Building a Grant Budget

All proposals for grants and research contracts require a detailed budget outlining how the grant funds will be spent.


Faculty/staff are asked to work with OSPFR to develop a grant budget, which includes some or all of the following categories:

  • Salaries and wages
  • Fringe benefits
  • Consultants
  • Equipment
  • Travel expenses
  • Supplies
  • Other direct costs
  • Institutional cost share
  • Indirect costs

The budget identifies crucial parts of the project and informs the funder whether your project has the financial support of other grantmakers.

The OSPFR will assist faculty/staff in developing their grant budget to ensure consistency with St. John Fisher University policies and funder guidelines; the Business Office must approve the budget before the proposal is submitted.

The OSP and Business Office will rely on the following principles when determining whether a specific cost is allowable, reasonable, allocable, and consistent.

A cost is allowable if it is necessary for the project, follows all applicable policies and guidelines, is adequately documented, and meets these general criteria:

  • Reasonable: The nature and the amount of the cost reflects what would be incurred by a "prudent person" under similar circumstances.
  • Allocable: The expense can be associated to the project with a high degree of accuracy.
  • Consistent: Like expenses are treated the same in like circumstances.

Note: It is important to tie all of the major line items in your budget with a description in the project narrative.

Direct Costs

Salaries and Wages

Individuals who are spending a significant portion of their time and effort working on a grant project may request summer salary, reassigned time (course release), sabbatical/scholarly leave, or other forms of support. For faculty and professional staff, time/effort should be expressed in percentage format or in person months, rather than as an hourly wage.

The majority of faculty are on a nine-month contract representing the academic year (September through May). Please note that for National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, no more than two-ninths (2/9) of salary may be requested for faculty conducting research during the summer.

Calculating Faculty Salaries

There are two primary ways to calculate faculty salaries:

By months (for a faculty member on a 9-month contract):
grant salary = (x months)(annual salary)/9 months

By percentage effort:
salary requested = annual salary x percentage of time spent on the project

Note: In order for the OSP to assist in calculating grant salaries, each faculty/staff must sign the Authorization to Release Salary Information form and submit the signed form to the OSPFR.

The OSPFR will forward the form to the Business Office so the necessary salary information can be retrieved. The salary information provided by the Business Office reflects the current year; if the grant will be realized in subsequent fiscal years, it is necessary to add a cost-of-living increase for each year (percentage approved by the St. John Fisher University board on an annual basis).

Faculty Course Releases

Requests for course releases and sabbaticals should be made to the department chair, appropriate, dean, and provost well in advance of the proposal submission deadline. Course release calculations (see below) must be approved by the provost and may vary depending on the faculty member's contract. In keeping with the nature of Fisher as primarily a teaching institution, a typical faculty member spends approximately 55% of their time on teaching.

Sample Calculations for Faculty Course Releases

For a 9-month contract with 3/3 course load: (9-month institutional base salary) x 55% x (1/6)
Example: ($75,000) x 55% x (1/6) = $6,875

For a 9-month contract with 2/3 course load + department chair position (equivalent to one course): (9-month institutional base salary) x 55% x (1/6)
Example: ($75,000) x 55% x (1/6) = $6,875

For a 9-month contract with 4/3 course load: (9-month institutional base salary) x 55% x (1/6)
Example: ($75,000) x 55% x (1/6) = $6,875

For a 9-month contract with 4/4 course load: (9-month institutional base salary) x 55% x (1/8)
Example: ($75,000) x 55% x (1/8) = $5,156

Note: A new grant-funded position must adhere to Fisher’s recruiting and hiring policy and requires the prior approval of the department chair, dean, provost, Human Resources, and the CFO.

Additional Compensation Approval Process

  • If the proposal includes salary lines to compensate faculty for work outside of their normal contract period, approval must be obtained from the provost prior to grant proposal submission. This approval must include the compensation calculation and description, including fringe benefits, to be paid to each of the faculty involved.
  • If the proposal includes salary lines to compensate staff for work outside of their normal contract, approval must be obtained from the provost or relevant vice president prior to grant proposal submission. This approval must include the compensation calculation and description, including fringe benefits, to be paid to each of the staff involved.
  • If the proposal includes institutional support (matching funds and/or cost sharing) or work-load reductions (release time) for faculty or staff of the University, approval must be obtained from the program director or department chair, dean, and provost/vice president, as well as the CFO (for matching funds only).
  • Student workers are paid at the minimum wage rate set by New York State. If you will be paying student workers, you must obtain approval from the director of Student Financial Services office to ensure that a student’s wages does not conflict with their financial aid package.

Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits may include the following: health insurance, retirement benefits, life insurance, worker’s compensation, tuition credits, and FICA expenses. When requesting salary through a grant, it is important to find out whether the funder will allow fringe benefits to be charged to the grant. If the funder does not allow fringe benefits to be included in the grant, the PI/PD must work with the OSP and Business Office to determine how the fringe benefits will be paid.

To calculate fringe benefits: Fringe benefits = (current institutional fringe rate) x (total salary/wages requested)

For the current fringe rate for full-time faculty/staff, please consult the OSPFR. The fringe benefit rate for faculty receiving extra compensation (e.g. summer salary) is 10%. The fringe benefit rate for all students is 10%.


A consultant is an individual who provides a temporary service in support of the grant project. A consultant cannot be an employee of the University or the PI/PD’s spouse or family member and is not entitled to fringe benefits. Consultants typically provide a quote identifying an hourly rate, the scope of work to be performed, and the projected number of hours to complete the work. According to Fisher procurement guidelines, every effort should be made to collect a minimum of two competitive quotes from potential consultants/contractors for any service worth more than $3,000.


In general, equipment is a tangible piece of property having a useful life of more than one year and a per-unit acquisition cost of $5,000 or more. Some sponsors have different definitions for equipment. Some federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, only allow budgeting for equipment that has an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more. Computers may fall under the "supplies" heading in a budget since they typically cost less than $5,000. According to Fisher procurement guidelines, every effort should be made to collect a minimum of two competitive quotes from potential suppliers of any equipment worth more than $3,000.

Travel Expenses

A travel expense is defined as any cost which requires travel to a domestic or foreign destination that directly relates to the grant project. Allowable expenses include requests for meeting and conference attendance (including event registration), field work, and mileage reimbursement for attendance at local and regional meetings. Costs incurred by employees and officers for travel, including costs of lodging, other subsistence, and incidental expenses, must be considered reasonable.

Normally, the University's Travel and Conference Policy applies to the use of grant funds for travel. However, there are additional restrictions that may apply when using grant funds, especially federal funds, such as per diem limits, non-reimbursement for alcoholic beverages, and the Fly America Act (which requires you to use U.S. carriers).

Consult the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) website to calculate per diem and hotel rates for any city in the U.S. and the U.S. Department of State website for international rates.

Note: While per diem rates may be used to construct a grant budget, payment for travel will be made only for actual expenditures with appropriate documentation.


Supplies are defined as any consumable materials essential to the project. Examples of supplies include: computer software, paper, glassware, and reagents. Please note: A computing device may be considered a supply if its acquisition cost is less than $5,000.

Other Direct Costs

Any expenses not applicable to the previous headings are otherwise referred to as "other direct costs" or "miscellaneous." Examples of budget items under this category include, but are not limited to:

  • Publication costs
  • Equipment service and maintenance
  • Space and facilities rentals
  • Stipends
  • Human subject fees
  • Postage
  • Reproductions
  • Telephone and internet services
  • Subawards

Note: Please check the specific grant guidelines and the allowable/unallowable expenses chart to determine whether your line items are allowable expenses.

Cost Sharing/Matching Funds

Some sponsors require that the applicant contribute a certain portion of funds to the cost of the project as a way to express institutional commitment and leverage resources. Contributions are requested as cash and/or in-kind. If a project requires cost-sharing, the PI/PD is required to receive written approval from their respective chair, dean, the provost and/or VP, and the CFO. This is to ensure that St. John Fisher University is capable of matching and tracking the sponsor's cost-share requirement.

Note: Cost-sharing should only be included in a budget if it is required or recommended by a private funder. All matching funds must comply with OMB rules as outlined in 2 CFR 200.306.

Indirect Costs/Facilities and Administration Costs (F&A)/Overhead Costs

Indirect Costs are a mechanism used to reimburse colleges for the indirect costs or overhead incurred to support sponsored research and programming, such as the cost for general administration, student services, library, operations and maintenance, etc. These are mission-related costs that cannot be readily identifiable or directly assigned to a major project or activity with a high degree of accuracy. Indirect cost recovery is important because it allows Fisher to reinvest in infrastructure that drives research, programs, and service. The terms indirect costs; facilities and administrative costs; and overhead costs can be used interchangeably.

Contact the OSPFR for the University's current indirect cost rate regarding projects on- and off-campus. Please note that in the past, the indirect cost rate for the University has ranged from 28% (for off-campus work) to 45% (for on-campus work). At Fisher, the dollar amount of indirect costs is calculated using a salary, wage, and fringe base (modified total direct costs), not a total direct cost base. This prevents the University from charging indirect costs to subawards, large equipment purchases, and contracted services.

Some sponsors do not allow indirect costs to be included in the budget; others establish their own allowable indirect cost rate that the University must comply with in order to be eligible to receive external funds. For example, some sponsors may cap the indirect cost rate at 8%.

According to Uniform Guidance 2 CFR 200.313, subrecipients must charge their negotiated indirect cost rate to an award when applicable. If they do not have a negotiated rate, they may use the de minimis rate of 10%.