Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I find and apply for a grant?
The very first thing to do is work with the Office of Sponsored Projects (OSP). The grant process here at NIU is divided into pre and post award offices. OSP helps you find a granting agency, works with you to edit your proposal and create a budget, and then mails the completed proposal for you. Our office, Grants Fiscal Administration (GFA), is post award, so we work with you after you have received a grant.

How soon can I start spending money when I get a grant? Do I have to wait until the agency sends the grant money?
Once you have completed and returned the required paperwork to GFA, signature card and signed Grant Contingency Fund form, you are ready to spend. You do not have to wait for the agency to send money – we allow deficit spending. However, spending must be during the dates of the awarded grant period, unless your grant allows for Pre-Award spending. Please be aware that not all agencies allow pre-award spending and there may be limits placed on the length of time prior to the start date that spending can take place.

What is a contingency fund and why is it needed?
Contingent Fund Availability Form (Office of Sponsored Projects) - This form is used when we know a particular award is going to be funded and the Project Director needs to start spending funds, but the agency has not yet sent the official award documents.  The contingency fund acts as an insurance policy to cover the expenditures in the event the grant/contract is not awarded.  This form is also used to "bridge the gap" between award years while waiting for the official award documentation for the next budget year.

Why does the grant have to pay fringe benefits?
CMS (Central Management Services) has determined that the employer's portion of fringe benefits must be paid by the granting agency when a person is paid from a grant.

Why do the fringe benefit amounts vary so much?
If someone is paid additional compensation, the only fringe benefit cost is SURS (retirement) and Medicare. If, however, some portion of the regular contract salary is paid by the grant (for example, a course buyout) then a proportional amount of the employer's cost for medical and dental insurance is also charged to the grant.

Who decides what the fringe benefit amount should be?
The medical and dental cost charged to a grant is based on the type of insurance coverage and number of dependents covered by the individual who is being paid on the grant.

What is indirect cost and who decides how much my grant has to pay?
Indirect cost, or facilities and administrative costs, is a portion of the expenses necessary to run the university that are charged to a grant. This includes such things as the cost to run the library, building maintenance, campus police, utilities (heat, power, light), radiation safety, etc. The percent of indirect cost charged to a particular grant is determined by the granting agency, the graduate school, and the federally negotiated rate. The cost is calculated and charged to the grant as a percent of specific direct costs in the month following the month in which the direct cost charge occurs.

Does my department get any of the indirect cost money?
Departments receive 10% of the amount charged, colleges receive 5%, and if there is an interdisciplinary unit, it will receive 10%. The money is allocated to the appropriate accounts on a monthly basis and is controlled and allocated by the college business manager. The off-campus rates are 6%, 15%, and 15% respectively.

What is a W9 and why do we have to worry about it?
The W9 is an IRS form that certifies that someone's taxpayer identification number (TIN) is correct. NIU is required by the IRS to have this form on file for everyone who receives non-salary income from NIU. The form is available on the Accounting Office Tax Forms webpage.

What is the Independent Contractor form? What is the 20-question form? And who needs to see which?
The Independent Contractor questionnaire helps a department determine whether to pay an individual as an employee through the HR system, or as a contractor through the Accounting Office. The questionnaire should be filed in the departmental office - the accounting office does not need to see this form. Once a department decides that an individual should be paid as a contractor, the Independent Contractor form (CWS) certifies that the individual is appropriately classified. This form should be attached to the check request form together with an invoice, and sent to the accounting office. It is also available on the Accounting Office webpage.

Are there any special rules for foreign travel?
Yes! Many of the federal agencies require approval before you travel - even if the travel is in the budget. Please check with your individual grant administrator or read the award notice from the agency for your specific grant. Also, most federal grants require you to fly on a United States flag carrier (the Fly America Act). Failure to get approval or failure to fly on an American carrier could mean that the grant would not pay for your travel.
For a worksheet to help you reconcile a grant foreign travel voucher, see Foreign Travel Form (XLS).

What is cost share?
Cost share is the university contribution towards the total project cost of a particular grant. The amount of funds the university is required to contribute towards the grant is determined when the grant proposal is funded, based on the grant proposal submitted by the project director and OSP. (Office of Sponsored Projects) The university share is often represented by a percentage of project director time spent on the grant project, but funded by a normal NIU general revenue account. GFA is required to document this time and effort for our files, so if your grant has a portion of salary cost share, you will receive a cost share report for your signature.
Other types of university cost share may include actual cash expenditures for travel, supplies, equipment etc. which are purchased from non-grant funds and are to be used for the grant. A third type of cost sharing is represented by indirect costs that are incurred but not charged to the grant.

What is a fixed price contract?

A Fixed price contract is a flat sum of money from a funding agency given to a project director to complete a particular project. When the project is successfully completed, the agency does not expect any funds to be returned, and often does not ask to see a financial report detailing the grant expenses. Although we do not have to file a financial report, an internal budget is required for this type of grant, and should be included in the documentation when a grant proposal is created. All grant funds are expected to be expensed through the grant within the designated grant time period.