Policy Notes: Revenue Recognition – Sponsored Research

The purpose of this policy is to define revenue recognition for Sponsored Research projects and to provide guidelines for recognizing such revenue in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). This policy applies to University revenue from sponsored projects.

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Revenue Recognition Overview

For purposes of this policy, Sponsored Projects are externally-funded activities in which a formal written agreement, i.e., a grant, contract, or cooperative agreement, is entered into by Stanford University and by the sponsor.

  1. Revenue recognition – Revenue recognition should be based on accrual accounting in accordance with GAAP. Revenue should be recognized when earned, and expenses should be recognized when incurred. Revenue is considered earned when the University has substantially met its obligation to be entitled to the benefits represented by the revenue. Revenue should be recorded when earned, regardless of the timing of cash receipts. In the event a project stipulates performance measures, revenue is considered earned when the performance measures have been completed.

  2. Deferred revenue – Deferred revenue results when cash is received in advance of revenue being earned. Deferred revenue is recorded as a liability until it is earned. Once earned, the liability is reduced and revenue is recorded in the general ledger. When recording cash receipts, it is important to determine whether the cash represents earned revenue or deferred revenue.

  3. Percentage of completion – Many projects funded by grants and contracts are long-term, meaning that the projects will continue for one year or more. For long-term contracts, GAAP allows revenue to be recognized on a percentage-of-completion basis if "circumstances are such that total profit can be estimated with reasonable accuracy and ultimate realization is reasonably assured."

    Current income recognized under the percentage-of-completion method is based upon (a) the total income projected for the contract at the time of completion and (b) the expenses incurred to date. The percentage-of-completion can be measured using the proportion of costs incurred versus the total estimated cost to complete the contract.

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Sponsored Project Award Types

  1. Cost reimbursement grants / contracts – Under these projects, sponsors reimburse expenses that have been incurred. The majority of sponsored projects at Stanford fall under this category, and they may be government funded or privately funded. Sponsored terms and conditions determine the University's reimbursement for direct / indirect costs.

  2. Event / milestone grants / contracts – These types of projects provide funding as certain events occur or milestones are met. An example of this type of project is a clinical trial where funding is based on numbers of patients participating in the trial and is received incrementally.

  3. Fixed price contracts – This type of contract sets a fixed price for the delivery of the work stipulated in the contract, regardless of actual expenses incurred by Stanford on the contract. Stanford bears a financial risk where expenses exceed the fixed price. These types of sponsored projects are rare for Stanford and may be government funded or privately funded.

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Revenue Recognition Guidelines by Sponsored Project Award Type

  1. Cost reimbursement grants / contracts –

    • Funding:  Under these contracts expenses are reimbursed after they have been incurred. There are many variations of cost reimbursement contracts. Many include stipulations regarding unallowable costs or limits on certain types of costs. Procedures should be in place to ensure that only allowable costs are charged to the award. Refer to the original award document for specific information.
    • Revenue recognition:  Revenue is directly related to the costs incurred on cost-reimbursement contracts. Revenue should be recognized as expenses are incurred. Expenditure adjustments may create an adjustment to revenue.
    • Deferred revenue:  While cost reimbursement, by definition, implies that payments are made after costs are incurred, this is not always the case. When payments are received in ADVANCE, or EXCEED expenditures to date, the liability, Deferred Revenue, should be recorded. Once the advance payment or excess payment is earned, the liability is reduced and revenue is recorded.
  2. Event / milestone grants / contracts–

    • Funding:  These types of projects provide funding as certain events occur or milestones are met. Funding may provide an initial payment to cover start-up costs, then additional funding is provided once additional milestones or events are achieved.
    • Revenue recognition:  Revenue should be recognized in conjunction with the milestones. Although the initial payment may be received in advance of achieving the milestone, the revenue should not be recognized until the milestone has been completed. See discussion of deferred revenue below.
    • Deferred revenue:  If payments are received in advance of the performance milestone as designated in the contract, Deferred Revenue, should be recorded. Once the milestone is achieved, the liability is reduced and revenue is recognized.
  3. Fixed price contracts –

    • Funding:  Government contracts that are fixed-price will clearly state this on the award document. Federal fixed-price contracts, which often span several years, may have a Limitation of Funds clause that requires disbursement of the award amount in allotments.
    • Revenue recognition: Revenue should be recognized on a percentage of completion basis. The percentage of completion basis records revenue as a percent of cost incurred to date, divided by the total estimated expenses. (Total estimated expense is the fixed price award.) Expenses are monitored against the award amount to ensure that expenses do not exceed the award amount. If expense exceeds the contract award, the expense should be transferred to a project that has funds available to cover the expense. At the end of the project, if the total award received exceeds the cumulative project expenses, the excess should be recorded as revenue.
    • Deferred revenue: If payments are received in advance or in excess of the percentage completed, Deferred Revenue, should be recorded. Once the advance or excess payment is earned, the liability is reduced and revenue is recorded.
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Invoicing and Cash Receipt

Revenue recognition, invoice processing and cash receipts may or may not occur at the same time. Revenue should be recognized when earned, while invoicing and cash receipt may occur independently of the earning process. For example, cash may be received at the start of the project, prior to the University incurring any expense or performing any work. When cash is received in advance, cash and a deferred revenue liability are recorded, but revenue is not recognized.

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Project Payment Categories

  1. LOC-Letter of Credit – Many government grants and contracts are on a letter of credit system, the University can draw cash based upon anticipated cash needs. The University submits an invoice to the government agency and cash is wired electronically into Stanford's bank account. Generally the money is received for expenses already incurred but there are circumstances when money can be received in advance of future expenses.

  2. RAE-Reimbursement of actual expenses incurred – These grants and contracts specifically make payments as expenses are incurred. Stanford sends the sponsor an invoice for the amount of expenses incurred and the sponsor submits payment.

  3. OTH-Other – This category includes clinical trials as well as a variety of payment methods. Sponsors of clinical trials often provide a start-up payment to get the trial going and then provide for additional fees based on meeting milestones. Sometimes this category includes items that resemble LOCs, RAEs, or PSs, but have been classified as "Other".

  4. PS-Payment Schedule – This category consists of awards that provide a particular payment schedule by date. Sometimes the payments take a pattern (the same amount every month, quarter, year) and sometimes they are quite varied (one amount on Sept. 3, another amount on June 15, etc.) The University may negotiate with sponsors based on cash needs.

  5. ADV-In advance – Represents cash received in advance of the research or project.

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