Frequently Asked Questions

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Questions about finding funding and submitting a proposal

How do I start to find external funding and to which agencies should I send my proposal for funding?

Contact your designated SPA Pre-award Staff Contact. They will be glad to talk with you about your project and its potential for external funding and possible funders. If this is a potentially collaborative project, we can help you make those other NIU contacts. We can also help you communicate with funding agency staff as well.

How do I find out about agency deadlines and web sites; whom do I contact for agency guidelines and application forms?

Refer to the Finding Funding section of our website. If you have a particular agency in mind or a specific call for an RFP, the Finding Funding section can help you locate funding opportunities by the type of sponsor (federal, state, or foundation) or the type of project (such as seed money, standard research projects, equipment grants, and more). Your designated SPA Pre-award Staff Contact can also assist you with locating specific guidelines.

Where do I go with my draft proposal or where do I obtain help to turn my proposal into a finished application?

Contact your designated Research Development Specialist. Given sufficient time and upon PI request, they will edit your draft narrative and review the narrative against the agency/solicitation review criteria.

Also, refer to the Developing a Proposal section of our website, particularly the section on Developing a Narrative. We provide guidance and links to agency guides that may be helpful to refine the sections of your narrative.

Where do I go for budget assistance on my application for external funding?

Your Pre-award Staff Contact will help you develop your budget and complete the agency budget forms. SPA staff must review project budgets for all applications submitted for funding to external sponsors. For more information on the proposal approval process, see the Developing a Budget section of our website.

How do I send an application to an agency?

The Research Development Specialists can assist with mailing printed applications and submitting electronic applications. Most agencies now require electronic submission of an application and most electronic systems (i.e. for federal proposals) require SPA to submit the proposal on behalf of the PI.

Whose approval and signatures are necessary before I submit an application for external funding?

For external funding applications, with the exception of some fellowships, NIU is the official applicant and the application must be institutionally reviewed prior to submission. The institutional review includes final approval by SPA to submit the application. Therefore, institutional signatures must be obtained on internal forms (e.g. SPA System Tracking and External Project – STEP form) that SPA initiates and on forms that will be submitted to the sponsor. SPA will assist with obtaining institutional signatures from the required administrators for your unit (e.g., Chair or Director, Dean or Associate Dean or Vice President and Associate Vice President). Obtaining institutional signatures from all units, especially when multiple colleges are involved, can take time. All proposals must be in final form and ready to begin the institutional review process at least five (5) business days prior to the sponsor deadline.

Some applications require the signature of the Institutional Official or Authorized Organization Representative. Only certain individuals in the Division of Research are authorized to sign in this capacity.

Your Research Development Specialist will route your proposal to the correct individual for signature.

My project may involve the use of human participants, animal subjects, recombinant DNA, or biohazards. What do I have to do to clear my project for submission to a potential funding agency?

If you believe your project involves human subjects, animal subjects, recombinant DNA, or biohazards, you should consult the web site of the university's Office of Research Compliance or call that office at 753-8588. Sponsor and university regulations require approvals by the appropriate university compliance committee(s) before an award is made, and in some cases, approvals must be obtained at or soon after submission. You should be aware that you cannot begin data gathering on your project until university clearances have been obtained. Your project's involvement with any of these compliance issues is noted on the SPA System Tracking and External Project (STEP) forms. Typically, you will have to address these issues within your external application.

My project will be submitted to an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (e.g., NIH) or to the National Science Foundation (NSF). Are there special certifications that I must complete specific to these applications?

These two agencies require key persons responsible for the design, conduct or reporting of funded research, educational, or service activities to disclose any significant financial conflict of interest (FCOI) that would reasonably appear to be affected by those activities. Because the university believes that public trust is essential to the scientific endeavor, it is paramount that research conducted at NIU be unbiased and of the highest degree of integrity. At the time of proposal submission, a ll individuals meeting the definition of key personnel as stated above must disclose any significant financial interests (SFIs) to the Office of Research Compliance. See NIU Conflict of Interest and NIU Research Conflict of Interest policies for more information:

I received a notification from the agency that my project was not funded. Now what?

If the agency to which you applied provides information on the reviewers' comments, please request them and, when you receive them, contact your Research Development Specialist (RDS). Using those comments, your RDS can discuss your situation with you, perhaps help you to identify another potential funding source or to reorganize your project to revise and submit the application. Your RDS can help you refine your narrative and budget. If the agency does not provide comments, SPA staff will help you based on their expertise and previous experiences.

Furthermore, if you submitted an application to a federal sponsor and received a score (e.g. NIH) or reviewer comments encouraging you to resubmit, you may contact your RDS or the Vice President for Research and Innovation Partnerships to discuss resource needs as part of your resubmission plan.  The Support for Proposal Improvement and Resbumission (SPIR) program may be an option for you. The SPIR program provides resources to NIU faculty who have received strong review scores or promising referee comments, but for which no funding was awarded.

Questions about negotiating contracts and receiving awards

Someone from the agency to which I have applied has asked me for a revised budget. Whom should I contact?

When a sponsor decides to support a project, it may fund the project at a different level from that requested. As PI, you will want to consider how budget revisions will affect the scope of work you proposed in your original proposal and whether that scope needs to change as a result of reduced funding. Some agencies request budget impact statements and scope reductions but not all do. Contact your Research Development Specialist for help with revising your budget and responding to the agency.

My potential sponsor wants to negotiate a research contract. Whom should I call or email at SPA?

Contact Kellie Dyslin, Associate Director: Proposal Support. SPA, i n consultation with other campus offices as necessary, will negotiate agreement terms and conditions with sponsors on behalf of the university. Industry agreements in particular may require extensive negotiation due to the marked differences between a corporate sponsor’s commercial mission and the university’s educational mission.

I have a R&D project that I believe would be of benefit to industry but am not sure how to begin with this conversation an industry sponsor. Can SPA help me to get started?

Yes, contact the Kellie Dyslin Associate Director: Proposal Support. SPA can assist you with preparing a cost proposal to submit to an industry sponsor.

My project was funded. Now what?

If you have received a notice of award from the agency send it as soon as possible to the SPA Award Coordinator who will coordinate the award acceptance process with the SPA Grants and Contracts Administrator. The Grants and Contracts Administrator will set up your grant in the university financial system and assign a grant number (e.g. a 44 account) to the account and notify you of the account information via email. PIs are encouraged to request a meeting with their SPA Grants and Contracts Administrator to discuss  purchasing and other budgeting processes as well as what help you can expect to receive from your Grants and Contracts Administrator.

Remember: I f the amount of your award is different from the amount you requested, contact your Research Development Specialist for assistance in revising your budget.

I've received a contract from the sponsor. What do I do with it?

Contact Kellie Dyslin, Associate Director: Proposal Support. SPA, in consultation with other campus offices as necessary, will negotiate agreement terms and conditions with sponsors on behalf of the university. Industry agreements in particular may require extensive negotiation due to the marked differences between a corporate sponsor’s commercial mission and the university’s educational mission. Note that only certain individuals in the Division of Research are authorized to sign sponsored contracts on behalf of NIU. Contracts signed by the PI, Chair, or Dean are non-binding and will need to be counter-signed by the appropriate institutional official.

What is a fixed price contract?

A fixed price contract is a flat sum of money from a funding agency given to a project director to complete a particular project. When the project is successfully completed, the agency does not expect any funds to be returned, and often does not ask to see a financial report detailing the grant expenses. Although we do not have to file a financial report, an internal budget is required for this type of grant, and should be included in the documentation when a grant proposal is created. All grant funds are expected to be expensed through the grant within the designated grant time period.

Questions about project management and spending

How soon can I start spending money when I get a grant?Do I have to wait until the agency sends the grant money?

No. Once you have completed and returned the signature card , you are ready to spend. Most grants are awarded on a cost reimbursable basis, which means that NIU incurs project expenses as they occur and are then reimbursed by the agency for them. However, keep in mind that spending must be during the dates of the awarded grant period, unless your grant allows for Pre-Award spending.

What is a W9 and why do we have to worry about it?

The W9 is an IRS form that certifies that someone's taxpayer identification number (TIN) is correct. NIU is required by the IRS to have this form on file for everyone who receives non-salary income from NIU. The form is available on the Accounting Office Tax Forms webpage.

What is the Independent Contractor form? What is the 20-question form? And who needs to see which?

The Independent Contractor questionnaire helps a department determine whether to pay an individual as an employee through the HR system, or as a contractor through the Accounting Office. The questionnaire should be filed in the departmental office - the accounting office does not need to see this form. Once a department decides that an individual should be paid as a contractor, the Independent Contractor form (CWS) certifies that the individual is appropriately classified. This form should be attached to the check request form together with an invoice, and sent to the accounting office. It is also available on the Accounting Office webpage.

Questions about budgeting

Why does the grant have to pay fringe benefits?

Fringe benefits are an allowable expense under federal regulations and the State of Illinois has determined that the employer’s portion of fringe benefits must be paid by the granting agency for the portion of salary paid from a grant. In general, most funding agencies expect to see fringe benefits in a budget that requests salary support.

Why do the fringe benefit amounts vary so much?

Fringe benefits include Medicare, retirement, health, dental, and life insurance and rates vary depending on (1) the employee's salary amount, (2) the type of salary requested, and (3) the benefits choices made by the employee.

Fringe benefits for faculty taking summer salary or extra compensation are budgeted at 14.5% (Medicare and retirement only).

Fringe benefits for all other categories of personnel, including faculty release time and buyout salaries are at the full normal fringe rate for the individual.

In cased where a grant-funded position is to be filled by a to-be-named individual, SPA budgets fringe benefits based on the CMS mandated rates for the applicable salary level.

Graduate Research Assistants do not carry fringe benefits. RA’s receive tuition remission in lieu of fringe benefits. Undergraduate students and all personnel on extra-help appointments: 7.65% (Medicare and Social Security only).

Who decides what the fringe benefit amount should be?

The Research Development Specialist verifies the amounts and rates using CMS standard rates or actual rates available through PeopleSoft when budgeting fringe benefits in proposals. The individuals actual fringe benefits are charged to the award based on data provided through Human Resource Services and PeopleSoft.

What is indirect cost and who decides how much my grant has to pay?

Indirect cost, or facilities and administrative costs, is a portion of the expenses necessary to run the university that are charged to a grant. This includes such things as the cost to run the library, building maintenance, campus police, utilities (heat, power, light), radiation safety, etc. The percent of indirect cost charged to a particular grant is determined by NIU’s federally negotiated indirect cost rate and agency guidelines.

Does my department get any of the indirect cost money?

Yes, indirect revenue is distributed in accordance with the Indirect Distribution Policy (link to this).

Are there any special rules for foreign travel?

Yes. Please check with your Grants and Contracts Administrator or refer to your award notice from the agency to determine if the agency must approve your travel. F ederal grants require you to fly on a United States flag carrier (the Fly America Act) and may carry other travel restrictions. Failure to get agency approval or failure to fly on an American carrier could mean that the grant would not pay for your travel.

What is cost share?

Cost share is the university contribution towards the total project cost of a particular grant. The amount of funds the university is required to contribute towards the grant is determined when the grant proposal is funded, based on the grant proposal. Cost share committed as part of the proposal becomes mandatory cost share if this proposal is funded and SPA is required to document that the cost share has been provided.

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