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Proposal & Grant Life-Cycle

Grant Life Cycle

Common Elements a Proposal 

The elements well-written and skillfully prepared research proposal will specifically address the requirements of the Request for Proposal (RFP), Program Announcement/Solicitation, or Award Opportunity. A proposal will typically consist of: 

  • Face Page/Cover Page: The cover page captures general data elements about a proposal, such as:
    • Principal Investigator's name, address, phone number;
    • Title of proposal;
    • Sponsor name and address;
    • Period of performance with start and end dates;
    • Amount requested;
    • Institutional information; and 
    • Signature of Institution's Authorizing Official. 
  • Abstract: The abstract outlines the proposed research, including objectives, methodology, and significance of the research.
  • Statement of Work or Research Plan: The statement of work or research plan should provide a full and detailed explanation of the proposed activity, typically including project goals, specific aims, methodology, and investigator responsibilities.
  • Budget and Budget Justification: The budget includes a reasonable estimate of the financial support required to conduct the project, including justification of budget expenses. Typical budget categories include:
    • Direct Costs; 
    • Indirect Costs; and
    • Cost Sharing. 
  • Additional Information: Additional information may consist of the following:
    • Current and pending support. The sponsor may require a listing of investigators and key project personnel on current awards and pending proposals.
    • Letters of support from non-university investigators may also be required. If the proposal is a fellowship, a mentor support letter may be required.
  • CV or Biographical Sketch: The CV or Biographical Sketch may be required for all key project personnel.
  • References: A list of all references needs to be cited in the proposal.
  • Checklist (NIH and others): A checklist shows the breakdown of the indirect cost rate calculations.

Developing a Proposal Budget

Your budget is a financial proposal that reflects the work proposed. The budget is a detailed outline of the expected project costs, and should mirror the project description. The budget should be presented as a categorical list of anticipated project costs that represent the researcher’s best estimate of the funds needed to support the proposed work. Research will be held to the costs detailed in the proposed budget, so make sure the budget appropriately accounts for what will be needed to complete the project.

The elements of a detailed budget are:

  • Direct Costs: Direct costs are costs that can be, easily and with a high degree of accuracy, identified with or assigned specifically to a project or major activity of the proposed project. All direct costs will have three things in common:
    • They benefit the specific project for which the budget is written;
    • They are necessary to complete the project, and
    • They are charged or recharged directly to the sponsored project.
  • Some common direct costs are Salaries & Wages, Fringe Benefits, Equipment, Materials & Supplies, Patient Care Costs, Travel, Graduate Student Fees, Consultants, Sub-awards, and Lease Costs. 
  • Indirect Costs: Indirect costs (also referred to as F&A - Facilities & Administration) are costs incurred for common or joint activities of CMU and therefore cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project, instructional activity, or other University activity. Such activities include; 
    • administrative and clerical salaries with related fringe benefits;
    • office supplies;
    • general postage;
    • university phone system and local telephone charges;
    • equipment;
    • general building improvements; and,
    • other general costs. 
  • Cost Sharing: Cost sharing (also referred to as "matching") are the portion of project costs not paid by Federal funds. 

Developing a Proposal Budget Justification/Narrative

The budget justification provides the reviewer, and potentially an auditor, with an explanation of the cost estimation methods used to project the costs, an explanation of why the projected costs are necessary for the research or project, a description of the types of costs that make up a larger budget category such as “other” or “supplies”, and should include some sort of accommodation or payment of unusual costs.

When writing the budget justification, consider:

  • Does the budget justification follow the same order as the budget?
  • Does it give additional details to explain the costs included in the budget, such as quantity and price, if appropriate?
  • Does it include only items that are allowable, reasonable, & allocable?
  • Are items/services clearly documented as essential and, when appropriate, the proportionate benefit can be allocated to the project relatively easily and with a high degree of accuracy?
  • Is it easy to read (short paragraphs, headings to separate different budget categories, etc.)?
  • Is it concise?
  • Do the numbers in the budget justification match those in the budget?

The budget narrative should:

  • Follow sponsor proposal instructions, providing as much detail as needed;
  • Approach the budget from the perspective of what the sponsor needs to know, not from the perspective of what the Principle Investigator (PI) wants;
  • Explain why each of the requested items is necessary to accomplish the proposed research - don't leave the reviewer wondering why an item was requested. 

Proposal Review and Submission

The Office of Sponsored Projects and Academic Research (OSPAR) is responsible for reviewing and approving all submissions to external sponsors. OSPAR staff work closely with PI's to ensure proposals meet the highest standard of compliance by: 

  • Reviewing and submitting proposal on behalf of CMU;
  • Providing assistance with the interpretation of sponsor requirements and federal regulations; and
  • Communicating with sponsors on behalf of Principle Investigator (PI's) and Departments.

Submission Deadlines

Some grant awarding agencies have specific research proposal deadlines, others accept proposals on a continuing basis. Thoroughly read each Request for Proposal (RFP) or Program Announcement/Solicitation to determine submission deadline requirements.

Notice of a Grant Award

A notice of grant award (also referred to as notice, NOGA, NGA, sponsor notice, or award letter) is a notification from a sponsor indicating that a proposal has been funded. Notice of grant awards are typically received by the Office of Sponsored Programs and Academic Research (OSPAR), although on occasion a Principle Investigator (PI) may be notified directly. Notices should be forwarded to OSPAR for review and processing.

Account Set-up

Upon receiving a sponsor award notice or update to an award, a Grants and Compliance Specialist in OSPAR initiates the account set-up/modification process. Once the account(s) and award information has been completed a member of OSPAR will contact the PI to review terms and conditions of the award. 

Award Management

Managing the regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities of sponsored research funds is a highly regulated and complex undertaking. There are multiple parties involved and many phases within the life cycle of an award.

Proper stewardship of sponsored research funds is a responsibility that is shared among many individuals and entities within the University. Cooperation results in the effective management of public funds to maximize research outcomes and higher standards of research integrity. Managing these funds properly will also decrease serious cases of fraud, institutional mismanagement, and poor management of federal funds.

Responsibilities of OSPAR include:

  • Approval of proposed budgets being submitted to external sponsors on behalf of CMU; 
  • Assisting investigators with understanding the compliance requirements and expectations defined in CMU policy; 
  • Notification and transmittal of awarded project budgets and approved re-budgeting requests to the Business Office; 
  • Monitoring projects for compliance with the CMU policy and sponsor terms and conditions; 
  • Review of direct costs identified in proposals for compliance with CMU policy
  • Recording re-budgeting requests in the financial system; 
  • Approve and process cost transfers, when required;
  • Contacting Project Directors or Principle Investigators (PI') if concerns are identified; 
  • Ensuring compliance with sponsor cost-related prior approval requirements; 
  • Ensure mandatory cost share commitments reflect allowable, reasonable, and necessary contributions, receive appropriate valuation;
  • Approval of re-budgeting requests; 
  • Submission of sponsor prior approval requests; 
  • Oversight of the effort reporting processes; 
  • Timely submission of invoices and financial reports; 
  • Reporting of cost share and program income; 
  • Timely award closeout; and
  • Record retention compliance for records maintained by OSPAR

 Responsibilities of the PI include:

  • Develop proposal budgets in accordance according to CMU policy; 
  • Maintain fiscal oversight of their awards; 
  • Review expenditures on a monthly basis and correct overruns or errors, if necessary; 
  • Ensure that all disbursements are allowable and are authorized based on terms and conditions of the award; 
  • Ensure mandatory cost share commitments are accumulated and supported by documentation; 
  • Charge expenses to the appropriate account; 
  • Expend funds according to their approved budgets, within the project period, and in accordance with CMU policy; 
  • Inspect items received and be sure they are in acceptable condition; if not, contact procurement. 
  • Forward invoices sent directly by the vendor to sponsored OSPAR or Accounts Payable for processing; 
  • Approve and train any individuals who have delegated expenditure authority on the requirements of the policy; 
  • Proper authorization and documentation of expenditures; 
  • Submission of justified prior approval requests, re-budgeting requests and cost transfers; 
  • Monitor all aspects of their sub-awards, including sub-awardees performance and approval on invoices; 
  • Notify OSPAR immediately upon discovery of issues involving a sub-awardee's performance; 
  • At the time of proposal submission disclose the expectation of program income, or if program income was not anticipated at submission, but subsequently earned, it should be disclosed at the end of the generating activity; and 
  • Contact OSPAR if there are any changes that may require prior approval for the sponsor. 

Award Closeout

Upon project termination, OSPAR will review the account and work with the Principle Investigator (PI) to determine the final figure to be reported to the sponsor on the financial report or final invoice.

OSPAR will be responsible for:

  • Submitting the final financial report/invoice to the sponsor.

The PI will be responsible for (if necessary):

  • Timely submission of final progress report. 

In most cases for federal awards, final financial reports must be submitted within 90 days from the award end date, and within 60 days for final invoices. Non-federal deadlines may vary by sponsor. To meet sponsor deadlines there needs to be clear and timely communication between PI and OSPAR Grants and Compliance Specialists. OSPAR will submit the final financial report/invoice to the sponsor upon agreement with the PI on the final figure to be reported.