A federal grant is an award of financial assistance from a federal agency to a recipient to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by a law of the United States. Grants are federal assistance to individuals, benefits or entitlements.
A federal cooperative agreement is the correct legal instrument to use when the relationship between the Federal Government and a state government, local government, tribal government, nonprofit organization, or other recipient has as its principal purpose the transfer of funds, property, services, or anything of value to stimulate or support a public purpose authorized by law, and the Federal Government expects substantial involvement with the recipient when carrying out the activities contemplated in the agreement.
A federal contract is a legal instrument by which a non-Federal entity purchases property or services needed to carry out the project or program under a Federal award. The term as used in the OMB Uniform Grants Guidance does not include a legal instrument, even if the non-Federal entity considers it a contract, when the substance of the transaction meets the definition of a Federal award or subaward
Identifying Funding Opportunities
You can search NSF’s website for upcoming proposal opportunities.
You can also browse through an A-Z listing of all proposal opportunities and their associated dates, and this is best used for planning purposes to read about programs.
On the program page, you will find the link to the program’s latest solicitation, or call for proposals.
The solicitation contains all of the program and agency-specific guidelines for proposing work to the Foundation, and will guide your proposal work to ensure your proposal is responsive to the call.
Read about what has been funded through the program to which you are applying via the Award Search function.
Crafting Your Proposal
Keys to Success
- Begin at least 3 months in advance of the planned submission. This ensures that you put together the best possible proposal – after all, what good is all that work if the proposal is sloppily put together in the end?
- For CI-focused proposals, focus on telling the story about why your campus needs the funding, and how it will make a difference.
- Faculty impact stories are important in this regard – how will this new CI component accelerate or transform their research?
- Build a team of IT professionals and faculty who can help achieve your vision - preferably include those who have had prior funding experience and highlight this in your proposal.
- Designate someone to be in charge – this does not necessarily have to be the PI, but there needs to be someone shepherding the process.
- Read the solicitation several times. Highlight questions and talk with your sponsored projects office if there is confusion. If you still have questions, contact the cognizant program officer (they will get back to you).
- Tease out the main points of the program solicitation and allow this to serve as the basis for your proposal outline, to ensure you answer ALL of the questions/topics required.
- Don't be afraid to contact the program officer listed on the solicitation - they are almost always very helpful and are there to help ensure you present the best possible application.
- Be specific about how you will perform the work – describe your institution’s capacity, key personnel or capabilities that are available, etc.
- If you don’t already have an NSF ID, contact your sponsored projects office.
- Become familiar with NSF’s FastLane system. It is simple and direct, but does have its quirks.
NSF Proposal Building Blocks
The project summary is your 1-page maximum summary of the work you plan to do. The summary is one of the most important elements of the proposal package, as you want a potential reviewer to take away the essence of your project through reading this document (they may not read anything else).
The summary will also include required statements on Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts of the Proposed Work, both required by NSF.
The project description is your full 15-page maximum narrative of the work you plan to do, highlighting your project against the requirements set out in the NSF solicitation. A best practice for developing this is to take the proposal solicitation from NSF and craft an outline, then fill in your specific responses to the required elements.
Intellectual Merit: This is a required statement found within your proposal, and addresses questions such as:
- How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
- How well qualified is the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project? (If appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the quality of prior work.)
- To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
- How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient access to resources?
This project transforms the way research is done. It will create a regional network of expertise distributed across multiple institutions in support of faculty-led research that benefits from advanced networking capabilities. Significantly, the project will facilitate the creation of distributed science communities and enable new collaborations across the region that can leverage advanced networking solutions to make new science discoveries. The project will focus on building and strengthening the relationship between campus IT organizations and researchers/educators to offer a series of workshops, site visits, and the development of best-practices documentation tailored for the southern region of the United States.
Broader Impacts of the Proposed Work: This is also a required statement found within your proposal, and addresses questions such as:
- How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning?
- How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)?
- To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships?
- Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding?
- What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?
The South has a significant number of small to medium size colleges and universities, many of them Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) or Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), that will be invited to participate in the proposed workshops. SoX provides network-based commodity services to universities and colleges in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee – three of which are EPSCoR jurisdictions. Outreach will be broad and diverse. The regional collaboration, workshops, and site visits described in this proposal will impact at least four major areas: science discovery, infrastructure, technology transfer, and workforce training at many institutions across the South.
This is what you are requesting from NSF to complete the work you proposed in the project description. Budget categories include (but are not limited to) personnel, equipment, participant support, and indirect costs. Keep in mind most institutions’ indirect costs are 50%+, so this has an impact on the amount you can request in direct budget funds.
Project Budget Justification
This is where you explain and defend your project budget. For what are you requesting the funds? What will the personnel listed in the budget perform for the project?
A biosketch is your NSF-formatted resume or CV, and must follow the exact format given by NSF.
Current & Pending Support
The current and pending support form is where you list your current and pending funding sources, even from internal projects. This is used by reviewers to assess whether or not you will be able to commit the time to ensure the proposal is successful through your role.
Collaborators & Other Affiliations
The collaborators and other affiliations form is where you must list your collaborators, co-authors, graduate advisors, etc. during the last 48 months. This is to ensure that no conflicts of interest arise during proposal review.
Data Management Plan
Data management plans are now a required component of all NSF submissions. A data management plan should describe your plans for data management and sharing of the products of research. Such plans may include:
- the types of data, samples, physical collections, software, curriculum materials, and other materials to be produced in the course of the project;
- the standards to be used for data and metadata format and content (where existing standards are absent or deemed inadequate, this should be documented along with any proposed solutions or remedies);
- policies for access and sharing including provisions for appropriate protection of privacy, confidentiality, security, intellectual property, or other rights or requirements;
- policies and provisions for re-use, re-distribution, and the production of derivatives; and plans for archiving data, samples, and other research products, and for preservation of access to them.
Tips for Data Management Plans
- Start this at the same time you begin your proposal – don’t make it an afterthought (these do get read).
- Create templates/boilerplates that can be used across your proposals, so that after the initial draft, you can make edits rather than writing a whole new document again.