Director (PD), is the lead person in the development of the proposal and the implementation of the award. They are held responsible by both the sponsor and the University for the project both for the technical implementation of the project and financially. They are also responsible for initiating the dialogue with their chair and dean or supervisor and budget unit head about their project and the use of university resources including their time from the outset.
Students as Grant Beneficiaries
Occasionally, a funding opportunity becomes available whereby a Gallaudet University student will be the beneficiary of a federal grant. This typically takes the form of a dissertation fellowship grant which is issued to Gallaudet University on behalf of that student either in their name and the name of a university official or in the name of their faculty advisor.
Because the OSP has, as its primary obligation, the facilitation of sponsored projects for faculty and professional staff, and, due to the time pressure associated with grant deadlines, the OSP is unable to work directly with students to develop applications for federal funds for fellowships or research opportunities. However, the OSP will work with a student's faculty advisor starting ten (10) working days prior to the official agency due date of the application. Students wishing to apply for external federal support should first contact their faculty advisors, share the request for proposals with their advisor, and plan to have a completed proposal submitted to their advisor no later than ten (10) working days prior to the official agency due date. The advisor has the responsibility of reviewing the student's proposal and ensuring that the proposal is feasible and that the fulfillment of the proposed project, if funded, will not interfere with the student's educational progress, nor with the operations of the department or School. After reviewing the student's proposal, the faculty member may then work with the OSP to ensure that the application is complete and ready for submission. The deadline for faculty members wishing to submit student applications for external federal funds is five (5) working days prior to the official due date.
Each institution has one or several individuals who are empowered to sign documents on behalf of the institution. The individual who serves as the institutions "Authorized Institutional Official" or "Authorized Organizational Representative" and offers federal assurance/certification on behalf of Gallaudet University is the President. For those proposals that have been properly routed and approved by the Office of Sponsored Programs and include the appropriate signatures the President authorizes the Director of the Office of Sponsored Programs is authorized to submit proposals and accept awards on behalf of Gallaudet University via electronic means or hard copy. The Director will be the authorized institutional official for the purpose of submission and acceptance only for as long as they fill that position or until such time as this procedure is amended. The President further authorizes the Director of the OSP to be the University's designate on all federal electronic research administration and credential provider systems to ensure the smooth processing of Gallaudet federal grant applications and awards. For proposals which exceed $1 million dollars, the Provost must counter-sign the internal routing and approval of any proposal which would result in a cost-reimbursable award from either a federal or foundation sponsor. The University is not committed to accept awards resulting from the submission of proposals or budget revisions not authorized by the President or submitted without following University policies for sponsored programs and signed by the proper officials.
Pre- and Post-Award
Pre-award refers to those activities that culminate in the receipt of an award from a sponsor. Post-award refers to those activities that occur in implementing and managing the award through project completion and close-out.
Award Mechanisms: terms and characteristics
Grants: sponsor provides funds to pursue grantee-initiated project.
- the proposal solicitation/announcement usually has stated goals and objectives;
- the sponsor has expectations about how the budget will be spent;
- the award has deliverables (may include project and expenditure reports);
- the award is governed by terms and conditions;
- there is some flexibility in making certain changes;
- the award is subject to programmatic and financial audit.
Cooperative Agreements: sponsor exercises substantial involvement in project performance.
- the proposal solicitation/announcement has stated goals and objectives;
- the sponsor has expectations about how the work will be performed and how the budget will be spent;
- the award has deliverables;
- the award is governed by terms and conditions;
- the award is subject to programmatic and financial audit;
- formal agreement results from negotiations;
- performance is closely monitored by sponsor;
- detailed technical and financial reports are required;
- any changes must be negotiated.
Contracts: sponsor provides funds to pursue sponsor-generated project
- formal agreement results from negotiations;
- contract deliverables are stipulated, usually due by times certain;
- performance is monitored by sponsor;
- detailed technical and financial reports are required;
- any changes must be negotiated;
- awards are subject to programmatic and financial audit.
When a portion of the project is going to be carried out at another institution or organization, a subcontract or subagreement with the University is required in order to ensure compliance with sponsor requirements. Similarly, when a portion of a project being conducted at another institution will be performed at Gallaudet, Gallaudet will enter into a subagreement relationship with that institution.
These are formal relationships and require the same institutional review and approval as any proposal. Subagreements are handled through the office of Contracts and Purchasing. Please consult the Office of Sponsored Programs immediately if you intend to be performing tasks on a federal proposal being submitted by another institution. Even a proposal for a subaward to another institution applying for federal funds is subject to Gallaudet University's policy on sponsored programs.
Responsibilities: Who does what?
Each sponsored project has a Principal Investigator (PI) (sometimes referred to as Project Director or PD) who assumes responsibility for the ethical conduct of the program in both its technical and administrative aspects. Generally, the Principal Investigator is the author of the proposal and is, therefore, cognizant of the programmatic accountability expected by the sponsor for technical performance. Each Principal Investigator must also be concerned with administrative aspects of project management, including timely production of project deliverables. Responsibilities of Principal Investigators include:
- writes the proposal, collects all documentation required by the request for proposals (including quotes and letters of support or letters of commitment from subgrantees and their scopes of work)
- obtains departmental and school-level support as appropriate
- conducts technical operation of the project;
- monitors compliance with award provisions, including time and effort of faculty, staff, and students supported by the award and timely completion of the work;
- obtains sponsor approval, if needed, through the Office of Sponsored Programs for all changes to the project, including scope of work and budget;
- manages project budget, expending funds only for allowable costs and keeping expenditures within budget;
- prepares and submits, in a timely fashion, all technical/performance reports to the sponsor regarding the work performed, its progress, and final results;
- ensures that all project faculty, staff and graduate students recognize that the University and/or the sponsor own inventions, patents and specified copyrights resulting from the project in accordance with the grant or contract; and
- supervises faculty, staff, and students associated with the project and assures that participating consultants perform according to the scope of work established by the award.
Office of Sponsored Programs
The Office of Sponsored Programs is the office charged with assisting Gallaudet University faculty and staff in the pursuit of extramural funding of projects of benefit to the Gallaudet community primarily through competitively awarded federal grants.
Finance Office - Grants Accounting
The Finance Office is responsible for financial management related to all awards. Should you have any post award questions, the main contact is the Finance Office which can put you in touch with the appropriate grants accountant for your project. The Finance contact information may be found here.
Proposal Development is a process that results in the submission of a proposal to a sponsor for consideration of funding. Writing is only one part of the process; in fact, the most important step is most likely the preliminary work involved in defining an idea and determining the best approaches to follow in implementing that idea.
The projects most likely to be funded are those which: contain innovative or creative ideas addressing pressing problems; contain tests, methods, or procedures suited to the objectives; are appropriate to both institution and sponsor; and, are represented by well-written proposals.
Once the proposal is written, it should be reviewed and edited by a person knowledgeable in the field or discipline to assure clarity and completeness before the formal institutional review.
Unsolicited proposals may be submitted at any time, but investigators should allow six to nine months between the date of submission and the anticipated starting date for sponsor review. Unsolicited proposals to be funded in a particular federal fiscal year (which ends September 30) generally should be submitted no later than February 1.
Internally, the OSP should be consulted as early in the proposal preparation process as possible. The OSP prefers to work as early as 12 months prior to an anticipated due date with the PI and their collaborators on the development of the proposal. The A&O Manual Policy 2.09 requires that completed proposals be received at least five (5) working days before the sponsor's deadline. The Office of Sponsored Programs is happy to review and provide feedback on project narratives, as time allows, up to seven (7) days prior to the deadline. Department heads or budget unit heads and deans should already be in support of the project and the resources required to conduct the project from the start of proposal development.
PIs/PDs are required to submit an "Intent to Submit" form which can be found in the "Forms" section of the OSP webpage. Before writing a proposal, the individual faculty/staff member should contact the dean, director or department chair to enlist approval and support for the project. The form is designed to begin this dialogue. Questions concerning faculty time commitments, space, and facilities, as well as proposed new courses and/or requirements, should be resolved at this time. This is especially important to ensure later budget unit head signatures during the internal routing and approval process and also to assure the responsible use of Universty resources. The OSP will not work with PIs on the development of proposals that do not already have clearance.
Since Gallaudet is located in Washington, Principal Investigators should, if at all possible, make an appointment with the government agency program officer to discuss the project and any limitations on funding requests. The information gained in an early contact may prove very useful in structuring the final proposal. Most program officers welcome advance contact of this nature as it allows them to assist potential Principal Investigators to focus their research on areas of interest to sponsors. It is advisable to have a 1-2 page white paper describing the project in advance of any contact with a program officer. Please see the OSP webpage section on "Contacting Your Program Officer" for more suggestions. Some competitions require the submission of a preliminary proposal or concept paper. Such preliminary proposals require the same processing through the Office of Sponsored Programs as full proposals.
Since the written proposal is a formal request for the financial support of a project, most sponsors have established general guidelines for the preparation and submission of proposals to ensure a level of standardization for the numerous proposals they receive. These general guidelines may be supplemented by special guidelines that pertain to specific programs. While the Office of Sponsored Programs maintains some printed guidelines and application packets, most of these materials are available on the web.
The importance of sponsor guidelines cannot be stressed enough. They often discuss the intent of the competition, itemize the evaluation criteria, and provide details on the sponsor's funding priorities. In addition, they provide a clear description of what should be included in the proposal and give specifications on the technical requirements for proposals. A careful scrutiny of the guidelines before and during proposal preparation is absolutely essential to success.
In addition to guideline and application information provided by sponsors, prospective investigators may wish to explore some of the numerous proposal preparation guides. The Office of Sponsored Programs maintains a small library of these materials that are available to Gallaudet faculty and staff.
Writing the Proposal
There are many excellent guides to proposal writing. The following has been prepared to provide an overview of proposal contents. More detailed suggestions can be found in the guidelines and evaluation criteria provided in a sponsor's application kit.
- There are also several excellent presentations developed by other universities that are accessible on the Web. Some of these are listed under Useful Links.
- The Gallaudet University Proposal Developer's Guide lists proposal components and production considerations.
- The Gallaudet University Basic Guide to Budget Components identifies and defines items to include in the proposal budget.
Once the proposal is written, it should be reviewed and edited by a person knowledgeable in the field or discipline to assure clarity and completeness.
A formal proposal to conduct research, training, or technical assistance with the support of an external sponsor represents an offer by Gallaudet University to perform the activities specified in the proposal. The University's review and approval process assures compliance with both sponsor and University policies.
Proposals submitted by faculty or staff are usually routed through the Department Chair or unit Director, appropriate Dean(s) or Budget Unit Head, and the Provost or Division Director. Note that a project which involves the direct effort of faculty or staff from another unit must also be routed through the appropriate offices of that unit.
The Principal Investigator should allow ample time for the review and approval of a proposal, particularly if the sponsor has established a specific deadline. To ensure timely submission, the Principal Investigator and The Office of Sponsored Programs should work together during the proposal development, preparation, and approval phases.
Proposals are required to be submitted to the Office of Sponsored Programs at least five (5) working days prior to sponsor's deadline. Failure to meet this deadline may jeopardize the on-time submission of the proposal. Proposals not meeting this deadline may be submitted with conditional approval only and only at the discretion of the Office of Sponsored Programs. In these cases, the Principal Investigator shall be responsible for making appropriate changes, or withdrawing the proposal at a later date, if subsequent review reveals that the proposal is incomplete, contains errors, inaccuracies, misrepresentations, or does not conform with University or sponsor requirements.
The Gallaudet University Routing and Approval Form for Proposal Submission should be completed by the Principal Investigator and signed, in the following order:
- Principal Investigator/Project Director
- Department Chair/Director
- Dean of School/Budget Unit Head
- Dean of Graduate School (if graduate program)
- Provost/Division Director (non-academic units)
- Director of Sponsored Programs
After a proposal has been reviewed and approved, the Authorized Institutional Official (on behalf of the University President), will sign the proposal on behalf of the University. This may be an actual signature or electronic signature and the OSP will solicit the appropriate type. Some sponsors require that the signature of the Principal Investigator and/or other University officials also be appended.
Close to the conclusion of the routing and approval process, the proposal is entered either by the OSP or by the PI (as per prior agreement) into the appropriate agency electronic research administration system. Most agencies use Grants.gov but some maintain their own proprietary sites like the National Science Foundation's Fastlane or the National Institute of Health's NIH Commons. The OSP has expertise in all of these systems and will guide the PI toward what documents are required by each agency for transmission into these systems. Although some sponsors may provide the rare opportunity to submit either on paper or electronically, in the interest of the environment, the OSP has made a commitment to being a paperless office. This commitment is consistent with the federal Government Paperwork Elimination Act and supports the goal of conserving University resources. The OSP does not provide preparation, duplication, or compilation assistance for paper-based proposals that are not consistent with this guideline. If an electronic submission option is provided by a sponsor the OSP will submit the proposal electronically.
Transmission of a Completed Proposal
Each electronic submission system has a different process for the submission of proposals to the intended agencies. It is not uncommon for the actual submission process to take hours in the submission queue. The OSP recommends that for all electronic submissions, that the majority of the proposal content be transmitted to the OSP for upload to the agency system three days prior to the deadline. The Office of Sponsored Programs does not take responsibility for the on-time delivery of proposals that do not allow for this margin and the OSP does not have any sway with the agencies if the system rejects the proposal for not meeting the timed deadline.
Distribution of Proposal Copies and Internal Forms
The Office of Sponsored Programs retains the original of the routing and approval form electronically, along with a full and exact copy of the final proposal (including all appendices). A copy of the proposal, accompanied by a copy of the Routing and Approval Form, is distributed to each person who signed the form via email. This form originates via Echosign with the OSP and is transmitted for electronic signature through email.
Revisions to the proposal budget may be necessary, often as a result of negotiations with the sponsor prior to the award of the grant or contract. Sometimes the technical proposal must also be revised.
Review and approval of budget and technical revisions should follow the same procedures as indicated for the original submission, including the use of the routing and approval form for proposal submission to obtain approvals at the department and school levels for changes in personnel and or cost-sharing.
If a proposal is rejected, it is recommended that the Principal Investigator request the reviewer's evaluation comments from the sponsor. These comments are helpful if the proposal is to be resubmitted to the same or another sponsor. The agencies do not share these comments with the OSP, only with the PI, however, given the availability the OSP will analyze these comments for common themes and make suggestions to make the proposal more competitive upon resubmission.
Some years ago, Dr. Ernest M. Allen, former Chief of the Division of Research Grants, National Institutes of Health, analyzed the reasons why a group of proposals submitted to the NIH were rejected (Science, Vol. 132 [November 25, 1960], pages 1532-34). Most of these reasons remain valid today in situations where funds are available, geographical distribution is not a factor, and political considerations are not present.
- The problem is not of sufficient importance or unlikely to produce any new or useful information.
- The proposed research is based on a hypothesis that rests on insufficient evidence, is doubtful, or is unsound.
- The problem is more complex than the investigator appears to realize.
- The problem has only local significance, or is one of production or control, or otherwise fails to fall sufficiently clearly within the general field of health-related research.
- The problem is scientifically premature and warrants, at most, only a pilot study.
- The research as proposed is overly involved, with too many elements under simultaneous investigation.
- The description of the nature of the research and of its significance leaves the proposal nebulous and diffuse and without a clear research aim.
- The proposed tests, or methods, or scientific procedures are unsuited to the stated objective.
- The description of the approach is too nebulous, diffuse, and lacking in clarity to permit adequate evaluation.
- The overall design of the study has not been carefully thought out.
- The statistical aspects of the approach have not been given sufficient consideration.
- The approach lacks scientific imagination.
- Controls are either inadequately conceived or inadequately described.
- The material the investigator proposes to use is unsuited to the objective of the study or is difficult to obtain.
- The number of observations is unsuitable.
- The equipment contemplated is outmoded or otherwise unsuitable.
- The investigator lacks adequate experience or training for this research.
- The investigator appears to be unfamiliar with recent pertinent literature or methods.
- The investigator's previously published work in this field does not inspire confidence.
- The investigator proposes to rely too heavily on insufficiently experienced associates.
- The investigator is spreading himself too thin; he will be more productive if he concentrates on fewer projects.
- The investigator needs more liaison with colleagues in this field or in collateral fields.
- The requirements for equipment or personnel are unrealistic.
- It appears that other responsibilities would prevent devotion of sufficient time and attention to this research.
- The institutional setting is unfavorable.
- Research grants to the investigator, now in force, are adequate in scope and amount to cover the proposed research.
In the OSP's experience, the most common reason for a rejection is not fully reading the request for proposals (RFP) and addressing all the requirements the sponsor took the time to lay out for all applicants.
10 Common Grant-Writing Mistakes from the Chronicle of Higher Education published January 4, 2018.
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