Proposal Development

Want to submit a proposal?  Need help?

So you want to submit a proposal, but aren't sure where to start. Follow the steps below to successfully apply for grant funding, and to manage the grant once it’s awarded:

Step 1 - Planning Your Application

Step 2 - Preparing Your Proposal

Step 3 – Post-Award Management


Step 1 - Planning Your Application

Search for Funding Opportunities:

If you haven’t already found funding, try searching the following sites:

Contact a Program Official:

As you identify a grant opportunity that supports your research interests, don’t hesitate to contact the grant’s program official (PO).  He/she can clarify any questions you may have, such as whether your research project falls within the scope of the Request for Proposal (RFP) that you’re considering applying to.

Inform Your Department Head:

After you have decided upon a grant you will apply to, inform your Department Head of your plans. Department Heads are required to electronically approve the Internal Approval Form (IAF) and will need to know about a grant submission before it is submitted.

Identify Collaborators:

You will want to identify those individuals and organizations who will be working with you on your project. During the application process, several documents (i.e., budget, scope of work, letter of commitment, etc.) are needed from collaborators and you will want to be sure they are committed to the project and aware of your deadline.

Will your research project involve human subjects?:

While IRB Certification is not required at the application stage, it will be required if your project is awarded either prior to receiving an award or within a specified period of time.  For more information, go to the Office of Research Protections.

Notify the Grants and Contracts office at 865-0596:

It is our job to guide you through the application process. The earlier we’re notified the sooner we can get started reviewing guidelines and prioritizing your grant submission in the event we have several proposals going at the same time.


Step 2 - Preparing Your Proposal

Make sure you have notified the Grants and Contracts office of your intent to submit a proposal. A Grants and Contracts coordinator will meet with you to discuss the proposal process and who will be responsible for what parts.

For useful information summarizing the proposal process, refer to the Proposal Preparation Guide.

The PI is generally responsible for:

  • reviewing the proposal guidelines. This is critical! The PI, as well as the Grants and Contracts coordinator, need to carefully read the guidelines to ensure EACH and EVERY SPECIFIC requirement, such as content and formatting, is followed,

  • preparing the project narrative,

  • drafting the budget and budget justification (with the help of the Grants and Contracts office), to include personnel and effort requirements, supply and equipment needs, and other expenses necessary to complete your project,

  • completing his/her bio-sketch,

  • getting all information to the Grants and Contracts office no later than 3 days before the deadline. This will allow sufficient time for review and uploading of documents, and in the event of technical problems, enough time to locate and fix errors.

The Grants and Contracts office will typically focus on:

  • completing the agency grant application forms,

  • assisting the PI with preparing the budget and entering it into Penn State’s SIMS system,

  • gathering and formatting all the bio-sketches, current and pending effort reports, and letters of support,

  • processing the Internal Award Form (IAF), and

  • submitting the proposal.


Step 3 - Post-Award Management

Once a project is awarded, there are several considerations to being successful stewards of federal funds, including the following:

    • Know your grant’s Technical Officer - keep him/her informed of any changes or questions about the project.

    • Submit progress reports on time – most agencies won’t release next year funds until progress reports are submitted.

    • Monitor expenditures – ROUTINELY!!  An on-line tool, MyResearch Portal, is available to help PIs monitor their project's expenses.

Check out MyResearch Portal, an easy to use on-line financial tool created just for PIs.

It is the PI’s responsibility to make sure project expenses can pass three tests:

  1. ALLOWABLE – Is the cost permissible in the sponsor guidelines?
  2. ALLOCABLE – Is the cost necessary for the project’s success?
  3. REASONABLE – Would the cost be incurred by a prudent person?


  • Utilize support staff in your department, Finance office, and Grants and Contracts office to help you manage your grant.  The Grants and Contracts office can provide the following post-award services:

  1. Help in interpreting agency guidelines,
  2. Provide clarification on University & College policies and procedures,
  3. Assist with substantive modifications and re-budgeting,
  4. Payment of sub-awardee invoices,
  5. Assist with annual financial reports, and
  6. Process continuations, no-cost extensions, & award close-outs.