Grants and Research Funding

You may have a great idea for a research project and want to know about possible funding sources. You may have heard about a grant program through the W&M Digest, from a colleague, or on the Internet, and want more information. Maybe you already have an application and program guidelines but need help developing a budget and packaging the proposal. Whatever the situation, you will want to talk to someone in the Grants Office.

At William & Mary, approximately one-third of all faculty have applied for external funding. Of the proposals submitted, about one-third have received funding. Most applications are submitted to federal agencies; approximately seventy-five percent of the funds administered by the Grants Office come from the federal government. Grants staff are here to help you join those who have submitted applications and have received funding.

Who's who in Grants and Research and what do they do?

The Grants Office is is a full service office providing  Pre-award and Post-award administration and support to faculty and administrators.

Pre-award Services:

  • Assist faculty members to identify potential funding sources
  • Disseminate information about upcoming deadlines for major grant programs to faculty
  • Assist faculty members to prepare proposals and budgets based on program guidelines, policies of government and private sponsors, and university policies
  • Review and approve on behalf of the College all grant and contract proposals to outside funding agencies
  • Review and accept all awards

Post-award Services:

  • Establish and maintain accounts in the Financial Records System and assign university account numbers
  • Oversee the management of awards for compliance with the sponsor's guidelines
  • Approve invoices for allowability and availability of funds
  • Advise principal investigators on university and state policies concerning expenditures
  • Provide reports to sponsors, including cash, expenditure, financial status, equipment, patent, activity, and effort reports
  • Bill sponsors and make letter of credit withdrawals as required
How do I locate external funding sources?

Once you have clarified your funding needs, it is time to start looking for organizations that will provide support. Most funding is found in the federal agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Department of Education (ED), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Some funding is also available from state and private sources such as the Virginia Foundation for Humanities and the Jeffress Memorial Trust.

Many federal programs will have nearly a year's lead time from submission to funding -- with private sources the time is generally less -- and most federal and private programs have only one yearly deadline. Thus it is imperative to start your funding search as soon as possible in order to have the funds ready when you need them.

Search services: The Grant Office does not have access to any special databases for searching but uses information publicly available such as Grants.gov, FedBiz Opps, The Grant Advisor. The Grants Office webpage includes links to numerous federal and non-federal funding sources. Funding announcements with broad appeal are distributed via email.

Printed resources: The Grants Office also distributes via email the monthly "Grant Advisor"  to the W&M Digest.

How do I contact potential funding sources?

Now that you have identified potential funding sources, it is time to contact the organizations and request applications and guidelines. We will assist you in gathering the applications and information you need to apply. How you approach an organization and what information you receive will depend primarily on whether the organization is a federal agency, a foundation, or a corporation.

For federal agencies obtaining applications usually involves contacting the appropriate office. We can help you locate that information, if necessary. Once contacted, the agency will then mail you the application and guidelines. In some cases, program descriptions and applications are available on the Internet and can be downloaded to your own computer.

Foundations and corporations generally suggest that a letter of inquiry be sent that informs them of what you propose to do, why it is important, how you will do it, and how much it will cost.  At this time you should also request that an application and guidelines be sent to you.  However, if you know the sponsor's phone number you may call and ask to speak to a program officer or someone who can tell you if the sponsor is likely to fund a project such as yours.  (See Appendix IV, "Questions and Talking Points," for assistance when approaching a foundation or corporation.)  If you are unable to speak with someone about your project, simply request that an application and guidelines be sent to you.

If you would like the assistance of the Office of University Development when developing a proposal to a foundation or corporation, first consult with your Department Chair and Dean. They will determine the priority level of your project. If your project is to receive priority ranking, you may then contact University Development for assistance; otherwise, you will be working exclusively with the Grants Office.

How do I develop a proposal?

Once you have identified funding sources for your research, either on your own or in conjunction with the Grants Office, and have received funding guidelines and applications from sponsors, it is time to start developing a proposal.

Common elements of most proposals

  1. Cover page: provides basic information such as title, name of the principal investigator, name of the institution, amount requested, and project period.
  2. Table of contents
  3. Abstract/Summary: summarizes the request clearly and concisely; ideally it is less than a page. Write the abstract after you have completed the proposal and have a clearer idea of what is to be distilled and summarized. Take time to ensure that the abstract is one of the strongest parts of your proposal. Some reviewers acknowledge, "This is the only part I read."
  4. Text: documents the needs to be met or problems to be solved by the proposed funding and usually begins with a Project Statement or Needs Assessment. Three key elements should be readily identifiable in the text: objectives, methods, and evaluation. Objectives establish the benefits of the funding in measurable terms. Methods describe the activities to be employed to achieve the desired results. Evaluation present a plan for determining the degree to which objectives are met and methods are followed.
  5. References/Literature Cited/Bibliography: list the background on what has already been done in your field on this particular research or type of project.
  6. Curriculum vitae/Resume: lists only academic specifics (not personal) and ends with any publications on the subject you are proposing. It should not be more than 2 pages long.
  7. Budget: provides cost estimates for the project. Most of the salary requirements requested by a project director in the average proposal are for summer funding. Exceptions are made to provide for release time during the academic year or for a full-time salary for a new position. Most proposals will have at least a one-year project period even if the project only takes a few months. For multi-year projects, federal agencies encourage multi-year budgets. Some proposals may require cost-sharing, which generally includes items such as donated faculty or student time. For cost-sharing that involves an actual cash match, additional approval from a department chair, dean, or other administrator is required. All budgets must also include full indirect costs unless specifically restricted by the sponsor.
  8. Budget explanation/Justification: Be brief. Explain any "blanket" expenditures or large amounts.
  9. Appendices: includes, if allowed, any information that clarifies or strengthens your case. Examples of material found in appendices are letters of endorsement or commitment, brochures, and newspaper articles on you or your project.
Proposals to federal versus private sponsors

Proposals to both federal and private sponsors will generally be submitted by someone affiliated with a college, university, or business which then will establish an account for that individual, if the grant or contract is awarded.

Federal agencies will have their own instructions, requirements, and forms, which in some ways makes the process easier because you will know exactly what they want. Proposals to federal agencies will be sent for peer review.

Private sponsors such as foundations and corporations generally do not provide application forms.  All instructions are usually contained within their application guidelines.  Private sponsors will not send your proposal for peer review. They will need to be convinced by you alone why they should fund what you are doing. If they are interested, you will either be funded outright or you will be asked to submit a more information.

Proposal writing tips

When putting together a proposal, many writers find it useful to refer to other proposals that have been successfully funded. The Grants Office has a collection of proposals that you may study. Additionally, the Grants Office has articles and books which offer insights and suggestions to help you create a successful proposal. You should also ask a colleague or two to read your proposal and offer their suggestions before it is submitted. Because of their distance from your project, they may see areas that need clarification better than you do.

Please telephone or email us before you visit the Grants Office library so we can have the materials you need ready when you arrive.

After submission

After you submit an application, plan on waiting three to twelve months for a response, depending on the sponsor. If the Grants Office is advised of the status of your proposal before you are, we will contact you immediately upon notification. If your proposal is funded, CONGRATULATIONS! Your hard work and determination paid off. If not, find out why it was rejected this time and then resubmit it as soon as possible. A re-worked proposal which was initially rejected stands a much higher chance of becoming funded -- NSF has said by as much as eighty percent. And, of course, the Grants Office is here to help you prepare for resubmission.