Understanding a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)


The following list of questions and tips will help you to deconstruct a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), also commonly known as a Request for Applications (RFA), Program Announcement (PA), and Request for Proposal (RFP).

Initial Questions
  • When is the submission deadline? Does the due date allow sufficient time to develop a competitive application? What are the internal deadlines? Start internal approval process well in advance.
  • Is there an earlier deadline for a letter of intent (LOI) or pre-proposal?
  • Are you eligible to serve as the Principal Investigator (PI)?  Do you need to complete any registrations prior to submission? (eRA commonsFastlaneCDMRPProposal Central, etc.)
  • Is this a limited submission funding opportunity (i.e., a limited number of applications from UAF are allowed)? If so, see Limited Submissions.
Program Description
  • Does your research fit the funding agency’s research objectives?
  • Good sources for identifying the agency’s vision for the program include previously funded proposals under the same funding opportunity announcement (FOA), and publications, reports, or workshops referenced by the FOA.
  • Are there help documents (i.e., outlines/templates) linked to the RFA?
Document Specifications
  • What are the page limits?
  • What sections of the proposal are included within the page limits? What sections are excluded?
  • What are the allowable fonts and font sizes? Margin sizes? Spacing requirements?
  • Are headers and footers allowed and/or required?
  • What is the budget cap? Can your research (or an aspect of your research) be completed with the funds available?
  • How many awards does the funder expect to make (i.e., how competitive is this competition)?
  • Is there a cost-sharing requirement? If so, contact your local Research Administrator or OGCA to start the internal approval process.
  • Is there a minimum time commitment (i.e., how many person-months)? 
  • Does the agency require inclusion of any specific costs (e.g., travel costs to attend a required meeting)? Are there any normally allowable costs that are not allowed under this RFA?
  • Is there a cap on the recovery of indirect costs (facilities and administrative (F&A) costs)? If the allowable F&A rate is below UAF’s current F&A rate, please discuss this with your Research Administrator or OGCA and start the internal approval process.
  • Are there caps or constraints on the allocation of specific funds or line items (e.g., line item X must not exceed 10% of total direct costs)?
  • What requirements are in place for sub-awards? If sub-awards will be requested, speak to your Research Administrator or OGCA well in advance of your deadline.
  • What are the requirements for the budget justification?
  • Is there a salary cap?
Narrative Structure
  • Are there required sections of the proposal narrative that are standard to this funding agency/mechanism? If so, refer to the agency’s proposal guidelines document for more information (NIH SF424 R&RNSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG)). It is important to familiarize yourself with these instructions, and to use them as a reference for each proposal. They are also a place to find rules regarding any significant changes to proposal format.
  • Are there required or suggested subheadings? Funding opportunity announcements often provide information regarding the structure of your proposal.
  • If there are not required subheadings, are there easily identifiable headings that can be gleaned from the review criteria (e.g., Significance, Goals, Broader Impacts, Evaluation)? NOTE: Required or suggested subheadings are sometimes found in agency instruction documents (i.e., NIH SF424 R&RNSF PAPPG).
  • Organize your proposal in the same format described or implied in the RFA.
  • Reflect the language the funding agency uses to describe the program and its mission (check the agency’s website). Use these keywords in your proposal.
  • Subject headings, graphics, bullets, and bolded statements using language similar to that used in the FOA can all be used to make the reviewers’ jobs easier as they assess how well the proposal meets review criteria.
Review Criteria
  • What are the review criteria? Are there any special/unusual review criteria?
  • It is particularly important to read the review criteria carefully when you respond to an RFA or Program Announcement (PA). Review criteria for “parent” or investigator-initiated announcements are typically found in agency submission regulations.
Special Sections Required
  • What sections other than the main narrative are required? Examples include “Management Plan,” “Postdoctoral Mentoring Plan,” “Multi-PI Leadership Plan,” “Protection of Human Subjects.”
  • Are there required letters of support/collaboration? Start the process of acquiring these letters early!
  • Are appendix materials or supplementary documents allowed? If so, become familiar with what materials will/will not be accepted.
Additional Questions
  • Contact Office of Grants and Contracts Administration assistance.
  • It is not uncommon to find ambiguities or apparent contradictions within the RFA. If, after re-reading the announcement, you are still in doubt, ask questions! Contact the relevant program official with your specific question or concern and ask for clarification. Contacts are provided within the RFA. Ask early! Some funders have a deadline for the submission of questions.