Proposal Development

The format or presentation of a particular proposal will depend on the requirements of the sponsor. Most sponsors have developed policies and procedures for the submission of proposals and may require the use of specific application forms or electronic web-based systems. Other sponsors may have less stringent format requirements. In any case, PI's should obtain the most recent version of the sponsor's application guidelines and should follow the required proposal format. Guidelines or URLS should be forwarded to OSP along with the application for review as well. OSP reserves the right to withdraw the application if the terms of the grantor do not meet University standards.

It is a good idea to start the writing process months in advance of any expected due date. Estimates of the total time devoted to producing a new application may range from two to three months or longer. Revised applications and renewals usually take less time, but are still a major effort and should not be under estimated.

5.1 Types of Proposals

The Office of the Vice President for Research administers support for research and scholarly/creative work within the university community. This support includes responsibilities for:

5.1.1 Preliminary Proposals

A preliminary proposal is, in many cases, an expanded abstract. The pre-proposal does not include a detailed budget and justification required of formal proposal. However, some may include an estimated budget. The certifications and assurances normally required for full proposals are not usually included at this stage.

Any preliminary proposal, pre-proposal, or informal proposal, including concept papers, white papers, and letters of inquiry, that require institutional endorsement and/or submission by an authorized institutional official must accompany a document summary sheet. If you are submitting a preliminary or pre-proposal, contact OSP to see how you should proceed.

5.1.2 New Proposals

A New proposal is one that is being submitted to a sponsor for the first time.

5.1.2.1 Requests for Proposals (RFP's)

A solicited proposal is a proposal submitted in response to a request by a sponsoring agency for research or other services on a specified subject. Solicitations are generally in the form of a request for proposal (RFP) or request for quotation (RFQ). Solicited proposals can be either competitive or sole-source. While most solicitations are formal – that is, they are presented in writing and in detail – some agencies request proposals informally. Writing a solicited proposal is generally a straightforward process since most solicitations are specific in their requirements on format, technical content and budget. This is usually true in the case of informally solicited proposals as well.

5.1.2.2 Unsolicited Proposals

An unsolicited proposal is submitted to a sponsor that generally funds research of the type being proposed. In developing an unsolicited proposal, a formal request to a sponsor is usually subject to factors and criteria that should be explored. The PI should ascertain, primarily through preliminary inquiries, the degree of interest sponsors have in supporting the proposed work and the extent to which they can do so financially and determine if the sponsor has specific forms and instructions that need to be used. Check to see if the sponsor has a set deadline for submittal of unsolicited proposals.

5.1.3 Competing Proposals

A Competing continuation or renewal is a request for continued funding of a project that is ending. They are usually prepared in the same format as the new proposals and will be reviewed competitively.

5.1.4 Revised Proposals

If you send a proposal to a sponsor and the sponsor asks you to make changes and send it again, the second version of your proposal is usually called a revision.

5.1.5 Supplemental Proposals

Supplemental proposals request additional support to make sure the original scope of work can be done adequately.

5.1.6 Collaborative/Consortium/Joint Proposals and Subcontracts

When a proposed project involves investigators from two or more institutions, a collaborative proposal is submitted to the sponsor. Various funding agencies use different terms for describing collaborative projects. For example, NIH awards "Consortium Agreements" and has established a set of guidelines for awards that must be acknowledged by the collaborating organizations and NSF solicits "Collaborative Proposals". The terms "subcontractor", "sub-recipient", "sub-grantee", "sub-awardee", and "lower tier recipient" are often used interchangeably.

The collaborative proposal requires that one institution be designated as the "lead" for the purpose of submitting the lead proposal. It's important to determine which institution will be the lead and which will be the non-leads. Lead institutions are typically those whose faculty are doing the bulk of the work in terms of writing the proposal and/or those who will manage the largest portion of the funds should the proposal be awarded.

Submission of a collaborative proposal should be coordinated by the institution designated as the lead. The usual method for submitting a collaborative proposal is for the lead institution to prepare a proposal that includes the collaborating organization as a subcontractor or sub-grantee. If an award results from the proposal, a single grant or contract is awarded to the lead institution, and the lead in turn, issues a sub-award agreement to the collaborator. The sub-award agreement will contain terms and conditions required by the lead as well as relevant terms and conditions of the funding agency. Most federal agencies prefer this method since it makes one institution solely responsible to the sponsor for administration of and reporting on the project.

A second method for submitting a collaborative proposal, one that is sometimes encouraged by NSF among others, involves simultaneous submission of proposals from the collaborating institutions. If the project is selected for funding, separate grants are awarded to each institution and each institution bears sole responsibility for their distinct contributions and for administering its own funding. It is expected that the lead institution will work with the collaborators to coordinate publications.

5.1.6.1 When Submitting a Single Proposal with Subcontracts

The lead institution is responsible for formulating and submitting the complete proposal to the funding agency. A section should be included in the project narrative that describes the role(s) of the collaborating institution(s). The lead should collect the following from the collaborators(s) for inclusion in the proposal:

  • A cover sheet (usually the funding agency's cover form) signed by the collaborator's principal investigator and authorized organizational representative. Collection of the fully-signed cover sheet is important because by signing this form, the collaborator makes a number of assurances and certifications that are required of a recipient of Federal funds. In addition, the signature of the authorized organizational representative indicates that appropriate officials of the collaborator have reviewed the proposal and have committed the organization to participating in the project.
  • Assurances/Certifications if the funding agency has forms containing these separate from the cover sheet
  • A budget (preferably on the funding agency's budget form) for each project year and a cumulative, including the collaborator's indirect costs.
  • A current curriculum vitae for each of the collaborator's principal personnel
  • A list of current and pending support for each of the collaborator's principal personnel
  • A scope of work describing the role and tasks to be conducted by the collaborator. This should be included in the main project narrative. If an award results from the proposal, the collaborator's scope of work will be attached as an exhibit to the subaward agreement
  • The National Institutes of Health requires, in addition to the items above, a completed checklist page containing the collaborators indirect cost calculations and a letter of collaboration signed by the principal investigators and authorized organizational representatives of the lead and collaborating organization(s). The letter must include the following statement: "The appropriate programmatic and administrative personnel of each institution involved in this grant application are aware of the NIH consortium grant policy and are prepared to establish the necessary inter-institutional agreement(s) consistent with that policy." Specific instructions are included in a document called "NIH Grants Policy Statement" issued by NIH.

5.1.6.2 When Collaborators Submit Separate Proposals Simultaneously to NSF

The National Science Foundation has established procedures for simultaneous submission of proposal via FastLane.

  • The project title must begin with "Collaborative Research:" and be identical to the lead.
  • Each of the institutions involved must initiate their own proposal in FastLane
  • On the cover sheet, the writer should identify only those PI's and co-PI's affiliated with their institution
  • The lead institution prepares, in FastLane, all required forms for that institution (cover sheet, budgets and justification, current and pending support, facilities description, and bio sketches) and the project summary, project description, all supplementary documents, and references cited.
  • Each collaborator prepares in FastLane its own cover sheet, budget and justification, current and pending forms, facilities description, and bio sketches specific to their institution. Collaborators do not include the project summary, project description, or references cited.
  • Non-Leads assign their proposal a PIN via the "Proposal Actions" page.
  • Before the lead organization transmits the proposal to NSF, each collaborator provides the FastLane Temporary Proposal ID number of their proposal to the lead organization. The lead enters in the main proposal the Temporary Proposal ID number for each collaborator using the "Link Collaborative Proposals" function located on the "Form Preparation" screen.
  • Each institution (lead and non-lead) then hits the "Allow SRO Access" button to submit their proposal to their respective Grants & Contracts Officer.
  • Once this has been accomplished, the lead organization and each collaborator may transmit their proposals to NSF. The main proposal and each collaborator proposal are assigned an "NSF Proposal Number" which appears in the upper right corner of the cover sheet following electronic transmission.
  • Each collaborator should provide this number to the lead organization which will include a list of collaborators and their NSF Proposal Numbers with the hard copy of the original certification form that must be mailed to NSF within 5 days after electronic transmission of the proposal

OSP will work with their OSP colleagues at the other institutions to coordinate the final submission of all linked proposals, which need to be submitted within a "reasonable time" of each other. This requires information and time over and above a non-collaborative proposal. Therefore, OSP should be contacted as soon as possible in the development phase.

Last Updated: 11/14/16