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Research Insights

Cost sharing on sponsored projects: Toward a more consistent policy

I thought it would be helpful to address an important topic for all of us who pursue external sponsored funding: cost sharing. Cost sharing refers to the portion of the project costs supported by the institution (rather than the sponsor). Cost sharing can include salary and fringe benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, and other project costs. Earlier this spring, to eliminate (or at least minimize!) questions, we released a revised policy clarifying how investigators may implement cost sharing on their sponsored projects.

Why is this policy important? Investigators often feel obliged to show considerably more cost sharing than actually required by external sponsors – this excess is referred to as voluntary cost share and can actually disadvantage us. We want to ensure we meet the requirements of external sponsors, are successful in receiving awards, while also minimizing (if not eliminating) voluntary cost share.

To better understand, let’s begin by differentiating mandatory and voluntary cost share:

  • When our external sponsors explicitly require cost share on their website or in the funding opportunity, this is referred to as mandatory cost share. A mandatory cost share requirement must be stated in writing, i.e. on the sponsor’s website or in the funding opportunity proposal. When this occurs, one should carefully consider – Will the cost-share overburden unit resources? Will the project’s return on investment justify the additional cost? If answering “no” and “yes”, it’s ok to proceed with proposal development including the cost share mandated by the sponsor. If subrecipients or third parties are anticipated, they too should contribute toward the mandatory cost share. Note that this policy is aligned with that of our peer institutions.
  • Voluntary cost share is when the sponsor does not require cost share, yet cost share is voluntarily included within the proposal. A common misconception is that voluntary cost share will positively affect the proposal evaluation; in fact, only mandatory cost sharing may be considered as an evaluative criterion (this point levels the playing field between well-resourced and not well-resourced institutions). That is, reviewers MAY NOT consider voluntary cost share in their evaluation. For these reasons, we do not allow incorporation of voluntary cost share on federal or federal “flow-thru” proposals. Only in very unique circumstances (and with non-federal sponsors) will voluntary cost sharing be permitted.

It is extremely important that we operate in a consistent manner as we consider cost sharing. This will make our proposal submission process more efficient and result in a smoother experience for all. It will also provide a more fair and equitable process across the institution.

We’re ready to help, as always. All cost sharing requests should be incorporated into the Grants Portal proposal submission. Once routed to Sponsored Projects Administration (SPA), the SPA person assigned to the proposal will assess the request and provide guidance through strategies to ensure the proposal complies with sponsor and UGA requirements.

If you have questions about UGA’s policy on cost sharing, please contact your SPA representative or Jill Tincher, SPA executive director. And … teaser … stay tuned for an introduction to institutional support mechanisms (distinctly different than cost share) that may lend well to your proposal efforts.

I hope all of you have a wonderful summer and take the opportunity to refresh and recharge. Thank you for all you do to advance the UGA research and innovation enterprise!

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research