Sponsored Programs Office

Proposal Development

Research Proposal DevelopmentAurora Research Institute’s Sponsored Programs Office (SPO) serves as a central resource for Aurora caregivers who are seeking funding for research and other projects. The SPO pre-award staff is available to assist Aurora program directors/principal investigators (PD/PI)throughout the proposal development and application process.

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

Successful Proposals

  • Plan well in advance and consult with the Sponsored Programs Office and the sponsor’s program officer if allowed.
  • Allow 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 resolving administrative or system issues.
  • Write in a clear, direct and persuasive style.
  • Ensure the project is feasible and innovative and provide evidence (e.g., preliminary data) to substantiate the project hypothesis-(ses).
  • Collaborate with other qualified scholars.

Why Proposals Fail

  • Application instructions were not followed, and/or required sections and information were not included.
  • Project does not match the sponsor’s requirements or the proposed activities are unrelated to the sponsored program's objectives.
  • Scope of work is too ambitious or unrealistic for the grant period and objectives are not clear and/or not specific.
  • Project is insignificant not innovative and/or lacks sufficient detail.
  • Methodology and project reasoning are vague.
  • Narrative is unclear, not compelling and/or fails to persuade the reader.
  • Qualifications of the applicant and project team are not adequately described and the curriculum vitae are generic without relevance to the project.
  • Proposal has typographical and/or factual errors.

The SPO Proposal Process

SPO welcomes the opportunity to assist Aurora Health Care PD. PIs with the proposal development process. Please see the SPO’s Grant Development Support Policy for an overview of the services SPO provides and PD/PI roles and responsibilities. Note that final proposal documents must be submitted to 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:

  • Request for SPO Assistance (PDF, 675 KB)– For general requests for assistance.
  • Grant Proposal Worksheet (Word Doc, 69 KB) – To assist PD/PIs in structuring their project proposals (hypothesis, background, study design, etc.)
  • Funding Needs Form (PDF, 1294 KB) – For PD/PI to request assistance with identifying funding opportunities for a specific project
  • Budget Worksheet (Excel file, 37 KB) – For proposal budget development

All requests for assistance should be directed to Mary Groce at (414) 219-4763 or spo@aurora.org. If a particular funding opportunity has been identified, PD/PIs are encouraged to contact SPO as far in advance of the application deadline as possible.

Proposal Review

Aurora Research Institute’s president and the director of SPO must review and approve all research grant proposals and budgets before submission to the sponsor. To allow time for this process, the final narrative, budget, and all other proposal components must be submitted to SPO five full business days prior to the sponsor's application deadline.

Basic Elements of a Proposal

The following list provides an overview of the basic proposal components, and may be used as a guide when sponsor requirements are not specific. Generally, a proposal includes:

  • Cover or title page – This often includes the PD/PI's name and contact information; title of proposal; period of project performance with start and end dates; total budget amount requested; submission date; and name, contact information and possibly the signature of the submitting organization’s Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR).
  • Abstract – The abstract summarizes the objectives, methodology and significance of the proposed project. It should stand alone and not reference other sections of the proposal. For many sponsors, the abstract is published in the public domain; thus, it is important to not reveal any proprietary information.
  • Introduction – The introduction provides background, a review of the field’s current status and gaps or unmet needs, proposed objectives, any related work that may be in progress, and any other information required by the sponsor.
  • Project description – The project description discusses the proposed approach and methodology, including the hypothesis(ses) being tested. This section should include detailed information about the research strategy evaluation plan and project timeline.
  • Bibliography – References cited in the body of the proposal must be listed.
  • Curriculum vitae (CV) – CVs for all key personnel should be included indicating their professional and academic background, professional interests, research capabilities and publications that are relevant to the proposed project.
  • Budget and justification – The budget includes a realistic estimate of financial support required to conduct the proposed project and a thorough justification of expenses. It must conform to the sponsor’s instructions as well as applicable Aurora policies. For multiple year budgets, inflationary increases for recurring expenses should be included, if allowed by the sponsor.

Explicitly following the sponsor's grant application instructions is vital to the success of a proposal. The sponsor's formatting and content guidelines supersede all others and should be referred to consistently throughout proposal development.

Developing a Budget

The SPO's Budget Worksheet (Excel file, 37 KB) offers Aurora PD/PIs a 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.
  • The budget must be a realistic representation of all activities proposed in the technical proposal.
  • It is important that the proposed project's scope aligns with the budget being requested.
  • Work with SPO when developing the budget.

Typically, the total cost of a sponsored program's budget is comprised of two types of costs:

  1. Direct Costs: Costs are required for conducting the project. Including, but not limited to: salaries and fringe benefits of key personnel, allowable equipment, supplies, travel, sub-contracts and sub-awards, consulting services, purchased services and other expenses directly related to project activities.
  2. Facilities and administrative (F&A) costs (indirect costs): Costs are incurred for a common purpose which cannot be specifically associated with a sponsored program or other institutional activity. F&A costs are charged as a fixed percentage (F&A cost rate) to all or a portion of a project's direct costs (F&A cost base). The F&A cost charge is calculated by multiplying the applicable F&A rate by the appropriate F&A base. (Note: F&A cost charges may not be allowed or may be restricted by the sponsor. Refer to the application instructions.)


Cost-sharing or cost-matching occurs when Aurora commits to internally fund a portion of a sponsored program's costs that are not normally paid by the sponsor. Cost-sharing can either be (mandatory or voluntary), and committed or uncommitted. Cost-sharing should only be included in a proposal when mandated by the sponsor and it must be approved in advance by the president of the Aurora Research Institute.

Sub-contracts and Sub-awards

Aurora investigators may enter into agreements with outside organizations either as the primary applicant or as part of the other institution’s grant application.

A sub-contract is a contract between Aurora and another organization to perform a defined scope of work and/or deliver specified goods and services. Any modification to the provisions within a sub-contract requires a formal amendment.

A sub-award is an agreement between Aurora and another organization to perform the scope of work for an awarded grant. Terms and conditions of sub-awards are specified by the sponsor. 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.

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

Many 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.