What Are Awards

The offices of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement have defined a sponsored project to be any externally funded research or scholarly activity that has a defined scope of work or set of objectives which provides a basis for sponsor expectations. The existence of one factor alone may not be determinative. Multiple factors should be considered in order to decide whether a sponsored project exists and therefore must be processed through the Office of Pre-Award Services (OPAS) or the Office of Post-Award Management (OPAM).

Awards are received by the University on behalf of the Principal Investigator (PI). While the PI assumes the responsibility for financial oversight and completion of the work, the University remains legally responsible for the award. Therefore, all awards must conform to University policy and procedure.  Awards can be made by public or private sponsors, and they are typically conveyed via one of the following legal instruments:

 Award Mechanisms


  • Usually unilateral (meaning it does not require both parties to sign)
  • Undertaken on a “best efforts” basis (that is, no guaranteed results)
  • No deliverables other than technical and financial reports
  • Often allow certain post award revisions (e.g., rebudgeting, one time no cost extension) without sponsor approval

Unrestricted Grant

  • Unrestricted grants carry an indirect cost rate of 10% TDC for any award $1000 or more. The F&A is assessed in all cases.
  • In order to be classified as an unrestricted grant, the faculty members must be free to use the funds in any way that benefits the University by supporting their general research interests. Please refer to this guidance for further explanation.
  • They differ from regular grants and contracts in that there can be no formal requirements by the sponsor for financial or technical reports and the sponsor has no claim whatsoever to any intellectual property rights that may result from projects supported by unrestricted grants.
  • Because of the unrestricted nature of the project, it is anticipated that there is no attributed level of effort on behalf of the PI. If the PI feels that a level of effort is required, the PI must report that level of effort to the Office of Post-Award Management (OPAM) and the award letter must provide the sponsors acknowledgement and approval that the PI use this money for appropriate salary per University guidelines.
  • This form is required to accompany any unrestricted grant award and will enable the expedited process & tracking/reporting of the award.


  • Usually bilateral (that is, both parties must sign)
  • Often requires specific results and/or deliverables beyond merely technical progress reports (i.e., delivery of an item, achievement of certain milestones, etc)
  • Restricts us to approved budget and timeline – no changes without sponsor’s written approval

Cooperative Agreement

  • Used when sponsor anticipates substantial involvement of its own personnel in the work
  • Usually bilateral (ie, both parties must sign)
  • Can require specific results, deliverables or milestones
  • Similar to grants, some post-award actions can be approved “locally” (e.g., rebudgeting, one time no cost extension)


  • Support for an unrestricted purpose such as endowments, student support  or capital projects (but not related to a specific research or scholarly activity)
  • Typically given at the departmental or institutional level (that is, not to a specific faculty investigator)
  • A gift is processed through the Controller’s office:  https://www.umass.edu/controller
  • For assistance in determining whether a project is a Sponsored project or a Gift refer to the this guidance.