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Finding Funding

  1. Who can submit proposals through the Smithsonian for external funding?
  2. What types of organizations provide external funding to the Smithsonian?
  3. Do any organizations not accept proposals from the Smithsonian?
  4. What types of funding agreements can the Smithsonian accept?
  5. Is the Smithsonian a federal agency or a non-profit?
  6. How can a Principal Investigator (PI) find external funding?
  7. Does a PI need to ask permission before contacting a sponsor?
  8. Do letters of inquiry or pre-proposals need to be reviewed by OSP?
1. Who can submit proposals through the Smithsonian for external funding?

Every proposal must identify a Principal Investigator (PI), the individual with primary responsibility for preparing the proposal and, if the proposal is awarded, managing the award. PIs on proposals to external sponsors must either be Smithsonian employees (either federal or trust) or have pending or active academic appointments. Academic appointments include, but may not be limited to, adjunct scientists, research associates, research collaborators, and (in certain circumstances as described below) fellows.

For fellows to submit proposals as a PI, the start date of the proposed project must fall after the expected end date of the fellow's appointment. If the start date of the proposed project will fall before the expected end date of the fellow's appointment, the fellow can be listed on the proposal as a Co-PI. The Smithsonian employee who acts as scientific advisor to the fellow is named PI. In such cases, fellows are encouraged to seek financial support for their project costs but are not allowed to receive personal compensation beyond the fellowship stipend provided by Smithsonian funds. Exceptions that would allow an active fellow to serve as a PI and/or receive additional personal compensation may be approved pending case-specific consultation between OSP, the Office of Fellowships, and the appropriate unit administrators.

Sponsors may have additional eligibility requirements that further limit who can submit proposal, and all proposals must be reviewed and approved by the appropriate unit administrators and OSP prior to submission as described in Smithsonian Directive 321, "Review and Submission of Proposals for Sponsored Projects." For more detailed information on eligibility, please see Chapter Four, "Principal Investigator Eligibility," of the PI Guide or contact an OSP preaward staff representative.

2. What types of organizations provide external funding to the Smithsonian?

The Smithsonian receives external funding from both government and private organizations. Most sponsors describe eligibility requirements in their written proposal guidelines. Review these carefully to determine the Smithsonian’s eligibility to submit proposals. When clarification is needed, contact an OSP preaward staff representative and/or the sponsor’s Program Officer.

3. Do any organizations limit the submission of proposals from the Smithsonian?

Some special considerations apply to a few federal agencies, as described below.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Smithsonian federal employees may submit proposals for direct awards from NSF only for the following projects:

  • For Special Projects that can make unique contributions to the needs of researchers elsewhere or to other specific NSF objectives;
  • Under National and International Programs for which the Foundation bears special responsibility; and
  • For International Travel in order to ensure appropriate representation or availability of a particular expertise at an international conference.

Smithsonian trust employees, individuals with academic appointments, and proposals for subawards are not subject to the above restrictions. OSP recommends that Smithsonian PIs always contact the NSF Program Officer prior to preparing a proposal.

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

Congress prohibits IMLS, NEA, and NEH from making any grants directly to agencies and organizations funded through the Interior Appropriations Act, which includes the Smithsonian. However, the Smithsonian may collaborate with another organization on the submission of a proposal to IMLS, NEA, or NEH and receive funding by means of a subaward from that institution. OSP recommends that Smithsonian PIs always contact the IMLS, NEA, or NEH Program Officer prior to preparing a proposal.

For more detailed information on restrictions on the submission of proposals by the Smithsonian to certain federal agencies, please see Chapter Three, "Federal Agency Restrictions," of the PI Guide or contact an OSP preaward staff representative.

4. What types of funding agreements can the Smithsonian accept?

The Smithsonian can accept:

  • gifts
  • grants
  • cooperative agreements
  • contracts
  • purchase orders
  • subawards
  • interagency transfers

Gifts are handled by the Office of Development. All other types of external funding are considered "sponsored projects" and are handled by OSP. For more detailed information about each of these funding agreement types, see Chapter One, "Introduction" of the PI Guide. An OSP preaward staff representative can assist you with determining whether the Smithsonian can accept a particular type of funding agreement. 5. Is the Smithsonian a federal agency or a non-profit?

Although the Smithsonian receives a federal appropriation, it has been classified by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3 non-profit. Sometimes sponsors, as part of the proposal package, request documentation of 501c3 status. OSP can provide such documentation to PIs for inclusion in a proposal if needed.

6. How can a PI find external funding?

There are a number of resources available to assist PIs with their funding searches. For more information, please see OSP’s Funding Sources webpage or contact an OSP preaward staff representative.

A PI has primary responsibility for conducting his/her own search for external funding. However, OSP assists PIs with finding funding in the following ways:

  • By providing the "Finding Funding Sources" workshop (for more information, see OSP’s Programs and Events webpage)
  • By assisting PIs with conducting funding searches and creating profiles on SPIN, Grants.Gov, and the Foundation Directory Online
  • By providing general guidance on resources available to search for funding
  • By sending announcements of funding opportunities (via email, OSP’s website, or the "Blue Bulletin")
7. Do PIs need to ask permission before contacting a sponsor?

For government sponsors, PIs are highly encouraged to contact the sponsor’s Program Officer to discuss their proposals prior to submission. For private sponsors, PIs should first contact their units’ Offices of Development to confirm if it is appropriate to contact the sponsor directly. In cases where the Office of Development has an established relationship with private sponsors and/or is aware of other proposals being prepared for submission to these sponsors, it may want to coordinate contacts with the sponsor.

When contacting a sponsor, PIs should avoid committing Smithsonian resources, discussing Smithsonian policies, negotiating business/administrative award terms and conditions, or providing detailed budget information. Contact with the sponsor about such issues should be handled by an OSP preaward staff representative.

8. What are letters of inquiry, letters of intent, and pre-proposals and do they need to be reviewed by OSP?

A letter of inquiry is a general presentation of a project idea, designed to elicit feedback from a potential sponsor.
A letter of intent expresses the intention to submit a proposal in response to a particular program announcement or a Request for Proposal. Letters of intent are generally solicited by the sponsor in conjunction with announcements expected to generate widespread interest. Sponsors generally require that such letters present only a general statement of the intended project theme.

A preproposal is similar to a letter of inquiry. Typically, it is much shorter than a full proposal, and it allows the sponsor to anticipate interest in a funding announcement or serves as an initial screen to limit the number of full proposals that are submitted.

In most cases, OSP does not need to review letters of inquiry, letters of intent, and pre-proposals prior to being submitted to sponsors. However, it is highly recommended that PIs allow OSP to review these types of documents prior to their submission to sponsors. This allows OSP to provide guidance and to identify for the PI any potential areas for concern. In any case, these types of documents must be reviewed by OSP if they contain a detailed budget.