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Guide: Funding and Proposals

Why should I write grant proposals?

There are many good reasons. Winning a grant proposal is a significant scholarly achievement and reflection of the excellence of your work. Furthermore, few institutions have the large amounts of funds necessary to do major research projects or to support long-term scholarly projects.  Most public universities rely on a combination of state funds, external research funding, and philanthropy to support the institution. Of these, external funding is most important for the research and scholarly enterprise.

Fundamentally, if you want to undertake a complex project that will require time (yours and that of others), travel, data gathering and analysis, or equipment and people, you will want to apply for external grants.

External resources provide you with greater resources for more intensive study than can be provided by institutional resources. They support graduate and undergraduate researchers, and, while such students serve as personnel for your project, they also gain a great deal of experience that classroom instruction alone cannot give them. External resources will allow you to undertake the kinds of projects that truly influence your discipline. A winning proposal is also a form of external validation of your ideas, and can be prestigious in and of itself.

“But there’s no money in my field” 

This is a common belief in the humanities and social sciences. When invoked, this usually means “there’s very little money in my field” or “it’s really competitive.” It is true that external funding has become more competitive and that some funders’ budgets are flat or declining. But someone wins these competitions–it can be you! After all, NC State is a major research university, with a reputation for excellence in all the disciplines this university contains—including those in our college.

It is true that the competition for funding is stiff. But since you’ve shown your ability to compete and succeed in academia, you should be confident you can compete for funding. And we’re here to help you capitalize on your knowledge and talents.

“You keep saying ‘research’ and ‘grants,’ but I am a humanist

The language of “grants” is most typical of sponsored research offices, because the infrastructure around the support of external funding is generally oriented to grants (and contracts) and the like. This terminology is not intended to diminish the importance and value of the humanities. Where the term “research” is used in this guide, it also means “scholarship” more generally. I like this discussion (and this) of the distinctions between “research” and scholarship. For the purposes of this guide, I will use the term interchangeably. And, in this guide, a “grant” can mean any form of external support for research and scholarship.

There are differences between the sorts of activities in which humanists, social scientists, and behavioral scientists engage. We realize that humanists will often seek support for time, in the form of fellowships. Fellowships and similar opportunities are managed differently than other types of research grants. In most cases, we don’t even ask scholars to accept their fellowships through the university, and some fellowship sponsors will not even route funds through the university (see the College policy on fellowships).  That’s OK! We work with faculty on nearly any sort of external funding opportunity–grants, contracts, fellowships, and the like. What’s the best way to know if we’ll help you? Ask us! We’re here to serve you.

“You only help faculty who write big grants that come with lots of overhead, right?”

This is another concern we often hear. Overhead–or, in the jargon of grants administration, F&A, for facilities and administration–is the amount the University adds to grants to cover the expenses that a grant cannot directly pay for, such as the cost to maintain research space, offices, labs, our IT infrastructure, and the like. The full F&A rate is currently 52% (and you get really get into details at this site). Some of that F&A money does come back to the college and the department to help support the research enterprise.

But our office’s primary concern is the promotion of excellent scholarship. We will work with you on any project, no matter the size. Many of our funders pay far less than the full overhead rate, and some of them pay none at all. We welcome all scholars in the college to work with us to seek the resources needed to support excellent scholarship. Indeed, if you apply for external funding that would come to the University, you must work with our office to properly prepare that proposal–regardless of its overhead rate, and even if that rate is zero.

OK, then. Where do I apply?

The research office is often asked “where can I find funding?” There are many ways we can help you find funding, but we cannot do much to help unless you have a research or scholarly project in mind. A general sense that “I’d like some money to do research” or “it would be good for me to seek external funding” is not likely to be part of a successful strategy for finding support.

The Research Office can assist you in preparing grant proposals, matching funders to your interests, and managing grants once they have been received. Later in this guide you’ll see ideas for sources of funding. But the research office cannot replace your expertise in your particular field.  So the best sources of information about who is most likely to fund your scholarship are your colleagues and your professional and disciplinary groups. 

With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to start finding potential sources of research and scholarly funding, and to prepare research proposals. You don’t have to do each of these, nor do you need to do them in any order, but the more resources you draw on, the more you’ll be able to hone your ideas and find the best possible funders.

  • The first and most important step is to be engaged in a scholarly or research program that excites and motivates you. Seeking funding, and then trying to fit one’s work to the funders’ needs, is often unsatisfying and frustrating. Of course, you may want to shape your work to address the needs and interests of funders. But you don’t want to deviate too far from your own interests. Our goal in the research office is not to raise grant funding for its own sake. Rather, we want to help you find the resources to support your scholarly interests.
  • Create a brief abstract describing goals of your current research project (include keywords you and we can use to search for funding). Use this as a guide to finding funding, and to talking to colleagues about your work.
  • Consider writing a two-page concept paper or white paper, explaining the project, why it’s important, how you’d go about studying the problem or phenomenon you’ve identified, and why you’re the best scholar to take this on. You can use this document to share with colleagues and program officers at funding organizations.
  • Search funding opportunities in various places,
  • As noted in a recent issue of Research Development and Grant Writing News, “This is fairly straightforward information to convey to anyone submitting a proposal to a federal agency. One word: All new federal agency funding opportunities are posted on a daily basis to this site.” While agencies may post their opportunities at other sites, almost all the opportunities of interest to academics will be on
  • Google (really!). As Research Development and Grant Writing News said, “Bottom line: when it comes to finding funding outside of the domain of federal agencies and foundations, Google becomes your best friend.Google can identify funders, can show you how other universities support and seek funding, and can connect you to other scholars. Try a search like ‘funding for research in [your subject here].’ “ I tried this with my research field (natural disaster studies) and several good ideas popped up.
  • To get some ideas about where to search, visit this page — — from NCSU’s Office for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. Among the many resources you can find at this page are
  • Search InfoEd Spin — You can use this database to find and to receive updates, about funding research in your fields. Like, using InfoEd Spin requires care to find specific opportunities of interest to you. Details on this resource are provided below.
  • Read professional news, websites, publications — Your disciplinary and subfield associations will have news about funding, funding trends, and the politics of federal support for research. Make sure you are subscribed to your groups’ newsletters, blogs, social media feeds, or whatever technique you find useful. Agencies and funders will often post information about grants, sometimes before the opportunities are more broadly disseminated. Keep up on trends in periodicals such as the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education. While many articles at the Chronicle are “premium” articles, if you read the Chronicle’s website from a campus computer–or access it through the NC State library portal–you will be able to read paywalled articles.
  • Networking at conferences — Your professional conferences are a similarly useful source of information. Many large disciplinary conferences, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, will include representatives from funding agencies, foundations, and others with an interest in supporting research.  Many will have a booth in the exhibit hall. If you know of a funder or organization that may be interested in your work, visit their representatives. Of course, networking also involves your friends and colleagues in the discipline, from the most senior people in the field, to your best friends from grad school. Keeping those networks alive will alert you to research and collaboration opportunities.
  • Networking with professionals inside and out the NC State community — Not all professionals in your field or discipline will attend academic conferences. Many people with knowledge of grant opportunities are part of your local network of colleagues at NCSU and in the communities in which you work. Some may know of funding opportunities, and others may wish to partner with you on grants designed to support community services.
  • Contact program officers —  Many scholars are intimidated by program officers, particularly those at the larger funding agencies. Don’t be! Most program officers are eager to meet with prospective researchers, and enjoy intellectual conversations about innovations in their fields. You can usually find the program officer’s’ contact information on the funder’s website. Ask our office for help if you need it.
  • Furthermore, if you have a well-formed project for which you are writing a proposal, and wish to visit a program officer to discuss the project, the Research Office may have funds available for you to visit your program officer at their location under the Proposal Preparation Program.
  • CHASS Research Blog — Please subscribe and encourage your colleagues to do so. I maintain this blog to distribute funding opportunities.

I’ve found a funder. What do I do next?”

As you search for funding, keep in touch with the Research Office and share your ideas and plans. This is particularly important as you narrow down your funders.

As soon as you identify a potential funder, please contact me or Joyce Christian.  Provide us information on the funder and the solicitation to which you plan to respond with a grant proposal.

Keep in mind that we need all application materials from you at least one week before the funder’s deadline. Getting your materials to us two weeks earlier would be ideal.

Why can’t you wait until the last minute? Because, when you are applying for a grant, you are asking NC State University to apply to the funder for the grant that you will manage. Because the grant is made to the institution, not to individuals, there are many aspects of university policy, state law, and federal regulations and laws that must be addressed and followed in order to submit proposals and, when the funds are awarded, to accept the award.

From the perspective of the proposer, this seems like just a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy. But for every rule, there’s a reason. Some of the rules seem obscure–for example, NSF requires that, among other things, we certify that we are a drug-free workplace and that our facilities are not in a floodplain or that they have flood insurance. The University handles these matters for you, so you don’t have to. (And, about that flood insurance, you might ask colleagues at the University of Iowa or Tulane University about the impact floods can have on their operations!) Many of the rules are designed to monitor the use of funds; our office works with the University to ensure that we do nothing that would yield a negative audit finding (they happen) or, worse, actual criminal or civil liability. Of course, we doubt that our researchers would knowingly violate the law, but we must follow processes that ensure that we do not, by accident or intention, run afoul of state and federal law.

A Final Word

This is a lot of information to digest, so remember that the research office is here to serve you at every step of the way, from finding funders, to submitting proposals, to managing your successful award. Feel free to call me or our staff at any time with questions and ideas.

Grant Writing and Funding Resources

Following are some ideas for writing grants and finding funding. Please let us know if you have any ideas for additions or improvements to this list! We rely on your feedback to serve you better.

Resources for Grant Writers

Professional organizations’ funding information

Once you’ve considered all these ideas, make an appointment with Tom Birkland or Joyce Christian to discuss other potential funding sources, and to better understand funders’ goals, rules, and deadlines, and to share with them what you learned about potential funders.