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Proposal Development

Principal Investigators are responsible for clearing proposal submission with department heads and the AES Director or CES Director when new departmental facilities or commitments are required, and to make sure there is no conflict with NMSU policies.

  • Before starting the application process, be clear about what you want to accomplish.
  • Always work to a timetable. Make sure you have enough time to complete your application so it meets the funder's deadlines. If you don't have time to do it properly, don't compete for the grant at all.
  • Don't give in to pressure. A rushed proposal rarely wins. Keep a file with standard information enclosed and updated, like staff resumes and statistical data, so you can concentrate on the specific grant information needed when the time comes to apply. Computer files containing standard information about NMSU and the College of Agriculture and Home Economics are available from the College Business Office.
  • When dealing with any funder, but especially federal agencies, remember to read all the instructions before applying and follow them to the letter. It sounds simple, but federal competitions live by two rules:

    1. The agency is always right, and
    2. When in doubt, refer to rule 1.
  • Proposals will be returned unread if they fail to follow guidelines. Don't just tell the funder about the existence of the problem you intend to solve. Prove it with statistics, case studies, testimony, and any other measurable data.

  • A strong proposal shows the likelihood that it will achieve its goals. Result areas should always be clearly determined, and criteria should be outlined to evaluate the success of the outcome.

    It may not be easy to do, but the value of having clear performance standards can't be overstated.

  • Remember that often the key to a strong proposal is simplicity. Don't waste words. Funders are looking for a project that will succeed, so keep things clear, factual, supportable, and professional.

  • A few other writing hints:

    1. Avoid filling your proposal with jargon.
    2. Begin each section with a strong, clear sentence.
    3. Don't go overboard, but do try to make your proposal interesting to read.
    4. Check with the funder to see if there's a preferred format, typestyle, etc.
  • When dealing with foundation or corporate funders, Don't underestimate the importance of the original contact letter. Make it as strong as possible, and keep it to the point.

  • If possible, submit the proposal well before the deadline. Funders appreciate receiving proposals ahead of time; it gives them a time to check the proposal for completeness (and gives you time to correct any omissions they might find), and indicates that you are well organized. Also, date of receipt is sometimes used as a tie-breaker in the case of equally-ranked proposals (with the earlier date winning).

Contracting with Private Firms

The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences encourages investigators to seek support from private sources. Projects must remain consistent with the mission of the College while also serving the requirements of the funder. Because NMSU must protect its rights regarding publication and patents, as well as financial arrangements, the PI must work closely with the CAHE Pre-Award Office and either the AES Director or the CES Director when responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP). The CAHE Pre-Award Office will help develop required Cost/Management Proposals, as well as checking that proposed contractual provisions are acceptable to NMSU. Documents prepared in response to an RFP may become an integral component of the contract. It is important, therefore, that the CAHE Pre-Award Office review documents before submission. The CAHE Pre-Award Office will obtain the proper signatures.

Proposal/Award Form

Principal Investigators must complete an NMSU Proposal/Award Form to secure administrative approval for all externally funded projects. The Proposal/Award Form is circulated internally at NMSU and records administrative approval for proposal submission. A Proposal/Award Form must be completed and circulated for each new, continuing, and renewal proposal. PIs should submit the Proposal/Award Form at least two weeks before submitting a proposal. Proposals with unusual circumstances (special agreements, for example) may require more than two weeks for the Proposal/Award Form to circulate. If you submit a Proposal/Award Form without enough time to circulate it and obtain approvals, the proposal submission process will be delayed.

NOTE: Proposals will not be submitted unless the Proposal/Award Form has been signed by the proper people. Proposal/Award Forms are available from the CAHE Pre-Award Office.

Cost Share Contribution

If the proposal includes a cost share contribution from NMSU, the Proposal/Award Form must detail the contribution and the agreed-upon source of the contribution. The PI must obtain agreement from the Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and Department Head before circulating the Proposal/Award Form.

Indirect Cost Recovery Policy

Indirect costs (overhead) support administrative and maintenance activities at New Mexico State University and within the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences . The College of Agriculture and Home Economics policy is to recover full indirect costs on all sponsored projects. Agreements to commit part of the recovered indirect costs must be reached by the PI, relevant Department Head, and appropriate Associate Dean before the proposal is submitted.

Interdisciplinary Projects

Proposals with interdisciplinary research require more time to coordinate and prepare. PIs need to obtain the agreement of cooperating PIs, department heads, and administrative units. The Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station can help set up interdisciplinary teams. The responsibilities of each person must be clearly stated and understood, and costs must be agreed upon before submitting the proposal. The NMSU Proposal/Award Form must be circulated and signed by each PI, participating Department Head, and college Dean and/or Research Director. Attaching a budget that details project costs broken out by PI can speed up the approval process.

Federal Regulations

All projects using human subjects, animals, or radioactive materials, or involving recombinant DNA research must obey Federal and State regulations. NMSU has rules to ensure compliance with the regulations. Contact the Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station for assistance regarding these rules.

Budget Development

Know your budget. It's probably the first thing a funder will look at in your proposal. It needs to be realistic and give credibility to your entire proposal. Make sure the budget is clear and unambiguous. Major categories such as personnel, benefits, travel, supplies, equipment, and indirect costs should be identified separately. Present the budget separately from the rest of the application, making sure the figures are correct and that the budget accurately reflects your needs. Keep a record of how you arrived at your costs.

How much detail is necessary? The budget narrative of an application should provide the basis for computing all project-related costs. To avoid common shortcomings, be sure to include:

  • Personnel estimates that accurately provide the amount of time to be spent by personnel involved with the project and the total associated costs, including current salaries for the designated personnel.
  • Estimates for supplies and expenses supported by a complete description -- including anticipated telephone charges and other common expenses, with the basis for computing these estimates included.

Transportation costs and per diem rates must comply with NMSU policies and a copy of the NMSU travel policy should be submitted as an appendix to the application.

You can develop your own budget or ask the Fiscal Specialist in the CAHE Pre-Award Office (GT 238) for help.

NOTE: If you develop your own budget, the Fiscal Specialist must review it before the proposal is submitted.

Indirect Costs

Indirect costs (overhead) support administrative and maintenance activities at New Mexico State University and within the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences . Fifty percent of the University overhead rate is returned to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences . Fifty percent of the returned overhead is distributed to the PI's department and Fifty percent is retained by the Dean.

PIs must not pre-negotiate indirect costs with funding agency representatives. Any policy restrictions relating to overhead or indirect costs should be obtained in writing from the funding agency.

Cost Sharing, Matching Funds, and In-Kind Contributions

Many grants require some form of cost sharing, matching funds, or in-kind contributions from New Mexico State University. NEVER ASSUME THAT THE AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION, COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, OR YOUR DEPARTMENT WILL AUTOMATICALLY MATCH YOUR GRANT. Always secure agreement and approval for any matching funds or cost-sharing before submitting your proposal. Don't overmatch funds. If a funder requires a 30% match, don't commit to a higher match in the hopes that it will help your proposal; program officers say that they only check to confirm that the minimum match is made; anything higher is ignored.

Communicating with Funding Agencies

Technical aspects of a proposal should be negotiated between the sponsoring agency and the PI. Costs and other business concerns must be negotiated between the Office of Grants & Contracts (OGC) and the sponsoring agency in cooperation with the PI.

If a PI is contacted by a funding agency representative to discuss project costs, the PI should contact the OGC to be sure he or she understands project and University requirements. Any verbal comments should be relayed to the OGC. The OGC will confer with the PI to be sure the project can be completed with the resources available and determine whether the scope of work is reasonable.

Proposal Revisions

If a funding agency requests a change in the proposed scope of work or budget before the formal award, the CAHE pre award office. Any change in cost requires the PI to consider whether the scope of work also needs modification. The CAHE Pre-Award Office will make budget adjustments and obtain the proper administrative approval and submit to the Office of Grants & Contracts.