Introduction to the Grant Lifecycle

Research administrators and sponsors often use the lifecycle metaphor as a heuristic device to organize the standard phases of grants administration. Enter "grant lifecycle" into a search engine and you'll find numerous discussions and several different ways to parse the myriad activities comprising sponsored program (SP) responsibilities.

Below, focusing on BMC's role as grantee, we briefly describe a five-phase process, highlighting their most important moments and providing links to educational material and system portals.

Departmental and Central Partnership

Research Operations (RO) protects BMC's interests as an SP awardee but it also seeks to serve BMC departments in meeting their SP responsibilities.  Whenever your SP is a grant or a government contract, Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) is your central administrative resource across the lifecycle and Sponsored Programs Finance (SPF) is your central financial partner. Whenever the SP is industry-sponsored, the Clinical Trial Office provides the financial governance, while also becoming a partner when a grant award involves clinical services or data.

For types of awards and/or sponsors, among other basics, see our Introduction to Sponsored Programs.

1. Eligibility and Finding Funding

The earliest phase of the life of the grant is divided here into two sub-phases. Eligibility refers to both institutional and sponsor requirements. Finding funding is divided into the primary responsible and information on the BMC search tool for identifying funding opportunities.

PI/PD Eligibility

Meeting eligibility requirements is the very first step in seeking sponsored program (SP) grants, whether research or clinical service projects.

Every SP has a Principal Investigator (PI) or Program Director (PD).  (In some cases, two people may share PI/PD responsibilities but, like joint tenancy, the responsibility and accountability are 100% for both parties). The PI/PD bears primary responsibility for the project’s design, execution, and oversight as well as for all financial, administrative, and compliance matters.  Hence, the common epitaph: "The PI is responsible for everything." Both BMC and the sponsor pose eligibility requirements.  

Finding Funding

Locating funding to fuel their research or service programs is incumbent upon the PI/PD, who is best situated to match their scientific and/or clinical interests to funders and funding programs. As with many but not all duties, the PI/PD may designate study team members to the task, while remaining responsible for the results.  Knowing the types of sponsors as well as frequent BMC sponsors, all of which maintain funding opportunities, kickstarts the process of finding funding.

BMC's Funding Search Tool

SPIN is BMC's search tool for locating funding. SPIN™ database points users to funding opportunities to all areas of research. At any given time, it tracks approximately 40K funding opportunities across thousands of governments, foundations, and commercial entities around the world. Although a separate application, it is "bolted onto" InfoEd, BMC's SP administration system of record, required of all SPs, externally or internally funded.

To use SPIN, one must already have an InfoEd log-in or request an InfoEd account, receive credentials, and complete introductory training. Levels of access are determined by BMC role and SP-specific role.

Users may consult the one-page SPIN Funding Opportunities Guide.

2. Proposal Preparation, Review, Approval, and Processing

This phase is crucial for those seeking federal, state, city, and foundation grant support as opposed to industry sponsorship. To be awarded a grant, the PI/PD must engage a complex application process whose many steps and parts can feel bewildering.  

Of great importance is attention and adherence to sponsor requirements.  When, e.g., a sponsor poses a page or word count limit to a research plan, heed them.  Sponsors need to find ways to limit their applicant pool -- you don't want number of words to be a deciding factor. Please also do not ignore SPA's internal deadlines: yes, you might choose to ignore them -- they are not sponsor deadlines, after all -- but you run the risk that due diligence of your proposal is compromised.  If you are going to be denied a grant, you don't want it to be because you didn't meet administrative niceties: not just word or page counts, but myriad face-page requirements and a rational budget, e.g.  The research plan deserves utmost attention, but sponsors also judge the adequacy of the SP team to perform the work by the quality of the overall application.

For those new to SPs, please consult our Introduction to ProposalsOthers may go straight to the BMC proposal manual, which is designed to guide the research community through the process of reviewing the solicitation, preparing standard proposal components, understanding sponsor and BMC policies, obtaining institutional approvals, and submitting grant proposals. It also includes crucial post-proposal-submission items such as Just In Time requirements.

3. Award Acceptance and Set-up

All SPs are awarded to institutions, not individuals, and all awards therefore must be reviewed and accepted by an institution's authorized official. In some cases, negotiation is a preliminary step. At BMC, RO's SPA team is tasked both with accepting awards on behalf of BMC and issuing subawards to subrecipient institutions.  The PI/PD, assisted or not by a department administrator (DA) should also review the Notice of Award (NoA), the finalized terms and conditions, and review the award data in InfoEd, BMC's SP system of record.

Award set-up is the process of readying the financial project in Infor, BMC's financial system of record

If your award includes clinical data or services, you'll need to involve the Clinical Trial Office for the following two phases of the lifecycle. It's a good idea to commence contact by the time of acceptance.

4. Award Management

This phase of the lifecycle typically is the most time consuming. The PI/PD and team have the go ahead to meet their SP aims and provide the "deliverables" that were agreed to; their project is underway and requires considerable attention. Meanwhile, the PI/PD and/or (DA), the applicable RO teams, and sponsor personnel take up complementary roles in administrative and financial management. 

SP Kickoff

Careful planning, including thoughtful communication of roles and responsibilities, takes upfront effort but pays off in downstream dividends: compliance readiness, avoidance of unnecessary delays, team spiritedness, and steady pacing, among others. PI/PD/DAs, to avoid being "pennywise but pound foolish" should prepare ahead and launch a formal kickoff  to galvanize the team and set up for success.

Financial Management

Conducting financial requirements of an SP is labor-intensive.  Federal regulations, known colloquially as "Uniform Guidance,"  are complex; non-compliance with the UG faces the risk of "false claims" against the government, punishable by law; and SP expenditures occur frequently and are subject to audit. The PI/PD has oversight responsibility, and they or their DA collaborate with SPF frequently to ensure financial requirements are met.

Progress Reports and Non-Competing Continuation

After a sponsor provides SP funding, they usually require the PI/PD to submit periodic progress reports within specified deadlines. It's important for the PI/PD and DA to identify their sponsor's requirements and meet them. Multi-year SPs often require yearly budget periods that are governed, effectively, by staged mini-awards.  A non-competing continuation report serves simultaneously as a progress report and a subsequent-year proposal.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), BMC's largest funder, requires Research Performance Progress Reports (RPPR).  The NIH's online grants interface, eRA Commons, supplies information on reports and their deadlines.  

Prior Approvals

A sponsor expects the PI/PD to need to make minor changes and typically display flexibility in allowing them.  Need for major changes is another matter, requiring formal requests and sometimes award amendment.  The savvy PI/PD/DA stand ready to pivot efficiently.

Changes requiring formal prior approvals include no-cost extensions, budget revisions, carryover of unobligated balances and those of key personnel, recipient organization, and research plan.

Subrecipient Monitoring 

When BMC contracts with a subrecipient institution and identifies a sub-PI to conduct part of a research study, its responsibilities are many. Among them are subrecipient risk assessment, conducted prior to the award management phase, and subrecipient monitoring. The PI/PD has primary responsibility but may delegate a DA to some of the tasks. The  SPA team ensures compliance with federal regulations.

Those new to SPs or agreements with sub-recipients may wish to consult Basics of Subawards.

5. Award Closeout and Record Retention

Following the former phases of the grant lifecycle, award closeout is crucially important to fiduciary responsibilities, compliance requirements, and PI/PD reputation for successful SP management, but also includes myriad record retention responsibilities. Quoting BMC's most senior attorney, who has a specialty in research: "Research is a privilege, not a right."  

Responsible and accountable closeout engagement also saves time and effort, so please don't be "pennywise and pound foolish."