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Initial Contact with a Sponsor

The approach a researcher takes in contacting potential sponsors will be contingent on the administrative area to which one reports and the type of sponsor from which the researcher is seeking funding. There are cases where a researcher should not contact a potential sponsor without prior approval. Clearance is required for all institutional approaches to foundation and corporations, and should be obtained before a contact is made or a proposal is written. Prior approval or clearance is not needed when contacting a government agency for potential funding.

A researcher does not need clearance to apply to government funding agencies. The OSP maintains a listings of current program officers and other representatives of federal funding agencies, plus information about specific initial contact requirements or guidelines. Program officers are usually a good initial point of contact for faculty wishing to discuss the scope of their project and guidelines unique to the agency.

A key element of successful proposal writing is establishing a relationship with your potential funding source early on in the process. Having a contact at the funding agency can greatly facilitate writing the full proposal, serve as a resource for answering questions, and shepherd the proposal through the review process.

Specifically, the purpose of the initial contact is to confirm the common areas of interest of the sponsor and the researcher. These inquiries can take the form of phone conversations or written correspondence in the form of a letter of inquiry. A letter of inquiry is initiated by an applicant to determine if a proposed project is within an agency's fundable program area and to request agency policy and program information, as well as instructions and forms. One should always address a letter of inquiry to a specific person. This begins the relationship development process. Inquiries, either by phone or letter, should address the following basic questions:

  • What do you intend to do?
  • Why do you want to do it?
  • How will you do it?
  • What do you estimate the project will cost?
  • When and where will you do it?
  • Who are you and what are your qualifications?
  • Who will benefit from this work?

revised March 21, 2015

Last Updated: 3/21/15