Grant Terms & Concepts

This resource contains various terms and frequently asked questions regarding grants, contracts, research administration and proposal development. 

Terms definitions
501 (c)(3) organization

An IRS designated organization with a “non-profit” focus. If a sponsor requires that funding go to a 501(c)(3) organization, please see the entry: Why is my submission going through the Towson University Foundation?

Cash match

Cash contributed to a project from a party other than the sponsor (can be a third party, or Towson University). Some grants may require cash match under cost sharing guidelines.


Refers to research administration that assists faculty with complying with university, state and federal research regulations. For more information, please see Comply with Research Regulations.


 A consultant, or "contractor" in federal terms, is anyone working on a sponsored program who does not work directly under the auspices of Towson University. Their work on the program can be providing either goods or services that are ancillary to the operation of the program.

The Uniform Guidance (PDF) that took effect on December 26th, 2014 defines a contractor as follows (2 CFR, Part 200): "§200.23 Contractor means an entity that receives a contract as defined in §200.22 Contract. §200.22 Contract means a legal instrument by which a non-Federal entity purchases property or services needed to carry out the project or program under a Federal award."

For someone associated with an organization (for example, another university or corporation), please view subrecipient.

For more information on the difference between consultants and subrecipients, please see the entry: What's the distinction between a consultant and a subrecipient?

Cost Sharing

The portion of the proposed project that will not be covered by the sponsor. Some grant opportunities and sponsors may require cost sharing for a proposal – the amounts, ratios, and allowed types of sharing will typically be outlined in the RFP. Cost share can take the form of either cash match or in-kind support.

NOTE: It is Towson University's standard practice to not allow voluntary cost sharing on a proposal.

Course release/course buy-out  Course release time, also referred to as a "course buy-out," is time during the academic year where Towson University faculty are released from one or more course units of teaching for the purposes of working on a sponsored program.

Per the Faculty Member Course Buy-Out Guidelines (PDF), course release is calculated on the basis of an eight-course annual teaching load. One course release is 1/8, or 12.5%, of that academic year's effort.

Direct costs

Those cost items on the proposed budget that directly relate to the project, including but not limited to the following: salaries and wages, fringe benefits, consultant fees, travel, subcontracts and equipment.

Defined in the Uniform Guidance (PDF), section §200.413.


Tangible non-expendable property having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per unit.

F&A costs

Facilities and administrative costs — see the entry for indirect costs.

Flow-through funding

When Towson University receives an award from an entity (such as another university, a non-profit organization, or corporation) and the entity's source of funding for that award is from the federal government.

In most cases, the terms and conditions of the original funding to the entity follow the money and "flow-through" down to Towson University.


Funding opportunity announcement – a notice of a federal grant funding opportunity, similar to an RFP, but found on the site. Most commonly found in NIH and NSF submissions.

Fringe benefits

Typically used in budget development in relation to grants.

Benefits are calculated as a percentage of the salary or wages paid to an individual, dependent on their employment status at Towson University and the time they will be working on the program or project.

For more information on how to calculate fringe benefits, please see Develop Your Proposal.

Incidental effort

Effort performed on a grant, contract or project during the academic year that is infrequent or small enough to not warrant getting a full course release.

Indirect costs

As defined in the Uniform Guidance (PDF) section §200.56, indirect costs are "those incurred for a common or joint purpose benefiting more than one cost objective, and not readily assignable to the cost objectives specifically benefited, without effort disproportionate to the results achieved.”

In other words, indirect costs can be viewed as "overhead" that are charged based on applicable direct costs.

Indirect cost recovery is shared between the Provost's Office, Division of Administration and Finance, OSPR, PI's  college and department, and the PI.

Please see Developing your Proposal for more details on what costs are applicable, what Towson's University's rates are, and how to account for these costs in your budget.

Towson University has federally negotiated indirect cost rates.

Cognizant Audit Agency: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Effective Dates of Agreement: 7/1/2018 - 6/30/2022

Responsible Federal Party: Lucy Siow, phone: (301) 492-4855

Downloadable copyTowson University F&A Agreement (PDF)

 In-kind A form of cost sharing that counts as a donation of goods and services (such as labor, equipment use, supplies or use of facilities) that could exist without the funding of the grant and distinct from cash match. Typical in-kind support will take the form of donated effort on the part of Towson University's faculty or staff on the project, the waiving of space rental fees or waived indirect costs.
NOTE: In-kind "volunteer" effort cannot take place during a period of time that would be eligible for supplemental pay (e.g., during summer).

IP (Intellectual Property)

Intellectual property – defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization as “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; symbols, names and images used in commerce . . . protected in law by patents, copyright and trademarks.”

Certain projects concerning IP created in conjunction with a third party may require the completion of the "Intellectual Property Agreement" form.

IP derived solely from a Towson University employee may require the completion of the "Invention Disclosure" form.


MTDC stands for Modified Total Direct Costs.

 It is a term typically used when describing how indirect costs will be calculated for a grant.

MTDC indirects are all direct costs minus the items below multiplied by the indirect cost rate:

  • Equipment
  • Participant or human subject costs, as applicable
  • Graduate Assistant tuition and fees
  • Subrecipient costs over $25,000

On-/off-campus research

Off-campus projects are defined as those to which rent can be charged as a direct expense; all other projects are considered on-campus. Typically, off-campus projects are those that take place at a location which, because of distance, does not have the use nor aid of Towson University's campus or resources.


Principal (or Primary) Investigator / Program Director.

This refers to the lead researcher in a project who bears most of the responsibility for the project's research, outcomes and budget.

It is the OSPR's practice that the PI / PD for a sponsored program be a full-time employee who can reasonably assume responsibility for the program during the project period.


Part of the OSPR team that assists faculty with developing and submitting proposals.

Some of the team's typical duties include, but are not limited to: complying with sponsor guidelines, budget development, proposal preparation, negotiation of contracts and subrecipient agreements.


Part of the OSPR team that assists faculty with managing awarded grants.

Some of the team's typical duties include, but are not limited to: administration of the award funds, preparing and submitting invoices and financial reports, and receiving and tracking payments.


Request for proposals – a notice or “call” for proposal applications to a specific funding opportunity released by a sponsor.


The agency directly funding the opportunity and to whom the proposal will be submitted. For an explanation of prime sponsor agencies, view flow-through funding.

Sponsored program

A program, project or research that is paid for either in full or in part by a sponsoring agency outside of Towson University or through the Faculty Development and Research Committee (FDRC).


Towson University, as the "prime" recipient of a grant or contract, may allocate a portion of the work to another organization to complete. This is usually done if the organization or an individual at that organization has expert knowledge of the related field and will be a significant contributor to the project. For individuals unaffiliated with an organization, or being paid independently of an organization, see consultant.

Subrecipients of a grant are referred to as "subawards." Subrecipients of a contract are referred to as "subcontracts."

Most sponsors will require documentation during the proposal stage to provide approval for a subrecipient. Typical required documentation includes a subrecipient budget, scope of work and signed letter of intent.

The Uniform Guidance (PDF) that took effect on December 26th, 2014 defines a subrecipent as follows (2 CFR, Part 200): "§200.93 Subrecipient means a non-Federal entity that receives a subaward from a pass-through entity to carry out part of a Federal program; but does not include an individual that is a beneficiary of such program. A subrecipient may also be a recipient of other Federal awards directly from a Federal awarding agency."

For more information on the difference between consultants and subrecipients, please see the entry: What's the distinction between a consultant and a subrecipient?

 Supplemental pay  Funds paid to a faculty member when they are off-contract, typically coming from a grant or contract. It is considered "supplemental" to their annual contractual pay.

TDC stands for Total Direct Costs - compared to Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC). It is a term typically used when describing how indirect costs will be calculated for a grant. TDC indirect costs are a total of direct costs multiplied by the indirect cost rate, with no exclusions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some sponsors require that grants be awarded to a non-profit organization – those defined as a 501(c)(3) in the IRS tax code. This occurs mostly with Foundation and Corporate funders, though not always.

Towson University is not a non-profit organization (TU is a state-controlled institute of higher learning), and therefore cannot accept funds that must go to a 501(c)(3) organization. In such cases, the Towson University Foundation is the primary applicant on behalf of the university, and will collaborate with the OSPR to develop and submit the proposal.

A modified approval routing process will be used which includes members of the Towson University Foundation.

Most Towson University faculty are only on-contract for the 10 months of the academic year. During that time, Towson University, and by extension, any sponsoring organization, cannot pay a faculty or staff member more than their previously determined contractual amount. Academic effort, in the form of course release time, is not paid to the individual, but rather, to the university (as described in the “Faculty Member Course Buy-Out Guidelines” document).

Summer effort, on the other hand, can be paid to the individual, as long as they are not on-contract for the time during which that effort is spent. These funds are referred to as supplemental pay.


A consultant's role on a project is to provide subject matter expertise in one or more areas of the project's scope. They typically produce deliverables such as datasets or evaluation criteria. As such, they are paid a flat rate fee or stipend, rather than tracking effort.

A subrecipient's role is for the purpose of carrying out a portion of the work for a federal award; if awarded, the program will create a federal assistance relationship with the subrecipient.

Determination of consultant or subrecipient roles will be made at the OSPR's discretion via review of supporting documents.

You can also download the Checklist to Determine Subrecipient or Contractor Classification (XLSX) for further clarification of the definitions and process.

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