Sponsored Programs Office

Proposal Development

Research Proposal DevelopmentThe Sponsored Programs Office (SPO) serves as a central resource within the Aurora Research Institute for Aurora caregivers seeking extramural and intramural funding for research and other projects. The SPO pre-award staff have the skills and knowledge necessary to help Aurora program directors/principal investigators (PD/PI) assemble proposals, and provides counsel on various portions of the projects and helps to develop budgets.

Appropriate planning and thoughtful proposal development can increase the likelihood of successfully receiving funding.

Successful Proposals

  • Plan well in advance and consult with the funding agency’s program officer if allowed.
  • Leave sufficient time for strategic planning, concept refinement, peer review and feedback.
  • Follow application instructions and submit the application before the deadline to allow time for revisions.
  • Develop proposals that are written in a clear, direct and professional style.
  • Ensure the project is feasible yet innovative and provide strong proof to substantiate the project hypothesis.
  • Demonstrate collaboration with other qualified scholars.

Why Proposals Fail

  • Project does not match the sponsor’s requirements or the proposed activities are unrelated to project objectives.
  • Scope of work is too ambitious for the grant period and objectives are not clear and/or not specific.
  • Project is not significant and lacks sufficient detail, or its goals and budget are unrealistic.
  • Methodology and project reasoning are vague.
  • Narrative is unclear or not compelling and fails to persuade the reader.
  • Experience and expertise of the applicant are not adequately described and the curriculum vitae are generic with materials not relevant to the project.
  • Project has typographical and/or factual errors.

The SPO Proposal Process

The SPO staff welcomes the opportunity to assist Aurora Health Care program directors/principal investigators (PD/PI) in developing proposals. Please see the SPO’s Grant Development Support Policy for an overview of the services SPO provides. Note that final proposal documents must be received by the SPO at least five full business days prior to the sponsor's due date.

The SPO has created the following forms to help Aurora PD/PIs initiate and develop applications for sponsored projects:

All requests for assistance should bedirected to Mary Groce at 414-219-7846. If a particular funding source has been identified, investigators are encouraged to contact SPO as far in advance of the application deadline as possible.

Proposal Review

All grant proposals and budgets require review and approval by Aurora’s director of Investigator Initiated Sponsored Research and the senior vice president of Research and Academic Relations before submission to funders. All final narrative, budget, ancillary and other proposal documentation must be received on time - five full business days prior to the submission deadline to allow time to conduct a thorough review, and make corrections if necessary.

Basic Elements of a Proposal

All proposals require similar elements in order to provide the sponsor with information adequate for review. The following list provides a brief overview of the basic proposal components, which may be used as a guide when sponsor requirements are not specific. A typical proposal should include:

  • Cover or title page – This often includes the PD/PI's name, address, phone number, fax number and email address; title of proposal; sponsor name, address, telephone and fax number; period of project performance with start and end dates; budget amount requested; submission date; and signature of the submitting organization’s Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR).
  • Abstract – The abstract describes the objectives, methodology and significance of the proposed project. It should not include references to other sections of the proposal.
  • Introduction – The introduction provides a brief description of the proposed project’s objectives, endorsement to support credibility in the project area, any related work which may be in progress, and any other pertinent background information or needs statement required by the sponsor.
  • Project description – The project description provides the project’s approach, including the hypothesis to be tested or researched. It should include detailed information about the research or evaluation plan and project timeline.
  • List of personnel – This section should include the names and titles of all key personnel. Non-professional personnel should be listed by title or function only.
  • Bibliography – A listing of references cited in the body of the proposal should be provided.
  • Curriculum vitae (CV) – CVs for all key personnel should be included with every proposal to indicate their professional and academic background, professional interests, research capabilities and publications relevant to the proposed project. (Note:  Some funding agencies require CVs to be in “biosketch” or other format, which will be specified in the program announcement.)
  • Budget and justification – The budget includes a reasonable estimate of financial support necessary to conduct the proposed project and justification of expenses. It must conform to the sponsor’s instructions and applicable policies of Aurora. For multiple year budgets, realistic inflationary increases for recurring expenses should be included, if allowed by the sponsor.

If a funder provides specific grant application instructions for a program announcement, request for proposal or other type of solicitation, it is important to follow them explicitly. These formatting guidelines supersede all others and should be referred to often throughout proposal development.

Developing a Budget

The SPO's Budget Worksheet  (Excel file, 37 KB) offers Aurora PD/PIs a simple template for estimating project costs. SPO is available to provide comprehensive budget preparation support.

  • The budget is the PD/PI's best estimate of the proposed project’s total costs to be incurred.
  • It becomes a firm commitment on the part of Aurora to perform the proposed work at the proposed cost upon submission of the application.
  • A strong budget must be a realistic reflection of all activities included in the technical proposal.
  • It is important to appropriately size the proposed project to match the budget funding requested.
  • Work with SPO when developing the budget.

*Note: it is important for the PD/PI to remember that there are two distinctly different types of cost that together comprise the total cost of most sponsored projects:

  1. Direct Costs: Those costs are required to conduct the project. This includes salaries and wages of key personnel and the percentage of time each person will devote to the project, plus the related fringe benefits. They also include any allowable equipment, supplies, travel, subcontracts and sub-awards, consulting services, purchased services and other expenses directly related to project activities.
  2. Facilities and Administrative (F&A), or indirect, costs: Those costs are incurred for a common or joint purpose, and cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project or any other institutional activity. F&A costs are charged as a fixed percentage (the F&A cost rate) of all or a portion of a project's direct costs (the F&A cost base). The F&A cost charge is calculated by multiplying the applicable rate times the appropriate base. (Note: F&A may not be allowed by the sponsor and is typically not required on an intramural grant. Refer to the program guidelines.)


Whenever Aurora agrees to commit to internally fund a portion of the allowable costs of a sponsored project, i.e., costs that would normally be paid by the sponsor, Aurora makes a commitment referred to as “cost-sharing” or “matching.” Cost-sharing can either be committed (mandatory or voluntary) or uncommitted.Cost-sharing should only be included in a proposal when mandated by the sponsor. It must be approved in advance by the senior vice president for research and academic relations.

Sub-contracts and Sub-awards

Aurora investigators may enter agreements with outside organizations either as the primary applicant or as part of a separate institution’s grant submission.

A subcontract is a contract issued between Aurora and another organization to perform a defined piece of work or production and/or the delivery of specified goods and services whithin a grant-supported program.  Any modification to the provisions within a subcontract will require an amendment.

A sub-award is an agreement issued under an assistance instrument between Aurora and another organization to perform the scope of work on an awarded grant. Terms and conditions of sub-awards are passed from the sponsor award. The sub-award is established for the period authorized in the sponsor's award notice, which is typically awarded in one year increments. At the end of the budget period, amendments/new agreements are required to extend the budget period.

*** The process can be complex and requires specific expertise. Investigators must contact SPO when developing proposals that include non-Aurora collaborators.

Many online and other resources are available to assist PD/PIs in writing successful proposals. Here are a few:

Proposal Writing Resources

Funding Agency Guides

Please contact SPO for further information and assistance.