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Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Administration

East Tennessee State University

Proposal Development and Submission

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A.  What constitutes a proposal?

B.  Who may serve as a Program Director or Principal Investigator on an ETSU sponsored program?

C.  Finding funding for your research, scholarship, and other creative activities

D.  Preparing your proposal

Determine Eligibility
Develop Your Budget
Direct Costs
Consortium Proposals
Facilities and Administrative Costs
Cost Sharing

E.  Proposal authorization and submission

Internal Review & Approval Procedures
Internal Deadlines
Submission Procedures
Electronic Submission
Hardcopy Submission
Just-In-Time Submissions (NIH)


A.  What constitutes a proposal?

For the purposes of this guide, the term "proposal" can refer to any of the request types listed below:

  • Letters of intent, white papers, and other forms of preliminary proposals. These provide, at most, an overview of the proposed work. Many sponsors do not require detailed budgets or workplans at this stage, but may use these initial descriptions as the basis for decisions on whether to solicit a full proposal.
  • New proposals. These provide a full description of the proposed work, including detailed budget and project plans, information on personnel, and appendices if required.
  • Continuation and renewal proposals. These request support for ongoing funded work. Continuations request support for the next year of a funding cycle already approved by the sponsor, e.g., for the third year of a five-year award. Renewals request additional support after a funding cycle has been completed, e.g., for an additional five years.
  • Supplemental proposals. These request additional funding for work under way, e.g., for inclusion of undergraduates in a laboratory-based research project.
  • Revisions of elements of proposals and/or budgets. These are responses to requests by prospective sponsors prior to making a funding decision.
  • Transfers of proposals or awards. These occur when a faculty member with active funding changes their institutional affiliation. Certain sponsors require action by both the forwarding and new institutions and the faculty member in order to affect a transfer.

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B.  Who may serve as a Program Director or Principal Investigator on an ETSU sponsored program?

The terms "Project Director" (PD) and "Principal Investigator" (PI) indicate the individual responsible for the oversight of the sponsored program. PD/PI management responsibilities include:

  • Compliance with the sponsor regulations that govern the performance of the program and special terms and conditions of the award;
  • Compliance with applicable ETSU policies and procedures during the conduct of the sponsored research, including the ETSU policies on Responsible Conduct of Research and Objectivity in Research;
  • Compliance with ETSU financial policies and procedures, including procurement, travel, and compensation policies;
  • Oversight of the staffing and performance of the sponsored program;
  • Approval of expenditures as budgeted for personnel, goods, or services which directly benefit the sponsored program;
  • Disclosure of any inventions resulting from the sponsored program to the Vice Provost for Research and Sponsored Programs;
  • Submission of all interim and final progress reports according to the terms and conditions of the award.

ETSU's PI/PD Eligibility Policy outlines the position types and/or level of institutional authority required to be named as the PD/PI on an ETSU sponsored program and the conditions under which exceptions may be made.

Fellows and students may be named as the "Principal Investigator" on a Fellowship or Training grant application, but must have a faculty sponsor/mentor assigned within the institution's financial system to the Banner index.

Requests for PI status should be submitted with sufficient time to allow a decision in advance of a sponsor's deadline.

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C.  Finding funding for your research, scholarship, and other creative activities

External Funding
ORSPA manages the institution's subscription to COS-Pivot, an internet-based funding opportunity and faculty expertise database. The COS-Pivot service may be accessed two different ways:

  • Anyone with access to an ETSU computer can perform a quick search simply by visiting
  • To learn about establishing an account, "claiming" a profile, and how to take full advantage of the COS-Pivot product, users are invited to visit the COS-Pivot YouTube Channel . Also, for personalized training, you may contact Lindsay Keitzer, Grants and Contracts Specialist, at 9-6048 or .

The COS-Pivot service is capable of delivering individualized funding opportunity information via weekly emails according to parameters determined by the end user. In addition, individuals can sign up for external funding alerts from a number of specific funders, both federal and non-federal/private.

Upon identifying a funding opportunity and deciding to apply for funding, please begin communications with our office by filling out the Notice of Intent to Submit a Proposal form.

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Internal Funding
There are several internal funding opportunities for which ETSU faculty are eligible to apply. A comprehensive listing with links to additional information, including the unit that administers the opportunity, can be found on ORSPA's Internal Funding Opportunities page.

 ORSPA administers the grant programs managed by the Research Development Committee (RDC). They include the RDC Small Grants Program, the RDC Major Grants Program, and the RDC Interdisciplinary Grants Program. Descriptions of each program, including application materials and submission deadline information, are available on the RDC website.

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D.  Preparing your proposal

Once you have decided to submit an application/proposal, please begin communications with our office by filling out the Notice of Intent to Submit a Proposal form.

Determine Eligibility

Each sponsor sets its own application requirements, including the required content, format specifications, budget allowances, submission procedures, submission due dates, and eligibility both for the applicant and often for the PD/PI. It is critical to review and follow all program guidelines, ensuring a complete application in accordance with sponsor requirements. Failure to follow program guidelines is the most common cause for rejection without review, but, with care, can be avoided. It is ultimately the responsibility of the PD/PI to ensure the proposal packet is fully completed and adheres to sponsor guidelines.

One question that comes up frequently regarding applicant eligibility has to do with ETSU's tax status. ETSU is a state institution of higher education and, as such, is eligible to receive charitable contributions under Section 170(c)(1) of the IRS Code. It is also exempt from state and federal taxes. However, ETSU does NOT have 501(c)3 status under the IRS Code. ETSU is not eligible, therefore, to submit applications in response to funding announcements that specifically limit eligibility to organizations that are tax exempt under the section 501(c)3 of the tax code. ETSU is affiliated with two organizations that do meet that criterion: the East Tennessee State University Research Foundation (ETSURF) and the East Tennessee State University Foundation. Please contact ORSPA for assistance and guidance on any solicitation that requires the applicant have 501(c)3 status.

Develop Your Budget

One of the major roles of the ORSPA in the preparation of proposals for both intramural and extramural funding is in providing budget development support. Accuracy and completeness are critically important in project budgeting, whether it is for a small internal grant, a major federal application, or for ETSU's participation in a proposal submission by another institution or university. A detailed description of the various cost categories that comprise a typical sponsored program budget, including indirect costs, can be found in the ETSU Policy on Sponsored Project Costs.

ORSPA has developed a comprehensive Budget Development Tool in the form of a multi-tabbed Excel workbook to assist investigators and their support staff in developing an appropriate budget for their projects. Investigators are strongly encouraged to use this spreadsheet, linked above, to develop their budgets and as a means to communicate the project scope with members of the ORSPA staff. For personalized assistance, you may contact Cynthia Hardin at 9-6051 or .

If your project will include hiring personnel for grant-funded positions, please see the Human Resources Guidelines for Creating Grant-funded Positions.  Questions concerning grant-funded positions may be directed to or

Direct Costs

"Direct Costs" are those costs that can be assigned directly to a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity, relatively easily with a high degree of accuracy. They include such costs as:

  • Salaries for personnel directly engaged in the activity charged
  • Employee Benefits
  • Travel
  • Operating Expenses
  • Consulting Services
  • Lab Supplies (not Office Supplies)
  • Animal Care Charges
  • Subcontracts/subawards
  • Graduate Assistant Tuition and/or Fee Remissions

Consortium Proposals

When a portion of the project is going to be carried out at another institution or organization, a subaward or subagreement between ETSU and the consortium institution is required in order to ensure compliance with sponsor requirements. Documentation from each subrecipient's authorized official, including an itemized budget and budget justification, a statement of work to be performed, and qualifications to do that work should be incorporated into the proposal. Details regarding the documentation required to propose and establish a subaward are outlined in the ETSU Subrecipient Policy.

Facilities and Administrative Costs (F&A; also called "indirect costs", "IDCs", or "overhead")

F&A costs are those project or program-related costs that cannot be directly assigned to a specific project. Instead, they are calculated as a percentage of the direct costs of the project or program based on rates determined by the institution's cognizant federal agency through a complex financial application and negotiation process.

ETSU negotiates its federal IDC rates with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and enters into an IDC rate agreement with DHHS. This agreement obligates ETSU to consistently apply these negotiated rates to all like sponsored projects, independent of the sponsor type. Therefore, the same IDC rates apply to local, private, state, and federal awards. The exception is when a sponsor has a written policy that it either limits or disallows IDC on its awards.

Separate IDC rates are negotiated for organized research, training/instruction, and "other sponsored activities." The definitions for each of these activity types are included in the ETSU Policy on Sponsored Program Costs. It is important to accurately categorize the proposed activity to ensure the assignment of the appropriate IDC rate.

Cost Sharing

Cost sharing is sometimes required by the funding sponsor and ETSU policy allows proposals to include cost sharing only when required by the sponsor as part of the eligibility criteria. Cost sharing under a federal grant is subject to certain federal regulations, which stipulate that cost-sharing must come from non-federal sources. Proposals listing cost-sharing must explain how the cost-sharing commitments will be met and PIs are advised that cost sharing will be proposed only in accordance with ETSU Policy on Cost Sharing.

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E.  Proposal authorization and submission

Internal Review & Approval Procedures for Proposals

All proposals for "sponsored projects" submitted to external sponsors by ETSU employees must be reviewed and approved internally before they are submitted to the sponsor.  As soon as you have decided to submit a proposal, please notify our office by completing the Notice of Intent to Submit a Proposal form.

The PD/PI is responsible for completing the Internal Routing Form and routing this form, along with the grant proposal, to his/her Department Chair and College Dean for review and approval signatures. Directions for completing the Internal Routing Form are provided with the form. If you need further assistance with this form, please contact our office at 439-6052 or .

Signatures are also required from all key personnel who are committing university effort on the proposed project, as well as their Department Chair and College Dean. PD/PIs should consider the complexity of their proposed team and leave adequate time to collect the necessary approvals prior to submission.

Once the documents have been reviewed and approved at the department and college levels, they should be routed to the ORSPA for final review and approval by the Director and the Vice Provost for Research and Sponsored Programs.






                     Elements of a
              Proposal Package:


            ** ATTENTION **
        For Research proposals,

        a Significant Financial
Disclosure Form
        must be sub
mitted by

Internal Deadlines

Because the internal review and approval process can be time consuming, we highly recommend that PD/PIs begin routing grant proposals at least 5 business days prior to the date the documents need to be submitted to a sponsor. PD/PIs (and any key personnel) should check with their respective department/college/division regarding additional internal approval procedures that may be required prior to routing the final documents to ORSPA, and plan accordingly. See the ORSPA Proposal Timeline

ORSPA cannot ensure the successful submission of an error-free proposal if the final, corrected application materials are not received by ORSPA at least 24 hours before the proposal deadline. ORSPA will not be responsible for deadlines missed as a result of the submission of proposals received less than 24 hours prior to the deadline.

Submission Procedures

Each sponsor establishes its own application process, be it electronic and/or paper, so it is critical to review and follow the sponsor-specific guidelines. Some systems require the PD/PI to complete the submission once obtaining institutional approval, while others require the sponsored programs office to complete the submission following review, signifying the institution's approval.

Electronic Submission

The vast majority of grant applications are submitted to the funding agency electronically. Most funding agencies require that the application be either submitted directly by the "business office" or "authorized official" or be signed by the "authorized official" prior to submission by the PD/PI. Either way, institutional review and approval by way of the internal routing procedures outlined above is absolutely required prior to submission of the application to the funding agency. Do not submit a grant application or a contract to an external organization before it has been routed internally as described above, even if it's technically possible to do so. Once the proposal has been reviewed and authorized, either the PD/PI or ORSPA will complete the submission according to the requirements of the funding agency.

Many grant-making agencies and organizations utilize some kind of online electronic grant administration system. The federal grant-making agencies, with few exceptions, have standardized their solicitations and applications and manage their funding announcements and application submissions through the website The National Science Foundation still uses its stand-alone online system called NSF FastLane. Other sponsors maintain their unique electronic systems. ETSU is a registered applicant in, NSF FastLane, and all of the agency-specific e-grant systems. If you are considering a submission to a sponsor that requires that the applicant register online, check with the ORSPA. When required, ORSPA staff can assist you in obtaining a username and password within the sponsor's e-grant system (for example, NIH eRA Commons, NSF FastLane, NSPIRES, etc.).

If the sponsor allows the PD/PI to submit a proposal, the PD/PI must first route their proposal for institutional approval prior to submission. If the proposal is submitted via email, the PD/PI should copy the ORSPA () on the email.

Hardcopy Submission

Some sponsors still utilize a hardcopy proposal submission mechanism. In the case of a hardcopy submission, it is the PD/PI's responsibility to make the necessary copies and mail or hand-deliver the proposal to the sponsor.

Just-In-Time Submissions (NIH)

In some cases, a sponsor may require additional information after a proposal has been reviewed and before a funding decision is made. Typically, this information includes updated "other support" information and evidence of approval from one or more research compliance committees. Applicants will be notified (primarily by email from NIH) when this "Just-in-Time" (JIT) information is needed. This notification is not a Notice of Award nor should it be construed to be an indicator of possible funding. Applicants should only submit this information when requested. In most cases, JIT information must be submitted by staff in the ORSPA.

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