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Developing Your Proposal

Slave Grave research


Proposal Development Process

The Office of Research Administration (ORA) is responsible for the coordination of grants and contracts solicitation under the supervision of the Dean of Research and Graduate Studies. This office coordinates all externally sponsored grants and contracts activities for all purposes (research, education, and service) within the University. The ORA has developed procedures which will ensure proper coordination and approval and should be contacted early in the development of a proposal so that we can help with all aspects of proposal development. The steps that follow will help ensure that your proposal has the best chance for success. 

To begin the proposal process, please use the Getting Started document and email to set up a consultation.

The Office of Research Administration (ORA) provides comprehensive support to WCU faculty and staff seeking internal and external funding for research projects. Once you have an research idea or project in mind, let us know and we will assist you with locating suitable sponsors and funding opportunities. 

Find Available Funding

After a funding opportunity has been located, the ORA will help you read and understand the announcement. The funding announcement is the most important document for a grant writer as it details the eligibility requirements for the institution and investigator, budgetary limits, due dates, formatting requirements, the necessary proposal components, and review criteria.

Along with helping you understand the proposal requirements, the ORA will also help you establish and maintain a proposal development timeline and will create a digital workspace for you that will contain a proposal checklist, budget template, and required sponsor forms.

A complex proposal may take months to write. Allow time for a thorough literature review, well-planned research strategy and methodology, and feedback from critical readers. You may also need time to develop collaborations with other institutions, produce preliminary research data, and prepare logic models or evaluation plans. Assistance with research design and research methods is available through Coulter Faculty Commons.

It is important you are communicating your ideas and intentions with your department and college throughout the idea formation and proposal development process. Your department and college need to know of any resource commitments you plan on making, including the need for cost-share/matching, course release, facility/lab use and the involvement of students in your research.

Reach out to the ORA early in the proposal development process as well so that we can assist with developing the project budget, assembling subrecipient packages, drafting internal letters of support, registering for sponsor electronic submission sites, and begin any necessary review processes with Research Compliance and Integrity well in advance of any internal and external deadlines.

Don't hesitate to reach out to program officers as well. Many sponsors encourage applicants to get feedback early in the process from a program officer, who has a wealth of knowledge and experience with the agency and its processes.

When proposals are finalized, they should be submitted electronically to the Office of Research Administration for routing for approval through the InfoEd system. InfoEd is WCU’s official proposal tracking and award management system that is used to create and manage the official University records for all sponsored projects. Each record contains both financial and compliance information necessary for submission as well as financial management after an award has been made.

Before submission to funding agencies, proposals require documented approval utilizing the online InfoEd system by the department head / unit director, the respective dean, the Director of Research Administration in the Graduate School and Research, and occasionally legal counsel in the case of contracts.

Approval by the Department Head and Dean(s) represents review of terms and conditions, resources including space to conduct the research, and conforms to the university/departmental mission and ensures that the proposal provides an accurate representation of WCU abilities to address the sponsor’s goals.

Proposals must be received by the Office of Research Administration a minimum of 10 business days before the funding agency’s deadline. This ensures that enough time is provided to faculty, staff, department heads, deans, and research administration to review and approve all submissions and that proposals meet institutional and sponsor expectations. Prior to submission, the Office of Research Administration requires Conflict of Interest (COI) training and approval in InfoEd.

See 7.04 Proposal Application Process for External Funding in the Faculty Handbook.


Once your proposal has been fully reviewed and approved in InfoEd, the certified ORA staff will submit the proposal on behalf of the University and the PI. The ORA will confirm the proposal submission with you and a copy of the submission package will be saved for our and your records.

Proposal Development FAQs

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions but call us at 828-227-7212 if you can't find the answer you're looking for.

The Office of Research and Graduate Studies is responsible for the coordination of grants and contracts solicitation under the supervision of the Dean of Research and Graduate Studies. This office coordinates all externally sponsored grants and contracts activities for all purposes (research, education, and service) within the University. Sponsored programs, as defined by the General Administration of the University of North Carolina, including all activities financed in whole or in part by external agencies which are carried out under a term of agreement between the University and the sponsoring agency.

Per University Policy 55, review and approval by appropriate University officials are necessary before making formal application for sponsored funds. Research and Graduate Studies has developed procedures which will ensure proper coordination and approval and should be contacted early in the development of a proposal.

University Policy 55: Solicitation of External Funds

Direct costs are incurred directly by the project, for example, the cost of the project's laboratory supplies and the cost of the researcher's time to conduct project experiments are both direct costs. Indirect costs (also called facilities and administrative costs) are incurred indirectly, for example, the laboratory's building and electricity bill are indirect costs that benefit multiple projects. WCU's federally negotiated on-campus indirect cost rate is 44.24% of modified total direct costs.

Per University Policy 88, the principal investigator (PI) or project director (PD) must include indirect costs in the proposal budgets of all grants, contracts, and other sponsored agreements submitted for external funding at the maximum rate allowed by the sponsor. The PI or PD shall use the University’s official, federally negotiated indirect cost rate unless specifically limited for all awardees by a sponsor.

When the sponsor limits or prohibits the full recovery of F&A costs, the PI must provide a statement from the sponsor concerning the restriction when submitting the proposal for internal review and approval. This statement may be a copy of the applicable policy from the sponsor’s website, request for proposal, grant guidelines, or other documents, or a written statement received directly from the sponsor when no other statement of its policy is available.

University Policy 88: Facilities and Administration Receipts Policy

Federal and other funding agencies specify which costs are allowed to be paid by grants. In general, costs must be reasonable, allocable to the funded project, and consistent. Be sure to consult the Uniform Guidance or other sponsor policies to determine which costs are allowable for your budget.

OMB Uniform Guidance

Cost sharing or matching means that a portion of the project's costs will not be paid by funds from the sponsor. Cost share or matching requirements can vary across different sponsors/funders but are typically stated as a percentage of the total amount of funds awarded. Cost share or matching can be classified either as mandatory or voluntary and can be fulfilled by contributing cash, in-kind, or by a third-party. Any awarded cost share included in the proposal must be tracked and will be reported to the sponsor. 

Per 2 CFR 200.306 , voluntary committed cost sharing is not expected for Federal research proposals. It cannot be used as a factor during the merit review of applications or proposals, but may be considered if it is both in accordance with Federal awarding agency regulations and specified in a notice of funding opportunity. 

Please review the notice of funding opportunity for the cost sharing requirements and then consult with your department before committing university funds or other sources for cost sharing.

Effort is considered to be the amount of time any individual spends on a specific University activity. This includes time spent working on a sponsored project in which salary is charged directly to a sponsored project fund or contributed (as in cost-shared effort) to the sponsored project. Effort is reported as a percentage of the total time spent on work-related activities for which the University provides payment.

When an hourly employee is paid from sponsored project funds, the hours are indicated on their normal periodic timesheet, which is maintained in the Payroll office and may serve as time and effort certification. Timesheets may need to be augmented with supplemental documentation if the individual is working on multiple projects.

When a salaried employee is paid from sponsored project funds, they must certify their effort through the time and effort reporting process.

When certifying effort, the Principal Investigator (PI) and other individuals working on a sponsored project are asked to provide a reasonable estimate and then certify how their time was spent over the months as a percentage.

Review WCU's Contracts and Grant Standards to learn more about Effort and Effort Reporting.

If you are submitting a budget to a sponsor or funding agency, you may also need to provide a budget justification. This section of a proposal provides a detailed description and explanation of the proposed costs contained in the budget. Generally, the justification explains, in narrative form, why the costs are essential to completing the tasks outlined in the proposal. The budget justification needs to explain the following and should follow the same order of the line-item budget being presented to the sponsor:

  • Personnel project roles and time commitments 
  • Supplies, equipment, services, and other costs needed to complete the scope of work. 
  • The methods used to estimate or calculate costs, such as fringe benefits, inflation factors, and quantity and cost per unit. 

The Coulter Faculty Commons, in collaboration with the Office of Research Administration, recognizes that the faculty of Western Carolina University engage in multiple forms of scholarship. The CFC research division can assist faculty, staff, and graduate teaching assistants with research design and research methods for publications, grant proposals, dissertations, theses, and other projects. This support is provided through consultations and scholarship tools and resources.

Coulter Faculty Commons

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