Idea Development

One of the key ingredients to a successful proposal is a good idea. A well-defined and conceptualized idea allows for all of the subsequent proposal development steps to occur. An idea that has been thoughtfully assessed, in terms of feasibility and in terms of current literature in the field, provides the basis to formulate activities that can be matched to a sponsor who is interested in funding those activities. The idea can be strengthened through discussions with colleagues.

Funding Source Identification

While the idea is still being developed, the process to identify possible funding sources for the support of the project activities should begin. The relationship between the project activities and the interests of the sponsor must be strongly linked and clearly communicated to succeed in obtaining support. Therefore, the specific interests of potential sponsors may shape the specific activities related to your idea.

Types of Sponsors

Support for research and scholarly activities can come from diverse sources. The more traditional sources include

  • Federal agencies
  • State agencies
  • Private foundations
  • Corporations, industry, business
  • Not-for-Profit organizations (universities, libraries, museums, etc.)

Less traditional sources include local government, community groups, or discretionary funds from program officers in the more traditional sources. Some disciplines or activities lend themselves more readily to some types of sponsors than to others.

Some generalities can be made about these categories of sponsors. However, there are no rules that sponsors must follow in terms of their giving patterns, application process, or review procedures.

  • Federal agencies
    • They generally have the most accessible information.
    • They are considered by some to be the most stable source of funding.
    • In some fields, support from this category may be used as a faculty performance tool (i.e. if successful in the peer review process).
    • Federal agencies often have the longest timeframe for reviewing proposals and making awards.
  • State agencies
    • This is an increasingly important category of funding; there is some federal flow through to state.
    • The competition may be less intense than for funding from federal agencies.
    • State agencies often have less accessible information or mechanisms for advertising.
  • Private foundations
    • Approximately 40,000 foundations in the United States annually award over $10 billion; 3,000 foundations have 90 percent of the assets.
    • By law, foundations must pay out five (5) percent of market assets on net return on investments.
  • Corporations, industry, business
    • These are a good source of non-monetary contributions.
    • They often have no established program or written guidelines.
  • Not-for-Profit organizations
    • Such organizations generally offer smaller amounts of money.
    • They generally have a quicker turnaround than do other types of sponsors.

Funding Information Resources

A number of tools and resources are available that aid the process for identifying potential sponsors to support your research and scholarly activities.

The easiest and most efficient way to identify possible sponsors is to do a funding search. Available through the Research Office is the GrantForward database that easily searches through selecting terms and identifiers that describe your activity. Federal grant opportunities can be searched through Cayuse.

Sponsor Contact

Matching Sponsor Interests with Project Activities

After identifying possible sponsors, it is important to review more thoroughly the possible sponsors, using the sponsors’ guidelines and other available materials. A careful review of this additional information will help to further define the appropriateness of the sponsor to your project and prepare you for your first contact with the program officer.

General points to consider when reviewing sponsor material include:

  • ascertain the overall scope and mission of the sponsor
  • understand the current and emerging interests of the sponsor
  • re-assess the likelihood of funding for your project based on those current and emerging interests and on past awards made
  • determine the best form of contact with the sponsor.

Contacting the Program Officer

After thoroughly researching the funding program, direct contact with the program officer offers a final and authoritative check that the funding program identified is appropriate to the project activities. This contact provides an opportunity to clarify information about the program in order to assure a proper match between your project and the sponsor’s interests. Additionally, you have the opportunity to obtain suggestions on the project idea and activities and to benefit from the knowledge and experience of the program officer (who often plays some role in the proposal review process).

Do not contact the program officer until you are prepared to demonstrate why your project is the type of activity the sponsor should be interested in and supportive of. The sponsor has many such projects from which to select, so the responsibility for justifying the value and benefits of your project falls on you.

The form of the contact can vary; it could include communication by telephone, by letter, or in-person. In all cases, if the sponsor's literature specifies a certain form of contact, then that should be followed. If the sponsor discourages contact, heed their advice.