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 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

  • 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.