Guide for Grant Seekers

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Part I: The Role and Services of the Grants Office

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We are here to enable you (the faculty, postdocs, and students) to focus on writing your proposal by addressing the administrative aspects of the submission for you. Our services include:

    • Funding opportunities – we maintain a curated list of current opportunities.
    • Checklist – we create a checklist that:
      • Incorporates the requirements of your proposal
      • We send to you in our startup email
      • We review with you if you would like to meet with us.
    • Budget and justification preparation by iteration with you. Note: Budgets must be finalized no later than 4 working days before the due date of your proposal.
    • Proposal assembly/review. Note: We need your proposal documents by 2 working days before the due date of your proposal, although earlier is better.
    • University internal approval form (IAF). IAF Instructions (pdf).
    • Submitting proposals on time.
    • The Grants Office submits 99% of proposals, unless sponsor specifies that you must submit it.

 Note: We need your notification of a pending proposal:

      • Notifying us early lets us help the most with your proposal: Two weeks to a month is ideal.

Part II: Contact the Sponsor

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      • Contacting the program officer before you submit a proposal is one of the best ways you can improve your chances of funding.
      • We will gladly provide program officer names and contact information if needed.
      • The only exceptions of such contact would be for some foundations that highly restrict direct contact.

Part III: Grants, Contracts, and Gifts

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      • Most common type of award.
      • Sponsor expects work on objectives/goals on a "best effort" basis.
      • Deliverables – usually yearly and final performance reports, and a financial report.
      • Sponsor typically has minimal involvement in the project.


      • Procurement funding for direct benefit or use of U.S. Government.
      • Relatively inflexible, e.g., scope of work, budget, or other changes.
      • Failure to accomplish objectives can result in legal action or financial consequences.
      • Governed by statutes, rules, and regulations (e.g., Federal Acquisition Regulations, FAR).
      • More frequent reporting is required.
      • Contracts might not allow ability to negotiate terms and conditions.

 Gifts, Charitable Grants, and Unrestricted Grants:

      • Funds from industry, private organizations, or individuals for research, fellowships, or particular instructional programs.
      • No formal reports or reviews required, no formal documents exchanged, and limited or no "deliverables" specified.
      • Sponsor is not involved in the conduct of the project for which the money is given.
      • No F&A costs on gifts.
        • The sponsor’s letter much clearly state that it is a gift.
        • Unrestricted grants are charged F&A (overhead) of 15%.
        • If you receive a check, you should bring the check and letter (if there is one) to the Grants Office for processing.

Part IV: Proposal Preparation

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      • OSP’s Proposal Preparation site.
      • Grants Office will work with you to ensure all proposals meet solicitation guidelines, which you must follow to avoid the possibility of rejection without review.
        • We summarize the guidelines and required documents in the checklist that we send you with our startup email. The following documents are part of most proposals, but there will be other required documents specific to each sponsor.
      • Abstract/summary
        • Most important part of any proposal, usually the first part reviewers read, e.g. executive summary.
        • The abstract/summary should be a concise yet complete picture of the proposal.
      • Proposal narrative
        • Include project significance, objectives, methodology, preliminary work done by the researcher(s), and relevant studies conducted by others. Include references.
      • Budget and Budget Justification
        • Grants Office will work closely with you to develop your budget and budget justification.
        • Detailed enough to allow a review to take place independently of the narrative.
        • Explain each line item.
      • Proposal Pre-Review by Internal or External Reviewer(s)
        • If you would like to have your proposal reviewed by other researchers before finalizing it, please contact the Associate Dean for Research well before submission, preferably at least one to two months in advance.

Part V: Budgets

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SIMSbudgets: The Grants Office uses the SIMSbudget system to generate/iterate your budget, and we will email a pdf of it to you for review. Below are explanations of a few of the line items.

Fringe Benefits: Salaries and wages include an additional line item for fringe benefits, which are percentages of salaries/wages negotiated annually with the federal government.

      • SIMSbudgets build salary escalations of 3% into budgets as of each July 1.
        • Liberal Arts faculty academic salaries are primarily for 9-month appointments.
        • For summer salary, we annualize the 9-month salary to 12 months.
        • Graduate assistant stipends
          • Based on the level of appointment chosen.
          • Note: Although stipend amounts increase as the grade increases, tuition remission does not. SIMSbudgets escalates tuition by 3% each year.
          • Facilities and Administrative (F&A) Costs ("overhead" or "indirect costs")
            • Charged to budgets if the sponsor has no written guidelines stating that they will not pay overhead.
            • Represent the University's operational expenses for all research (not just your particular project).
            • Penn State negotiates rates with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) after a review of research-related expenses University-wide.
            • The portion of the budget included in the Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC) is the base for F&A costs, which are a percentage of MTDC.
            • To calculate the MTDC, subtract the following from total direct costs:
              • Capital equipment valued at more than $5,000 per item.
              • All tuition remission for graduate students.
              • All subcontract/subaward amounts in excess of the first $25,000 of each individual subcontract.

 Note on Federal Budgets:

      • Federal regulations (2-CFR 200.413) state that “salaries of administrative and clerical staff should normally be treated as indirect (F&A) costs. Direct charging of these costs may be appropriate only” in a few situations. Please contact us if you have any questions about these regulations.

Part VI: University Internal Approval Form (IAF)

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Internal Approval Form (IAF) – Online routing form.

      • When the budget and proposal title are final, the Grants Office initiates the IAF.
      • The Principal Investigator(s) approve the IAF online.
      • The department head(s) then approve the IAF online.
        • PIs should familiarize department heads with the proposal and budget before they receive the IAF, especially if departmental commitments or extra resources are included.
        • Departmental commitments require specific approval from the department head and sometimes the Associate Dean for Research.
        • The Associate Dean for Research then approves the IAF online.
        • The Grants Office submits the proposal to the sponsor after all approvals are on the IAF and the PI and Grants Office have completed the proposal.

Additional IAF approval stages will apply if your project is instructional or continuing education, or if it needs compliance clarification/certification.

Part VII: Receiving the Award

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      • The University assumes fiscal responsibility for awards and essentially guarantees that you will complete the project.
      • For a grant, the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) receives and processes the award.
        • If a sponsor sends award documentation or a check to the PI, forward it immediately to the College Grants Office.
        • PIs must not sign any award forms or return them to the sponsor. 
      • For a contract:
        • The researcher(s) and the sponsor discuss the content of the proposal.
        • The College Grants Office verifies budgetary details and confirms rates quoted in the proposal.
        • OSP begins formal negotiations with sponsor on copyright, patent, default, and termination clauses.
        • The Research Accounting Office also enters the review process.
        • After all parties agree on the contract, the University accepts the award.

Part VIII: Accessing the Funds

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      • Sponsors release funds to the University on the official start date of the project.
      • Sponsors stipulate grants in the terms of the award.
      • Start date may or may not be the date requested in the proposal.
      • If a contract, the official start date:
        • May be specified in the terms of the contract, or
        • May be the date of the final signature on the document itself. Depending on the contract, the final signature may be the University's or it may be the sponsor's.
      • Determination of the start date signals the Grants Office to request a fund number.
      • Upon receipt of the fund number (account number), the Grants Office and departmental staff set up the budget structure in the PSU central accounting system.
      • This is the account from which the PI will draw funds.

Advance Account

      • If funding for a proposal is imminent, and if we know the start date, in some cases we can create an advance account at your request, to permit expenditures incurred against the project budget while waiting for the actual award documents to arrive.
      • Under the Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP), certain Federal agencies (e.g., NSF, NIH, NASA) allow such expenses to be incurred.
      • Approvals for both advance accounts and pre-award expenditures must be processed through the Grants Office.
      • The department head must send an email request to the Grants Office.
      • If the award does not materialize or if the start date turns out to be other than stated on the request for an advance account, the department is responsible for all expenses incurred.

Part IX: What if the Proposal is Not Funded?

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      • First, please go to the myResearch and indicate not funded and/or notify the grants and contracts office.
      • Experienced researchers know this: revision and resubmission are often necessary in order to be successful.
      • If you are a new applicant, please do not be discouraged by “no’s.”
      • Grant seeking is an on-going process.
        • You should request reviewer comments if you receive notification of non-funding and the sponsor does not provide them.
      • Carefully rewriting the proposal in the context of the comments will often result in funding after resubmission.

Part X: Project Director Responsibilities

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    • The Principal Investigator/Project Director is responsible for:
      • The day-to-day fiscal management of the project
      • The proper conduct of the research activities themselves
      • For all technical project-reporting requirements.
    • The PI initiates all programmatic and budgetary modifications, approved by the sponsor where required.
    • The PI must also ensure that all project expenses comply with sponsor and University regulations, and that no conflict of interest arises during the course of the project.
    • The Grants Office is available to assist with these determinations as needed.
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