Preparing a Proposal

Getting Started

ORS has lots of tools to get a proposal started. To view content of section, select one of the items on the sidebar to the right.


ORS provides two checklists as aids to preparing your proposal and determining a sponsor's application requirements: the Checklist for Sponsor Guidelines and the Checklist for Proposal Preparation. Feel free to download and adapt these to your own needs.

SPS, grants.duke and Other Electronic Submissions

All proposals from Duke University must be prepared and routed for approval in Sponsored Projects System - SPS. To obtain access to SPS, please contact the ORS Assistant Director assigned to your department.

SPS has several functions. It is used to prepare the administrative sections of a proposal such as the budget, budget justification, abstract, and the facilities and resources section. SPS facilitates document exchange between ORS and departments. SPS routes a completed proposal for departmental and ORS approvals. It also serves as a database for managing sponsored projects activity at both the central and departmental level. At the departmental level, for instance, SPS is the best way to check on an investigator's Current and Pending Support information for a proposal. SPS is the primary data source for reporting on sponsored projects proposals and awards, both internally for Provosts, Deans and Chairs at Duke and externally to federal agencies and non-profit entities.

SPS was developed by Duke's Office of Research Informatics (ORI) / Research Application Development (RAD) group), now called the Office of Academic Solutions and Information Systems (OASIS). Resources for installation and troubleshooting can be found at the OASIS website.  It is primarily a tool used by departmental and central-office grant administrators, although some faculty use SPS when preparing applications to be submitted by grants.duke.

Below is a list of documents that should be uploaded in SPS.  This is not an exhaustive list. Please note the 5-day review deadline for uploading documents for review at: Proposal Review and Approval at Duke.

  1. Cover page or application form
  2. Proposal abstract (draft)
  3. Budget (final)
  4. Budget justification (final)
  5. Completed electronic attestations from all who are required in SPS
  6. All extra forms required by the sponsor, including certifications and representations
  7. Subcontract endorsements, subrecipient checklist, budgets, and statements of work, if applicable
  8. Request for Cost Sharing Form, if applicable
  9. Conflict of interest disclosures, if applicable
  10. Any required NIH JIT documentation
  11. Revised budgets (on sponsor's budget form if the original was submitted on that form)

Upon completion of proposal review, your ORS Assistant Director will upload scanned documents to SPS for retrieval by departments, including documents such as signature pages, letters of endorsement, and other required documents for which an original copy is not needed.

If a proposal is awarded, an ORS Award Specialist will scan and attach the New Award Memo and the Award Documentation in the SPS Award Module.

An increasing number of federal agencies are now requiring that grant applications be submitted through the Grants.Gov website. In order to accommodate the NIH transition to electronic grant submission via Grant.Gov, the ADG staff created grants.duke. Grants.duke is a website that ties the SPS to the federal Grants.Gov system, allowing a system-to-system submission of NIH, DOE, and many DOD proposals. Note that if an agency requires Grants.Gov submission and grants.duke supports electronic submission to that agency, you must use grants.duke.

For grants.duke proposal submissions, the administrative sections of a proposal are prepared in SPS by the grant manager just as it is with any other proposal except that the indicator for a system-to-system submission is checked. While the grant manager and ORS prepare the administrative portions of the proposal in SPS and route it for approval, the PI prepares the technical sections of the proposal and uploads them in grants.duke. These can be modified at any time up to the time of submission. Upon ORS approval of the administrative portion of the proposal, the PI is free to submit the application via grants.duke at any time.

Your primary source for assistance with grants.duke during business hours is the ORS GC&C staff. If you are working after hours, call either of the following HELP desks and ask for the RAD staff member on call. Explain that you need technical assistance with grants.duke.
OIT Help Desk - 684-2200

Many federal and private funding agencies require the use of their own proposal submission websites. While the availability of multiple funding sources is welcome, learning to navigate multiple proposal submission systems can be daunting to faculty and grant administrators. ORS staff have a lot of experience not only with the major proposal submission portals such as NSF's FastLane and the non-profit portal Proposal Central, but also with most of the smaller funding portals as well. As each system has different requirements, consult any sponsor documentation early and contact your ORS GC&C staff person immediately if you have not previously submitted through a particular system.

Note that as part of the proposal review process ORS will need access to your proposal on the sponsor's website if a separate review process is not in place for the central grants office (such as FastLane which allows proposal preparation by the PI and a separate review by ORS). As noted above, contact the ORS staff with any questions that arise in the preparation of your electronic submission.

PI Status


Policy on PI Status

It is University policy that only those with whom the University has or intends to have an on-going contractual relationship may serve as principal investigators (PI) or program directors (PD) for projects, research or otherwise, supported by external funding sources.

The status of Principal Investigator (PI) or program director (PD) is granted automatically as a matter of privilege to tenured and tenure-track faculty, regular faculty on the research and "practice of" tracks, and select senior administrators. All other appointments must receive permission from their deans or the Provost. Those who wish to be co-PIs must meet the same criteria as PIs and PDs. The Duke Policy on PI Status is found in the Faculty Handbook.

Graduate Students: In general, graduate students are not eligible to serve as PIs on sponsored research projects. However, several funding mechanisms require the graduate student be designated as the PI or Co-PI. For instance, NSF's Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants, require a faculty member, usually the student's advisor, to serve as the PI and the student is listed on the proposal as a Co-PI.

Requesting Special PI Status: The procedure for requesting eligibility to serve as a principal investigator may be granted in specific instances by someone with the appropriate authority such as the Dean of the school, the director of an institute, or a Vice Provost. Follow the link above for detailed instructions and guidance.

Outside Collaborators and PI Status

Outside collaborators (non-Duke personnel) may not be listed as co-PIs on Duke proposals. An outside collaborator is not a Duke faculty member and does not "automatically" have PI status nor would he or she have an on-going contractual relationship with Duke. The reason for not allowing this, however, goes beyond these two issues to the contractual relationships between Duke and its sponsors. The institutional signature on a proposal, indicates compliance with the terms and conditions of the grant if an award is made. The signature also certifies that the University - and its PIs - are in compliance with numerous federal regulations such as the use of human and animal subjects, misconduct in science, conflict of interest, lobbying, affirmative action, cost accounting standards, to name a few. Signing a proposal that lists outside collaborators as co-PIs would imply that Duke can certify compliance for other institutions and their faculty members when clearly we cannot. Consequently, we require that outside collaborators be recognized in other ways in a proposal. Alternatives for working with and recognizing the key roles of faculty from other institutions include collaborative proposals, subcontracts and consultancies.


Types of Proposals

This type of proposal is requested when a sponsor wishes to minimize an applicant’s effort in preparing a full proposal. They are usually in the form of a letter of intent or a brief abstract of what the PI plans to do, how the PI will conduct the project and why this project has merit. A pre-proposal establishes a foundation for discussion; it does not commit the PI or the University to anything. However, since these proposals often do become the basis for negotiation for funding, if a budget is included in the submission, it should be routed for the appropriate University signatures. When requested by the sponsor, the pre-proposal may be used to determine how well the project fits the agency’s priorities. Also, the preliminary proposal may determine selection for the next stage of the application, help in the selection of possible reviewers and possibly offer a chance for feedback to the PI. After the preproposal is reviewed, the sponsor notifies the investigator if a full proposal is warranted.  Broad Agency Announcements (BAA) usually associated with DOD, refer to pre-proposals or preliminary proposals as “White Papers”.

A new proposal is one being submitted to a given sponsor for the first time.

Unsolicited Proposal: This type of proposal is submitted to a sponsor that generally has not issued a specific solicitation but is believed by the investigator to have an interest in the subject. The unsolicited proposal is developed around general agency guidelines, within a specific subject field, where the scope of the project is not limited by specific guidelines and specifications. Unsolicited proposal may be submitted anytime, although there may be target submission dates set to meet particular review panel meetings. Many sponsors do not accept unsolicited proposals.

Solicited Proposal: Proposals in response to a specific program that should conform to the solicitation guidelines issued by the agency.

To respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Applications (RFA), Request for Quotation (RFQ), the proposed project would have to fit the needs described in the specific work statement developed by the funding agency. An RFP, RFA, or RFQ is usually specific in its requirements regarding format and technical content and may stipulate certain award terms and conditions. They usually have a “hard” deadline; if the proposal arrives late, it normally will not be considered. Also, most are one-time solicitations to fit a specific need that is not expected to recur.

Some federal agencies will not review a proposal submitted simultaneously to another federal sponsor. Others will allow simultaneous submissions but each agency must be informed of the other agency or agencies looking at the proposal either with a cover letter or on the coverpage of the proposal. Each submission to a different agency must be submitted to ORS through SPS and must undergo the same reviews as did the original proposal.

If a sponsor does not fund a proposal, the PI may use the feedback received from the reviewers to revise and resubmit the proposal. The revision is processed as if it were a new proposal. It must be submitted to ORS through SPS and must undergo the same reviews as did the original proposal.

Many sponsors fund multiple-year projects. Funds will usually be awarded one year at a time, based on availability, with the expectation that the entire project will be supported. Some sponsors require that the PI submit a new proposal for each year of the project, even though all years were included in the original proposal. These continuation proposals are not subject to competitive review as was the initial proposal.

The internal review process for continuation proposals is a streamlined version of the original review. Although the proposal must be approved by ORS and must be submitted through SPS, institutional issues addressed at the time of the original proposal will not necessarily be revisited.

For example, if cost sharing commitments for each year were already made and documented, and if there are no changes in the resources committed, the original approval process for cost sharing will not need to be duplicated.

NIH Progress Reports (RPPR): NIH uses the RPPR mechanism for submission of non-competitive renewals.

  • The PI will logon to Commons and select the RPPR tab on the menu bar. The screen that appears next is Manage RPPR and has a list of all awarded grants for the PI. The grants eligible for RPPR submission are displayed as a hypertext link.
  • Click on the grant you want to submit and complete the required sections: Upload Science, Organization Information, Performance Sites, Key Personnel, Research Subject, SNAP Questions, and Inclusion Enrollment.
  • When all the information is entered, the PI can check for errors by using the Validate button and make any necessary changes.
  • When the Progress Report is complete, click on the Submit button to send the Progress Report electronically to ORS for final review.
  • ORS will send the approved Progress Report electronically to NIH.
  • Once the RPPR submission is complete, the non-competing proposal - or progress report - must be entered into SPS by the Grant Manager or PI and routed to ORS (this does not need to meet the 5 business day deadline).
  • NIH Resources

NSF Progress Reports: NSF requires that NSF-funded researchers regularly report on the progress of supported projects and the way funds are used.

  • Only Principal Investigators (PIs) and co-PIs can create, edit and submit project reports in
  • Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) staff and administrative users with read-only access can view project reports
  • NSF Resources

Federal agencies may fund a project for an extended period of time, dividing the project into discrete multiple-year blocks, each of which is subject to peer review. Proposals for competitive renewals must be approved by ORS and must be submitted through SPS in the same manner as new proposals.

Renewal or Competing Proposals. These types of proposals are requests for continued support for an existing project that is about to terminate, and, from the sponsor’s viewpoint, generally have the same status as an unsolicited proposal. Competing continuation proposals compete with other competing continuation, competing supplemental, and new proposals for funds.

Supplements or Competing Revisions: There are a number of federal programs which provide supplements to successful research projects in order to fund auxiliary programs, such as research experiences for undergraduates. Occasionally, a sponsor may have funds available to add to the budget of an already funded project. Proposals for supplements must be approved by ORS and must be submitted through SPS in the same manner as new proposals.

A collaborative proposal should be used when investigators at two or more universities wish to work together on a project, but wish to receive separate funding directly from the sponsor. Each collaborator must submit a separate proposal.

  • The proposals, which must have the same title, are linked by a cover letter which accompanies each proposal and asks that they be reviewed as a unit.
  • Usually, the project description is the same in each proposal but the budgets, biosketches, other support pages, and resources are specific to each participating institution.

Federal agencies that allow the submission of collaborative proposals will provide guidelines.

If another university is preparing a proposal which includes Duke as a subrecipient or subcontractor, it will need a subaward proposal from Duke to include in its submission to the prime sponsor. Duke's subaward proposals must undergo the same submission and review process as any other proposal. Subaward Menu

There are two basic mechanisms for transferring a new faculty member's funded projects to Duke. The entire award may be reissued to Duke or portions of the award may be transferred to Duke through a subcontract. For further information, see the ORS Award Transfers page.

Sponsor Forms and Guidelines

Before preparing your application, be sure to read carefully the sponsor guidelines, review all the required sponsor forms, and fill out a Checklist for Sponsor Guidelines form. Links to most RFAs and sponsor pages can be found on Duke's Research Funding website.

Additionally, ORS staff are always available to help you find required forms or guidelines.

Preparing a Coversheet

The coversheet of a proposal summarizes key information for a sponsor and provides the required institutional signatures. It may, at the sponsor's request, also include the PI's, or his or her chair's signatures.

Many sponsors provide coversheets, either pre-printed or available in electronic format. Care should be taken to ensure that the most current version of the sponsor cover sheet is used.

The basic information for all coversheets for proposals from Duke should be entered as noted below:

  • The name of the applicant or the recipient is simply "Duke University", not the PI or any unit of the University. (The University, represented by the Office of Research Support, is the entity which will receive and accept responsibility for the award.)
  • The contact for the applicant, or award recipient, is the Executive Director of ORS, Keith Hurka-Owen
  • The applicant's address and phone number are those of the Office of Research Support: 2200 W. Main St., Ste. A-200, Durham, NC 27705; phone: 919/684-3030; fax: 919/684-2418; email:

If a coversheet is not provided by the sponsor, the PI will be asked to prepare a coversheet for the proposal. That coversheet can be generated by SPS by opening the SPS record, choosing Proposal Actions and then selecting Print Forms in the dropdown box. Choose Duke Generic for type of form and then Generate. Open the file as a PDF, save and print the first two pages of the document.

An investigator can create their own coversheet which should include the following information:

  • Sponsor's name
  • Applicant's name: Duke University
  • Applicant's address and contact information: Office of Research Support, 2200 W. Main St., Ste. A-200, Durham, NC 27708; phone: 919/684-3030; fax: 919/684-2418;
  • Applicant's contact or award recipient: Keith Hurka-Owen, Executive Director, Office of Research Support
  • Title of proposed project
  • Name, title and contact information of the PI
  • Period of performance
  • Annual and cumulative budget totals
  • Signatures of the PI and the authorizing official

Application coversheets and forms often ask for a wide variety of ID, Code, and Assurance numbers. Those numbers and other information for inclusion in proposals can be found on the Facts for Forms and Applications.

PIs, chairs, deans and others can not sign a proposal coversheet. Only authorized signing officials may sign a proposal for Duke. Please see Proposal Review and Approval at Duke.

Other Required Information - Facts for Forms and Applications


This information is supplied by the Office of Research Support at Duke University for use in conjunction with the proposal and award of grants, contracts, subcontracts, etc. Please contact ORS if additional information is required.

Duke University
c/o Office of Research Support
2200 W. Main St. Ste A-200
Durham, NC 27705-4677
Phone: 919-684-3030, Fax: 919-684-2418

Authorized Officials

Can sign sponsored and non-sponsored research related agreements on behalf of Duke University, except for ones with Foundations and Corporations which are delegated to Keith Hurka-Owen and Susan Lasley only.

Keith Hurka-Owen, Executive Director, ORS

Susan Lasley, Director, ORS

Broderick Grady, Director, ORS

Jennifer Bolognesi, Assistant Director, ORS

Teresa Chicarelli, Associate Director, ORS

Lauren Faber, Assistant Director, ORS

Adam King, Assistant Director, ORS

Brian Lowinger, Assistant Director, ORS

Ken Macdonald, Assistant Director, ORS

Erinn Nichols, Assistant Director, ORS

Shannon Walker, Assistant Director, ORS

Charlene Wang, Assistant Director, ORS

Authorized Official -- For Foundations and Corporations ORS Executive Director Keith Hurka-Owen
ORS Director Susan Lasley
Animal Welfare (General) Assurance No.

Current Number: D16-00123

(old # A3195-01 Expiration Date July 31, 2017)

ASAP Recipient ID# 3752842

Assurance of Compliance

Assurance Of Compliance
CAGE (Commercial and Government Entity) Code 4B478
CASB (Cost Accounting Standards Board) Certification CASB Statement
Cognizant Federal Office Steven Zuraf
Division of Cost Allocation
Department of Health & Human Services
7700 Wisconsin Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
Phone: 301-492-4858
Fax: 301-492-5081
Congressional District NC-004
DHHS (Dept of Health and Human Services) Property Control System Approval property_control_approval.pdf
Duke University Accreditation Confirmation Accreditation Document
Duke University Affirmative Action Plan (current) Contact ORS
Duke University Audited Financial Statement Duke Financial Services
Duke University Board of Trustees
Duke University By-laws Office of the Provost
Duke University Certificate of Existence and Date of Incorporation certificate_of_existence.pdf
Duke University Charter university_charter.pdf
Duke University Date of Incorporation January 12, 1841
Duke University Form 990 (current and past) Contact ORS
DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) Number 044387793
EIN (Federal Employer Identification/Tax Identification) Number 56-0532129 or 1560532129A1 if prefix and suffix are required
End-User Certificates

European Commission Participant Identification Code (PIC)

Contact Export Controls:


F&A (Facilities and Administrative) Rate Agreement Last Agreement
Federal Per Diem Rates
FICE (Federal Interagency Committee on Education) Code 002920
Financial Administrator

Gail Bullock
Senior Director, TBS
Duke University
324 Blackwell St. Ste. 1000
Washington Bldg.
Durham, NC 27705
Phone: (919) 668-5856

Human Subjects (Non-Medical) Federal-wide Assurance Number FWA 00000265, expiration date: 02/11/2027
Human Subjects (Medical) Federal-wide Assurance Number FWA 00009025, expiration date:02/11/2027

IRS Tax Status

Tax Status



IRS Tax Status Confirmation Duke Financial Services
Legal Name Duke University
Mail checks to

Duke University Accounts Receivable Lockbox
PO Box 602651
Charlotte, NC 28260-2651

Where a physical address is required, checks should be mailed to:

Wells Fargo Lockbox
Duke University Accounts Receivable
Lockbox 602651
1525 West WT Harris Blvd - 2C2
Charlotte, NC 28262

Make checks payable to Duke University
Military Critical Technical Data Agreement - DD2345 Forms Contact Export Controls:
Misconduct in Science, Initial Assurance 12/21/1989
North American Industry Classifications System (NAICS) 611310
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NSF Organization Code 0029207000
Single Audit Report Duke Financial Services
PIC Number (European Union) 998693959
Power of Attorney Documents (POA) Contact Export Controls:
Signature Authorization from Duke's Board of Trustees Signing Authority
Social Media Pages




Standard Industry Code (SIC) 8221

System for Award Management (SAM), has consolidated Central Contractor Registration (CCR) and

Online Representations & Certification Application (ORCA)

Unique Entity Identifier (UEI Number) TP7EK8DZV6N5
Wire Transfer Information Please contact Duke Accounts Receivable.


Types of Budgets

The budget can be a complicated part of preparing a proposal. It should be done carefully and accurately as it is a direct reflection of the work being proposed and of your knowledge of what is required to accomplish that work.

Most sponsors provide guidelines for budget preparation and many provide forms for the submission of budget information.

For multiple-year proposals, a budget for each year is usually expected, as well as a cumulative budget. Consideration should be made for cost increases and inflation from one year to the next. ORS suggests that unless the PI has access to exact costs for the "out" years of a project, an inflationary factor of 3% be used. If the NIH Modular Grant Application and Award process is applicable, inflationary factors are not used.

Lump Sum Budgets

The phrase “lump sum budget” refers to very general, non-specific approach to budgeting which leaves a great deal of discretion to the owner of the grant. As opposed to a more specific line item budget where the salaries and fringe benefits are broken out by individual, a lump sum budget might group them together into one round figure: $35,000.

Though the lump sum budget might have categories of spending, those might be very generally defined. For instance, there might be $50,000 in a Research Project category. This broad category could include salary, travel and equipment depending on the specific project that is eventually funded.

Typically lump sum budgets are supported by foundations where the financial reporting may not be as rigorous and the use of funds may be much more flexible than would be required on a federal grant.


NIH Modular Budgets

In a modular grant application to the National Institutes of Health, total direct costs up to $250,000 per year are requested in $25,000 increments or "modules" instead of being compiled from detailed and separate budget categories. At time of submission, NIH will accept a modular budget; however, at JIT, Duke must submit a detailed budget and justification. Supplies $1000 or more will require a detailed description within the budget justification.

A typical modular grant application will request the same number of modules in each year. Application budgets are simplified and the budget form pages of the PHS 398 application are not used. Instead, total direct costs requested for each year are presented on a simple modular budget form. A budget justification in narrative form is provided only for personnel and, when applicable, for consortium or contractual costs and major equipment costs.

Note that SPS and grants.duke are designed to prepare both regular and modular budgets in the correct format for NIH. Duke recommends creating a detailed budget in SPS at the time of submission.

Additional narrative budget justification is required if there is a variation in the number of modules requested from year to year. There is no routine escalation for future years. In determining the total for each budget year, applicants should first consider the direct cost of the entire project period. Well-justified modular increments or decrements in the total direct costs for any year of the project that reflect substantial changes in expected future activities may be requested. For example, purchase of major equipment in the first year may justify a higher overall budget in the first, but not in succeeding years.

NIH will request detailed budgets at Just-in-Time along with complete budget justifications. Important information regarding NIH Just-in-Time requests can be found here.



Program Projects Grants (PPG)

Though the term “program project grant” refers to specific funding mechanisms at NIH, it can also be used more generally to describe multi-faceted projects and programs. A PPG will have multiple research projects or programs that are integrated into a common theme but are budgeted for separately. For instance the Title VI Language Resource Centers funded through the Department of Education may have budget components that are supporting the administration of the Center, research, outreach, training and development and fellowships all integrated around a specific geographical region.

Budgets for PPGs get quickly complicated because each individual part contributes to a common research goal and the budgets “roll up” into a single combined or composite budget.


Line Item Budget

Additional Links:

Sample NSF Line Item Budget

A line-item budget is one in which the individual financial statement items are grouped by category. It shows the comparison between the financial data for the past accounting or budgeting periods and estimated figures for the current or a future period.

Types of Costs

This section is intended to provide broad definitions for the types of costs that can be appropriately charged to sponsored projects. These costs can be categorized in two ways: direct costs or indirect costs. Indirect costs are often referred to as “facilities and administrative” (F&A) costs, or “overhead.” It is important to recognize that indirect costs are real costs to the University. Cost sharing may be required on certain sponsored projects and can appear as both direct and indirect costs.

You can navigate through this section by selecting a link from the table of contents shown in the sidebar to the right.

Direct Costs and Indirect Costs (F&A) Defined

Direct Costs

Direct costs are those which can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project and which can be directly assigned to such activities, relatively easily and with a high degree of accuracy. For example, the supplies needed for a research project are easy to identify, as are the salaries of the individuals who will work on the project and travel expenses for those individuals.

Indirect Costs (Facilities and Administrative Costs, F&A)

The OMB defines Indirect costs as “costs incurred for a common or joint purpose benefitting more than one cost objective, and not readily assignable to the cost objectives.” Such costs are not directly allocable to one specific project because the indirect costs support multiple projects. For instance maintenance on a HVAC system may improve the air quality in many laboratories and offices in one building. Conversely, direct costs can be allocated to a specific cost objective with a high degree of accuracy. Employees who are working on the project or activity clearly meet the direct cost definition.

How are Indirect Rates Determined?

Every five years or so Duke submits and Indirect Cost Rate Proposal (ICRP) to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and then negotiates with DHHS the final rates. Though the government caps the Administrative costs at 26%, Duke’s calculation of its administrative costs is always a couple of points higher. The Facilities cost is not capped, but that also gets negotiated.

In general, a cost can either be direct or indirect but not both. If the cost is used as part of the ICRP, then it should not be charged directly to any grants. However, several types of costs live in both worlds and these deserve special consideration when building the proposal budget or charging expenses to an award.


Allowable and Unallowable Costs


Allowable Costs

The primary source for identifying costs which may be charged to grants, contracts, and other agreements is the Uniform Guidance (link is external) prepared by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The document identifies costs that may be charged to these agreements and further clarifies which of those costs may be charged as direct costs and which may be charged as indirect costs. While not all of the projects sponsored at Duke are federally funded, and while not all sponsors allow the inclusion of indirect costs in a project budget, the distinction between direct and indirect costs must be maintained throughout the University.

Not every cost associated with a project may be included in the budget. For example, entertainment costs are not allowable either as direct or F&A costs.

Unallowable Costs

A sponsor's program announcement may identify costs which cannot be included in the budget, although they would qualify as direct costs according to Uniform Guidance.

Sponsors may also limit the dollar amount in certain budget categories. For example, salary caps may be set in place as part of appropriation legislation or agency policy. Many federal agencies also limit payment to individual consultants.

For either Indirect (F&A) costs or direct costs, the federal government identifies specific activities or transactions that are not allowed to be charged to sponsored research, either as a direct cost or an F&A cost. The following costs have been specifically identified by the government as unallowable on government grants and contracts.

The list below is not all-inclusive. Individual agency and program requirements may list other "unallowable" costs. When in doubt, adhere to the federal government's Uniform Guidance (link is external).

  1. Advertising for general promotion of the University, including printed materials, promotional items, memorabilia, gifts, and souvenirs
  2. Advertising for recruitment purposes that includes color or is excessive in size
  3. Alcoholic beverages
  4. Alumni or fundraising activities
  5. Antiques
  6. Bad debt write-offs
  7. Charitable Contributions
  8. Commencement expenses
  9. Decorative objects for private offices
  10. Entertainment
  11. Fine/original art
  12. Fines and penalties
  13. First-class/business-class air travel differentials
  14. Flowers
  15. Gifts, prizes, and awards
  16. Goods or services for personal use
  17. Lobbying
  18. Memberships in airline travel clubs
  19. Memberships in civic, social, community organizations or country clubs
  20. Faculty and exempt staff salary in excess of base rates paid by the institution.
  21. Selling or marketing products or services of the University.
  22. Social events

Cost Sharing and Matching

Cost-sharing is that portion of a project's costs, direct or F&A, not borne by the sponsor. These costs may be contributed by the University or by third parties. The University will only commit to cost-sharing on a project if it is required by the sponsor and, generally only in the amount required.

While the terms matching and cost-sharing are often used interchangeably, matching has a specific meaning. Some agencies have programs which will "match" funds raised by Duke from third parties. The match is given in addition to the basic award. ORS is required to certify the award of the third party funds before the agency will provide the matching award.

SPS can prepare budgets with full cost-sharing details and, if not provided by the sponsor, can create an appropriate budget form to show the cost-sharing.

Four Types of Cost-sharing

  • faculty effort

  • other Duke resources such as non-faculty salaries, equipment, supplies and materials necessary for the project
  • reductions/waivers of indirect costs, considered only when an agency or program has a formal indirect cost rate lower than the University's current rate or disallows indirect cost recovery
  • third party contributions, either in-kind or cash, for example, the donated use of an off-campus meeting space or auditorium for which a fee is usually charged.

Required Documentation for Commitments


      Documentation Required

      Form Required

      Faculty effort



      Other resources*

      Letter of commitment


      Waiver of F&A

      Policy statement from sponsor


      3rd Party commitment

      Letter of commitment


      * Other Duke resources include staff salaries, equipment, copying, etc.

      NOTE: The University requires that F&A costs be calculated on faculty effort and other contributed resources, and included in the cost-sharing totals unless this is unallowable by the sponsor. The rationale is as follows: If instead of contributing these resources, Duke had asked the sponsor to provide them, Duke would also have asked the sponsor to pay the associated F&A costs. The F&A costs which the University will not collect are considered part of the cost to Duke of supporting the project.

      Filling out the Request for Cost-sharing Form

      If the sponsor requires cost-sharing, the proposal must be accompanied by a completed Request for Cost-sharing form when it is submitted to ORS for review. For each type of cost-sharing, for each year of the project, the PI should complete the worksheet section of the form and attach letters of commitment as described in the table above.

      Required Endorsements

      • School of Arts and Sciences: Department chair only (except for NIH salary above the cap which requires the Dean's approval)
      • School of Engineering: Department chair and dean
      • Schools of Law and Divinity: Dean only
      • Fuqua School of Business and the Nicholas School of the Environment (NSOE): Business Manager
      • If more than one unit will be contributing faculty salary or other resources, the appropriate chairs and deans from each unit must sign the form. If a School of Medicine Department is included, their approval of the SPS entry serves as approval.

      Agencies which routinely require cost-sharing will provide budget forms with two columns, one for the request and one for Duke's contribution. If a form is not provided, the PI should create a double-column budget clearly describing Duke's commitment by cost category. Such a budget can easily be created in SPS.

      Federal funds cannot be used to match other federal funds. Also, one source of funds, whether internal or third party, may not be used as a match more than once, nor used to meet more than one cost-sharing requirement.

      Direct Costs

      Direct costs are those which can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project and which can be directly assigned to such activities, relatively easily and with a high degree of accuracy. For example, the supplies needed for a research project are easy to identify, as are the salaries of the individuals who will work on the project as are the travel expenses for those individuals.

      Use the navigation outline in the sidebar to the right to learn more about direct costs.

      Salaries and Wages

      In general, the largest portion of the proposed budget will be allocated to salaries and fringe benefits, so it is important to understand how to present this information and to ensure that the numbers are correct. 

      The first step is to determine how much effort of various types of employees will be required to complete the project. The budget justification should describe what each employee will be doing on the project. These decisions have implications downstream because proposed effort becomes committed effort which becomes certified effort.

      Next, determine how the sponsors require effort to be presented in the budget. Typically this is either in months or percentages. Some funding mechanisms require effort to be presented in hours or daily rates. Because Duke employees are paid either monthly or on a by weekly basis these two approaches are difficult to impossible to address.

      After determining the amount of effort needed, the next step is to collect the Institutional Base Salary (IBS) of all project employees.(Employee Salary Request Form)The IBS is the of salary paid to an employee for 100% of the employee’s University Effort: research, instruction, administration, etc.

                                          IBS X % = Requested Salary

      PI/PDs, Co-PIs and Key Senior Personnel (faculty members) are almost always identified by name in the budget. Postdocs, Professional/technical staff, students and staff generally are not and can be identified as To Be Determined (TBD). In these cases the budget should include appropriate estimates based on Duke’s established salary ranges as published Human Resources .

      Only Duke employees and TBDs may appear in the Salary and Wages section of the proposed budget with the proposed compensation and fringe benefits. Non-Duke personnel may appear in the budgets as consultants, recipients of honoraria, participant support or as a subcontracting entity with a separate budget.

      Duke personnel can be included in budgets with effort and zero dollars. This is referred to as Voluntary Committed Cost-Sharing and requires further reviews and approvals. Some sponsors like the NSF prohibit the inclusion of VCCS.

      Faculty members may request academic year salary support or supplement their nine-month salary with up to three months of summer support. For each summer month, they may seek funding for one/ninth of their nine-month salary. Summer salary supplements may be paid for work performed in May, June, July, and August.

      If a faculty member is working on several sponsored projects, care must be taken to ensure that no more than 100% of effort is committed to the aggregate of all projects and other university responsibilities. However, a faculty member can have several active submissions that include effort above 100% because many submissions are not funded. If the awards come in, then the faculty member will need to negotiate his effort levels with the sponsors.

      NOTE: Some agencies place restrictions on the amount of faculty time they will support during a given year or establish caps on the amount of salary they will cover. For example, generally, NSF will only support two months of effort across all the PI’s grants whereas NIH caps the total salary that they will support.

      NIH Salary Cap Summary 

      Salaries Above the NIH Cap

      Post-doctoral associates may be hired on research grants on a full-time or part-time basis. NIH publishes set rates based on years of experience that are useful for building not only NIH budgets but also budgets for other sponsors as well.

      Other professionals such as technicians or programmers may be hired on a full or part-time basis. Technical staff are employees who are providing support functions that are integral to the operations of the lab or directly related to the sponsored project. Examples of support functions include but are not limited to managing lab animals, developing and maintaining protocols for human or animal research, collecting, managing, and securing project specific data, and coordinating research subjects and incentives.

      Graduate students may be compensated for up to 100% of their effort from research grants. Graduate student workloads are limited to less than 20 hours per week and effort is usually described in hours.When graduate students work on sponsored research projects they are considered employees of the University. Consequently, all payments are considered wages and are taxable income. Associated Tuition Remission costs must be included in the budget using the Graduate School’s Average Rate Basis calculation.

      Often students may be included on Fellowships and Training proposals. Many of these types of mechanisms include: sponsor stipulations to allow other costs associated with the student such as, stipends, tuition, and fees.

      NOTE: NIH guidelines restrict payments to graduate students to an amount equal to the maximum amount allowed for a first-year postdoctoral employee at the same institution performing comparable work.

      Undergraduate students may work on grants and are usually hired as bi-weekly employees. Undergraduate workloads are necessarily limited to less than 20 hours per week and effort is usually described in hours.

      Administrative and Clerical Staff may be supported by sponsored research projects but only under special circumstances. Ordinarily administrative support for grants is considered to be part of the F&A costs in the budget.

      Administrative and Clerical Salary Costs


      Administrative and Clerical Salaries

      Federal regulations state that clerical and administrative salaries should normally be treated as an indirect cost; however it may be appropriate to charge them as direct costs if certain general criteria are met. To qualify the costs must be

      • Integral to the project or activity,
      • Individuals must be specifically identified with the project or activity,
      • Explicitly included in the proposed budget or have the prior approval of the sponsoring agency,
      • Not also recovered as indirect costs.

      These requirements do not apply to salaries for technical personnel, graduate students, postdoctoral associates or senior programmatic personnel.

      Requesting Employee Salary Information

      Additional Links:

      Salary Request Form
      SPOC Lists

      University policy requires that an employee’s Institutional Base Salary (IBS) be used when preparing proposal budgets for external sponsors. Depending on the timing of the proposal and expected start date, salaries may be inflated for anticipated out-year increases or even entered at a higher level if a significant raise is anticipated in the first year, but the starting point is always the IBS and must be verifiable in iForms.  

      One of the biggest challenges in preparing collaborative proposals lies in getting timely and accurate salary information for everyone involved. To facilitate work on collaborative proposals that include employees from other departments, the preaward offices have developed two items for your use.

      1. SPOC Lists: The SPOC lists let grant managers know whom to ask for information when working with unfamiliar departments.

      2. Salary Request Form  - Because salaries are confidential information, use of the form will give the department receiving it a means of verifying the legitimacy of the request. Do not upload or attach the salary document in SPS

      The ultimate intent of the form, the procedure and the SPOC lists is to reduce the number of proposals that are returned to the owning organization for salary changes – with the hope that routing for approval will go more quickly and smoothly.  The more information you can provide, the better the chances of this working well.



      •  Prepares salary request forms for all non-dept personnel on the proposal
      •  Emails forms to the appropriate SPOCs


      •  SPOC receiving the email either checks each individual’s salary rate in iForms  or requests the information from the DEPT payroll person
      •  Confirms employee’s agreement to participate and the level of effort
      •  Completes the form for each employee
      •  If applicable, fills out a cost sharing form and obtains required signatures
      •  Returns the form(s) within TWO business days


      •  Enters the salaries in SPS using the IBS amounts provided
      •  Takes into account appointment type and academic year/summer effort differences if applicable
      •  Inflates and prorates in the standard format unless sponsor requirements differ
      •  Enters any required cost sharing in SPS
      •  Routes for approvals 


      •  Reviews the proposal to confirm correct IBS, appointment type(s), cost sharing and level(s) of effort
      •  If correct, approves
      •  If incorrect, returns proposal to owning department with clear explanation of the problem(s)

      Salaries Above the NIH Cap

      Every year since 1990 Congress has legislatively mandated a provision limiting the amount of salary that can be charged on an employee by employee basis to National Institutes of Health grants. However, the employees must still receive 100% of their IBS from Duke. This means Duke will charge the grant up to the mandated “cap” and then cost share  the difference between the cap and the IBS.

      Most faculty appointments on Campus are for nine months with the exception of some Research Professors who have 12-month appointments. It is important for budgetary purposes to understand their appointment types represented in the budget or the calculations can be completely wrong. The NIH Notice linked above illustrates how to calculate salaries above the cap using various scenarios.

      Calculating salaries above the cap is easily accomplished in SPS Web. There are several examples provided in the Entering Salaries into SPS document linked at the top of this page.

      Preaward Roles and Responsibilities


      • Identifies salaries in the budget above the NIH cap
      • Indicates required cost sharing in SPS
      • Calculates and enters the portion to be covered by NIH in SPS
      • Calculates and enters the cost share portion to be covered by Duke in SPS
      • Completes a Cost Share form with all of the required signatures and uploads into the internal document section of the SPS proposal record


      • Reviews and approves the proposal budget as part of its review
      • Retains the cost share form in the proposal file



      • Indicates the inclusion of salaries above the cap in the budget when transmitting the award to TBS


      Fringe Benefits

      Additional Links:

      Current Rates

      Fringe benefit (FB) rates are expressed as a percentage of salary. Separate FB rates are used for federal and non-federal grants and contracts, and those rates are divided by faculty/monthly employees, bi-weekly employees, Ph.D. students and other students. (The rate for students is only to be used when a student is not currently enrolled.) Federal rates are lower as a result of the government's decision to end participation in the tuition reimbursement portion of Duke's FB program.

      Duke's FB rates are negotiated with DHHS; however, the negotiated rates usually cover only one fiscal year at a time. The University's Corporate Controller projects FB rates several fiscal years in advance for budget planning purposes. These projected rates have not been negotiated with the Federal Government. Unless the Sponsor stipulates otherwise, faculty are expected to use the projected rates when preparing proposals. The Controller's office notifies the faculty and ORS of changes in the projected rates. Current and recent past rates are available on the Financial Services website.

      The budget periods in a proposal do not always correspond to fiscal years. A given budget period may include more than one fiscal year and, therefore, more than one fringe benefit rate would be applicable to that period. The method for resolving this issue depends upon the sponsor and the anticipated award mechanism. For grant proposals, the fringe benefit rate should be prorated across fiscal years. Please note that if you are submitting a DOD contract proposal, you may be required to use the single negotiated rate for all years.

      Subrecipients, Subawards, Vendors and Consultants

      If another organization, a subrecipient, will be paid by Duke University to conduct part of the proposed project, subawards or subcontracts are the most appropriate mechanisms for the transfer of funds if the following criteria apply:

      1. the funds are to be paid to another university or business rather than to an individual (consultant).
      2. the subrecipient will contribute to the scholarly or scientific design, conduct, and reporting of the project as described in a statement of work.
      3. the subrecipient's portion of the project requires judgment, unique expertise, and original thought.
      4. the subrecipient does not provide identical services to others as their primary business. Examples of identical services include the fabrication or repair of equipment, data processing, and routine analytical and testing services.
      Chain of Relationship_NSF_Sponsor_resize.jpg
      Chain of Relationship_UNC_Sponsor_resize.jpg



      Vendor / Consultant

      • Performance is measured against the objectives of the sponsored project
      • Responsible for programmatic decision making
      • Responsible for adherence to applicable federal compliance requirements
      • Utilizes funds to carry out a program of the organization – not to provide goods or services for the program
      • Cannot be an individual
      • Provide goods and services within normal business operations
      • Provides similar goods and services to many different purchasers
      • Operates in a competitive environment
      • Provides goods and services ancillary to the operation of the federal program
      • Not subject to monitoring or reporting requirements of the prime award
      • Universities may create “service centers” to offer such services as survey support, dissemination and data collection for a standard fee.
      • Can be an entity or individual


      How to pay outside entities.



      • Subcontract
      • Subaward
      • The Duke University Research Support Services Agreement (RSSA) should be utilized to procure outside services on sponsored codes (20X, 30X-35X, 38X, 293, 393 and A03).
      • This agreement should be used only when a determination is made that the entity is a vendor using the Checklist to Determine Subrecipient or Contractor Classification


      Equipment Costs

      Capital equipment is defined by the University as a permanent asset costing $5,000 or more per unit and having a useful life of at least two years. The cost of shipping and installation is included in the cost of the equipment.

      The budget should specify the name and manufacturer of the equipment whenever possible. Sponsors may want to see the manufacturer's specifications and price list, particularly if the equipment is very expensive.

      Software: Operational software is purchased in conjunction with hardware and is considered part of the purchase price. Software applications which are purchased separately are considered equipment if they meet the dollar threshold per licensed user as described above. Leased software is not identified as capital equipment, regardless of cost.

      Warranties: Extended warranties are not capitalized under Duke policy and should go in the "other direct costs" category.

      Fabrication: If a project will need equipment which is not commercially available and must be fabricated, all the costs associated with its fabrication will be considered part of the cost of the equipment.

      The final cost of fabricated equipment should be estimated, included in the equipment category, and excluded from F&A cost recovery. The budget narrative should clearly identify all of the costs which will be associated with the production of the equipment, such as materials, salaries, and travel. Sponsored Programs has postaward accounting procedures to track expenses associated with fabrication. When the equipment is completed it will be tagged and inventoried.

      Buy American: If a contract is used to fund the proposed research, the purchase of non-U.S. manufactured equipment may require special authorization under the Buy American Act. The contact for information about the Buy American Act is:

      Equipment Screening Form: The Equipment Screening Form is required for purchases made on reportable projects. The form will require signatures from a Departmental Representative confirming that they have reviewed the completed form and related attachments. The completed form must appear in the Notes and Attachment section of the Buy@Duke Cart. Questions regarding allowability or procedure should be directed to your OSP liaison.

      What does this mean for PIs?

      The PIs should expect to have conversations with their Grant Manager (GM) regarding the scientific or programmatic needs of the project. They should note that convenience is not a sufficient reason.

      What does this mean for GMs?

      GMs should expect to have conversations with their PI and Departmental Representatives regarding the scientific or programmatic needs of the project and how they are furthered by the purchase of the capital equipment.

      Director of Research Procurement
      Procurement Services, Box 91005
      Phone: (919) 613-8350

      Supplies and Materials

      The Supplies & Materials budget category applies to consumable supplies, regardless of cost, and equipment with a unit value of under $5,000 or a useful life of under two years. Supplies should be listed by general type such as chemicals or glassware.

      General office supplies, such as paper, staples, pencils and pens and non-capital equipment such as calculators and printers, are generally not allowable on federal grants unless they can be directly allocated to specific project and are fully explained in the budget justification. This budget category can be supported by general descriptions of the type of supplies included and a best estimate of their cost. 

      If the awarded budget includes general office supplies, the department must complete a CAS form.

      Computing Devices

      Additional Links: 

      UGC 3.0 Computing Devices

      Under the OMB Uniform Guidance, computing devices are allowable direct costs on federal awards if the devices are “essential and allocable,” and they do not have to be solely dedicated to the project. Computing devices are defined as machines used to acquire, store, analyze, process, and publish data and other information electronically, including accessories (or “peripherals”) for printing, transmitting and receiving, or storing electronic information.

      Duke has determined that cell phones do not meet the definition above and are unallowable as direct costs on federal awards except in exceptional circumstances. Best practice would dictate that purchases of cell phones on Federal Grants should be budgeted and well justified in the proposal.

      General Purpose Supplies and Local Telephone Services

      The University provides general office and data processing equipment and supplies to its faculty and staff. Only supplies and equipment which will be used for grant activities can be considered a direct cost and the expense must be clearly justified.

      Local telephone service is a departmental administrative cost, however, if a phone or line can be identified exclusively with a project and will only be used for research or project activities, permission may be secured to charge the line as a direct cost. Examples of services which would meet the criteria are:

      • a modem used for twenty-four hour collection of seismic data from around the country
      • a hot-line reserved for participants on a research study

      By contrast, providing a phone for a new member of a research team is an expense which the university should cover with unit funds.

      Travel Costs

      For each trip, the proposed destination, purpose and duration of the trip should be described. An estimated breakdown of expenses for each person traveling should include:

      1. round trip coach air fare
      2. per diem or living expenses
      3. other related expenses such as ground transportation, conference registration fees, and short-term Visa fees, etc.

      For use in federal projects, the General Services Administration publishes the maximum allowable Federal per diem rates for U.S. and foreign cities.

      The Federal Government imposes strict regulations regarding the use of U.S. flag carriers and the class of ticket a grantee must purchase. See Fly America Act

      Participant Costs

      Participant support costs are direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not Duke employees) in connection with conferences, or training projects. Participant support costs are allowable expenses with the prior approval of the federal sponsor; funds budgeted for participant support costs can generally be rebudgeted to other costs only with the sponsor prior approval.

      This category is used primarily for conference proposals or training proposals such as NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) proposals where the students come to Duke from other universities and colleges.

      NOTE: Participant support costs are managed on subcodes because they must be accounted for separately and excluded from the calculation of the F&A costs

      Subcontracts - During Submission Process


      Documentation Required by Duke University from Subrecipients Prior to Proposal Submission

      1. A statement of work

      2. A corresponding budget and budget justification

      3. A cover letter or commitment signed by an authorized official of the participating institution(s) and

      4. If required by the sponsor, the recipient institution(s) may need to provide certifications and representations, other support documentation, biosketches, signed cover pages, DUNS, etc.

      5. PHS and NSF Only: The subrecipient must attest to its compliance with prime sponsor FCOI regulations and agree to abide by its own compliance policies or follow Duke's policies.


      Best Practice: Each subrecipient packet should be scanned and uploaded into SPS as ONE PDF. (See samples)

      It is critical that all required forms be signed by an authorized institutional officer. A signature from the participating PI, a department chair, or dean will not suffice to commit the institution.

      When preparing the Duke budget, include the total cost of each subaward, including the recipient institution's Fringe Benefits costs and F&A costs, as a line item in the direct cost section of the budget proposal.

      After receiving the award, ORS will write and issue the subawards.

      Collaborative proposals, if allowed by a sponsor, are an alternate mechanism for joint projects with other institutions. The funds awarded for collaborative proposals go directly from the sponsor to each of the collaborating institutions simultaneously and eliminate the need for subawards from a lead institution to the other participating institutions.

      Other Direct Costs

      Examples of "Other Direct Costs" which may be included in proposal budgets include:  

      • equipment and computer maintenance or user fees
      • extended warranties for equipment
      • publication costs and page charges
      • photocopying
      • communication costs such as long-distance telephone and facsimiles
      • fees for shared resources
      • incentives for human subjects
      • tuition remission

      Indirect Costs

      Indirect costs are “costs incurred for a common or joint purpose benefiting more than one cost objective, and not readily assignable to the cost objectives.” Such costs are not directly allocable to one specific project because they support multiple projects. For instance, water, heating and air conditioning or other HVAC system capabilities that may be required to improve the air quality in many laboratories. These are legitimate expenses required to keep a research organization running, but they are not easily charged to one specific project when one research building may house hundreds of projects.

      To find out more about indirect costs refer to the sidebar to the right to navigate to additional content.

      Calculating F&A

      Doing the Math: Calculating F&A Costs

      Step 1: Calculate the Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC).

      Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC) are that portion of total direct costs on which we are allowed to calculate the F&A costs for a sponsored project budget.
      Duke's F&A cost rate agreement provides that the following costs are excluded:

      1. Capital equipment (individual items which cost $5,000, or more, and have a useful life of more than two years).
      2. Subaward costs in excess of $25,000.
        1. F&A Costs are collected on only the first $25,000 of the total cost of each subaward. The total cost includes all the years a subaward will be funded during a given project period. Thus, if your budget has a subaward line item of $40,000 in each year of a four year project, F&A Costs are only applied to $25,000 in year one. No F&A costs will be collected on the subaward for the remaining years of the project. However, if the subaward budget is only $10,000 per year, F&A costs would be collected on the entire subaward amount for years 1 and 2, on $5,000 in year 3, and not at all in year 4. If your application is for a competitive renewal, even if you are using the same subrecipiants, you may again collect F&A costs on the first $25,000 of each subaward.
      3. Student support costs, such as fellowships and scholarships, can only be charged to projects for which student training is the primary intent.
      4. When graduate students are paid salary from a grant or contract, the budget must include the appropriate Tuition Remission payments determined by and paid to the Graduate School. Under the negotiated rate agreement, these costs are also exempt from the F&A calculation.
      5. The calculations shall also exclude capital expenditures, patient care costs, and rental costs of off-site facilities.

      Step 2: Apply the correct F&A rate, taking into account Duke's rate and any restrictions imposed by the sponsor.

      * Note that Modified Total Direct Costs  (MTDC) and F&A costs are automatically calculated by SPS. If a sponsor requires a rate different from Duke's, the system can calculate at the specified rate.

      In the case of a competitive renewal proposal, F&A costs (link is external) associated with a subaward are calculated as if the proposal were a new submission.


      F&A Rates

      Financial Reports, Rates & Documents

      Links to the current rates can be found here:


      Sponsor Rates

      Some sponsors, like foundations, limit or eliminate the F&A rate an institution would ordinarily include in its sponsored projects' budgets. Duke will accept a different rate only when the sponsor has a written policy. When this is the case, please supply a copy of the written policy to ORS when submitting the proposal for review.


      Budget Justification

      The level of justification required in a proposal varies among sponsors. Generally speaking, the least detail is required by foundations and the most detail is required by the federal government when the award will be in the form of a contract.

      Regular Budget Justifications

      PIs must be prepared to explain to the sponsor how they arrived at their cost estimates. If a sponsor decides to fund a project, they may ask for further budget detail or verification of certain costs. There are generally three ways to describe the basis for a cost: actual cost (for items such as salaries), vendor price lists or quotes (equipment, airfare, lodging), or prior experience (supplies). When the required cost documentation is ready, your ORS contact should transmit all the documentation to the sponsor under his or her signature as certification that the documents are true and accurate.

      Modular Budget Justifications

      At time of submission, NIH will accept a modular budget; however, at JIT, Duke must submit a detailed budget and justification. Supplies $1000 or more will require a detailed description within the budget justification.

      For a NIH modular budget, the narrative justification is provided only for personnel and, when applicable, consortium or contractual costs. There is no routine escalation for future years. In determining the total for each budget year, applicants should first consider the direct cost of the entire project period. Additional narrative budget justification is required only if there is a variation in the amount requested for each budget period. For example, purchase of major equipment in the first year may justify a higher overall budget in the first year, but not in succeeding years.

      A modular budget justification should include:

      • Personnel Justification: The Personnel Justification should include the name, role, and number of person-months devoted to this project for every person on the project. Do not include salary and fringe benefit rate in the justification, but keep in mind the legislatively mandated salary cap when calculating your budget. [When preparing a modular budget, you are instructed to use the current cap when determining the appropriate number of modules.] 
      • Consortium Justification: If you have a consortium/subcontract, include the total costs (direct costs plus F&A costs), rounded to the nearest $1,000, for each consortium/subcontract. Additionally, any personnel should include their roles and person months; if the consortium is foreign, that should be stated as well.
      • Additional Narrative Justification: Additional justification should include explanations for any variations in the number of modules requested annually. Also, this section should describe any direct costs that were excluded from the total direct costs (such as equipment, tuition remission) and any work being conducted off-site, especially if it involves a foreign study site or an off-site F&A rate.


      Proposal Review and Approval at Duke

      ORS reviews all award applications for administrative compliance with sponsor requirements and alignment with Duke University policies and processes. To facilitate a full and comprehensive review, ORS requests that all application components—including a mature draft of the technical/scientific section(s)—be received by ORS no later than 8:00 am five (5) business days prior to the sponsor’s deadline. To meet this requirement, the proposal entry in Duke’s Sponsored Projects System (SPS) must have routed through and been approved at the non-central unit levels and be in a state of “Pending Central Approval” (PCA).

      If the application is going to be submitted by an authorized organizational representative using a sponsor’s electronic system (e.g., NSF Fastlane), ORS must also have access to review and submit the application no later than 8:00am five (5) business days prior to the sponsor’s deadline. Failure of the PI to grant ORS access to the application may result in the application not being submitted in a timely manner or not being submitted at all. All requests for waivers of this policy must be submitted in myRESEARCHhome through the Submit a Request function.

      Inconsistencies among the different components of a proposal can cause complications and processing delays with our sponsors. ORS reviews programmatic language at a high level to ensure consistency between the work proposed and details included in the budget or elsewhere in the application. ORS does not review proposals for scientific merit or reasonableness. Once ORS confirms that the application meets the requirements of the sponsor, Duke University, and any other applicable rules and regulations, the application is designated ‘Awaiting Submission’ by ORS in (SPS), at which point the PI may release the application to the sponsor.

      It is important to understand that the deliberate withholding of information, falsification, misrepresentation or carelessness in carrying out the processes, authorizations, notifications, or responsibilities required to review an application and make necessary assurances may result in administrative actions such as: withdrawal or rejection of an application; suspension and/or termination of an award; debarment of the PI, project personnel, or Duke University; and/or the imposition of civil fines and criminal penalties.

      First Level - PI & Co-PI Approval

      All required personnel, PI and co-PI's, must complete the attestations electronically for all proposals, providing assurance that they will comply with the University's policies and procedures in the conduct of the project.

      Second Level - Department & School Approval

      Department and School level approvals for proposals are obtained through the routing and approval process in SPS. When a proposal is "completed" in SPS it is routed to all the appropriate departments and school officials for review and approval. The number and type of University units involved in the project will determine which approvals will be required in SPS. In the simplest scenario, the PI and co-PIs are from the same department and only the approval from that department and/or school is required. However, if faculty members from other departments and/or schools are involved in the proposal, SPS will automatically route the proposal to those units for approval.

      Final Level - University Approval

      The authorization to sign proposals and awards as an institutional representative of the University is given by the Board of Trustees. 

      Therefore, the only people who may sign proposals on behalf of the University are:

      • President Vincent Price
      • Vice President for Research, Lawrence Carin

      and the following ORS Staff:

      • Keith Hurka-Owen, Executive Director
      • Susan Lasley, Director
      • Broderick Grady, Director
      • Jennifer Bolognesi, Assistant Director
      • Adam King, Assistant Director
      • Ken Macdonald, Assistant Director
      • Erinn Nichols, Assistant Director
      • Shannon Walker, Assistant Director
      • Charlene Wang, Assistant Director

      Note: Proposals from PIs in the School of Medicine must be reviewed and signed by authorized staff in ORA.

      Once ORS has completed review and obtained all clearances, one of the authorized officials will sign your proposal and notify you that it is ready for submission. ORS will obtain the signature of the President or Vice President for Research when required.

      If a Certifications & Representation form or any other type of sponsor form requires a signature, ORS will sign or obtain a signature from the appropriate person.

      Certifications & Representations (AKA: Certs and Reps)

      In order to receive federal funds, the University must certify that it is in compliance with relevant laws and regulations such as the Civil Rights Act, the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, and the Drug-free Workplace Act.

      This can happen in one of three ways:

      1. The staff of ORS may be asked to sign certification forms provided by the sponsoring agency which are then included in the proposal packet. Each agency will identify which forms need to be signed. Faculty members, chairs, and deans cannot represent the University on compliance issues. Certifications, like proposals and awards, must be signed by ORS; or
      2. The institutional signature provided by ORS on the agency's formal cover sheet confirms that Duke is in compliance with the relevant regulations; or
      3. Some sponsors include certifications in the terms and conditions of the award. When Duke accepts the award, it thereby asserts its compliance with the terms of the certifications.


      Duke Clearances and Protocols

      In addition to the required departmental and central office approvals a variety of additional clearances may be required at the time of submission or at the time of award depending on the type of sponsor or the nature of the work.

      Proposals to corporations and foundations must be cleared by either Duke's Office of External Partnerships or Foundation Relations. ORS will confirm that the proposal has been cleared for submission but faculty are encouraged to seek clearance early in the proposal preparation process.

      If needed, ORS will secure Presidential and/or Vice-President for Research authorization.

      Also, when preparing proposals to corporations, bear in mind that the University's relationship with industry is governed by several policies, including:

      • University Industry Guidelines
      • Patents and Technology Transfer Policies Governing Research
      • Policy on Conflict of Interest

      To a potential corporate sponsor, the proposal represents a formal offer to conduct a specific project. The proposal should not contain promises or language which are incompatible with Duke policies and guidelines because these may be difficult to change when the award comes in.

      The use of animals and human subjects in research is governed by the University in strict compliance with federal regulations. Upon submitting a proposal for a project which uses animals, the PI should prepare a protocol for the Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee IACUC. Any necessary protocols for the use of human subjects should be submitted for review to the appropriate Campus IRB: Human Subjects in Non-medical Research or Human Subjects in Medical Research.
      Information Required by Sponsors:

      1. The date the IRB or IACUC approved the protocol
      2. The Human Subjects Federal-wide Assurance number
      • Human subjects in non-medical research: FWA 00000265
      • Human subjects in medical research: FWA 00009025
      1. The Animal Welfare Assurance of Compliance number
      • Animal Welfare (General) Assurance No. D16-00123 (old # A3195-01)

      If the approval of a protocol is pending at the time of proposal submission, it must be approved before an award is made. Most sponsors will allow the University to submit a notice of approval of a human or animal subjects protocol after the submission of a proposal, but before receipt of award. Some federal agencies specify a 60-day period after submission in which to provide a notice of approval from the University. NIH policy now allows protocol approvals to wait until a proposal has been scored. The required approvals can be submitted as part of the "just-in-time" documentation sent in when it appears likely that a proposal will be funded.

      International programs which require large scale and multi-unit efforts may require a pre-submission review. If an international program or research proposal will involve the commitment of funds, space, resources, or faculty effort from more than one school or major unit, including Perkins Library it must be reviewed by the Vice Provost for International Affairs early in the proposal preparation process. Letters of approval or commitment will be provided to ORS for final institutional endorsement.

      For guidance in planning international programs and/or visits by foreign nationals, contact the International House (684-3585) and the Office of Export Controls (668-2711).

      Hazardous Materials include infectious, radioactive, carcinogenic, teratogenic, mutagenic, corrosive, and combustible substances. Handling, shipping, and disposition of hazardous materials and waste are federally regulated. Departments affected by the regulations have guidelines available. The institutional contact is:

      Hazardous materials shipped to a foreign destination are also regulated by federal export controls. For these activities the institutional contact is: Office of Export Controls, or contact the director of the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office.

      Use of Class 3b and 4 Lasers require an approved fail safe system and written standard operating procedures prior to their activation and use in a research project. The institutional contact for obtaining approval is:

      • OESO, Radiation Safety: 684-6320

      Use of the Duke Forest: Contact Sara Childs, Director of the Office of the Duke Forest (613-8115) for information about using this research and teaching facility. There are NO fees for using the Forest.

      Housing needs for summer residential programs should be discussed with Jim Hodges of Conference Services, 660-1760; he administers housing, classroom space, and dining services for summer programs.
      Every summer Duke sponsors camps and special programs for high school students. Residential space for other projects may be limited. Not all proposals for summer programs will be funded; therefore, exact planning for the use of available summer space is not possible. However, promises to sponsors that Duke will provide housing must be cleared with Conference Services.

      Recombinant DNA : The use of recombinant DNA is strictly regulated by the federal government. Departments affected by the regulations have guidelines available. See the Institutional Biosafety Committee's home page.

      Submitting Your Proposal

      Electronic Submissions
      Grants.duke submissions are done by the PI . After ORS  has reviewed and approved the proposal in SPS, your ORS  contact will change the proposal status to "Awaiting Submission." The PI  can then submit the application at their convenience, although ORS  strongly recommends submitting the proposal as early as possible to avoid the inevitable slowdowns that occur on the due date.

      Many sponsors have their own online submission systems.  In many cases, the PI will need to enter and submit the entire proposal through the sponsor’s system. In other cases, final submission of an electronic proposal can only be done by an authorized official in ORS. The submission is equivalent to the University's institutional signature on the proposal. In order to be sure we do not miss a deadline, ORS  asks that the PI

      • have the proposal complete and ready for submission a day ahead of time if possible or at least several hours ahead of time in order to avoid the last minute system slowdowns and crashes that can occur;
      • remember that our business hours are 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.   If a sponsor's submission deadline is after 5:00 PM, all materials must be in ORS before 5:00 PM. No proposals will be submitted after 5:00 PM.
      • stay by a telephone or be available via email until we confirm successful submission - just in case a problem arises.

      A copy of the proposal documents should also be uploaded in SPS.

      Hardcopy Submissions
      There are two very important guidelines to check when mailing your proposal: due dates and number of copies if the submission is to be hard-copy rather than electronic.

      1. Due Dates and Delivery

        • "Target Date" means the proposal should be received by the sponsor with one to two weeks of the stated target date.
        • "Post Date" means the deadline is the day the proposal package is sent to the sponsor. That is, the postmark date on the package must be the deadline date or earlier.
        • Receipt Date means the deadline is the day proposal package is received by the sponsor.
        • For security reasons some sponsors do not allow hand delivery, call and check if you are planning to hand deliver a proposal.
      2. Number of Copies
        •   Do send the exact number of copies requested in addition to the original - no more and no less. Always be sure to send the original.
        •   Do include a cover letter unless directed otherwise. If you are submitting to a foundation, corporation or non-profit organization, ORS  will provide an endorsement cover letter. The PI  may add a second, more specific cover letter if desired.

      Submitted Status in SPS
      In many instances, ORS  does not know when the proposal is actually submitted. After the proposal has been routed in SPS for approvals and ORS  has marked the entry as "Awaiting Submission, remember to change the status of the proposal to "Submitted" and enter the date that the proposal was actually sent out. This will complete the SPS record and give ORS  more accurate data to report to the Dean's and Provost's Offices. The proposal will remain in the submitted state until ORS gets word from the sponsor indicating whether or not the proposal will be funded.

      Checking Proposal Status
      PIs and Grant Managers can check on the status of their proposals. This is especially true, when the PI   submitted the proposal electronically. Immediately after "Releasing" the proposal in grants.duke, the PI can watch the proposal as it tracks through the validation process first at Grants.Gov and then by the sponsoring agency.

      At that point, the PIs will need to log onto the agency specific systems, such as FastLane at NSF or eCommons at NIH to check the proposal status. If the sponsor does not have or does not allow access to an on-line system, the PI   will have to initiate an inquiry about the status of the proposal directly with the sponsor.


      Sponsor Requests Prior to the Award

      Further Documentation
      Many changes can take place between the time a proposal is submitted and a sponsor reaches a funding decision. Often, sponsors will request updated documents before issuing an award. NSF, for instance, may request that updated documents be uploaded into FastLane to address such changes.

      NIH uses a "just-in-time" procedure to collect documents not submitted with the original proposal but that they require prior to issuing the award. These documents will include other support (current and pending), certification of IRB approval, verification of IACUC approval, and evidence of compliance with the education in the protection of human subjects requirements. At JIT, a detailed budget should be submitted for Modular Budgets. ORS will coordinate with the department to request copies of the relevant documents from the PI and co-PIs.

      Revising the Proposed Budget for the Sponsor
      When sponsors decide to fund a project below or above the requested budget level, there are several possibilities:

      • Some sponsors will simply make the award at the new amount and expect the PI to make any necessary adjustments. The PI must prepare a revised budget and submit it to ORS before the award can be processed and spending initiated.
      • Some sponsors will prepare a revised line item budget and make it part of the award.
      • Most often, the sponsor will contact ORS or the PI and request a revised budget for the new amount before making the award. This revised budget must be reviewed and approved by ORS before submission to the sponsor.

      If the award amount differs less than 5% from the original proposed amount, ORS will make the revisions and process the award. If the award amount differs greater than 5% from the original proposed amount, then ORS will request a revised budget from the department. Depending on the complexity of the budget, ORS will give the department either 10 or 30 days. If the department fails to respond within the specified time frame, then ORS will complete the budget revisions and process the award. ORS will assume that effort remains the same as proposed and the department will need to fill out a Rebudgeting / CAS (ReC) form to make any further changes. Access the form through Duke @ Work.

      If the reduction is significant (25%), the PI may not be able to carry out the project as originally intended. If this is the case, it is appropriate to submit a revised statement of work to the sponsor along with the revised budget figures.

      Award Acceptance

      When a proposal has been funded and the award letter has been received, ORS acts as the signatory office for the campus colleges, schools, and centers. ORS is charged with officially accepting the award and completing the final acceptance process. In addition to processing the award, ORS is responsible for:

      • negotiating and accepting grants and contracts on behalf of the University,
      • serving as the principal liaison between the University and its sponsors, and
      • approving programmatic and budgetary changes.

      Visit the Awards page to see a list of recent award announcements.

      Preaward Procedure 


      • Sends award letter to Duke University


      • If the PI receives the original copy of an award letter it should be immediately forwarded to ORS, with all accompanying documentation, including checks
      • The PI is not to sign an award acceptance letter unless directed to by ORS


      • Receives the award notification by mail or email from sponsor (typically) or PI (rarely)
      • Changes the status of the proposal in SPS Web to Award in Progress
      • Reviews the award letter, terms and conditions, and awarded budget to ascertain if there are any differences from the submitted proposal
      • If the awarded budget is different from the proposed budget, an Award Specialist (AS) may request a revised budget from DEPT
      • If the terms and conditions are not acceptable to Duke the Assistant Director will open negotiations with the sponsor.
      • If the award letter requires a signature, the Assistant Director or appropriate signatory will sign on behalf of Duke University
      • If necessary, ORS sends signed, full- or partially-executed award letter to Sponsor
      • If only partially executed, ORS awaits the return of the fully-executed award letter and may request a WBSE pending award acceptance
      • Award Specialist sends the sponsor's award notice and the ORS award memo to PI, DEPT SPOC, and TBS
      • SPOC forwards these to the appropriate Grant Manager
      • Award Specialist attaches completed award in SPS Award.


      • Reviews and approves the WBSE request in SAP which automatically generates the code and sends it to ORS and the DEPT and populates SPS
      • Enters the awarded budget into SAP


      • Completes the Award Management Checklist and contacts ORS if they have any questions


      • Keeps documentation in award file
      • Keeps award file in office (retained for 7 years from the termination date of the project)
      • Keeps award documents and financial records (retained for 7 years from the termination date of the project)

      SPECIAL NOTES The information listed above is a general overview of the award acceptance process.

      Keep in mind that each sponsored project may have specific requirements before an award is considered fully-executed.