Proposal Development

Questions to ask before preparing a proposal

Proposal development involves the preparation, review and submission of a grant application. Following are questions to ask BEFORE preparing a proposal.

Is it sponsored?

To determine whether an award will be considered sponsored, and thus should be routed to your Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) office for review and authorization, consider the following:

  • Source of funding. A sponsored award is funded by an external (non-Harvard) source. Types of external sponsors include federal, state and local government, foundation, foreign/international, and industry.
  • Type of award. Sponsored awards can be classified into three categories:  grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts. Some grants can be classified as gifts, and as such would be managed outside of your sponsored programs office. There are several factors involved in determining whether an award should be classified as a sponsored grant or a gift, and your sponsored programs office can aid you in this determination.

Does the sponsor require institutional support?

Agencies sponsoring major projects, such as center grants, sometimes require the submitting institution to show support for the project by offering to contribute in some way, termed “Institutional Support”.  The support is detailed in a letter attached to the proposal, but it is not considered to be part of the project budget.  Institutional support expenses are not added to the research base when calculating the Facilities and Administration (F&A) rate. This differs from “cost-sharing”, which is defined as direct expenses for a sponsored project that are borne by the institution rather than the sponsor.

If you are HSPH faculty and wish to learn more about requesting Institutional Support for a funding proposal, please see the HSPH Institutional Support Process Overview.

If you wish to learn more about HMS/HSDM’s institutional support policy, please contact your SPA office as soon as you become aware of the sponsor’s requirement for contributing institutional support.

Does the proposal require additional review or advance notification?

Some projects may pose management challenges and/or reputational risk to Harvard. If a proposal or project meets any one of the Provost’s criteria for review, it requires approval by Harvard’s Office of the Provost before it may be submitted to the sponsor. In these cases, please follow these procedures and notify SPA as soon as possible, before the SPA proposal deadline.
Please also note the National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy on the acceptance for review of unsolicited applications that request $500,000 or more in direct costs (DC) in any year:  applicants must seek agreement to accept assignment from NIH Institute/Center staff at least 6 weeks prior to the submission of any application meeting or exceeding the $500k DC limit. Such requests must be sent to your SPA office at least one week in advance of the NIH deadline (7 weeks prior to application submission).
Once the above have been addressed, follow the steps outlined below for preparing your application and sending it to SPA for review. More detail on these steps, as well as roles and responsibilities, can be found in the sections Preparing a Proposal and SPA Review.

NOTE: ALL sponsored proposals MUST be routed to and reviewed by SPA, even if they don’t require a signature and/or may be submitted directly by the PI.

  1. Department (PI and administrators) prepares proposal and internal forms.
  2. These should be forwarded to your SPA representative for review.  Each School has its own review process and time frame(HMS/HSDM) (HSPH). The deadlines have been established to factor in time to asses and address the relevance of the Provost review criteria. For a list of documents to include with your proposal and some general hints, see Preparing a Proposal.
  3. SPA reviews the application and communicates any corrections or recommendations to the department.
  4. Department incorporates any revisions into the final version to be submitted to the sponsor.