Thinking about what a project is going to cost to complete is an important part of the proposal development and needs to be done early in the process. Program officers and reviewers are going to compare your research plan and the budget and decide the extent to which the project scope justifies the level of investment requested. The closer that your research plan and budget align the more competitive your proposal will be.
A good strategy for determining how much a project is going to “cost” is to break down the costs by category. The categories below are the ones reflected in all required federal budgets.
Once you have listed all the personnel and their level of effort and the details for each of the other budget categories (by year), send that information to your grants manager so s/he can put dollars with those items and create a preliminary budget. This preliminary budget will show you were you stand in terms of the maximum funding level allowed by the sponsor.
Remember that all costs must meet the criteria of allowable, allocable, and reasonable as defined by the Federal Cost Principles as laid out in the Uniform Guidance (2 CFR § 200). If they don’t, then they are unallowable expenses and can’t be added to budget. The grants managers and our Sponsored Program Officer (SPO), Aimee Sanford, will review all items with respect to those three criteria.
One more topic of conversation to have with your department chair and the grants managers early in the budgeting process – cost share. We need as much time as possible to figure out where that cost share is going to come from. You can find more information about cost share on our cost share information guide.
Here are the budget categories and some possible items you might need to conduct the work you describe in your research plan. List everything you think you need – you don’t want to come up short when you are funded to do the research!
Who are the people you need to work on your project? List them by name or title (could be a new hire) and provide the amount of effort directed toward the project (2 months a year, 2 weeks in the summer, 20 hours per week, etc.). Be sure and read the RFA because there can limits on the allowed effort for personnel.
Example of Project Based Personnel Costs
- PI (of course, you)
- co-PI(s) – list them all
- Senior/Key Personnel – have a substantive role but not PI or co-PI(s)
- Other Personnel – lab technicians, project managers, programmers, etc.
- Postdoctoral Researcher – can be considered Senior/Key Personnel if they are going to have a substantive role but can also be considered “Other Personnel”
- Graduate Student(s)
- Student Employee(s) (undergraduate or graduate) – think about adding a student worker to help with administrative duties
FY2023 (July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023) Fringe Benefits for proposal budget preparation:
- Faculty – 27.8%
- Combined Staff – 38.0%
- Non-student Specials – 15.6%
- Students – 11.2%
Equipment is defined as an item of property that has an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more. Laptop computers or other technology don’t belong in this category
Conference Travel (Domestic) – Where are you or your team going, how long will you stay? If you don’t know the exact city where a conference might be held, at least list the conference – the grants manager will look at where the conference will be held and estimate the costs.
Conference Travel (International) – Where are you or your team going, how long will you stay? If you don’t know the exact city where a conference might be held, at least list the conference – the grants manager will look at where the conference will be held and estimate the costs.
Mileage – think about where any of your project team might have to drive to collect data or go for meetings. Think about the number of times you might have to make the trip. The grants manager will determine the number of miles and total travel.
What about your advisory board? Are you planning on having them travel to Columbus for meetings? Figure that travel out as well!
A participant/trainee is an individual who is receiving a service or training opportunity from a workshop, conference, seminar, symposium or other short-term instructional or information sharing activity funded by a sponsored award. If you are training teachers for instance, the stipends, mileage, and subsistence required for a summer professional development experience would go here. Another cost could be registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants/trainees.
Incentives (gift cards, i.e.) for filling out a survey don’t go here – put them in Materials and Supplies or Other categories.
One thing good about participant support costs – no indirect costs are charged against this amount.
Materials and Supplies
The proposal budget justification must indicate the general types of expendable materials and supplies required. Materials and Supplies can include:
- Computer set ups and peripherals
- Video cameras
- Wearable technology
- Paper, printing, folders
- Chart paper, post it notes, markers, note cards (for conference or training proposals)
- Chemical supplies
- Cabinets to hold restricted files
These charges include reports, reprints, page charges or other journal costs (except costs for prior or early publication); necessary illustrations; cleanup, documentation, storage and indexing of data and databases; development, documentation and debugging of software; and storage, preservation, documentation, indexing, etc., of physical specimens, collections or fabricated items. Think about data management needs for this category – what about storage costs for digital data?
Professional and consultant services are services rendered by persons who are members of a particular profession or possess a special skill, and who are not officers or employees of the proposing organization. Advisory board members and their honorarium (or hourly rate) would go in this section. I always used $500/day for my NSF grants for advisory board members – seemed to work just fine! If you are going to have face-to-face meetings, then figure out the number of hotel stays and the per diem (per year).
One caveat – based on the definition of consultant, this means is that faculty and staff from OSU can’t be consultants. If they are being asked to do “stuff” outside their normal duties then they can be paid supplemental compensation and would be added to the personnel section. If OSU faculty are being asked to do what they do already get paid for (i.e., service) they can’t be paid extra (with the exception of summer pay for 9-month faculty). If summer pay is the way to go, then they need to be listed in Personnel.
Computer services can include:
- Computer-based retrieval of scientific, technical and educational information
- Software purchases or required licenses
- Access to restricted data (S4 data) will cost $100/month with a one-time set up fee of $40. Contact Vincent Cefaratti in EHE OIT for more information on these costs.
You might not have any subawards, but if you do then you need to figure out how much each of the subawardees are going to receive. Each of the subawardees will have have their own budget and justification; the total amount is added to your budget. List the name of the organization and the estimated amount they will receive (remember – this is still preliminary).
Anything that doesn’t really belong in the above categories still need to be listed. Other items might include:
- Incentive payments to human subjects (figure out how many human subjects and how many times you will be paying them per year)
- Incentive payments to promote completion of a survey (figure out how many human subjects and how many times you will be paying them per year)
- Animal costs can be found on the Office of Sponsored Programs Rates and Fees page.
- Transcription services
- Facility rental costs (for conference or training proposals)
Ohio State Guidelines on Paying Research Subjects
Human subjects participating in university research projects are often compensated for their time and commitment with cash or non-cash items. Principal investigators (PIs) and other faculty/staff members who are conducting sponsor funded research or internally funded research are responsible for ensuring that subjects are eligible to receive payments (in accordance with U.S. Tax and Immigration laws) and for ensuring that the payment process is appropriate. These guidelines cover topics such as subject payments, human subject cash and checking accounts, gift cards, and payments to nonresident aliens.