Proposal Development

ORPA plays a key role in proposal development, whether you are planning a new project or seeking to continue a prior award. Our grant and contract administration team offers detail-oriented guidance and support, with insight into the preparation of budgets, compliance with sponsor and University guidelines, and the submission of complete proposals. The best way to position your project for success is to submit all required documentation as early as possible. Princeton ERA's multi-prong approach permits the researcher to continue to develop the project narrative while the balance of the proposal sections are "locked-down" for review and approval by ORPA.  Please note that ORPA requires a final proposal to be routed for approval through Princeton ERA a minimum of five business days before the sponsor deadline to permit the best opportunity for review and guidance.   

Proposal Considerations

PI Eligibility

The University sets guidelines regarding who is eligible to serve as a Principal Investigator (PI) or co-Principal Investigator (co-PI) on a Sponsored Research Project. Visit the Dean for Research website for complete details.

Princeton ERA Proposal Submission System

ORPA uses a centralized proposal submission system, known as Princeton ERA, to route proposals for internal, and where available, external sponsor approval. Complete project documents, including your Statement of Work, PI certification, Subrecipient Collaboration forms, etc., must be uploaded to the system to initiate review by your ORPA grant and contract administrator.

Additionally, many sponsors require that documentation be submitted via their proprietary system. Visit our Sponsors page to learn more.


Gift vs. Grant

At times, it may be difficult to discern if a sponsor award is a gift or a grant. This is complicated by the fact that some sponsors use the words gift and grant interchangeably. Presence of the following indicates that the award is most likely a grant if

  • The sponsor requires financial or technical reporting;
  • The project includes specific deliverables; or
  • The award contains terms and conditions.

If you are unsure, reach out to your Departmental Contact for assistance.


In certain cases, portions of a sponsored research project may be conducted by an organization or researcher not affiliated with Princeton. These are considered subawards, which should be fully documented as part of your proposal and should include formal documentation of commitment from the partnering institution.

At this stage, the ORPA Grant and Contract Administration team is your primary point of contact. Please contact them if you have any questions regarding the required documentation from a collaborator.

Non-Funded Agreements

Non-funded agreements are contractual obligations that do not include funding. These may include the following:

  • Nondisclosure agreements (NDAs)
  • Data access agreements
  • Confidentiality agreements
  • Memoranda of understanding

Similar to a funded proposal, these kinds of agreements are reviewed and submitted by ORPA through the Princeton ERA Agreements module.

Budget Preparation


A strategic, accurate budget is a cornerstone of any sponsored research proposal. As you develop it with your PI, it should be created in full consideration of the sponsor’s requirements, as well as Princeton’s internal guidelines.

The budget is a financial representation of the detailed statement of work. It must be entered into our proposal management system (Princeton ERA) as part of the proposal development process. This budget module automatically calculates F & A (overhead) and fringe-benefit rates, assuring the budget captures the required additions.

The budget is reviewed by ORPA for compliance with University and Sponsor guidelines when the full proposal is routed for approval.

Uniform Guidance and Direct Costs

Direct costs must belong specifically to a project, and be identifiable with a high degree of accuracy. 


Uniform Guidance Cost Principles state that all direct costs must be

  • Allowable: Adheres to sponsor terms and University policy.
  • Allocable: Directly benefits the project.
  • Reasonable: Is prudent for the project at hand.
  • Consistent: Is treated in the same manner as like expenses.


The University’s Direct and Indirect Charging Policy outlines items that may be allocated as a direct cost.

Salaries, Stipends, and Tuition
  • Salaries and associated fringe benefits for faculty and research staff
  • Salaries and associated fringe benefits for postdocs
  • Stipend for graduate and undergraduate students
  • Graduate student tuition
Materials and Equipment
  • Capital equipment (a unit cost of more than $5,000)
  • Materials and supplies
Other Expenses
  • Publication costs
  • Foreign and/or domestic travel
  • Consultants
  • Subawards to other institutions
  • Cost sharing, when required as part of the budget
  • Participant support: Stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with meetings, conferences, symposia, or training projects. Guidelines vary by sponsor and program.
Facilities & Administrative Costs (Indirect Costs)

Facilities and Administrative costs—also known as F&A, indirect, or overhead costs—are incurred for common or joint objectives and therefore cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity.

Examples of F&A costs include

  • Depreciation and interest costs associated with the University’s physical plant.
  • Operating and maintenance expenses, such as utility, security, and custodial costs.
  • Common administrative functions, such as payroll and purchasing.

Because it is impractical to account separately for such costs, F&A costs are normally not charged directly to sponsored agreements.


Princeton has a federally negotiated indirect-cost rate agreement for on- and off-campus activities. This rate, which can be found on the Institutional Information page, should be included in all budgets, as applicable. 

Based on sponsor specifications, the base for indirect costs may calculated using modified or total direct costs.

Modified total direct costs (MTDC)

This base is used when the sponsor accepts the University’s federally negotiated rate. This rate is applied to all budget line items, except equipment, tuition, and subawards beyond the first $25,000 (for each subaward). Princeton permits the use of 50% tuition when our federally negotiated rate is used in a budget.

Total direct costs (TDC)

This base is used when the sponsor does not accept the University’s federally negotiated rate. The indirect cost rate permitted by the Sponsor is applied to all budget line items with no exclusions. Full tuition rates should be used in this instance.


If significant portions of project work will occur off campus, please review the University’s Off Campus F&A Rate Policy for more details to confirm whether the off campus rate can be utilized.

Additional Proposal Requirements

SciENcv and ORCID

The Princeton University Library has online resources available for the implementation and maintenance of SciENcv and ORCID records.  

External resources

NSF Information on Biosketch and Current and Pending Support - in effect beginning October 5, 2020.

Data Management

The Princeton University Library and Office of Information Technology (OIT) provide resources to help researchers plan, organize, and preserve research data. They have collected information on grant proposal requirements, data file formats, and metadata formats into helpful online resources. For more information, also visit the Research Data Management website(link is external).

Library staff are available to review and provide feedback on any data management plan. Please contact the e-Science Library team at for assistance.

Compliance: Human Subjects, Vertebrate Animals, Conflict of Interest, Export Controls and More

Human Subjects, Vertebrate Animals and Biosafety

Certain proposals require special compliance reviews. Typically, human subjects, animal subjects, and biosafety reviews by the appropriate committees do not need to be finalized at the time of the submission of the proposal. However, they must be fully approved by the applicable committee before a project can begin.  Additional information on these topics can be found on the Research Integrity and Assurance website.

Conflict of Interest

Princeton's Conflict of Interest policies require every researcher to complete an annual conflict of interest disclosure.  It also requires this disclosure be updated as required throughout the year when changes occur.  Please review the Conflict of Interest page on Research Integrity and Assurance's website for more details.

Export Controls

Some proposals include interactions with foreign entities or travel to locations outside of the United States.  The Export Controls page on this website provide a comprehensive review of related topics.  Please take a look to find out more.