Sponsored Project Administration
at Stanford



     Suppose a faculty member hands you a check for $10,000, telling you that it came from the XYZ Foundation to support research in your department. Along with the check is an agreement that someone at Stanford needs to sign, indicating the way that the money will be used and imposing some other restrictions. Is this a gift? Who needs to sign the agreement?

     There's not enough information in that short paragraph to allow you to answer those questions. Here's one quick test - if the source of funds is a Government agency, the dollars may NOT be treated as a gift. Government funding always implies a sponsored project. If, as in this hypothetical situation, the funds came from a foundation, corporation, or other non-Government source, the following analysis will help to make the correct classification. See also Research Policy Handbook 3.2, Definitions and Categories of Sponsored Projects, and the following two Attachments related to this important distinction:

     The result of this analysis will determine how Stanford must account for the money, and will have significant administrative implications.


The following conditions characterize a sponsored project agreement, and help to distinguish such agreements from gifts. Any analysis of these conditions must also take the intent of the donor/sponsor into consideration

1. Specific statement of work

Sponsored projects are typically awarded to Stanford in response to a proposal to accomplish a specific statement of work and commitment to a specified project plan. While gifts may be restricted to a general purpose, e.g., cancer research, constuction of a building, or library support, a sponsored project will usually entail a more detailed project methodology, e.g., a series of experiments to test a particular hypothesis, or support to perform a particular activity. This statement of work is typically supported by both a project schedule and a line-item budget, both of which are key to financial accountability, described below.

2. Detailed financial accountability

The written agreement typically includes detailed and complex financial accountability, including such conditions as:
  1. a line-item budget related to the project plan, including F&A (indirect) costs
  2. a specified period of time in which project funds may be expended, usually defined with "start" and "stop" dates
  3. a requirement to return any unexpended funds at the end of that period
  4. regular financial reporting and audit.

These kinds of conditions generally define the level of financial accountability associated with a sponsored project. They are collectively indicative of the increased level of financial accountability associated with such projects.

3. Disposition of properties ("deliverables")

Sponsored project agreements also usually include terms and conditions for the disposition of tangible or intangible properties, including, for example, hardware, data, or intellectual property. The presence of such terms and conditions in the agreement indicate that the activity is a sponsored project.


A gift, on the other hand, is defined as a contribution with no reciprocal benefit to the donor. In general, the following characteristics describe a gift.
  1. No contractual requirements are imposed. However the gift may be for a stated purpose, with the use of the funds restricted to that purpose.
  2. The award is typically irrevocable, with no specified "period of performance."
  3. There is no formal fiscal accountability beyond periodic progress reports and reports of expenditures. These reports may be thought of as a requirement of good stewardship, rather than as a contractual obligation.

     In our hypothetical example, this analysis would determine whether the agreement should go to the Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) for handling, or to Gift Accounting in the Development Office.


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