Step 3: Develop My Proposal
- How do I get started?
Proposals to governmental, foundation, or industry sponsors that produce grants or contracts must be submitted through Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) (governmental or non-profit funders) or Industry Alliances Office (IAO) (industry proposals). See the UC Berkeley Policy on Requirement to Submit Proposals and to Receive Awards.
- General proposal guidance. Familiarize yourself with the overall proposal preparation process and get guidance on writing a successful proposal from the Berkeley Research Development Office website. CalNet login required.
- General Foundation Proposal Guidance: You will find basic steps and guidance for preparing a proposal to a foundation or nonprofit organization from the Foundation Relations and Corporate Philanthropy Team.
- Understand Your Principal Investigator Eligibility. Check whether you are eligible to submit a proposal by reviewing the VCR’s policy on Principal Investigator status. Individuals who do not have PI status by virtue of their position/appointment may be granted exceptions on an individual or continuing basis. Exceptions require the support of the applicant's Department Chair/Unit Director and cognizant Dean. Requests for Exceptional PI status can be submitted online.
- How do I review a solicitation or request for proposals?
Many funding agencies and sponsors issue proposal solicitations, which will outline the research topic areas and the formatting and section requirements for the proposal.
The format of solicitations and requests for proposals vary by sponsor type, so you should follow the technical and formatting instructions carefully. Sometimes there are two sets of instructions to follow: the general proposal instructions of the funding agency (such as National Science Foundation or National Institutes of Health) as well as the specific instructions in a program solicitation. Agencies may use different terminology for referring to a solicitation for proposals (e.g. solicitation, funding opportunity announcement, call for proposals, request for proposals, solicitation, or broad agency announcement).
There may be different options for funding listed in a solicitation, which will have an impact on the expectations from the research (for example, deliverables versus reports).
- Cost Reimbursement: Almost all research funding is on a cost reimbursement basis, which means that UC Berkeley is reimbursed/paid for actual costs associated with the project, not a lump sum. The funds can be paid upfront, on a payment schedule, or in arrears. At the end of the project, remaining funds are returned to the funding agency unless otherwise agreed.
- Fixed Price: The funding agency and principal investigator agree on a specific price for the research project. If the project needs additional funding, the PI must use discretionary funds to complete the project and submit deliverables; if the project has funds remaining at the end, then the PI can have the remaining balance transferred to a discretionary fund. Solicitations and awards will specify Fixed Price; if it is not specified, it is safe to assume that the award is cost reimbursement. If you need clarification, contact your Berkeley Regional Services Research Administrator.
- What are the most common proposal components?
Common narrative components include: an abstract, statement of objectives, research plan, description of resources, and CV. At a minimum, if proposal components are not specified in a solicitation, the Sponsored Projects and Industry Alliances Offices will require a statement of work, budget, and budget justification.
Agency-specific guidance from the Berkeley Research Development Office.
- National Institutes of Health
- National Science Foundation
- Foundation proposals
- Industry Sponsored Research
Most proposals require our standard institutional information, like our legal name, tax ID number, and DUNS number.
Proposal budget basics
- One of the most important administrative components of your proposal is your budget. SPO has budget basics on its site, but recall that your Berkeley Regional Services Research Administrator is the best starting point.
- Find your Research Administrator at Berkeley Regional Services (BRS)
- Review allowable costs. See UC Berkeley Campus Guide to OMB Uniform Guidance (SPO)
- Understand the appropriate indirect cost rates to use. See Facilities and Administrative (Indirect Cost) Rates (SPO)
Current and Pending Support
Funding sponsors want to know what other research is going on in your lab. More recently, there has been increased emphasis on disclosure of foreign activities.
Some solicitations may require that UC Berkeley share in the cost of the research. Unless required, you are discouraged from offering cost sharing.
Subrecipients and Subawards
If your project involves another university or entity to perform some of the research, you may need to enter into a subaward agreement once you receive the award. As you are developing your proposal, be sure to clearly define the subawardee's role in the project. In addition, you will need to ensure that the subaward university or entity is able to provide the necessary documentation in accordance with UC Berkeley's timelines. Your Berkeley Regional Services Research Administrator can help with gathering this documentation.
Other common sections
The Berkeley Research Development Office (BRDO) provides guidance on writing sections about postdoc mentoring, data management, evaluation, and other common sections.
- How do I develop a proposal for a research gift?
Gift proposals should be descriptive, rather than prescriptive, of the work that may be done under the general purposes presented. The gift proposal should describe the intended project or research.
However, the following items should not be included in gift proposals:
- A strict timeline.
- Milestone mandates. Gifts should not be associated with mandates to complete a project or milestones by prescribed dates set by the funder.
- Deliverables, tangible and intangible. In order to avoid all appearance of a quid pro quo, research gifts cannot be given in exchange for any type of deliverables. (Examples of deliverables include technical reports, records, equipment, rights to data, and copyrights.)
- Commitments to share or deliver intellectual property. For work performed at UC Berkeley, ownership of intellectual property is governed by applicable UC policies as they relate to UC employees, students, and visiting scholars. More information about UC intellectual property policies can be found here.
- Subawards. Subawards cannot be made from a gift, and a portion of the gift cannot be sent to entities or collaborators at other institutions. In order to qualify as charitable contributions, gifts to UC Berkeley must be spent at UC Berkeley to further our educational, research, and scientific purposes.
Gift proposals should not have line item budgets. As the funded project progresses, aspects of staffing and budget may change and the manner in which the activity is carried out may evolve. Considerable latitude is allowed in the specific expenditure of funds, as long as the work advances the general goals and objectives outlined in the proposal or discussed with the funder.
All research gifts are subject to a 10.5% Research Administrative Fee. It is critical to keep this in mind when building a rough budget.
Consider whether a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is necessary for the scope of work (example: sharing of data or other materials). If so, discuss the MTA with the funder in advance. Additional obligations like MTAs cannot be added to the gift agreement post-award or to any ancillary agreements. Gifts can move forward in conjunction with material or data sharing agreements as long as the project is ultimately to benefit the knowledge base in that area, as opposed to directly benefiting the funder. Contact the Industry Alliances Office for assistance with all MTAs. The terms of an MTA have to be carefully vetted to ensure UC Berkeley is not inadvertently offering rights or reports under the MTA, which could be a quid pro quo for the gift.
University Development & Alumni Relations has additional resources to help distinguish a gift proposal from a grant proposal.
UDAR does not consider sponsorship gifts as research gifts. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the gift sponsorship process.
- How do I develop a proposal for a center or institute?
A large collaborative team or center proposal/award can facilitate research that could not be accomplished by a single research group working in isolation; it can spearhead novel research directions and lead to high impact results. Collaborating with a large group of scientists and stakeholders, often across disciplines and institutions, is however not without challenges.
The Berkeley Research Development Office has developed guidance about applying for government funding and can help with your collaborative team or center proposal.
If you are interested in establishing a center or institute with corporate funding, contact the Industry Alliances Office about Industry Alliances Programs or Industry Sponsored Institutes.
- Where do I go to get help?
There are many people on campus who can help you navigate the various steps in this process.
Berkeley Regional Services
Each faculty member is assigned a Berkeley Regional Services Research Administrator (RA), based on six service regions grouped by schools, colleges, and departments. Your RA provides administrative and management support for research proposals, grants, awards, and contracts throughout the various steps in the lifecycle.
Berkeley Research Development Office
The Berkeley Research Development Office provides Principal Investigators and their teams with strategic, organizational, and editorial assistance on the content and presentation of their proposals.
Sponsored Projects Office (SPO)
SPO reviews proposals and awards from Federal agencies, non-profit agencies, and other governmental agencies. SPO's robust website can provide guidance on a wide range of topics (use the google search bar!). You can also find your SPO Contract and Grant Officer by department.
Industry Alliances Office (IAO)
IAO can provide guidance and support for your industry proposals. IAO negotiators are happy to meet with you and your potential sponsoring company to answer common institutional questions, like how UC Berkeley handles intellectual property.
Foundation Relations and Corporate Philanthropy (FRCP) Office:
FRCP provides Principal Investigators and their teams with strategic, organizational, and editorial assistance on proposals to foundation and other nonprofit funders.
The Research Data Portal is a centralized location for navigating campus data-related services and resources such as finding and protecting data, data use contracts, sharing and publishing data, training and support, and more. The portal points researchers, research staff, and support personnel to the campus offices and data, technologies, tools, and services that can make the research effort a success.
- Where do I find other resources for my proposal?
- The Research Data Portal is a centralized location for navigating campus data-related services and resources such as finding and protecting data, data use contracts, sharing and publishing data, training and support, and more. The portal points researchers, research staff, and support personnel to the campus offices and data, technologies, tools, and services that can make the research effort a success.
- Gift, grant, or contract, determining the difference. If you are unsure whether your award is a gift, contract, or grant, see the Vice Chancellor of Research Office guidance for defining and distinguishing the differences. You can also contact the Sponsored Projects Office, which negotiates awards for Federal, State, non-profit, and other governmental entities, or Industry Alliances Office, which negotiates contracts with for-profit sponsors, for help determining whether the funding is a gift, grant, or contract.
- Research Gifts. To inquire about gifts, consult with University Development and Alumni Relations or your relevant college or department development officer.
- International activities and agreements. Typically, the Sponsored Projects Office will handle proposals and awards from international governments and nonprofits, and Industry Alliances Office will handle proposals and awards from international companies. The process is generally the same for international sponsors as domestic sponsors (see proposal and award guidance). If your international activity or agreement is complex, see the university guidelines for resources and support.
- International memorandums of understanding. If you have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for collaboration with an international partner, you will work with the UC Berkeley Global Engagement Office to finalize and execute the MOU. See the campus MOU guidelines.
- Test or service agreements. If you are not performing research and are instead performing a test or service under a contract, contact the Business Contracts and Brand Protection Office (BCBP).
- Contract questions. If you are unsure which campus office you should be working with for your contract, see the campus decision tree for contracts.