Proposal Development

A proposal is an application to receive funding for a project, which contains information regarding who plans to do the work, how it will be done and what it will cost.  A carefully prepared application is essential to the success of an externally funded proposal. As you navigate your way through this section, you will find various resources needed to develop a proposal, including supporting documentation, institutional data and sponsor information.

Pay particular attention to the guidelines that accompany the application forms. Some items to pay close attention to are the sponsor’s funding interests, average funding levels, maximum size of awards and page limitations. If the guidelines are not closely followed, the proposal may not be accepted.

Proposal Writing

The Research Grant Development team supports faculty with proposal writing and development, offering editorial review services, and supporting with project design, as needed, in the beginning stages of the proposal.  

  • Proposal Support Services Menu
    • 1-2 weeks before ORSP internal deadline 

      • Editorial Review: provide structural and grammatical feedback, and advise on the clarity of the narrative’s ideas as well as language (editing for common voice, consistency and style) 

      • Critical Review: provide critique and feedback as to the responsiveness to the RFP and overall strength of the narrative and its objectives 

    • 2-6 weeks before ORSP internal deadline 

      • Services noted above plus:  

        • Editorial and Critical Review: provide comprehensive review of project narrative as well as any other requested proposal documents (such as logic model, supporting attachments, project timelines, etc.; this does not include budget review) for responsiveness and compliance.  

    • 6+ weeks before ORSP internal deadline 

      • Services noted above plus:  

        • RFP analysis, review/preparation of checklists, proposal outline/prompts  

        • Assistance with project design  

    • Please note, all budget reviews are conducted by the Research Administration Team. This service will not be offered during proposal support meetings. The budget review timeline is found here.   

    • Requests for assistance will be considered on an individual basis, based on team capacity. 

  • Form to submit request for Proposal Development Support
    Request Proposal Development Support! This service is available to all faculty, regardless of career stage or level of experience with grant funding.
    One file only.
    100 MB limit.
    Allowed types: gif, jpg, png, bmp, eps, tif, pict, psd, txt, rtf, html, odf, pdf, doc, docx, ppt, pptx, xls, xlsx, xml, avi, mov, mp3, ogg, wav, bz2, dmg, gz, jar, rar, sit, svg, tar, zip.
  • Elements of a Proposal

    Though each funder/sponsor has their own specific requirements, the most common elements of a standard proposal include:  

    • Cover Page: The cover page captures general information regarding the proposal. Some of the following information may be covered on a cover page: 

      • Principal Investigator’s name, address, email address, and phone number 

      • Authorized Representative name, address, email address, and phone number 

      • Title of proposal 

      • Period of performance with start and end dates 

      • Amount of the request 

      • Institutional information (e.g. University of Denver’s EIN, address, UEI, etc.) 

      • Signature of the institution’s authorizing official 

      • Confidentiality statement (if applicable) 

    • Table of Contents 

    • Abstract/Summary: This includes a synopsis of the project’s objectives and procedures used to meet them. Pay attention to the sponsor’s length limitations on the funding announcement. 

    • Project Narrative: This section of the proposal describes the “what” and “why” of the project, providing a detailed explanation of the proposed activities, including project goals, objectives, outcomes, methodology, scope of work, capacity, evaluation, impact, dissemination and/or sustainability, and the responsibilities of each member on the project. 

    • Budget (for detailed budget guidance, please see “Proposal Budget”). 

    IMPORTANT: Be sure to always read a sponsor’s Request for Proposal (RFP) or Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) very closely, taking note of all proposal elements, questions, attachments, and supplemental materials expected as part of the final proposal package. Missing one section will likely result in full dismissal of the proposal. Supplemental attachments may also take several weeks to compile, depending on complexity. Other attachments also require other people’s involvement, such as letters of support and institutional commitment.  

  • Is Your Proposal Compelling?

    A compelling proposal is innovative and problem-based with a proactive strategy. Ensure objectives are measurable and there is a comprehensive plan for evaluation. Clearly and succinctly write the proposal for the type of review that will be given – most funding notices include review criteria. Ensure the impact is significant and if applicable, the project or program proposed is sustainable beyond the initial grant.

    Most importantly, the proposed project should match the funding agency’s goals! If not, it is best to find a different call for funding that aligns with the proposed project. Compelling proposals also represent the purpose, mission, and capacity of DU.

    Lastly, compelling proposals are NOT recycled. While it is tempting to reuse narratives over again for different funders, it is of upmost importance to adjust the narrative each time to align exactly with the call for proposal requirements.

Proposal Budget

A budget provides details of projected expenses necessary to complete the proposed scope of work or research plan. Each sponsor has their own set of budgetary requirements. Be sure to follow the sponsor guidelines and the funding opportunity instructions when completing a budget. If a sponsor does not require a formal budget, ORSP will still require an internal excel budget to review costing plans. 

  • Direct Costs

    An expense is a “direct cost” if that expense can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project or other activity with a high degree of accuracy. Direct costs include the following categories: 


    Salary figures should be based on a percentage of effort applied to an individual’s annual salary. Salary is applied to University of Denver faculty and staff, post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, and part-time employees. For multi-year budgets, ORSP recommends applying an escalation rate of 3% for salaries listed in subsequent fiscal years. 

    Fringe Benefits 

    Fringe rates are determined by personnel classification and are a percentage of that individual’s salary. Use this link to find current fringe rates


    The University defines capital equipment as moveable items with useful lives of more than one year that cost $5,000 or more per unit. Items not meeting this definition should be listed as “supplies” in the budget. Equipment is considered allowable if the item is not already available at the University. 

    Materials and Supplies 

    Materials and supplies are considered consumable or disposable items that cost less than $5,000 per unit. Provide a breakdown of materials and supplies into their general classifications. 


    Outline the details for each trip (be sure to review the University’s travel policy prior to departure): 

    • List the number of individuals traveling and name of travelers 

    • Purpose of the trip 

    • Destination (list domestic and foreign travel separately) 

    • Per diem rates for meals and number of days needed (please use GSA rates for domestic travel and DoS rates for foreign travel) 

    • Per diem rates for lodging and number of days needed (please use GSA rates for domestic travel and DoS rates for foreign travel) 

    • Ground transportation 

    • Registration fees  

    • Other related expenses 


    Consultants are paid individuals or entities who are not employed by the University of Denver or have any other institution affiliation. The consultant’s services to the proposed project must be professional, short-term, or intermittent, and solely advisory to the project. In the main proposal, include a letter of collaboration and the consultant’s curriculum vitae or biographical sketch along with the following: 

    • Name of each consultant 

    • Specialty or service to the project 

    • Daily, weekly, or monthly rate of reimbursement 

    • Total projected cost on the project 

    Subrecipients/Consortium Costs 

    Subrecipients should be identified at the proposal stage. Each subrecipient should appear in the University of Denver proposal budget as a separate line item that includes both the subrecipient’s direct and indirect costs. When the University of Denver includes a subaward, the following elements are required from the subrecipient: 

    • Scope of Work 

    • Detailed budget 

    • Budget justification 

    • Subrecipient commitment form 

    • Letter of intent 

    • Subrecipient’s institutional indirect (F&A) cost Agreement

    • Other elements that may be required by the sponsor include: 

      • Biosketch for key personnel 

      • Current and pending support for key personnel 

      • Facilities 

      • Equipment 

      • Letters of support 

      • Representations and Certifications 

      • Data Management Sharing Plan 

    Note: The University will charge indirect (F&A) costs on the first $25,000 of each subaward per project period. 


    For Graduate Research Assistants working on a grant, DU contributes 80% of tuition costs. The remaining 20% should be included in the grant proposal budget and charged to the grant. 

    Other Costs 

    Other costs typically include items such as research publication costs, fees, animal care, equipment maintenance and other project-related costs. If you have any questions regarding other costs, please contact your Grant & Contract Administrator. 

  • Indirect Costs

    These are also commonly referred to as Overhead, Facilities and Administrative Costs (F&A), IDC, or Indirects. Indirect costs are costs incurred by the University to perform research, but cannot be specifically attributed to an individual project. Indirect cost rates are negotiated with the University of Denver’s cognizant federal agency, the Office of Naval Research. The rates are applied to a modified total direct cost amount (MTDC). Use this link to find the University’s current negotiated rates.  

    Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC) 

    As defined in OMB Uniform Guidance 2 CFR 200 (prev. defined in Circular A-21), MTDC consists of salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and up to the first $25,000 of each subgrant or subcontract (regardless of the period covered by the subgrant or subcontract).  Equipment (defined as having an acquisition cost equal to or greater than $5,000 and useful life of more than one year for acquisitions on or after 1 July 2002), capital expenditures, charges for patient care, tuition remission, rental costs, scholarships and fellowships, participant costs as well as the portion of each subgrant and subcontract in excess of $25,000 is excluded. 

    Determining the Correct Rate 

    Please work with your Grant & Contract Administrator to determine the correct F&A rate based on the type of project being proposed: 

    • Research – Academic Research Center (ARC): Research and scholarship activities that include rigorous inquiry, experiment, or investigation to increase the scholarly understanding of the involved discipline. 

    • Sponsored Instruction (SI): Teaching and training activities funded by external sponsors for the benefit of DU students/personnel. Includes agreements which support curriculum development and teaching/training activities offered for credit toward a degree or certificate or on a non-credit basis. 

    • Other Sponsored Activity (OSA): Service and training activities that primarily benefit non-DU students/personnel. 

    Indirect Cost Caps 

    If a sponsor has a published policy that places a cap on how much indirect costs an awardee can charge, proposal budgets should reflect that policy.   

    Determining On-Campus vs. Off-Campus Rates 

    According to University policy, a project is considered off-campus if more than 50% of the direct salaries and wages of its personnel are incurred at a site neither owned nor leased by the University.  

    Note: Remote work (including use of a home office), attendance at conferences, and incidental travel are not considered off-campus activity  

  • Cost Share

    Cost sharing is any cost to the project not borne by the sponsor. Cost sharing should only be proposed if mandated by the sponsor. Any cost sharing or matching must be approved by the department head or Dean, business officer, and ORSP.  Be sure to read the University’s cost-sharing policy

  • Budget Justification

    A budget justification (narrative) should be prepared to explain how the budgeted costs relate to the project. The narrative should provide sufficient detail to allow the sponsor to determine whether the proposed costs are reasonable and appropriate.

    Key elements to include:

    • A detailed justification of the expense or service
    • How the expense relates to and benefits the project
    • The anticipated cost
    • The time period in which it will be utilized
    • Other information that will aid the sponsor in evaluating the proposed item

Proposal Toolkit

Click here to be re-directed to the Proposal Toolkit on DU Digication (you will need to sign-in using DU credentials). The toolkit contains templates, guidance, sample language, instructions and more to aid with all proposal writing efforts! There are also templates and attachments specific to NSF and NIH.

Additional Resources

Click here to view additional resources.

Foreign Influence

The University of Denver takes the issue of foreign influence very seriously and is taking steps to increase oversight and protect U.S. research, including new requirements for principal investigators. If you have or are applying for federal funding, this applies to you.

  • PIs are now required to disclose foreign activities in "Current and Pending Support" and "Other Support" in federal proposals, as well as in award progress reports.
  • Foreign influence training using the CITI program is required for all researchers engaged in federally funded projects.
CTA Pattern

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