Effort for Faculty and Staff

The commitment of effort made in proposals is the starting point for a significant amount of project cost. Salary is allocated on the basis of a distribution of total effort FTE (Full Time Equivalent), including teaching, research activities, University citizenship, etc. 

Proposing Effort

FTE (Full Time Equivalent)

Salaries constitute the largest component of the expenses charged to sponsored projects. It is essential that Stanford managers, including PIs (Principal Investigators), understand the basic principles underlying the allocation of effort, and the corresponding charging of salaries, to those projects.

For regular exempt employees, including faculty, who are paid through the payroll system, pay is considered to be remuneration for all work which benefits Stanford. For full-time employees, this is 100% FTE (Full-Time Equivalence).

Note: 100% FTE does not equate to any set number of hours, e.g., 40 or 50 hours per week; it equates to the totality of University-compensated effort. Although the PeopleSoft system uses standard hours of 40 to indicate 100% FTE, 30 hours to indicate 75% FTE, etc., this does not mean that exempt employees, including faculty, who are 100% FTE, work only 40 hours per week.

Stanford Base Salary

SBS (Stanford Base Salary) is the annual compensation paid by Stanford to individuals whose time is spent on research, teaching and/or other activities.

Stanford Base Salary:

  • Includes regular and supplemental salary
  • Excludes bonus payments and extra compensation such as faculty housing allowance, tuition reimbursement, etc.
  • Excludes any income that an individual is permitted to earn outside of Stanford responsibilities (e.g., consulting payments)
  • May not be increased as a result of replacing Stanford’s salary funds with sponsored project funds


Faculty Effort

No one has more than 100% FTE, and most Schools require that a specified percent be reserved for non-sponsored activity. Research only faculty on 12-month appointments may typically charge up to 95% to sponsored projects year round. 

PIs may submit proposals on the assumption that not all will be awarded, but, at the time of award, a reasonable representation of time to be devoted to the project, whether that effort will be paid for by the sponsor or by Stanford, is necessary.

Proposal preparation costs may not be charged to sponsored projects unless the proposal is being prepared for submission to a current sponsor for non-competing extension or continuation of its ongoing project. In those circumstances, it is appropriate to charge those proposal development costs directly to current projects. Costs for development of proposals for submission to other sponsors, or for work that does not relate to ongoing projects, is not allocable to current projects and may not be charged to those projects.

Stanford University requires a commitment of effort on the part of the Principal Investigator during the period in which the work is being performed. This effort may be expended during the academic year, summer quarter only, or both.

Effort committed in a proposal, awarded by the sponsor, and expended on the project must be matched with an equivalent salary charge either directly to the sponsor, or to a cost sharing account, to some combination of these.

The requirement of PI effort does not extend to:

  • equipment grants
  • seed grants for students/postdocs where the faculty mentor is named as PI, dissertation support, training grants, or other awards intended as "student augmentation"
  • limited-purpose awards characterized by Stanford as Other Sponsored Activities, including travel grants, conference support, etc.

Agency Specific Guidance

A Salary Cap is defined as a maximum annual rate of Stanford Salary for full-time effort that can be charged to an agency's award. 

 DHHS (Dep​artment of Health and Human Services)

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which includes the NIH (National Institutes of Health), and the DoD (Department of Defense) currently establish salary caps. The  salary cap is indexed to a specified Executive Pay Level and changes periodically. 

The DHHS salary cap limits the amount which can be charged to a DHHS project (or related cost sharing account) by limiting the maximum annual salary rate for a 100%, 12-month FTE. The rate is set annually and applies to all awards made that year.

DHHS establishes the funding limitation for salaries at the time that a competitive award is made. However, if subsequent (non-competing) funding is awarded during a year with a higher salary cap, NIH will allow existing funds to be re-budgeted to that level. Typically, no new funds will be awarded for this purpose.

  • DHHS salary cap may change annually

  • PHS (Public Health Service)funds salary up to the level of the cap in effect on the award date

  • Use a special expenditure type to capture difference between actual pay & what can be charged to a PHS award

Many other sponsors have salary caps. Read every solicitation carefully to determine whether a sponsor has a salary cap.

Read the Salary Cap Administration section


As a general policy, NSF limits the salary compensation requested in the proposal budget for senior personnel to no more than two months of their regular salary in any one year. This limit includes salary compensation received from all NSF-funded grants.  If anticipated, any compensation for such personnel in excess of two months must be disclosed in the proposal budget, justified in the budget justification, and must be specifically approved by NSF in the award notice budget.

Graduate Student Assistantship

Graduate student assistantships are a form of student employment, earning a compensation package including both salary and tuition allowance TAL (Tuition Allowance)) for the performance of research or teaching services to the University as part of the student’s academic and professional training and development.

The University establishes minimum salary rates for RA/TA appointments, and departments may establish their own guidelines as long as funding rates meet or exceed those established by the University.

All graduate students receive a tuition allowance.

NIH Special Requirements

NRSA (National Research Service Award) established requirements for graduate student compensation. 

Stanford clarification regarding NIH stipend levels

The Graduate Student Compensation Limit for Fiscal Year 2015 NRSA awards research grants is tied to the "0" level of experience stipend level for postdocs. Therefore, the limit is $42,840 salary plus benefits and tuition) when budgeting graduate students on research grants. 

Postdoctoral Scholars

The University Provost establishes minimum funding levels based on the years of cumulative research experience a postdoctoral scholar has when appointed. Departments may establish their own guidelines as long as funding rates meet or exceed those established by the University. If you have questions about funding rates or guidelines, please contact the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

Administrative Salary

Federal Guidance on Direct Charging Administrative Salaries

Stanford Policy, OMB Circular A-21 and the Uniform Guidance establishes the principle that administrative salaries (salaries of clerical and administrative personnel) should normally be treated as indirect costs F&A (Facilities & Administrative).

For awards incorporating OMB Circular A-21 it further establishes that universities may charge directly those administrative costs that are above what would normally be provided:

Where a major project or activity explicitly budgets for administrative or clerical services and individuals involved can be specifically identified with the project or activity.

Technical expenses shall be treated as direct costs wherever identifiable to a particular sponsored agreement. (These include salaries of Principal Investigators and technical staff, laboratory and other technical expenses)

Federal awards received before December 26, 2014, incorporating OMB A-21 must continue to follow those requirements and Stanford’s policy on Charging for Administrative and Technical Expenses.

Effective September 5, 2014, Stanford Policy requires proposals to federal sponsors include the Uniform Guidance regulations on administrative salaries.

Stanford policy states direct charging administrative salary costs to federally sponsored projects is appropriate only if ALL four of the following conditions are met:

1. Administrative or clerical services are integral to a project or activity

  • The requirement that the cost is “integral” means the services are essential, vital, or fundamental to the project or activity

2. Individuals involved can be specifically identified with the project or activity

3. Such costs are explicitly included in the budget or have the prior written approval of the federal awarding agency

  • A budget justification must be included in the proposal (see RPH 14.1, Preparation, Review, and Submission of Sponsored Project Proposals)

4. The costs are not also recovered as indirect costs

NIH modular grants or similar grant instruments do not require line-item budgets. (Note: Rebudgeting authority may be used to charge administrative expenses not included in the approved budget if specific rebudgeting authority for clerical and administrative expenses is allowed by award and sponsor rebudgeting guidelines. See, for example, NIH administrative requirements.)

All deans' office administrative activities must be consistently treated as F&A costs. Therefore, no deans' office administrative expenses shall be charged directly to sponsored awards . Deans' sponsored project activities are subject to RPH 15.4.3

Any other administrative costs that are required to perform the technical scope of work may be directly charged as long they provide technical benefit to the sponsored project.

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Managing Effort

Salary charged to sponsored projects must be supported by documentation of  the corresponding appropriate level of effort. LD (Labor Distribution) schedules must be completed accurately and salary charges reviewed and certified by the PI.

Stanford uses Plan Confirmation. Under this method, the distribution of salaries and wages of staff applicable to sponsored agreements is based on budgeted, planned, or assigned work activity, updated to reflect any significant changes in work distribution. Clerical and administrative salaries on federal projects must have been proposed and awarded, and all effort charged must be consistent with effort worked.

Whenever it is apparent that a significant change in work activity charged to sponsored agreements will occur or has occurred, the change will be documented over the signature of a responsible official and entered into LD.

Short term, such as one or two months, fluctuation between workload categories need not be considered as long as the distribution of salaries and wages is reasonable over the quarter.

When Approvals are Required for Change in PI Effort 

  • Prior approval is required if the PI is disengaged from the project for more than 3 months.
  • Prior approval is required if PI effort will decrease by 25%.

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Faculty Effort on Sponsored Research FAQS