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Frequently Asked Questions

Broadly speaking, a foundation is a nonprofit corporation or a charitable trust that makes grants to organizations, institutions, or individuals for charitable purposes such as science, education, and culture.

There are two foundation types: private foundations and grantmaking public charities.

A private foundation's assets comes from a family, an individual, or a corporation. Among many others, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is an example. Private foundations must meet a federally-mandated "payout requirement," meaning they are obliged to give away a certain amount of their assets every year.

A grantmaking public charity (sometimes called a "public foundation") builds its assets from many different sources, such as foundations, individuals, and government agencies. An example of a grantmaking public charity is the American Cancer Society.

The Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) is part of the Office of Research Administration. Its purpose is ensure pre- and post-award compliance with federal and non-federal grant terms and conditions. OSR assists with the review, submission and negotiation of grants, contracts and cooperative agreements. In addition, OSR will manage subawards/subgrants that Caltech receives from another entity. More information can be found on the OSR website.

The Office of Foundation Relations (OFR) is part of Advancement and Alumni Relations (AAR). Our mission is to facilitate engagement between private foundations and Caltech, fostering partnerships and securing resources to advance Caltech's research and educational mission. We identify and disseminate non-federal funding opportunities, help match projects or programs to funder interests, develop engagement strategies, and compose proposals on behalf of the Institute. We can also support faculty in developing their rhetoric for both scientific and lay audiences at foundations, frame content for LOIs and proposals, and assist with donor stewardship including reporting.

If you are uncertain about the domain in which a proposal or grant resides, please call OFR.

Please contact us if you anticipate any contact with a foundation, including submitting a proposal to a foundation. Feel free to reach out to OFR whenever you have a question related to a foundation, an existing grant or a funding opportunity. In some cases, we may refer you to other campus colleagues, but we are happy to field all inquiries.

OFR manages a Funding Opportunities website open to the Caltech community. This searchable database includes calls for proposals released by private foundations, public charities, associations, corporations, internal Caltech opportunities, and Federal limited opportunities (i.e., those that limit the number of submissions per institution). Subscriptions to funding opportunity announcements are available. Please visit the Funding Opportunities site for more details.

Let us know! If a foundation reaches out to you directly about a funding opportunity, please alert us right away. We can help you navigate Caltech's internal proposal approval process, as well as assist with the development of your proposal.

Per chapter 7 section 18 of the Caltech Faculty Handbook, "Faculty members of professorial rank and senior research faculty, under conditions described in Chapter 4, may serve as principal investigators on sponsored research projects. Members of the Beckman Institute, members of the professional staff, or, on rare occasions, other faculty or staff members or postdoctoral scholars, may serve as principal investigators under special circumstances with the approval of their Division Chair and the Vice Provost." Please consult the Faculty Handbook or your Division Office for more details.

Before submission, all proposals must receive approvals from the appropriate Division Chair and the Provost. Approvals are indicated by their signatures on the MORA and DAF. This includes proposals resulting from open calls and those specifically solicited from an individual researcher by a funder.

A Minimum Overhead Review and Approval form (MORA) is required for all non-federal proposals for which the funder will pay less than Caltech's full, federally negotiated, on-campus overhead rate (all proposals to private foundations need MORAs).

The Division Approval Form (DAF) certifies that a PI has disclosed any financial interests or conflicts of interest, and is in compliance with all IRB and export control requirements.

More information about DAFs can be found on the OSR website.

MORAs and DAFs are not required for letters of inquiry/intent, but must be executed before submission of full proposals. We recommend reviewing the stipulations in the MORA and DAF forms in advance of LOI submissions, in particular when there is a high likelihood that an LOI will result in an invitation for a full proposal.

At Caltech, grants can come from federal, non-federal non-profit (e.g., foundation), or non-federal for-profit (e.g., corporation) entities. Grants have sponsor-imposed requirements, typically including financial and technical progress reporting, explicit periods of performance, intellectual property terms, and are usually provided to support discrete research projects. Grants are administered on a funder-dependent basis by either OFR, OTTCP or OSR. Often, but not always, foundations with professionalized staff (i.e., program officers) provide grants rather than gifts.

Gifts can come from individuals, private foundations, corporations, or family foundations. Gifts either are not subject to an exchange of consideration or may have minor sponsor-imposed considerations such as stewardship reporting. They are often made in support of fellowships, scholarships, programs, or capital projects, and can also include endowments. Gifts are administered by OFR, or other departments within Advancement and Alumni Relations, depending on the funder.

OFR can assist with the development of any proposal to a foundation entity, even if the proposal will be submitted and/or administered by OSR. Please feel free to request our assistance with any LOI or proposal to a private foundation or non-governmental philanthropic organization.

It depends. In most cases, if you are submitting in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) opportunity that was announced to the whole Caltech community, you can proceed as long as you procure the appropriate divisional and provostial approvals. (Of course, we always appreciate a heads up on all foundation submissions!) If you are responding to a solicitation from a foundation funder directly to you or would like to approach a foundation whose interests you believe may align with your research or program goals, please contact OFR.

A limited opportunity is a public Request for Proposals (RFP) that limits the number of allowable applicants from a single institution. Examples: 1) Caltech is allowed to submit only one proposal; or 2) the RFP only allows one applicant from each eligible academic division.

In the case of a limited opportunity, OFR asks eligible PIs to send short synopses of their proposals to the Office of the Provost. In consultation with the relevant division chairs, department heads, and campus leadership, an applicant will be selected to move forward.

Yes. OFR would like to know about all submissions to private foundations because it helps us map the philanthropic landscape and understand the research priorities and funding needs of the campus. In the case described in this question, it is not required that any faculty member use OFR's services, but we can help to make the submission process less burdensome, interpret guidelines and rules for submissions (including the unwritten rules) and assist with proposal development and writing.

Many factors influence a foundation's decision to fund or not fund a proposal; these are often not in our direct control. Even excellent proposals can be turned down. Sometimes, but not always, OFR is able to solicit feedback to find out why a foundation chose not to fund a proposal. We will share this information with the applicant whenever possible.

While it is impossible to guarantee results, the OFR team has expertise, relationships and insider knowledge that can help increase the competitiveness of your proposal.

Please contact Cindy Nguyen. OFR will work in conjunction with the division and other campus partners to process and administer the award. We will also help coordinate the appropriate signatures on the grant agreement, if one is required.

Please contact Polly Carrico. OFR may be able to negotiate a no-cost extension, a spend-down plan or some other arrangement with the foundation that will ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of your grant. In these cases, OFR's practice is to submit the request to the foundation at least 30 days before the end of the grant period. In some cases, Caltech may arrange to return unused funds to the grantor.

When foundation awards are administered by OFR, we record all reporting requirements so that we can aid with tracking due dates. Required reports are considered part of any stewardship plan for a foundation. The Office of Foundation Relations will issue reminders about required reports and will work with you to ensure that they reflect progress and results appropriately and support the relationship with the foundation.