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Develop the budget and justification

Need assistance with budgets or budget justifications?

It is essential to the success of the project to carefully and accurately assess all of the financial needs of the research project, and to be able to justify the necessity of these expenses. Developing an accurate budget can take time, particularly if the project includes Key Personnel from other departments, will involve external consultants, involves technologies or international activities, or includes sub-awards or agreements with other institutions or partners. 

Principal investigators (PIs) should work closely with their grant manager or financial practice manager as early as possible when developing budgets and justifications. PIs should contact to find out who to contact or if they do not have departmental resources available.

Budgeting personnel effort and salary

 For Key Personnel, effort commitment indicated in the application budget is considered a minimum commitment necessary to complete the proposed project aims. Effort commitment levels are described in the project budget in person months (calendar or academic).

If effort commitments of a Key Person are modified or adjusted prior to receipt of the award, at Just-in-Time (JiT) or during the course of the project (with prior sponsor approval, if required), this modified effort commitment becomes the new minimum effort commitment.
Effort commitments

For all personnel on the research project, budgeted effort must be adequate to complete the responsibilities associated with the scope of work. 

Additional guidance

Institutional Base Salary (IBS)

Institutional Base Salary (IBS) is the basis for both calculating salaries when developing a proposal budget and for managing effort on a funded project regardless of the appointment type (9 months, 10 months, 12 months). All salary costs applied to sponsored projects are based on the total amount of effort available after taking into account other commitments in support of Duke University activities only. These activities may include instruction, research, administrative activities (committees, chair, director, etc.), and clinical trials and exclude supplemental/extraordinary pay, outside consulting, and study section honoraria.

Duke Appointment Model and converting person months

Duke Appointment Model

Effective July 1, 2022, Duke University School of Medicine (SoM) and School of Nursing (SoN) implemented a Faculty Appointment Model which represents a faculty member’s efforts in support of Duke University as a percent of 12 calendar months.

SoM and SoN Faculty will have 100% appointments unless they also have additional professional effort that includes: outside clinical obligations (PDC), VA Appointments, formally approved Flexible Work arrangements, direct-paid DKU Appointments, direct-paid NUS Appointments, or other reduced schedules.

Access guidance and resources about the Duke Appointment Model.

Campus faculty appointments are generally 9-month appointments with the ability to recover up to, but no more than, 3 summer months. (An academic year runs from September to August and is not tied to the Duke fiscal year.) Duke spreads the 9-month IBS across the 12-month fiscal year, which can impact the calculation of 1 month.

Converting person months

A “person month” is the metric for expressing the effort (amount of time) principal investigators (PIs), faculty and other key personnel devote to a specific project. The effort is based on the type of appointment of the individual with the organization; e.g., calendar year (CY), academic year (AY), and/or summer term (SM); and the organization’s definition of such. For instance, some institutions define the academic year as a 9-month appointment while others define it as a 10-month appointment. Access this guide to calculating person months.

Entering and managing salaries in SPS

As of September 2021, SAP salary and effort information feeds into SPS so that all relevant parties working on grant applications can access salaries for individuals participating in research.

For step-by-step guidance and how-to videos on entering salaries in SPS, visit the Managing Salaries in SPS guide. This is mandatory training for SOM/SON SPS users with editing/viewing rights.

Campus Schools (PAMC) Schools of Medicine and Nursing (SoM/SoN)

When determining whether the investigator has the appropriate level of committed effort available, please remember to consider all activities related to their Duke appointment, including but not limited to administrative activities, instruction and research.

If a faculty member is working on several sponsored projects, care must be taken to ensure that no more than 100% of effort is committed to the aggregate of all projects and other university responsibilities. However, a faculty member can have several active submissions that include effort above 100% because many submissions are not funded. If the awards come in, then the faculty member will need to negotiate his effort levels with the sponsors.

NOTE: Some agencies place restrictions on the amount of faculty time they will support during a given year or establish caps on the amount of salary they will cover. For example, generally, NSF will only support two months of effort across all the PI’s grants whereas NIH caps the total salary that they will support.

When determining whether the investigator has the appropriate level of committed effort available to meet the sponsor's requirements, the investigators Duke Appointment and other outside commitments should be evaluated.

If the department anticipates a shift in appointment % will be necessary if the project is awarded, the department must secure approval from the SoM Dean's Office to use an anticipated or pro-rated IBS via the Anticipated and Out-of-Cycle IBS/Duke Appointment % Changes Form.

Approval via the Anticipated and Out-of-Cycle IBS/Duke Appointment % Changes Form must be obtained prior to using an anticipated or pro-rated IBS in a new application.


Additional budget and cost considerations

When developing the budget, consider how each proposed cost relates to the scope of work of the proposed project.

Types of costs that should be included in a proposal for funding:


Funder-specific guidance on budgets and justifications

Select the type of project for more detailed guidance on developing a research budget and preparing a budget justification:

Common Errors in Budgeting

Developing the budget can be an involved process - particularly if the project includes complexities. 

Common complexities include:  

  • personnel from other departments   

  • external consultants 

  • technology development  

  • international activities 

  • sub-awards or agreements with collaborators at other institutions or organizations 


Most sponsors provide guidelines and/or specific forms for budget preparation.  Duke also provides guidance and resources to help investigators ensure that all project costs are 1) budgeted accurately based on the needs of the project and 2) used in accordance with the approved budget. 

The best advice to avoid common errors in budgeting is: 

  1. Start early and seek guidance.  Work with you grants administrator, research development professional, foundation relations representative, or myRESEARCHnavigators early in the process to understand the costs needed for the proposed activities. Begin developing the budget as early as possible. 

  1. Ensure Costs are Budgeted Compliantly.  Costs may vary widely based on the type of project, sponsor, and resources required to conduct the work. Carefully and accurately assess all financial needs of the project and be able to justify the necessity of the costs. The following general principles described in the Uniform Guidance apply generally to costs budgeted in Duke sponsored activities: 

  • Allowable – a cost is allowable if it 1) is necessary and reasonable for the performance of the project, 2) is verifiable with sufficient detail and supporting documentation, 3) conforms to any limitations by the sponsor 

  • Allocable – a cost is allocable if it 1) is necessary to carry out the activities of the project and 2) is assignable to the project (at least in part) with a high degree of accuracy 

  • Reasonable – a cost is reasonable if it 1) does not exceed what is generally recognized as ordinary and necessary for the proper and efficient performance of the project and 2) does not exceed in its nature an amount that which would be incurred by a prudent person in like circumstances 

  • Consistently-treated – for federally funded budgets, a cost may not be assigned as a direct cost if any other cost for the same purpose in like circumstances has been allocated as an indirect cost 

  1. Be a good steward of Duke’s grant funding.  When accepting funds from external sponsors, Duke agrees to follow rules and regulations and to comply with sponsor terms and conditions. 

  • As a non-profit institution, it is not within Duke’s mission to seek profit from its research activities; therefore, it is important that the budget represent true costs necessary to conduct the work. 

  • All project costs should be included in the budget and be expended within the project period of the award.  To ensure proper accounting of project costs, verify all project expenses are allocated during the project period and to the appropriate funding source.  You can access financial reports for your funded projects by visiting myRESEARCHhome and navigating to the myReports widget.  Here you will find various reports ranging from summary financial data to fund balances to expense projections and more. The information in these reports will reflect planned expenses or changes that have not been entered in Duke’s financial systems, so make sure you are working closely with your grant administrator for the most accurate financial information. 

For foundation budgets, please be in touch with the appropriate Foundation Relations office: