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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Getting ahead of grant deadlines leads to greater success

UW–Madison in FY 2021 touted research grant awards of $1654M (comprised of $978M in federal and $676M non-federal awards). Research funding is an essential part of conducting research and a source of pride at UW–Madison.

But grant writing is hard and time consuming work – for the researcher, and for the departmental and campus grants administrators. Completing a grant application can take weeks or longer.

Working tirelessly behind the scenes to support the multiple stages of the award life cycles is our Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (RSP).

RSP reviews grant proposals, negotiates contract terms and conditions, oversees all active projects, provides financial reporting, develops policies and practices to comply with federal regulations, and actively monitors all financial activities associated with UW sponsored projects. In addition, RSP is the only office legally authorized to accept awards and agreements for sponsored programs on behalf of researchers at UW–Madison.

I’m grateful for the expertise of RSP staff and wanted to remind researchers and research administrators campus-wide that to best utilize that expertise, it is important to build in time for RSP to review your grant application. By turning in materials in advance of the deadline – days or weeks and not hours – it is more likely staff will help to eliminate errors and submit proposals successfully.

The grant process follows a linear lifecycle that includes creating the funding opportunity, applying, making award decisions, and successfully implementing the award. The specific actions along the lifecycle are grouped into three main phases. Each of the three phases has its own page at that provides a more detailed look at the process:

  1. Pre-Award Phase – Funding Opportunities and Application Review
  2. Award Phase – Award Decisions and Notifications
  3. Post Award – Implementation, Reporting, and Closeout


I want to take this opportunity to remind you of several important things related to routing of proposals and agreements.

Route proposals to RSP as early as possible.  Be realistic about the time it can take to write and revise the application. And be sure to build in time for university approval of both the costs and the application. The best grant application is no better than the worst one if it misses the deadline.

When you have spent days working on your important proposal, you do not want to risk missing the deadline for submission because there was a technical issue and there wasn’t sufficient time to solve the problem.  The risk that a faculty member’s proposal will miss a deadline is too great. It’s extremely important to allow sufficient time for RSP to review proposals, correct errors and submit them.  Please get these proposals to RSP well in advance of sponsor deadlines. Please remember that the WISPER record has to go through the proper approvals and there will be a time lapse from the time the record is created to the time it actually reaches RSP. It is recommended that you aim to get the proposal to RSP 5 days in advance of deadline to give them sufficient time.

Provide clear instructions and dates.  Please provide clear and concise instructions on the WISPER record in the Submission Instructions section so RSP knows what must be done with the proposal or agreement.  Additionally, the Sponsor Deadline field should be the date when the application should be sent to the sponsor by RSP – this date may be earlier than official proposal due date (e.g., if we are subrecipient we may need to get materials to the sponsor before the office proposal deadline). For proposals or agreements that have no deadline, please leave the Sponsor Deadline blank and indicate preferred dates in the Submission Instructions. Sponsor deadline is one factor RSP uses for prioritization. Putting in inaccurate or artificial deadlines clogs up the workflow for everyone:  if there is no deadline, please leave field blank.

Contracts team needs time to review RFPs and write exception letters. If an RFP contains grant terms, the contracts team will need to review the terms in advance of submitting the proposal. The contracts team may need to draft an exception letter. If an “exception letter” must be submitted in response to an RFP, please request review from the Contracts team very early in the process. It is not possible to do a thorough review of the RFP and write an appropriate exception letter with less than a day before the deadline. Please work with your dean’s office to get the exception letter request to RSP as early as possible. The contracts team is requesting that you send them an approval 7 days before the deadline so that they can give sufficient attention to your important proposal.

Use WISPER and RSP email boxes rather than contacting RSP staff directly.  For the most efficient support from RSP pre-award, please use WISPER and the Approval functions in WISPER for requests.  Or use the RSP email boxes, e.g.,  or   RSP prioritizes workloads based on deadline dates, staffing availability, worklists, complexity, among other things.  We cannot assign specific proposals or agreements to team members without WISPER records or Approvals.  Using WISPER and the RSP email boxes helps assure things do not slip through the cracks – this gives us greater visibility into requests allowing multiple team members to respond and provide you the best service possible.

Please continue to work with your dean’s offices to get things routed via WISPER to RSP as early as possible.

Timely and effective communication between you, the grantee, and research administrative staff is critical, and many tools exist to help you. For example, RSP provides several budget spreadsheets to assist in budget calculations. When used, these spreadsheets provide accurate calculations of salary fringe benefits and Facilities and Administration (F&A) costs. Using these spreadsheets can streamline the review done by research administration staff in your dean’s office. Your dean’s office may also have additional tools available.

As someone who has been writing grant proposals for more than 30 years, one of the best pieces of advice that I can give when working on a grant proposal is to start the process early and leave time to get feedback and assistance from both specialists in your research area and non-specialist colleagues.

Thank you for your help in ensuring successful proposal development and submission. There is fierce competition for funding, and it’s crucial to submit a strong proposal first time round.

Steve Ackerman

Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education