Five tips for using research funds effectively
One of the biggest challenges that researchers face after a funding proposal is accepted is that of managing the grant money effectively. It is a huge responsibility that involves impeccable decision-making ability and management skills. This task may seem daunting sometimes, even when you have had considerable experience procuring funds. So, here are some tips that can help you manage funding money better.
1. Know the rules/guidelines for budget utilization
Every institute has its own guidelines for the utilization of grant money. These guidelines vary greatly depending on the legal status of the institution, such as whether it is a private institution, a government institution, a hospital, or a non-profit. Get in touch with the relevant administrative personnel to understand these guidelines thoroughly.
If you have acquired international grants, check for any country-specific regulations for the processing of the grant money. For collaborative grants, look at the guidelines of each of the entities that are involved—the research institutions as well as the funding agencies—and have any discrepancies or differences in guidelines resolved in a timely manner.
2. Know the review and documentation procedures
Many funding agencies conduct periodic reviews of their grantees in order to ensure that the funds are being utilized effectively. Such reviews may include site visits, progress reports, audit reports, and so on. Filing of all the necessary documentation related to these procedures is no doubt one of the dullest tasks, but it is crucial to ensuring that the grant money is managed effectively.
Many funding agencies also mandate a progress report before releasing the funds for the execution of projects. Planning and preparing these reports in time can avoid problems such as delayed acquisition of funds. Principal investigators are usually required to submit a two-part completion report at the end of the project. This is a crucial document that not only assures the funding agencies of appropriate utilization of the grant money but also helps a scientist build their profile for securing future grants.
The first part of the completion report is typically a scientific description of the project work, covering literature review, materials and methods, results, and conclusion. Since it is similar in content and structure to a scientific publication, this report can be prepared and updated periodically throughout the project. This will not only save time but also avoid any last-minute errors due to stress and work overload.
The second part of the completion report is typically a detailed account of budget utilization. Find out the format and structure of the financial report from relevant personnel, and if needed, consult an in-house auditor to ensure that the report complies with all the important instructions.
3. Allocate fund money effectively during the project
There are usually three expenditure components into which your grant money is categorized: physical resources, human resources, and financial assistance. Funds allocated under the component of physical resources should ideally be limited to any infrastructural additions or modifications that need to be made, including purchase of any specific technical machinery. The funds allocated for human resources should be reserved for reimbursing the people working on the project, by taking into account their number of work hours and technical contributions.
In addition to this, some funding agencies may be liberal in allocating specific funds for financial assistance, which may include any additional expenses that are not covered in the other two components—such as travel expenses for an educational visit or conference or delivery expenses for any specific project components. Although the technicalities within these components may vary by the funding agency and research institution, a similar template can be used to mobilize the funding money easily.
4. Avoid misuse of funds
As mentioned briefly before, scientists are often required to submit a detailed report on how funds were utilized once the project is complete. This is where challenges might arise, due to lack of either time or relevant information, and may inadvertently lead to serious miscalculations. Sometimes, seemingly small actions may lead to serious financial offences, such as extending a research stay beyond the necessary duration and using the grant money to fund it. Such misuse of funds, albeit, unintentional, may seriously damage your reputation among funding bodies.
In case of projects that are funded for long durations, some funding agencies may not automatically allow a carry-over of unutilized funds from the previous year. Using these funds without getting the necessary approvals may lead to serious consequences. It is better to have a timely dialogue with the funding agencies and if needed, send a request for the carry-over of the funds into the next year. Make sure that every monetary transaction is accounted for, and any unutilized funding money that is not relevant for future research is returned to the funding agency appropriately.
5. Ensure timely clarification in case of re-budgeting
Research work involves dealing with unpredictable outcomes on a daily basis. Therefore, sometimes, a project needs to be executed differently than what was proposed originally to the funding agency. This may also mean that the grant money is utilized differently. Although the reasons seem perfectly logical and practical from the perspective of a researcher, the funding agency may take time to approve the modified proposal. So, communicate regularly with the agency about the progress of your project and get their perspectives on re-budgeting. This will avoid any unnecessary problems and help you with timely disbursement of the funds.
1. Neema, S. & Chandrashekar, L. Research Funding—Why, When, and How? Indian Dermatol. Online J. 12, 134–138 (2021).
2. NIH Public Access Policy Page | Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP) – DPCPSI – NIH. https://orip.nih.gov/funding/nih-public-access-policy-page.
3. Research - Four Principles Governing the Appropriate Use of Grant Funds. https://ustpaul.ca/en/research-four-principles-governing-the-appropriate-use-of-grant-funds-_7498_1225.htm.
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