Office of Sponsored Research & Programs
Guide to Distinguishing Between Gifts and Sponsored Awards
These guidelines (also available as a downloadable PDF) are to assist department business personnel, faculty, and staff in determining with which office to work when seeking and applying for external funding opportunities, how to process awards and where to deposit funds received, especially in those cases when MSU Denver procedures are unclear.
Key Terms and Definitions
- Office of Sponsored Research & Programs: supports faculty and staff in obtaining external funding for your research and programs.
- Corporate and Foundation Relations: Office within University Advancement/MSU Denver Foundation, develops and stewards relationships with external philanthropic funders who want to make an impact through the University.
- Sponsored Project/Award: funding from an external entity such as a private foundation, corporation, or governmental agency for an activity with a defined scope and purpose undertaken by the University with the expectation of an outcome that directly benefits the provider.
- Gift: the voluntary, non-reciprocal transfer of money or property from a donor to an institution; its purposes are directly related to the University’s mission.
- Donor: provides philanthropic investments in the form of gifts.
- Sponsor: provides investments in the University through sponsored projects/awards.
- Funds: money or property, including real property (e.g., land or buildings) or personal property (e.g., equipment).
- Gifts and sponsored awards to the University are made in a variety of forms, reflecting the diversity of sponsors as well as their purposes.
- The language used by a donor or sponsor in providing support is generally the source for making a distinction between a sponsored award and a gift; however, it is often difficult to determine from the wording of the governing document whether a receipt of funds is a sponsored award or a gift (see table below for language).
- When in doubt, consult either OSRP or Corporate and Foundation Relations (CFR) in University Advancement, these offices will work together make the final determination as to whether the award in question shall be treated as a sponsored award or a gift.
- A sponsored award is funding from an external entity such as a private foundation, corporation or governmental agency for an activity with a defined scope and purpose undertaken by the University with the expectation of an outcome that directly benefits the provider.
- Sponsored awards, which include both grants and contracts, bind the University to a set of specific terms and conditions and involve a related reciprocal transfer of something of value to the sponsor. In general, contracts contain a more precisely stated expectation of a definable work product on some set schedule as a condition of payment than do grants. Contracts also generally provide for tighter control by the sponsor over the scope of work and utilization of funds.
- Sponsored awards are charged indirect costs, whether identified in the award or not, unless the sponsor has a written policy that precludes such recovery and the University has accepted the award with this restriction. The rates to be applied are University-approved rates.
- Sponsored awards from private foundations, corporations, corporate foundations and government agencies are administered by the OSRP. The CFR team within University Advancement should be kept informed of all corporate and foundation activities and receive copies of all correspondence related to such activities.
- Support of the University that does not include the above conditions (see Table of Indicators below) is viewed as a gift and is processed through University Advancement.
- A gift is the voluntary, non-reciprocal transfer of money or property from a donor to an institution and its purposes are directly related to the University’s mission. The donor may be an individual, a foundation, a corporation, or a non-profit organization. The donor does not expect anything of value in return other than recognition and hoped-for impact. The donor does not expect anything of value in return other than recognition and does not exert control over expenditure of the funds.
- A gift may meet the interests of the donor and can be restricted or unrestricted. A restricted gift is a contribution designated for a specific purpose, program, or project. If the donor does not specify any restrictions, the gift is unrestricted and the institution allocates the funds according to its own discretion. Only the Advancement Office/MSU Denver Foundation may accept gifts on behalf of the University. Although a donor may place some restrictions on the use or disposition of a gift and may require a report that demonstrates that the donor’s wishes have been met, these terms do not make the gift a sponsored award. Such “restricted gifts” essentially create a fiduciary responsibility in which the University, by accepting the gift, is obligated to carry out the wishes of the donor.
How to Distinguish
- No single indicator, by itself, distinguishes a gift from a sponsored project (“gift”, “grant” or “award”). Sponsored award instruments may include some or all of the requirements and conditions listed below. Gifts may be unrestricted or may include some or all of the restrictions listed. The language used by a donor or sponsor is generally the source for making a distinction between a sponsored award and a gift.
- If the characteristics of the funding fall within both categories, the following factors will be taken into consideration for determining whether the funding is a gift or a grant. The presence of any single factor does not represent the condition of a gift or a grant. To determine if a transaction is a gift or a grant, all of these factors will be considered simultaneously. In cases where there is a question as to whether an activity for which external funding is sought constitutes a grant or a gift, OSRP and CFR personnel will work together to determine what procedures should apply.
TABLE OF INDICATORS
Procedures to Follow
If you are sure the opportunity you are pursuing is a gift or a sponsored award, please contact the appropriate University office (see contact information below). Contact the Office of Sponsored Research & Programs (OSRP) if you believe the opportunity is a sponsored award, and contact the Corporate and Foundation Relations team at the MSU Denver Foundation if you believe it is a gift. If you are unsure, please contact either office or we will work together to make a determination.
Key Campus Contacts
Elizabeth (Betsy) Jinks
Director, Office of Sponsored Research and Programs
Jordan Student Success Building Room 350
Executive Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations
Jordan Student Success Building Room 410H