The Award Lifecycle

Applying for External Funding

Getting Started  

When planning to apply for external funding, you should:

  1. Have an idea. You need to have an innovative research, dissertation, or other scholarly topic ready to go. Be sure to consult with a faculty advisor about the merits of your specific project.
  2. Locate funding opportunities. Search the funding source databases to locate external funding opportunities for your project. Searching the databases 12 months before the funding is needed is not too soon! 
  3. Get the guidelines. At this step, it is important to obtain and review proposal guidelines and/or applications from the funding source(s) you have identified. Most guidelines will be available online.
    • Determine whether your project ideas truly fit within the sponsor’s interests.
    • The funding source may also post examples of previously funded proposals on their website.
    • The guidelines will indicate the sponsor’s requirements. These may include formatting requirements such as page limits, font sizes, and margins. Regarding the deadline, know if it is a receipt deadline or a postmark deadline; if the proposal is to be submitted online or via email, check the time zone of the deadline. Failing to meet the requirements can result in your proposal not even being considered for funding, regardless of the intellectual or scientific merit of the project. 
  4. Write! Be sure to write your proposal well in advance of the deadline. When writing, you want to emphasize the match between your research topic or financial need with the interests of the funding sources. Be sure to take into consideration proposal preparation tips offered by experienced grant writers. (See Useful Links at the right).
  5. Check compliance issues. It is essential that you check with the Office of Compliance and Research Integrity [] to be sure that your project meets all research compliance expectations. Check the guidelines to see if you must provide proof of compliance along with your proposal application.
  6. Talk to your advisor. Ask a faculty advisor to review and critique your proposal before submission.
  7. Talk to Sponsored Programs Administration. Sometimes proposals require official University signatures and need to be submitted through the University. Read the application guidelines carefully to determine whether your proposal requires our office to submit it to the sponsor.

Working with Sponsored Programs Administration

If your sponsor requires Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) to submit the proposal, observe the following guidelines for working with SPA.

When to contact SPA:

An application must be submitted by/through SPA if the sponsor requires institutional approval or signature by an authorizing official, or if the award will be made to NIU.  Most graduate student funding awards are made directly from the agency to the applicant; some awards, especially those from federal agencies, are made to NIU.

If any of the following are true, you should check with the Research Development Specialist (RDS) assigned to your college or department. (See the SPA Staff Directory for RDS assignments and contact information):

  • You plan to use university resources
  • Your advisor (or another NIU faculty member or staff) will be named on the grant
  • The grant requires an institutional budget (versus a personal budget)
  • The sponsor will hold NIU accountable for completion of the project, or place other reporting requirements on the institution

NOTE: In cases where an application does not have to be submitted through SPA, we recommend that your graduate advisor serve as your main source of advice. 

Timeline for Working with SPA

We require a minimum of five business days to review the proposal narrative, budget, and budget justification prior to the deadline date. 

We strongly advise you to notify us of your intent to submit at least three weeks before the deadline so that we have more time to support the submission (i.e., ensure that NIU is eligible to apply, that your budget is correct, that you are meeting sponsor guidelines, etc.)

Contacting SPA

Call or e-mail the RDS assigned to your department to ask if an application should go through SPA.  See the SPA Staff Directory for RDS assignment by department or college.