Best practices for proposal planning

When seeking funding for a research project, it is important to begin planning the proposal as early as possible and to involve your team throughout the process. The team includes the researcher, grants and contracts staff, research development offices or Foundation Relations, and additional personnel that may take part in helping conduct the work.

Select a funding opportunity and develop a project plan

Before planning your proposal, it is helpful to have identified the funder or specific opportunity for which you intend to apply. It is also helpful to have a well-developed project plan, and have identified who will be part of your research team. Explore the following pages for additional guidance:

For proposals to foundations:

If you are planning to submit a proposal for foundation funding, notify Foundation Relations early, as they have expertise in applying for foundation funding and experience with specific funders that can help you target your approach. Foundation Relations relies on faculty and staff developing foundation proposals to communicate their plans, in order to ensure that proposals are as strong as possible and interactions between Duke and foundation funders are accurately tracked. Foundation Relations is responsible for briefing Duke's President and Provost and want to be able to request their advocacy for each proposal, as appropriate.

Communicating with Foundation Sponsors

Administrative communication with certain sponsors is coordinated by the Office of Foundation Relations. Please contact the designated individual noted on this list, in lieu of reaching out directly to the sponsor. This pertains to pre-award and post-award actions, including, but not limited to, questions about allowable budget categories or indirect rate, request for budget revisions or end-date extensions, return of unspent funds, and approval of press releases. Although not required, faculty members are encouraged to alert the designated Foundation Relations representative when they communicate with these sponsors about prospective or on-going projects.

For proposals to a specific funding opportunity announcement:

Thoroughly read the funding opportunity announcement. Funding opportunities can be quite lengthy, but thoroughly reading them is critical to ensuring you are submitting a proposal that meets the sponsor’s requirements.

It is important to pay particular attention to eligibility information, and whether there are restrictions limiting the number of applications an institution can submit. You should also pay attention to submission deadlines (funder’s deadlines for pre-application/letter of intent and full application; any internal deadlines).

Convene the project team to discuss roles and responsibilities for developing the proposal

Involving the entire project team in proposal planning helps to establish roles and responsibilities for elements of the proposal development process. Important topics to discuss with your project team include:

  • Developing a timeline for writing, review, and submission of the proposal.

  • Determining the timeline for budget development and finalization.

  • Identifying parties responsible for development and review of proposal documents. Also designate who will be responsible for submitting the proposal after any necessary approvals have been received.

  • Agreeing upon how the team will store and share forms and documents and how to maintain version control.