Office of Sponsored Research & Programs
Reading the Guidelines
Different agencies refer to funding announcements or solicitations in a variety of ways (RFP – Request for Proposals, RFA – Request for Applications, NOFA – Notice of Funding Availability, NOFO – Notice of Funding Opportunity, etc). Whatever it is called, this document is the primary source of information for determining fit, eligibility, and feasibility before pursuing, and it is what you will refer back to throughout the entire proposal development process. Discretionary federal grant programs offer significant opportunities for funding, but the application process is competitive and time consuming. Before you invest the time and effort, scan the funding announcement for the following to help determine whether this is the opportunity for you.
- Mission fit: Will the university/campus leadership support the proposal? Are the goals and objectives of the proposed project relevant to MSU Denver's mission and strategic plan?
- Eligibility criteria: Is MSU Denver eligible to apply?
- Limited submission: If yes, then MSU Denver may only submit as many proposals as designated by the granting agency. Often, limited submissions are limited to one proposal. If so, and more than one faculty or staff person requests a submission, then a proposal review process is required to determine the submission that would best serve MSU Denver.
- Match requirements: Is there a match requirement and if so, can MSU Denver meet the requirement? Be sure to check if the match must be cash or if it can be in-kind.
- Total award amount: Consider both the maximum request and the anticipated award levels. Is the award sufficient to make it worth the effort? If the potential award amount is large, do you and your department have the skills and resources to manage a large award?
- Number of anticipated awards: How competitive is the grant program? Assume that geographic distribution will play into final award decisions. For example, is your program solid enough to be one of four national awards? Spend your time responding to requests for proposals where you can truly be competitive.
- Priorities: Federal grant programs often have absolute (must) or competitive (preferred) priorities. Consider whether or how you can meet the stated priorities to secure the extra points that will give you an edge. And if you don’t meet them, how competitive will you be?
- Past grantees: For grant programs that have made awards in the past, take a look at former grant recipients and successful past proposals to get a sense of the kinds of organizations that were funded (size, type of organization, area of emphasis) and the scope of work. OSRP can provide assistance in obtaining copies of past successful proposals.
- Time: A federal grant is not a minor undertaking—especially if you want it to be successful! If you have decided to go for it, do you and your staff have sufficient time to see the proposal through to the end? Make sure there are no conflicting deadlines, absences, or other issues that will deter completion of the proposal. Plan to submit the grant proposal to OSRP five days in advance of the deadline to cover any unforeseen complications in the submission.
If you’ve reviewed the above and feel that all systems are “go,” then re-read the funding announcement for the following additional considerations to assess the competitiveness of your proposal. Particularly, in today’s economic climate, you want to be sure that you are selective in terms of which proposals you submit and where you will have a strong edge over other applicants.
- Best practice programming. Funding agencies want to be assured that they are investing taxpayer dollars wisely. The strongest applications outline work that is grounded in research-based best practices. Make sure that your program aligns with practices that are yielding results.
- Federal agencies tend to fund projects that are innovative in some way and contribute to advancing best practices within their respective fields. In fact, most federal grant programs explicitly state that funds may not be used to support existing services, which is viewed as supplanting funding. Ask yourself: Will your proposal advance the field of knowledge in a particular area or with a particular target population that will appeal to the funding agency?
- Federal agencies are increasingly looking for collaborations and partnerships. They may even be required as a component of the proposed program. Make sure that your relationships are secure and that your partners are prepared to commit not just to applying but to the work that comes when you get the grant.
- Mission match. Federal grants provide significant resources, but are also a significant undertaking for any organization. Make sure that you’re pursuing an opportunity that advances your work. Don’t be tempted to chase dollars if it means pulling MSU Denver off track.
After you’ve reviewed all of the informatin above, and if you feel that you are a good fit for your selected grant program, then congratulations! You’ve identified a funding opportunity that makes sense for MSU Denver and those it serves. Now the real work begins!