Proposal Development & Submission
Quick reference chart of the proposal submission process. Click image to see full-size (pdf).
Developing and submitting external proposals is considerably easier with an understanding of how the process works at UNC, and of who can help you at various stages of that process.
The Office of Sponsored Programs is authorized to submit proposals to external sponsors on behalf of the university. Proposals to federal and state agencies, industry and business entities, foundations and nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and other external organizations are submitted through OSP for required institutional approval. The only exceptions to this are requests for support from individuals, requests for gifts, and proposals that require the applicant to have 501(c)(3) IRS status; and those should be submitted through the UNC Foundation.
Proposal Submission Process at UNC
While planning and writing a proposal for submission to an external sponsor is not necessarily a linear process, the following steps explain the main considerations that are involved.
Generating Project Ideas
Developing project ideas should not wait until a potential sponsor announces a request for proposals. Conceptualize your ideas, talk them over with colleagues and possible collaborators, prepare brief written overviews, and discuss them with the OSP pre-award staff. As you continue to develop and refine your idea, present it to your chair or director to ensure support at that level before going further. Depending on requirements of the project, you may want to discuss it at this point with your dean as well.
Finding Funding Sources
Use the resources on the How to Find Funding page to search for external funding opportunities that are a good match with your project. If you provide a brief written overview of your project idea, OSP will work with you to identify funding opportunities. Contact Arlene Hansen (351-1932) for assistance identifying external funding opportunities.
Reviewing Proposal Guidelines
Obtain a copy of the proposal guidelines and requirements from programs you identified as possible matches for your project. Most sponsors make these available on their websites. If you are unable to find the guidelines you need, just contact the OSP pre-award staff.
The pre-award staff can also help to analyze the guidelines and produce an outline or summary of key points whether the program is a good match for your project.
Conduct additional research on the grant competition and the sponsor. For example, review what awards have been made in previous competitions and note which organizations were funded. Read background information on the grant competition (e.g. authorizing legislation if competition is federally funded), and also review sponsor websites to ensure that you have a good understanding of the program and sponsor goals.
Once you have selected a grant opportunity and committed to developing and submitting a proposal, notify your chair/director of your plans to ensure your project will be supported before going forward.
Whether you will be submitting a preliminary proposal (letter of intent, concept paper, etc.) or a full proposal, notify OSP of your plans as early as possible by completing the web-based Notice of Intent to Submit (NIS) form. Information you provide on the NIS allows OSP to schedule and coordinate workloads, so that we will be able to assist you throughout the proposal development process, and submit in time to meet the sponsor’s deadline. After you have submitted your NIS, OSP staff members will contact you to discuss the development and submission of your proposal.
Please note that preliminary proposals include any type of submission that provides the sponsor with information about your project, usually to determine whether a full proposal will be invited. If you submit a preliminary proposal and are then invited to submit a full proposal, you will need to submit a second Notice of Intent for the full proposal.
Any type of notice sent to a sponsor solely for the purpose of helping the sponsor estimate the number of proposals to expect does not need to be submitted through OSP.
Developing the Proposal
Writing a proposal narrative that will be competitive takes time. Proposal drafts should be reviewed by colleagues and by OSP pre-award staff to ensure that your proposal is clear and that you have addressed all the required elements in the guidelines. If requesting feedback, please allow enough time for readers to review and respond, and for you to make proposal revisions.
If your project involves personnel from other departments/schools or offices, you will also need to ensure that their chairs/directors and deans/VPs are notified as early in the process as possible.
If your project involves the use of animals or human subjects, some funding agencies require that IRB or IACUC approvals be in place prior to proposal submission. If that is the case, you will need to allow time to prepare and have a protocol approved by the appropriate committee.
Developing the Budget
When you have planned your project in enough detail to determine what your expenses will be, Mona Castor will work with you to prepare a budget according to the sponsor’s guidelines, the University’s policies, and any other applicable rules and regulations. If Mona hasn’t contacted you by the time you are ready to begin budget development, please contact her to start the process (351-1912 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
To avoid any unexpected snags or delays, it is important to keep your director/chair and dean, as well as those from any other units involved in your project, apprised of your plans as the project is developed.
Please note that if your project will include sub-contracts to other organization or institutions, you must allow additional time for obtaining their budgets and institutional approvals.
University policy requires that proposals to external entities must go through internal review and approval prior to submission to the external agency or organization. This process is in place to assure that, if funded, the project can be carried out as proposed and that commitments for space, personnel, or matching funds will be met.
The Proposal Review & Endorsement Form (PREF) and attachments are used to obtain the required university approvals. Upon receipt of your Notice of Intent to Submit, OSP creates a PREF for your project and works with you to complete it as the proposal is developed. When the proposal is finalized and the PREF completed, it is your responsibility as PI/PD, to print and sign the form and obtain signatures from any Co-PIs as well as your and their directors/chairs and deans/vice presidents.
Please note that if you are submitting a preliminary proposal that requires a line-item budget or any other commitments from the university, a full PREF with signatures is required. However, if a preliminary proposal does not include a line-item budget or other institutional commitments, a PREF is not required. If you are subsequently invited to submit a full proposal, a completed PREF will be required at that time.
If a preliminary proposal does not require a line-item budget, but asks for the total dollar amount you plan to request, you will want to confirm that the sponsor will not restrict you to that amount if you are invited to submit a full proposal. Or, to ensure that you would receive adequate funding for your project, you may want to work with OSP to develop a budget even though it isn't submitted with the preliminary proposal.
OSP Internal Submission Deadline Policy:
The internal submission deadline policy is intended to provide sufficient time for OSP review and approval, and to ensure that proposals can be submitted in time to meet sponsor deadlines.
The final version of your proposal documents must be completed and released to OSP by 9:00 a.m. three business days prior to the sponsor’s deadline date. This means, for example, that if your sponsor’s deadline is Wednesday the 27th, your internal OSP deadline is 9:00 a.m. on Friday, the 22nd. UNC holidays are not counted as business days.
NOTE: Information needed to complete forms, budgets, or other parts of the proposal that OSP has agreed to prepare must be provided well in advance of this internal deadline. Appropriate schedules will be agreed to during the development process, but must allow for completion of the final versions by the three day internal deadline.
If OSP does not receive your proposal documents by, or if you make any changes after, the internal deadline:
- your proposal will be considered late and will be processed by OSP after proposals that were received ahead of yours,
- the proposal may be submitted without a review for completeness and formatting
- it may not be possible to meet the sponsor’s deadline, and
- OSP will not be responsible for any errors that result in the proposal being declined or for a late submission that is rejected by the sponsor.
Submitting to the Sponsor
During the proposal development process, you will be contacted by Sherry or Mona to discuss the specific submission requirements for your proposal and to clarify your responsibilities in providing OSP with all documents required for your submission.
Please note that Sherry works on submission of proposals when UNC will be the prime applicant submitting your proposal directly to the funding agency. Mona works on submission of proposals when UNC will be a sub-applicant, submitting your proposal to be included as part of another organization's application to the prime sponsor.
When you have completed your proposal and provided the required documents, OSP will then assemble it, review it for completeness and formatting, and submit it to meet the sponsor’s deadline.