Grant Proposal Preparation Guidelines

The following paragraphs introduce the general procedure for preparing and submitting a proposal for external funding at Sul Ross State University. These steps can be used as a guideline, although the sequence might also vary. The process helps ensure that budgetary, organizational and legal requirements are addressed.

All external funding requests need to be presented in a professional and organized manner. This application may be the only contact external reviewers, program officers and business entities have with the university. The funding request gives an overall impression of SRSU. The goal of the grants office is to ensure the enhancement of the university's image while securing funds to support scholarly and research endeavors.

Step 1: Get Early Administrative Concurrence

A key step in the proposal submission process is getting various academic administrators to sign the University Approval Form for Externally Sponsored Projects and Programs which documents administrative approval of the proposed project.

Informing the next level of organizational supervision (Director, Department Chair, College Dean, as appropriate) of proposal ideas before any intensive proposal efforts are begun is a important preliminary step. These colleagues may be in a better position to know how the proposed project can best support departmental and University goals and objectives. The proposed project may dovetail -- or interfere -- with that of ongoing or proposed grants or with other goals and policies of the department.

The principal investigator/project manager needs to obtain written preliminary approval from the appropriate department head and dean before developing a full proposal. (E-mail notification is sufficient.) Notifying the Office of Sponsored Programs of preliminary approval  is advised.

Step 2: Planning and Strategy

Start early! Depending on the length and complexity of the project, it can take several months or more to prepare a proposal. Devising the appropriate development strategy and timeline for a proposal can facilitate achieving deadlines. It is always a best practice to develop the general goals, objectives, resources and budget for a proposed project or program and then use that information to find an appropriate funding source.

One of the first decisions made, and often the most critical, is that of which funding path to pursue. This might be a federal or state agency program, a corporate foundation, a charitable trust, a private foundation or non-governmental organization. In all cases, the proposed project must fit the goals and objectives identified by the funding source. This information can be located in the Request for Applications (or Request for Proposal) or on the agency's website.

The Sul Ross State University Office of Sponsored Programs maintains memberships and access to databases and other funding information and is available to conduct a funding search or provide guidance.

Step 3: Do a Budget

Project cost is a prime factor in selecting a funding source. As important as it is to align the goals and objectives of the proposed project with the academic goals and objectives of the University,  prospective funding source, it is equally important to ensure that the amout of funding being requested does not exceed available resources. A $100,000, one-year project won't be funded by a foundation whose largest grant over the last few years was $50,000. Work on a preliminary budget while trying to match the project with a funding source.

Project costs are spelled out within the budget. Most budgets are divided into various categories such as personnel, equipment and materials, travel, consultants and indirect costs. Any cost sharing or cost matching amounts should be included. After detailing each of these elements, review the budget in order to be sure that the overall plan is logical and consistent.

The principal investigator consults the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Operations prior to the submission of the grant through the approval procedure track to ensure all financial data meets university policy and procedures. Special attention should be paid to any cost matching or cost sharing provisions.

Per SRSU policy, the following PI incentives can be written into a proposal: faculty release time if appropriate staffing is added through the grant, possible full-time summer salary and faculty development leave. Principal investigators can also benefit from successful grants with resume building, research recognition and publication.

Step 4: Decide on a Sponsor and Obtain Guidelines

Foundations, most of them at least, have varied but very specific and inflexible application cycles. Some foundation boards meet annually, some constantly. Quarterly is most common. It is not unusual for the board of a foundation that awards grants in March to meet the previous December to select from proposals that were due in September to allow staff enough time to pre-screen them.

Unfortunately, when researching sponsors sometimes the submission date has passed for the current review cycle of the sponsor most likely to fund the project. When this happens, flag your calendar for the next cycle and go to the next best opportunity.

A sponsor's grant application guidelines must drive every aspect of proposal form, content and style. Study the guidelines closely and follow them without exception.

Guidelines and forms (if required by the sponsor) are commonly available on the appropriate web site, but sometimes come only by regular mail once requested. A large number of foundations and trusts require contact for an invitation to apply before providing an application or guidelines.

Step 5: Develop the Proposal Narrative

There is no secret formula guaranteed to produce a perfect proposal. A more effective document can be prepared, however, if certain general principles are kept in mind.

First, the proposal document is the primary basis for evaluating the project and for determining whether financial support is justified. The proposal must represent the need for action and include all the information necessary to accurately evaluate the proposed activity and the principle investigator/project manager's ability to complete the project.

Second, the document will be read by people facing time constraints. Reviewers often read large numbers of similar proposals in a relatively short meeting. The proposal must be well-organized and concise in order to stand out from the crowd.

Third, think of who will be reviewing the proposal. Federal funding agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health use proposal reviewers who are themselves researchers. When dealing with most foundations, however, the technical terms, jargon and even the tone common to many fields in the sciences and humanities can confuse and even intimidate lay reviewers, threatening chances for an award. If at all possible, use "shirt-sleeve English" for most proposals.

When developing a proposal, keep these ideas in mind:

  • State the objectives clearly.
  • Design objectives to conform to the interests and guidelines of the sponsoring agency.
  • Demonstrate a convincing need for the proposed activity, either by showing that it fills an important gap in existing knowledge or that it serves the needs of a specific clientele of concern to the funding source.
  • Indicate project management skills by including devices such as time lines, organization charts, or task charts.
  • Clearly describe the research or program design.
  • Demonstrate the project manager's competence as an investigator by having an updated curriculum vitae and good capsule biographies of professional staff. (Keep in mind that most agencies limit vitae to two pages.)
  • Include measurable objectives and a description of the evaluation strategy

Step 6: Get Thorough Reviews

When the proposal draft is sufficiently mature in development, distribute it to a few knowledgeable peers and administrators for technical reviews, and to your department's support staff for style, grammar and uniformity reviews. Plan to be receptive to suggestions or comments. Remember, the goal is a funded proposal. If requested, the grants office will review the proposal.

Step 7: Get Administrative Approval

Before submitting the proposal, the University Approval Form for Externally Sponsored Projects and Programs must be completed. The principal investigator/project manager will deliver the approval form and five copies of the proposal to the department chair for approval 10 days prior to the deadline specified by the sponsor and route a copy of the form for signature, in order, to the Vice President for Finance and Operations, Department Chair (if applicable), College Dean (if applicable), Executive Vice President and Provost, and the Office of Sponsored Programs. The Director of Sponsored Programs takes the completed proposal and form to the Office of the President. The proposer may elect to be present at that signature appointment to discuss any remaining questions or details.

The completed approval form and the approved proposal is then forwarded back to the PI/PD through the appropriate channels (Department Chair, School Dean, Executive Vice President and Provost, Director of Sponsored Programs and President).

Step 8: Finalize and Submit

During the final days and hours of a proposal effort it is typical that final edits and clarifications will require us to work closely together. To facilitate and expedite this final review, all documentation must be forwarded through the appropriate channels to reach the grants office four days before the deadline of the funding agency.

The Office of Sponsored Programs is authorized to submit proposals on behalf of the University. After the proposal receives full administrative approval, the Director of Sponsored Programs will submit the application (if electronic) to the funding agency. If needed, the grants office will copy and mail the proposal, normally accompanied by a letter of introduction/support from the president, and affix any requested attachments.

Step 9: Notification

When notification of an award is received, the Office of Sponsored Programs distributes the notification to the administrative heads. After notification is received, the Grants Accountant will assign an account number with funds which the Project Director/Primary Investigator has authority to expend within the parameters stated by the funder and conforming to the laws of the State of Texas.