Proposal Development

 There is a wide range of funding opportunities for Vanderbilt's researchers within the US federal government, as well as through foundations and other foreign governments, multilateral and non-profit institutions, and corporations.

Navigating funding announcements and opportunities and identifying which represent the best match can be challenging. While SPA generally does not seek funding opportunities for individual faculty members, this section of the website provides comprehensive information on internal and external funding sources.

  • Proposal Development & Submission

    There is a wide range of funding opportunities for Vanderbilt's researchers within the US federal government, as well as through foundations and other foreign governments, multilateral and non-profit institutions, and corporations.

    Navigating funding announcements and opportunities and identifying which represent the best match can be challenging. While SPA generally does not seek funding opportunities for individual faculty members, this section of the website provides comprehensive information on internal and external funding sources.

  • Proposal Development

    The SPA Proposal Preparation Checklist or How to Prepare a Grant Application are two general documents to assist you in proposal development, in terms of required forms and processes.  Individual sponsors may have additional requirements.

    Additional resources:

    A Guide for Proposal Writing from the National Science Foundation

    Grant Writing Tip Sheets from the National Institutes of Health

    How To Write An NIH Research Grant Application
    NSF Guide for Proposal Writing

  • Proposal Types

    Description:  An arrangement under which there is a transfer of funds, property, services or anything of value from the sponsor to the institution to assist the institution in reaching a particular goal or public purpose.

    • PI defines the project - usually fairly loosely - Scope of Work or Proposal is cited in award
    • Sponsor retains the right to revoke the award and unused funds revert back to sponsor
    • Has a defined period of performance
    • Reports are normally on an annual basis
    • Supports further knowledge in a particular subject area or field of research
    • VU owns IP
    • Publications are not restricted
    • "Best efforts" are used in completing research
    • Benefit is normally to the grantee/PI by furthering their own purposes or programs
    • IRS includes scholarships, fellowships, internships, prizes and awards
    • May qualify as charitable contribution depending on source of funds


    Description: A mechanism for the procurement of a specific service or product with specific obligations for both the buyer and the seller. Creates a quid pro quo relationship.

    • Sponsor or Sponsor and PI jointly define Scope of Work

    • Sponsor retains the right to terminate the contract

    • Reports are often done more frequently than annually

    • Publication may require review/approval of the sponsor

    • Benefit is normally to the sponsor - anticipates an economic benefit as a result of the activity to be conducted

    • Contractor generally is required to produce a work product or deliverable (it's possible this is only a report of findings)

    • Contractors are paid only if the deliverable is accomplished

    • Most involve some supervision or control by sponsor (on expenditures and/or deliverable)

    • Provides expertise/knowledge to solve a problem

    Sponsored Billing Agreement (SBA)

    Description:  A Billing Agreement is a short and efficient mechanism through which VU and VUMC can contract for limited work to be performed and to effectuate payments.  There are a few things to know:

    • Sponsored Billing agreements are only for inter-institutional relationships between VU and VUMC.

    • A Sponsored Billing Agreement cannot substitute for a subcontract.  If a faculty member is performing substantive scientific work on a project, a sub-award not a Sponsored Billing Agreement is the appropriate mechanism.

    • Funding for Sponsored Billing Agreements only comes from a grant or a contract (sponsored awards).

    • Sponsored Billing agreements provide for reimbursement of direct costs. They do not have indirect costs.


    Description: A formal written agreement made between VU and another institution or organization to perform a significant portion of a project.  

    • INCOMING Subaward: Issued under a prime award (grant, contract or cooperative agreement) where a portion of the scope of work is delegated by the prime award recipient to Vanderbilt University

    • OUTGOING Subaward: Issued under a prime award (grant, contract or cooperative agreement) where a portion of the scope of work is delegated by Vanderbilt University to a subrecipient

  • Grant Proposals (under construction)

    All grants are required to be submitted through VERA in order to capture needed information to approve the proposal.

    Items to include for SPA Administrative review:

    • Abstract/Scope of Work
    • Detailed Budget
    • Budget Justification
    • Special Review issues - IACUC, IRB, etc.
    • Facilities and Resources
    • Biosketch for PI and all Key Personnel

    Additional Items:

    VU is Prime Recipient (New Grant Proposal)

    • Sponsor Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)
    • Institutional/SPA signature page, if required by Sponsor
    • If there are Sub-Recipients (outgoing funds to another institution helping VU with a portion of the work)
    • Signed Subrecipient Statement of Collaborative Intent Form (SSCI)  from Sub-Recipient (SR)
    • Specific to the Sub-Recipient and its work: Statement of Work (SOW), budget, and budget justification.  All included with the VU items submitted with the Proposal.

    VU is Sub-Recipient (Incoming Sub-Award funds to Vanderbilt)

    • VU Letter of Intent to Prime Recipient to be signed by SPA to be returned to Prime Recipient
    • Draft of Agreement from Prime Recipient, if available

    Please contact your SPA specialist if you require technical assistance in creating your grant proposal.

  • New Agreement Process (under construction)

    1.  New Contract Funding Proposal in VERA Grants

    All contracts are required to be submitted through VERA Grants in order to capture needed information to approve the proposal.  Contract Funding Proposals must then be submitted through VERA Agreements to be negotiated by the Contract Officer.

    Possible Documentation Needed for VERA Contract (Funding Proposal) Submission

    • Abstract/Scope of Work
    • Detailed Budget
    • Budget Justification
    • Special Review issues - IACUC, IRB, etc.
    • Facilities and Resources
    • VU Letter of Intent to Prime Recipient to be signed by SPA to be returned to Prime Recipient
    • Draft of Agreement from Prime Recipient, if available
    • Speak with CO about additional requested documentation

    Required Documentation needed for VERA Incoming Subaward (Funding Proposal) Submission

    1. Letter of Intent to Establish a Federal Sub-Award Contract
    2. Non-Federal Letter of Intent to Establish a Sub-Award Contract (to be signed by SPA to be returned to Prime Recipient)
    3. Budget Justification
    4. Statement of Work

    Please contact your SPA specialist if you require technical assistance in creating your contract proposal.

    2.  Route VERA Funding Proposal for Approval

    When DEPT submits proposal to SPA for approval the proposal is also routed to other DEPTs with Faculty listed as Key Persons on the project for approval prior to being received by SPA.

    3.  SPA Contract Proposal Approval Process

    1. Once all Department Reviews & non-Lead Departments have approved the Funding Proposal, the VERA Funding Proposal is received by the SPA for review. 
    2. Funding Proposal appears on designated SPA Specialist VERA Dashboard/My Inbox indicating that the Funding Proposal is waiting for review.
    3. SPA Administrative Review includes
      1. Sponsor guidelines - Terms and Conditions
      2. Abstract/Scope of Work
      3. Budget (F&A / Fringe Rates, effort)
      4. Budget Justification (compared to Budget for accuracy)
      5. Compliance (IACUC, IRB, etc.)
      6. Facilities & Resources

    Please note :  During review, proposal may be returned to PI/department for corrections based on budget, effort, missing narratives, ...  

          4. SPA Specialist completes their review & "Submits to Sponsor"
          5. A VERA Notification titled: Proposal Submitted is sent to the Admin Contact & PI.

    4.  "Create Agreement" in VERA

    1. Admin Contact "Create Agreement" via VERA 
    2. Funded Agreements Guide

    5.  VERA Agreement Approval by SPA

    1. SPA receives agreement in "Unassigned" state
    2. SPA assigns the Agreement to a Contract Officer (CO)
    3. Admin Contact and CO receive an automated VERA notification: Owner Assigned, indicating CO will begin review.
    4. CO will work with PI and Admin Contact to negotiate contract with Other Party.
  • Outgoing Subawards (under construction)


    Grant Terminology found on

    SUBAWARD is a formal written agreement made between Vanderbilt University (VU) and another institution or organization to perform a significant portion of the Statement of Work (SOW) under a Vanderbilt sponsored project. A subaward must include a clearly defined SOW to be performed by the Subrecipient's personnel, using its own facilities and resources. The Subrecipient takes full responsibility for adhering to the terms and conditions of the subaward, including those flowed down from VU's prime sponsor, and assumes creative and intellectual responsibility and leadership as well as financial management for performing and fulfilling the SOW within the Subrecipient's approved budget.

    • Subawards differ from procurement/vendor contracts used to acquire goods or services.

    Budget: The financial plan for the project or program that the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity approves during the Federal award process or in subsequent amendments to the Federal award. It may include the Federal and non-Federal share or only the Federal share, as determined by the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity.

    The Statement of Work should describe the work to be conducted by the Subrecipient, define the deliverables, if applicable, and outline the time frame in which they are to be delivered. The SOW may also define all personnel and their responsibilities. It should be accurate and concise as to what, when, and if appropriate, how your organization will accomplish the work to be performed.

    Fringe benefits (FB) are employee associated costs such as health plan expenses, pension plan expenses and workman's compensation expenses, among others. These   by employee class. The rate is the pooled costs of these benefits divided by the total salaries in each employee class. These rates are then applied to the applicable employee salary to represent the associated benefits for that type of employee.

    The Facilities and Administrative Rate (F&A Rate) is the mechanism used to reimburse the University for the infrastructure support costs associated with sponsored research and other sponsored projects. The F&A rate is essentially an overhead rate.  It is calculated as a percentage of overhead associated with, an allocable to, sponsored research and other activities, divided by the direct costs of sponsored research and other activities. To collect F&A, the University adds the negotiated F&A rate to invoices or other billing instruments submitted to sponsors.

    F&A costs are defined in CFR 2 Part §200.420 as costs that are "incurred for common or joint objectives and therefore cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity."  F&A costs are sometimes referred to as indirect costs. Examples of F&A costs include:

    • Depreciation and interest cost associated with the University's physical plant
    • Operating and maintenance costs such as utility costs, security costs, and custodial costs
    • Common administrative functions such as payroll and purchasing

    Because it is impractical to account separately for such costs, F&A costs are normally not charged directly to sponsored agreements.

    The Budget Justification is a categorical description of the proposed costs. Generally, it explains staffing and supply/service consumption patterns, the methods used to estimate/calculate (including escalation or inflation factors) and other details such as lists of items that make up the total costs for a category. The Budget Justification should address each of major cost categories (salaries, fringe benefits, equipment, travel, supplies, other direct costs and indirect costs), as well as any additional categories required by the sponsor.

    A thorough written justification that explains both the necessity and the basis for the proposed costs must accompany the budget. The justification section is critical as it enables the principal investigator to emphasize the importance of essential project costs. A budget that is adequately and appropriately justified is the best way to assure a positive cost analysis by the sponsor.


    The agreement is likely a subaward if it has the following characteristics:

    • Will perform substantive, programmatic work or an important or significant portion of the research program or project is being undertaken by the other subrecipient
    • The research program or project is within the research objectives of the Subrecipient
    • The Subrecipient participates in a creative way in designing and/or conducting the research
    • The Subrecipient retains some element of programmatic control and discretion over how the work is carried out
    • The Subrecipient commits to a good faith effort to complete the design or conduct of the research
    • The Subrecipient makes independent decisions regarding how to implement the requested activities
    • A Principal Investigator has been identified at the Subrecipient and functions as a "Co-Investigator"
    • There is the expectation that the Subrecipient will retain ownership rights in potentially patentable or copyrightable technology or products that it produces in the course of fulfilling its scope of work
    • Publications may be created or co-authored at the Subrecipient
    • The Subrecipient regards itself, and/or is regarded by VU as "engaged in research" involving human subjects under the Common Rule and therefore requires approval for its interactions with human subjects


    The agreement is like a Procurement Action/Vendor Relationship if it has the following characteristics:

    • The vendor is providing specified services in support of the research program
    • The vendor has not significantly participated in the design of the research itself, but is implementing the research plan of the VU investigator
    • The vendor is not directly responsible to the sponsor for the research or for determining research results
    • The vendor markets its services to a range of customers, including those in non-academic fields
    • Little or no independent decision-making is involved in the design and conduct of the research work being completed
    • The agreement only specifies the type of goods/services provided and the associated costs
    • The vendor commits to deliverable goods or services, which if not satisfactorily completed will result in nonpayment or requirement to redo deliverables
    • The vendor does not expect to have its employees or executives credited as co-authors on papers that emerge from the research
    • The expectation is that the work will not result in patentable or copyrightable technology or products that would be owned by the vendor


    Once the potential Subrecipient is identified and it is determined that a subaward is the appropriate mechanism, the Pl, assisted by the Department Administrator, obtains the Subrecipient proposal elements from their Subrecipient.

    The proposal should be compiled in the format required by the prime sponsor and VU and forwarded to the Subrecipient's institutional official for review.

    A proposal must include the following elements :

    • The Subrecipient's Statement of Work (SOW), including a clear description of the work to be performed, the proposed timelines, and deliverables.
    • The Subrecipient's Budget and Budget Justification, including the Subrecipient's direct and indirect costs, calculated using both the Subrecipient's F&A and fringe benefit rates, and verifying any committed cost sharing.
    • The Subrecipient Statement of Collaborative Intent form (SSCI) - completed and signed by the Subrecipient's institutional official.
    • It is a possibility that a Fair and Reasonable Cost Analysis & Sole Source Justification could be requested at time of proposal.
    • Additional elements that may be required by VU's prime sponsor.


    • The Pl, assisted by the Department Administrator, integrates the Subrecipient's SOW into the proposal, and includes the full amount of the sub recipient's budget (including the sub recipient's F&A) as a direct cost line item in the VU budget. The Subrecipient's proposed costs must be separated from VU's costs.
    • When calculating VU's budget, it is important to apply the F&A based on the sponsor's inclusion/exclusion criteria. While the federal government includes the first $25,000 of each subaward in the F&A base, other sponsors may have different criteria.
    • Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC) Base: Vanderbilt's indirect costs (F&A) are applied to the first $25,000 of each competitive segment of each subaward.


    A subaward will not be issued, nor payments to a Subrecipient authorized, prior to VU's receipt and acceptance of a funding commitment from the prime sponsor. A VU Pl or designee may not authorize a Subrecipient to begin working without a fully-executed subaward agreement in place. Proposed Subrecipients who commence work without a fully signed subaward agreement from VU's SPA office do so at their own risk and have no assurance of payment from VU. In the event a subaward is subsequently issued to a Subrecipient, the Subrecipient may claim costs properly incurred under its own risk, provided that the costs are otherwise allowable. In such cases, the Subrecipient must furnish evidence to VU that all required compliance approvals were in place at the time the costs were incurred.


    The Period of Performance of a subaward (including any requested extensions) must be within VU's Period of Performance under the prime award. Subawards may, however, be issued for shorter periods of time than VU's full Period of Performance.


    At the time of proposal review & submission, SPA is responsible for the following:

    • Ensuring the Subrecipient SSCI is complete
    • Reviewing the Subrecipient's Scope of Work to verify that a subaward is the appropriate vehicle to fund the work
    • Reviewing the Subrecipient's budget and budget justification
    • Reviewing the proposal for compliance with VU and prime sponsor policy
    • Submitting the full proposal to the sponsor for consideration


    Vanderbilt issues subawards on a cost-reimbursement basis.  Rare exceptions may be made when it can be demonstrated that a fixed-price agreement is in the best interest of the University.



    For subawards included in the original VERA Proposal, the Department Creates Agreement in VERA so that SPA prepares and issues a new Outgoing Subaward.

    Additionally, the following items must be submitted in the PEER Contract Request:

    • Subrecipient SSCI
    • Subrecipient SOW
    • Subrecipient Budget & Budget Justification
    • Copy of the NOGA/Prime award


    When it is time to amend an agreement, the Department Creates Amendment from the Original/Parent Agreement file in VERA providing all necessary documentation for the new Budget Period or terms needed to amend the Agreement.


    If a Subrecipient was not identified at Proposal stage, the Sponsor may require prior approval to add them to the sponsored project.  All subaward paperwork should be completed at the time the Subrecipient is identified. Speak with your SPA Specialist if you need guidance.  All relevant documents are necessary at this stage.

    • Subrecipient SSCI
    • Subrecipient SOW
    • Subrecipient Budget & Budget Justification
    • Copy of the NOGA/Prime award

    What is the process for an add-on subrecipient request?


    Vanderbilt is responsible for ensuring that sponsor funds, including those provided by VU to other entities, are spent in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The University is required to monitor its Subrecipients as if it were the sponsor. This monitoring requirement places VU in the same position as if it were a federal agency dealing with their own primary recipient.

    Principal Investigator & Departmental Responsibilities for Monitoring Subawards

    It is the Pl's responsibility to monitor Subrecipients so that there is reasonable assurance that the Subrecipient uses the award for authorized purposes; complies with laws, regulation, and the provisions of the agreement; invoices VU for allowable expenses in accordance with the agreement; and achieves its performance goals.

    See the Roles & Responsibilities Matrix

    Invoice Review & Signature

    The Pl must review the Subrecipient's invoices and indicate approval by personally signing each invoice for payment.

    The following language is a sample of language that may be required to be included on each invoice:

    "To the best of my knowledge, ........................... technical progress made on this research project."

    PIs should ensure that the invoice was prepared in accordance with the directions of the agreement and that costs billed are:

    • In accordance with the approved budget or permissible re-budgeting
    • Incurred within the approved Period of Performance and overall cost limitations
    • Aligned in terms of cost and type of expense with the scientific progress reported to date
    • Allowable, allocable, and reasonable

    The Subrecipient's invoices should reflect both current period and cumulative expenses to date. The Pl and Departmental Administrators should also verify that the Subrecipient is adequately meeting any cost-sharing commitments made for the subaward.

    Clarification of Invoiced Charges: In the event the level of detail included on an invoice is not sufficient, or if it appears that some costs may be excessive or understated, the Pl or Departmental Administrator should contact OCGA for guidance on requesting further documentation or explanation prior to approving an invoice.


    Technical Progress & Compliance

    The Pl must be in contact with the Subrecipient regularly to discuss technical progress, receive and review required reports or deliverables, and verify that the Subrecipient maintains current Human and Animal Subjects' approval when applicable. The subaward monitoring and compliance obligations of the Pl may be shared with Department Administrators or other VU employees; however, in no event may such monitoring and compliance obligations be delegated to a non-VU employee.

    Regulations and Assurances

    The federal regulations that describe Subrecipient monitoring are general, but contain the following core elements of compliance:

    • Advising Subrecipients of all applicable federal laws and regulations, and all appropriate flow-down provisions from the prime agreement
    • The routine receipt and review of technical performance reports
    • The routine review of expenses-to-budget
    • The periodic performance of on-site visits, or regular contact, if necessary
    • The option to perform "audits" if necessary, review of A-133 audit reports filed by Subrecipients, and any audit findings review of corrective actions cited by Subrecipients in response to their audit findings
    • Consideration of sanctions on Subrecipients in cases of continued inability or unwillingness to have required audits or to correct non-compliant actions

    The above list is not exhaustive of all compliance requirements.  In addition to the general elements of compliance noted above, there may be additional sponsor or program specific requirements that mandate collecting and documenting other assurances (e.g., on lab animals, human subjects, biohazards, etc.) during the course of a project. See also Vanderbilt's Subrecipient Monitoring Policy.


    A subaward is closed out when its Period of Performance comes to an end, regardless of whether VU's research project is ending or continuing.

    PIs are responsible for obtaining final technical reports from their Subrecipients, and retaining a copy in their project file.  PIs are encouraged to remind Subrecipients of this need well in advance of the due date for such reports.

    Other final reports, including property reports, patent reports, small disadvantaged business reports, and Assignment and Release documents may be required.  PIs and Departments may be asked to assist SPA and Research Finance in obtaining necessary closeout reports from the Subrecipient in a timely manner.

  • VU-VUMC Collaboration Frequently Asked Questions @ SBAs
    • What do I need to do to make sure I receive the expected award from VUMC?

    The first thing you should do is meet with your department/grants administrator. Working with your administrator, you will need to submit a proposal in VERA for an incoming subcontract or billing agreement from VUMC. Prior to submitting the proposal in VERA your departmental administrator should confer with the VUMC PI and/or departmental administrator to determine the budget, statement of work (SOW), and period of performance (POP).  Your departmental administrator will be then prepare a simple proposal in VERA that includes the statement of work, Budget, Budget Justification and a VU-VUMC Letter of Intent (LOI).

    • You mentioned that my proposal should either be for a subcontract or billing agreement. How do I know which is correct and what are the differences?

    A subcontract is required when a research project is carried out by a recipient organization that is a separate legal entity. In this case, VU is a separate legal entity from VUMC. The recipient must perform a substantive role in conducting the research; for example, a VU faculty member is listed as key personnel.

    It typically involves:

    (1) a specific level of effort from the subaward organization.

    (2) a categorical breakdown of costs, such as personnel, supplies, and other allowable expenses, including F&A costs.

    The Sponsored Billing Agreement (SBA) fills the void when work required by faculty, staff or students does not meet the definition of subrecipient activity. The recipient of an Incoming Sponsored Billing Agreement (ISBA) does not recover indirect costs. Before requesting a Sponsored Billing Agreement (SBA) to cover VU faculty effort, please contact SPA for guidance.

    • My proposal has been routed in VERA and approved by SPA. What do I do now?

    Your departmental administrator should provide the approved proposal to the VUMC departmental administrator. The VUMC departmental administrator will work with the VUMC Office of Contract Management (OCM). OCM and SPA will negotiate and sign an agreement for the project. Once the agreement is signed, SPA will distribute it to your departmental administrator.    You will follow the workflow for a funded agreement in VERA.

  • Budget Preparation

    Prior review of the budget and justification must be conducted by your College Grants Manager or other colleges pre-award resource.

    The information provided here should be used as a general guide in all instances.  When an agency provides specific budgetary directions those directions should be followed.


    Since 1990, Congress has legislatively mandated a provision for the limitation of salary for grants, contracts and cooperative agreements awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA.) NSF also imposes restrictions on compensation levels for the direct salary support of principal investigators and other senior personnel. 

    The salary cap applies to grants, contracts and cooperative agreements awards that Vanderbilt receives from the above mentioned agencies  and  awards from these agencies received via a subcontract from another entity. The salary cap also applies to Vanderbilt's subcontractors under these awards.

    If you have questions about salary caps, please contact your SPA administrator any time.

    NIH Salary Cap Summary 

    Resources for VERA Budget Preparation

  • Financial Basics

    Allowable Costs

    The University must follow all federal, sponsor, and institutional guidelines to determine if a cost is an allowable expense.

    In addition to being allowable, a cost must meet the following criteria to be charged to a sponsored project:

    • Reasonable
    • Allocable to the project
    • Consistently treated
    • Necessary for the project
    • Compliant with any award restrictions
    • Incurred during the project period

    Under these principles, costs must be:

    • Reasonable: A cost may be considered reasonable if the nature of the goods or services and the amount of cost involved reflect the action that a prudent person would have taken under the circumstances prevailing at the time the decision to incur the cost was made.
    • Allocable: A cost is allocable to a sponsored project if (1) it is incurred solely to advance the work under the sponsored agreement; or (2) it benefits both the sponsored project and other work of the institution in proportions that can be approximated through use of reasonable methods.
    • Given Consistent Treatment: All costs must be treated the same, whether supported by external or internal funds.
    • Compliant: The cost is compliant with any limitations or exclusions set forth in applicable federal regulations and the particular award's terms and conditions.

    Allowable Cost Quick Reference Guide

    Personnel Costs

    Personnel costs (salaries/wages and fringe benefits) should include only Vanderbilt University personnel. Collaborators at other institutions should be included either as consultants/collaborators or within a separate subrecipient budget. Proposed salaries should be in accordance with approved salary scales and position grades, and the budget should reflect the actual percentage of effort that is anticipated. In developing multi-year project budgets, salary increases are included per year.

    Note: some sponsors have limitations on the amount of salary that may be charged to a grant (e.g. NIH salary cap). Check the sponsor's guidelines or RSP for current limitations.

    Types of personnel involved on grants may include:

    • faculty members, academic year and summer faculty
    • research assistants and associates
    • postdoctoral researchers
    • graduate research assistants
    • undergraduate students
    • project technical support personnel
    • interviewers and evaluators
    • Other (specify)

    For each person involved in the project, list name (if known), position and percentage of time on the project. RSP includes annual salary increases effective July 1 for fiscal personnel and August 1 for academic year faculty, depending on the start date of the grant. Please contact Human Resources for any questions regarding salaries for new hires.

    Calendar Year Information

    • Calendar Year: 2080 hours, 260 days
    • Academic Year: 1,560 hours, 195 days
    • Hours Per Month: 173.33

    When personnel salaries are charged, the associated fringe benefits are also charged.

    Principal Investigator/Project Director (PI/PD): The person with overall responsibility for the technical and fiscal management of the project.

    Co-Investigators: These are other faculty members or other significant individuals who bring specific expertise to the project.

    Postdoctoral Researchers: These are usually personnel who have defined pay ranges in HR. See link below for rates.

    Other Research Personnel: These are usually research assistants and research associates who have defined pay ranges in HR.

    Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs): Masters and Ph.D. students may be appointed as GRAs on sponsored projects.

    Undergraduate Students: Undergraduate students working on sponsored projects must be paid through student employment at hourly rates.

    Administrative Support: The salaries of administrative and clerical staff should normally be treated as indirect (F&A) costs.  Inclusion of such costs on a proposal budget may be appropriate only if all of the following conditions are met.

    1. Administrative or clerical services are integral to a project or activity.
    2. Individuals can be specifically identified to a project or activity.
    3. Such costs are explicitly included in proposal budget or have prior approval from the sponsor.
    4. These costs are not also recovered as indirect costs.

    Other Staff: This category includes technicians, computer programmers, nurses, evaluators, and undergraduate assistants. Identify title, name if known, percent effort, and responsibilities.

    Fringe Benefit Rates - link to Finance page

    • Undergraduate/Graduate Student Hourly Employees

    No fringe benefits during academic year.

    Fee Remission Policy

    If the sponsor allows for full F&A recovery, and the student stipend is a minimum of $3,400 per semester (or $850 per month, $10,200 minimum for 3 semesters), the student is eligible for tuition fee remission, and the tuition will not be charged to the project. Some departments and colleges have specifically established rates and rate ranges for masters- and doctoral-level GRAs; the PI/PD should check with his/her College/School Business Officer to identify an appropriate rate for the student(s).

    Using the same guidelines as above, tuition for projects that receive less than the full F&A costs will be provided as cost share by the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School on an individual case review basis. Prior approval is required and the Vice President will need to approve the tuition fee remission portion of the cost share budget during internal routing.

    Salary Increase Escalation Estimate

    RSP is currently estimating increases of 3% each year and accumulated annually from that date. The 3% figure is based on average salary increases for the past several years. Individual proposals may use somewhat different escalation factors depending upon the context. For example, if a sponsor limits salary increases to 2% per year, then a 2% escalation factor should be used in proposals submitted to that program.

    Contact Student Employment for any questions regarding the process for hiring hourly undergraduate and graduate students.

    Contact Human Resources for questions related to hiring practices, salary rates, etc.

    Non-Personnel Direct Costs


    Capital Equipment (purchased): The University's definition of capital equipment is an item having an acquisition or donated value of $5,000 or more and a useful life in excess of one year. These items are not subject to Facility and Administrative (F&A) costs when Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC) calculation is used as the basis for calculating F&A.

    Fabricated Equipment: Fabricated equipment is defined as tangible property that is built or assembled from individual parts that cumulatively have an aggregate cost of $5,000 or more. When budgeting for fabricated equipment, components to be purchased for the building or assembling of the fabricated equipment should be budgeted as Capital Equipment Account #794000. This will ensure that the individual charges will not be assessed the F&A rate.

    Equipment needs should be itemized and justified in the proposal. Most sponsors rely on the University's definition of "capital equipment" to differentiate between equipment and supply categories.


    Travel costs charged to grants and contracts are subject to specific limitations and restrictions, in accordance with terms set by the sponsor. Travel policies of federal and non-federal sponsors vary. Travelers on University trips that are funded directly or indirectly by a federal grant or contract must abide by the federal rules on air travel. All personnel must comply with the Vanderbilt University Travel and Business Expense Policy.

    Travel costs include expenses for transportation, lodging, subsistence, and related items incurred by employees who are in travel status on official business related to a sponsored project. Such costs may be charged on an actual basis, or on a per diem or mileage basis in lieu of actual costs incurred subject to the maximum amounts specified by the University and within the University Travel Policy and practices consistently applied to all institutional travel activities. Reimbursement of travel costs associated with sponsored research projects must comply with all provisions stipulated by the sponsoring agency, or with all provisions of the University's travel policy if more restrictive. Funds can be requested for travel to scientific meetings, to conduct fieldwork, to collaborating laboratories and for consultation with the funding agency or with colleagues concerning project research.


    Materials and supplies include all consumable materials, including the purchase cost of animals as well as small items of equipment that do not meet the threshold for "capital equipment." Each item or group of items should be listed and carefully justified.

    Note that federal sponsors do not allow general office supplies unless their use is above and beyond what would be provided through F&A and can be specifically justified for the project.

    Computing devices, defined as supplies where the cost is the lesser of the WSU capital equipment threshold of $5,000, are allowable for devices that are essential and allocable, but not solely dedicated to the performance of an award.  The computing devices must be included in the budget and justified in the budget justification that is submitted to the sponsor.

    Participant costs

    Participant support costs are those costs paid to (or on behalf of) participants or trainees (not employees) for participation in meetings, conferences, symposia, and workshops or other training activities, when there is a category for participant support costs in the award. Registration fees, travel allowances, manuals and supplies, tuition and stipends may be regarded as participant support costs in this case.

    Other Direct costs

    Other direct costs may be used for other project expenses that do not fit into the above classifications. Examples include publication costs, computer services, human subject participation fees, patient care, participant support, repair and maintenance of proposed equipment purchases, rent and utility expenses, animal services, communication costs, tuition, and some types of telephone service.

    Facilities and Administrative Rates (F&A)

    Facilities and administrative (F&A) costs (formerly known as indirect costs) are incurred in conducting or supporting research and service but they cannot be readily identified as benefiting particular research or service projects.

    Vanderbilt University maintains a federally negotiated F&A rate agreement that applies to a proposal budget's modified total direct costs, which consists of the following: all salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials, supplies, services, travel, and subgrants and subcontracts up to the first $25,000 of each subgrant or subcontract (regardless of the period covered by the subgrant or subcontract).

    Current rates

    Facilities and Administrative Cost Rates

    Fringe Rates

    Definition of Modified Total Direct Costs

    Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC) are the sum total of a projects direct costs, but excludes the following direct cost items:

    1. The portion of each individual subgrant and subcontract in excess of $25,000. An individual grant or contract may include several subgrants or subcontracts
    2. Equipment with an estimated life of one or more years and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per unit
    3. Arrangements under which federal financing is in the form of loans, scholarships, fellowships, traineeships or other fixed amounts based on such items as education allowances or published tuition rates and fees of an institution
    4. Patient care charges
    5. Tuition remission included as a direct cost
    6. Rental costs of off-site facilities
    7. Capital expenditures
    8. Participant costs

    The MTDC base will be applied on all proposals, unless specific sponsor guidelines state otherwise.

    It is important to review the program guidelines as many sponsors indicate what costs, including F&A, are or are not allowable. When applying less that the full F&A rate, a copy of the sponsor's guidelines is required to be provided to RSP.

    Unallowable Costs

    Examples of Unallowable Costs

    The federal government provides guidance on items that are considered unallowable costs. The list below includes examples of some but not all unallowable costs.

    • Advertising and public relations (except costs incurred for recruiting personnel required as part of a sponsored project)
    • Alcoholic beverages
    • Alumni activities
    • Bad debt (including collection costs and related legal costs)
    • Donations and contributions
    • Entertainment costs (including food)
    • Fines and penalties
    • Fundraising
    • Goods or services for personal use
    • Interest expenses (including interest incurred on borrowed capital, temporary use of endowment funds, or the use of the University's own funds)
    • Lobbying
    • Membership to civic or community organizations
    • Proposal costs (e.g. time and effort, printing and postage, etc.)

    Budget Justification/Narrative

    The budget justification is a narrative document that defines how the requested and cost-shared amounts were calculated and explains how each cost is related to the project's goals and objectives. The contents of the budget justification should include any information elements required by the sponsor.

    Budget Justification Examples

    NIH modular budget and detailed budget examples

    Cost Sharing

    Cost sharing is defined as charging part of the costs of a sponsored project to a source other than the sponsor. This is sometimes referred to as matching funds. Voluntary cost sharing should be minimized whenever possible.

    Types of Cost Sharing:

    • Mandatory Cost Sharing Mandatory cost sharing is required by the sponsor in the program announcement. "Mandatory" refers to those costs that are required to be contributed by the University as part of the award.
      • Examples: In some cases, the applicant must provide an amount equal to the sponsor's funds, i.e., a one-to-one match. In other situations the sponsor will specify a percentage of participation in such costs (e.g., sponsor will provide funds not to exceed 75% of total project costs).
    • Voluntary Committed Cost Sharing Voluntary committed cost sharing is NOT required by the sponsor, but is quantified in the proposal budget or budget justification. In general, University resources should not be offered unless required; however, there are disciplines and sponsors where such voluntary cost sharing may enhance the competitiveness of proposals. Voluntary cost sharing commitments in a proposal that is funded become a condition of the award agreement and must be fulfilled.
      • Examples: Providing a cost share budget or budget justification to the sponsor showing a percent of effort higher than the sponsor is paying and/or details on additional salary, fringe, and F&A amounts that are not paid by the sponsor. (If awarded, the cost share total committed will need to be tracked by Post Award as part of the award and reporting process, if the sponsor requires it.)
    • Voluntary Uncommitted Cost Sharing Voluntary uncommitted cost sharing is NOT required by the sponsor, and is NOT quantified in the proposal budget or narrative. In general, University resources should not be offered unless required; however, there are disciplines and sponsors where such voluntary cost sharing may enhance the competitiveness of proposals.
      • Examples: Unrecovered F&A over the sponsor's allowable F&A rate, tuition, salary over the NIH cap, contributing more effort on the project than the amount of support requested from the sponsor (i.e. cost share not reported to the sponsor).

    Sources of Cost Sharing Funds

    • Cash Any contributions that use University funds are considered cash cost sharing for the purposes of documentation and reporting. Outside collaborators may also provide cash funds for cost share.
    • In-kind or Third Party In-kind contributions are "donations" of services (professional, technical or consultant), supplies, equipment or cash from a source outside the university. These third party contributions must be integral to and necessary for the project or program, and their value must be reasonably determined.
  • Facilities & Administrative Costs | Indirect Costs

    Indirect Costs (F&A) Guidance

    It is the goal of Vanderbilt University to recover the full costs of each individual sponsored project where permitted by the established policies of the funding agency. Full costs are defined as those costs that reasonably can be associated with and allocated to a particular project. They include costs that are generally treated as direct (costs that can be readily and specifically identified with a particular sponsored project relatively easily with a high degree of accuracy) and indirect (costs that are incurred for common or joint objectives and, therefore, cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project). For sponsored projects supported by the federal government, Office of Management and Budget Circular A-21 (OMB A-21) prescribes the allowance of certain costs and the assignment of those allowable costs as direct or indirect. With certain limitations, OMB A-21 is intended to enable the Institution to recover full costs on projects sponsored by federal agencies. (OMB A-21 uses the term Facilities and Administrative or F & A Costs to describe what most institutions typically refer to as indirect costs.) Periodically, the Department of Health and Human Services (acting on behalf of the federal government) and the University negotiate an agreement setting forth indirect cost rates for three types of sponsored activities: organized research, instruction, and other sponsored activities. The agreement specifies the rates at which the Institution can recover its indirect costs associated with projects sponsored by all agencies of the federal government. Non-federal sponsors are not bound by the terms of OMB A-21 and are not necessarily guided by the principle of full cost recovery for the University. In particular, not-for-profit agencies routinely refuse to reimburse the Institution for its appropriate indirect costs by prescribing indirect cost rates considerably lower than those set forth in the rate agreement with the federal government. In some instances these lower indirect cost rates are linked to a funding agency's operating philosophy of partnering with the Institution in developing new programs. In the majority of cases, however, it is simply an administrative decision on the part of the sponsor not to honor the Institution's established indirect cost rate agreement. The reduced indirect cost rate for foundations will be accepted if:

    1. published as part of the general policies of the organization (e.g., in conjunction with the proposed solicitation), and
    2. applied uniformly to all award recipients.

    If the foundation does not have a published indirect cost policy, full indirects of the modified total direct costs (MTDC) is recommended, 12% of TDC should be the minimum. Contact your OSP representative, if you have any questions concerning the indirect cost guidance.

  • Cost Sharing

    Cost sharing represents that portion of the total project costs (direct or indirect) of a sponsored agreement borne by the University, rather than by the sponsor.  This is sometimes referred to as matching funds. Voluntary cost sharing should be minimized whenever possible.s is sometimes referred to as matching funds.  There are three types of cost sharing that are described below. 

    Types of Cost Sharing:


    Mandatory cost sharing is that portion of the University contribution to a sponsored project, which is required by the terms of the project.  It must be included or a proposal will receive no consideration by the sponsor.


    Voluntary cost sharing represents resources offered by Vanderbilt in sponsored project proposals when not a specific sponsor requirement.  Voluntary cost sharing should be minimized whenever possible.

    Voluntary committed cost sharing is defined as those resources that are committed and budgeted for in a sponsored agreement. 

    Voluntary uncommitted cost sharing is defined as university faculty effort that is over and above that which is committed and budgeted for but not charged to the sponsored agreement. Voluntary uncommitted cost sharing should not be recorded as organized research. 

    In a recent OMB clarification to OMB Circular A-21 there is an indication that most Federally funded research programs should have some level of committed faculty (or senior researchers) effort, either in the form of a direct charge or committed voluntary cost sharing.  If this effort is in the form of cost sharing, it cannot be considered voluntary uncommitted cost sharing.  This effort can be provided at any time within the fiscal year (summer months, academic year, or both). Some types of research programs such as programs for equipment and instrumentation, doctoral dissertations, and student augmentation do not require committed cost sharing.  

    In both mandatory and voluntary cost sharing when an award is received in which cost sharing was proposed, the cost sharing becomes a binding commitment that the University must provide as part of the performance of the sponsored project.  Failure to properly record cost sharing may result in audit findings that could result in audit disallowances that have to be refunded to the appropriate sponsor and/or reduce Vanderbilt's indirect cost rate during future negotiations.


    Institutional cost sharing is a requirement of some unsolicited proposals whereby the University commits that it will use some its own resources for related research.  This commitment is made at the aggregate level between the sponsor and the University.  This approach allows the University greater flexibility by being able to share a greater percentage on some projects and not share at all on others.  The National Science Foundation requires institutional cost sharing.   

    Cost Sharing on Sponsored Awards Policy | April 2023

  • Frequently Needed Information

    Most information you will need can be found on the SPA Fact Sheet.  If you need something that you do not find please contact SPA.  

Proposal Submission

  • Submission


    Proposal Review Guidelines for VERA

    Completed Administrative Portion of Proposal Due 3 days ahead of due date


  • Submission System

    All proposals must be created and submitted to the sponsor via VERA.  Please follow sponsor guidelines when submitting your proposal.  See "Proposal Submission to Sponsor" below for more information.

    If you have any questions, please speak with your SPA Specialist.  

    Below are several powerpoint presentations with further information regarding specific sponsor requirements for submission:

    American Heart Sponsor Information

    National Institutes of Health  

    National Science Foundation

    Department of Defense

  • Routing & Possible Problems

    During the review by other Research Units (RU) or SPA, a proposal may be returned to originating RU by other RUs or SPA based on but not limited to the following issues/concerns:


    • The proposed committed effort and salary requested on the budget do not match.
    • Fringe rates requested are not based on current Fringe Rate Agreement
    • Facilities and Administration (F&A) rate charges are not based on current F&A Agreement, and an approval for reduced rate has not been included in proposal documentation.
      • Approval for reduced F&A charges must be obtained by the PI/RU from the respective Dean of the College.
    • An item listed in the Budget Justification does not appear in the Budget.

    Proposal Personnel

    • Missing eRA Commons User ID (NIH only)
      • eRA Commons User IDs must be included for PI and all Key Personnel listed in the proposal budget for all NIH proposals.
  • Proposal Submission to Sponsor

    Proposal is submitted to Sponsor based on Sponsor guidelines.

      • Federal agency proposals that have the ability to be submitted System-2-System SRS via VERA to - will be submitted by your Specialist upon completion of their review once the Funding Proposal is in state: Specialist Review and the SF424 forms have been validated and the Specialist contacted that the SF424 Forms are ready.
      • Federal agency proposals that do not have the ability to be submitted S2S are submitted by SPA Specialist to once the PI/RU has verified all final documents have been uploaded and approves the proposal for submission. Application is then forwarded by to Agency.
    • Sponsor-specific online portal - Submitted by PI or SPA based on guidelines.
    • E-mail – by PI. RU will forward an “as submitted copy of proposal” to SPA for VERA files.

    Post Submission Grant Application Materials
    A list of acceptable post-submission materials can be found in the NIH Grants Policy Statement, section Post-Submission Grant Application Materials
    Post-submission of application materials is not required. Adding materials to reviewer workload may be counterproductive, so applicants should carefully consider the need to send post-submission materials. For materials that are submitted after the initial grant application submission but prior to initial peer review, NIH will only accept such materials resulting from unforeseen administrative issues. This policy does not modify the Just-in-Time requirements or any other requests for additional information after the initial peer review.