Sponsored Programs & Research Compliance

Frequently Asked Questions

NOTE: For FAQs related to the Research Integrity Office (RIO) programs, please visit the RIO FAQ website.

Proposal Development

  • Does my proposal need to go through SPARC?

    The short answer is yes. If you are requesting funds for a given purpose whether it is in the form of a contract, grant or cooperative agreement, the proposal must be approved by SPARC.

    Going through SPARC works to your advantage in a number of ways. SPARC will help develop your budget and guide you through the submission process as well as check to ensure that your proposal complies with sponsor guidelines, and any other relevant policies and regulations. Submitting without SPARC’s assistance can result in detrimental budget errors and delays on the post award side.

    Preliminary proposals or white papers do not require SPARC approval if no budget is included. If a budget is included the proposal must be routed through SPARC and RAMSeS.

    You are encouraged to contact SPARC if you’re ever unsure about whether or not a proposal should go through the SPARC office. Trying to avoid running a proposal through SPARC is against University policy and often causes long delays on the post-award side and could even result in the decline of an award.

  • Do I need to register in Grants.Gov to submit a proposal?

    No. The SPARC office is the only office on UNCW campus authorized to submit proposals for externally sponsored projects as such we have registered UNCW in Grants.gov.

    If you register in grants.gov as an individual, the award will be issued to you individually and UNCW's name cannot be used. You may be subject to taxes please check with your tax professional.

  • What is fundamental research?

    Fundamental research is basic and applied research in science and engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from industrial development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are restricted for proprietary or national security reasons.

    Source: NSDD-189 - 1985 National Policy on the Transfer of Scientific, Technical and Engineering Information.

  • What is the difference between a pre-proposal and a Letter of Intent (LOI)?

    A pre-proposal is a brief description, usually 2-10 pages, of research plans and estimated budget that is sometimes submitted to determine the interest of a particular sponsor prior to submission of a formal proposal. Pre-proposals may become awards depending upon agency specifications.

    As most pre-proposals require a scope of work, budget justification and detailed budget information, pre-proposals are required to be entered and approved in RAMSeS

    A letter of intent (LOI) is a short, usually no more than 2 page, letter stating intent to submit a proposal in response to a request for proposals. A LOI is not binding. The predominant reason for its use is to help agency program staff to gauge the size and range of the competition, enabling earlier selection and better management of reviewers and panelists. In addition, the information contained in a LOI is used to help avoid potential conflicts of interest in the review process.

    A LOI normally contains the PI's and co-PI's names, proposed title, list of possible participating organizations (if applicable), and a synopsis of the work in sufficient detail to permit an appropriate selection of reviewers. A LOI is not externally evaluated or used to decide on funding. The requirement to submit a LOI will be identified in the program solicitation and such letters are submitted as specified in the program solicitation.

    A letter of intent is not required to be entered and approved via RAMSeS.

  • What is RAMSeS and why do we use it?

    In the old days, paper copies were snail mailed around campus until everyone had approved them. Today, RAMSeS facilitates that process for us. RAMSeS is a Research Administration Management System and eSubmission portal used by UNC system schools. The PI is required to set up a RAMSeS file and populate it with the required components of the grant application in advance of the grant proposal deadline. A proposal cannot be submitted without a RAMSeS file approved in advance of the submission.

    Not only does RAMSeS help facilitate the routing and submission process, it is a critical piece in ensuring UNCW is accurately capturing its research statistics. Please take a moment to watch a brief RAMSeS Tutorial (Use Firefox or Chrome to view). If you have more questions about RAMSeS, please contact the proposal development team.

  • How far in advance do I need to submit my proposal in RAMSeS?

    Routing your proposal in RAMSeS should not be your first interaction with the SPARC office. Ideally, you will be working with SPARC’s Proposal Development team along the way and finally submitting your proposal in RAMSeS is the last step in the process. There are less delays in the routing system if SPARC has already “pre-reviewed” your proposal and provided feedback before routing. We recommend you allow at least 3 days for routing with 1 – 2 weeks being optimal. We cannot guarantee approval of proposals submitted in RAMSeS with less than 48 hour notice. Proposals including cost-share, subrecipients/subawards, international travel/organizations or multiple departments usually take longer. Please consult the Submit a Proposal page for more information.

  • Does UNCW require different information to be entered into RAMSeS depending on whether I am seeking a grant versus a contract?

    UNCW requires the same information be entered into RAMSeS and routed for approval for competitive awards as it does for the funding you seek by partnering with another institution or private organization for contractual research. At a minimum, a scope of work, detailed budget and a budget narrative are required to be uploaded into RAMSeS and all appropriate questions in RAMSeS be answered. SPARC is available to help with review of documents and any issues you encounter with RAMSeS.

  • Who is eligible to be a Principal Investigator (PI)?

    External awards are made to the University of North Carolina Wilmington on behalf of University faculty, staff and students. The University is legally responsible for complying with all regulations and requirements guiding the implementation of these sponsored projects and thus it is incumbent on UNCW to ensure that such projects are conducted by the proper personnel.

  • I am applying for a subaward on another University’s proposal. What do I need to do?

    The lead institution that you are collaborating with should provide some direction on what is needed from you. From an administrative standpoint, you will likely need UNCW’s SPARC office to write a Letter of Commitment, review your budget, budget justification, scope of work and fill out the lead institution’s subrecipient commitment form.

  • I am working on a collaborative proposal and will have subawards on my project. What do I need to do?

    Since UNCW will be the lead, UNCW will be responsible administering the grant and ensuring the subawards are in compliance as well. We will need a letter of commitment, scope of work, budget, budget justification and a Subrecipient/Subcontractor Commitment Form approved by the subrecipient institution’s office of sponsored programs.

  • I need UNCW’s Federal Wide Assurance number, DUNS, CAGE, TIN, F&A rate agreement, IRS tax exempt status letter, etc.

    Please consult our Frequently Needed Information page. If you don’t see a particular item you need, contact the SPARC office.

Budget Preparation

  • Who can help me develop a project budget?

    SPARC’s Proposal Development Team is happy to help answer any and all budget related questions and will even help you put the budget together. Give them a call if you have a quick question about a budget related issue or set up an appointment if you would like more budget preparation support.

  • What is "Facilities and Administrative" costs (F&A) or "Indirect Costs" (IDC)?

    Indirect costs, also known as Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs or overhead, are costs associated with maintaining the necessary infrastructure to conduct research. These are costs that cannot be readily identified to a specific project. Some examples of F&A include utilities such as electricity and water, telecommunications, building and equipment depreciation and the administrative functions necessary to comply with regulations and conduct business.

    Overhead is how university Facilities & Administrative cost are recovered. Each grant reimburses the university for a portion of the university F&A. F&A are cost incurred by the university. Office space, office supplies, clerical and administrative personnel, facilities, buildings are all cost incurred by the university. Grants are charged with direct cost which are cost unique to the research, and that are necessary to carryout research.

    The university has a federally negotiated indirect cost rate agreement, which should be used when appropriate. You simply multiply your project’s total direct costs by the appropriate percentage rate outlined in the F&A Rate Agreement. Indirect costs are not charged on certain line items such as tuition, equipment over a certain value, etc..

  • What is cost-share?

    Cost share essentially means the University is “donating” money, employee effort or tangible goods towards the direct costs of a sponsored project and is only allowed when it is explicitly required by a sponsor and/or is in the best interest of UNCW. Any quantified commitments are considered cost share and should not be included in your proposal unless you have obtained official University approval. Please consult UNCW’s Cost Share Policy for more information and speak with SPARC’s Proposal Development team if you have any questions.

  • When is a cost share fund needed?

    A cost share fund is needed when the grant proposal indicates UNCW will pay a portion of the grant’s expenditures towards completion of the award’s objectives. See also UNCW's Cost Sharing and Matching Policy.

    Grant expenditures typically shared by the university regardless of the source of funds include:

    1. salary for faculty and/or
    2. stipends for graduate students
    3. supplies for the project
    4. food for the project
    5. travel
    6. start-up funds

    Cost share identification and tracking is required by federal law to ensure research facilities & administrative expenditures do not include cost shared expenditures in calculating the F&A federally negotiated rate.

    Cost share funding always comes from a general or trust fund. As the PI, if your proposal indicates the university will pay a portion of the grant’s expenditures, please be sure to enter a fund number in Ramses.

    Step 1 and 2

    Step 3

    NOTE: Even when funded by the Graduate School, funding must be transferred into and spent out of a cost share fund. This lets the university track the total amount contributed to any given project.

    In short, cost share serves as a way to track grant expenses paid for by the university.

  • What is employee effort and how is it calculated?

    “Effort” is the amount of time personnel commit to a project. For a faculty member on a 9 month contract, effort is calculated as a percentage of the faculty member's 9-month salary (base salary). Example: Sammy Seahawk earns $60,000 on a 9-month contract. If he wants to commit 10% of his effort he would calculate the dollar amount by multiplying $60,000 * .10 = $6,000.

    Summer effort is calculated on 1 month’s salary. 1 month salary is 1/9 of the annual base salary. So for Sammy Seahawk, 1 month of effort in the summer equals 60,000 x 1/9 = $6,666.66 (1 month’s salary). Then, 6,666.66 x 1.25 (amount of effort in months) = $8,333.

  • What are fringe benefits and how are they calculated?

    Fringe benefits are the employer’s portion of required federal payroll taxes and state retirement/workers comp/health care that a contract or grant must pay for each employee paid on a contract or grant, based on employee status. The fringe benefit calculator will help you find the proper rate based on your salary and time of year (summer rates are different than academic year rates). Graduate students and other part-time workers should budget 9.15% for benefits year round.

Award Management

  • What is the difference between a grant, contract, and cooperative agreement?

    A grant is distinguished from a cooperative agreement in that it does not provide for substantial involvement between the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity and the non-Federal award entity in carrying out the activity contemplated by the Federal award. (Uniform Guidance §200.51)

    A cooperative agreement is distinguished from a grant in that it provides for substantial involvement between the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity and the non-Federal entity in carrying out the activity contemplated by the Federal award. (Uniform Guidance §200.24)

    The principal purpose of a contract is to acquire property or services for the direct benefit of the federal agency. Extensive involvement is expected throughout the activity between the agency and the recipient. (Uniform Guidance §200.22)

  • How do I know if my award is a grant, contract, or cooperative agreement?

    Award specifics, including award type can be found by logging into Banner and accessing the Grant Maintenance form titled FRAGRNT. Principal Investigators and Co-Investigators receive access to the Banner Finance upon receipt of their award.

    If you would like more training, check out UNCW’s finance training options.

  • Who are UNCW’s primary federal sponsors?
    • Department of Commerce
    • National Science Foundation
    • Department of Defense
    • National Institutes of Health
    • Department of Education
  • When are meals an allowable expense on a federal award?

    Meals are an allowable expense on a federal award when they fall within one of these direct cost categories:


    In addition to the above, the food-related expense charged to a federal award must be allowable under:

    1. The Uniform Guidance
    2. Terms and conditions of the award
    3. Sponsor policy
    4. UNCW policy

    If your meal expense does not meet the above conditions but is fundamental to the success of your project, please contact your grant officer for more information.

  • What is the difference between a subaward and a subrecipient?

    A subaward is an award provided by a pass-through entity to a subrecipient for the subrecipient to carry out part of a Federal award received by the pass-through entity. It does not include payments to a contractor or payments to an individual that is a beneficiary of a Federal program. A subaward may be provided through any form of legal agreement, including an agreement that the pass-through entity considers a contract. (Uniform Guidance §200.92)

    A subrecipient is a non-Federal entity that receives a subaward from a pass-through entity to carry out part of a Federal program; but does not include an individual that is a beneficiary of such program. A subrecipient may also be a recipient of other Federal awards directly from a Federal awarding agency. (Uniform Guidance §200.93)

  • What is an independent contractor?

    An independent contractor is someone who follows an independent trade, business, or profession in which they offer their services to the public and is neither a paid state employee nor a student. However, whether such a person is an employee or independent contractor depends on the facts in each case. Please visit the Independent Contractors page provided by Purchasing Services for more information.

    Contact your grant officer to confirm your available budget.

  • What if my Award has a Subcontract?

    Because of possible restrictions imposed by the sponsor, all subcontracts must be closely coordinated with the UNCW Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance Office. A letter of commitment, scope of work and detailed budget with budget justification will be needed from the principal investigator to prepare a subcontract. The information is then forwarded to the other institution and a signature obtained by an signing official.

    Original agreements are retained in the SPARC Office. This is also where invoices are received. The principal investigator will be asked to review the invoices and notify SPARC to process them for payment through university channels. The principal investigator is also responsible for authorizing a requisition to encumber the funds.

  • What budget items are exempt from F&A (indirect cost)?

    The applicable F&A rate is not applied to certain costs or expenses often found within a sponsored project budget. The Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC) base shall exclude equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, tuition remission, rental costs of off-site facilities, scholarships and fellowships as well as the portion of each subgrant and subcontract in excess of $25,000.

  • Can a grant's mileage rate differ from that of the NC Office of Budget and Management?

    For both mileage and per diem reimbursements, UNCW will reimburse current rates set by the NC Office of State Budget and Management. Visit the UNCW Travel website for current posted rates. Do not use rates or policy that predates policy posted on the landing page.

    If a grant budget is written with a rate over the current year rate, UNCW will reimburse at the current rate and no more. If a grant budget is written with a rate below the current year rate, UNCW will honor the lower reimbursement rate of the grant.

    To process this in Chrome River:

    1. Enter the details of the lower reimbursement rate and the calculation in the comments section
    2. Add the grant's budget justification as an attachment
    3. If you need a copy of the grant's budget or budget justification, contact your grant officer