Eligibility and Guidelines for Project & Presidential Awards

All applicants (both PIs and Co-PIs) must have a Ph.D. or comparable terminal degree, or a strong career background that establishes their ability to conduct high-level, peer-reviewed scholarly research. RSF particularly encourages early career scholars to apply for Presidential awards. All nationalities are eligible to apply and applicants do not have to reside in the U.S. RSF does not accept applications for Project and Presidential Awards from doctoral or other graduate students, unless specified in a special RFP.

Letter of Inquiry:
All applications for external awards must be preceded by a brief letter of inquiry (No more than 4 pages, excluding references, single-spaced, with standard 11 or 12-point font, and 1 inch margins) to determine whether the Foundation's present interests and funds permit consideration of a proposal for research. Letters of inquiry should be treated as "mini proposals." They must include the research questions to be addressed, the research design, data sources and analytic strategy, the qualifications and responsibilities of persons engaged in the research, and a brief overview of the estimated budget. Letters of inquiry should also be clear as to how the proposed project fits within the Foundation's core interests. Letters must be submitted through our online portal directly by an eligible principal investigator or co-principal investigator (graduate students and university administrative staff are not eligible to submit applications).

Only invited proposals will be considered. Proposals can be a maximum of 20 double-spaced pages (with standard 11 or 12-point font and 1 inch margins). This 20-page limit does not include (1) references, (2) supporting tables and figures, (3) appendices and, (4) the budget. Within the 20 pages, applicants must substantively answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem under study and why is it important?
  • What does the literature (across disciplines) say about this problem and what unique contribution(s) does this study make?
  • What are the principal hypotheses or questions that will be examined?
  • What kinds of data will be used in the study and how will the data be acquired?
  • How will the data be analyzed to inform the questions under study: what research methods, analytic models, or interpretive strategies will be used?
  • What is the project work-plan? The work-plan should specify the timeline and important milestones and goals during the course of the project (the work-plan can serve as a gauge of project progress when submitting interim reports to the Foundation).
  • What are the qualifications and responsibilities of the person(s) engaged in the research? 
  • Is there a budget justification or narrative that succinctly explains and clarifies the requested budget? (the budget narrative must be included in the proposal iteself)
    • In addition to describing the budget categories, the budget narrative must also include a section on current and pending support from other internal or external sources relevant to this proposal. Please describe the total amount of funds you currently have from other sources and the amount of funds that are pending in requests to other sources that are related to the proposed project. The start and end dates of these existing or pending grants must also be noted. Please also specify the number of months of salary support that the PI (and co-PIs) have from current and pending requests. Finally, describe how the resources you are requesting from the Russell Sage Foundation are related to these other grants.
    • When salary support is requested, applicants must provide a detailed justification for the tasks and time efforts of all investigators. When more than 3 investigators are requesting funding, the budget narrative must explain the expertise those additional individuals bring to the project. 
  • How will the results of the investigation be reported (e.g., conference presentations, articles, books, policy reports, blogs, opinion pieces, summary reports)?
  • If data collection is proposed, we require that you send a copy of your (draft) data collection instrument as an appendix to the proposal.

Review Process and Award Decisions:
The Foundation employs a rigorous multi-disciplinary review process at every stage of the application process. All letters of inquiry and proposals submitted to RSF are reviewed by program staff, external reviewers from multiple disciplines selected specifically for their expertise, members of one of the standing Advisory Committees, or some combination of these. In the case of Project Awards, final funding decisions are made by the Board of Trustees at our March, June and November Board meetings.

Transparency & Reproducibility:

Data Release Plan: Publishing data and all associated materials from research projects is valuable because it allows others to examine the robustness of reported results and facilitates fuller re-use of collected data in general. As a condition for providing substantial support for new data collection, RSF requires that the investigators make their data sets publicly available to the social science research community. Investigators must include as part of their proposal a plan for public release of the data and documentation. RSF will consider exceptions for proprietary data and qualitative data.

Pre-registration: Pre-registration is important for various reasons: to ameliorate “publication bias,” as a source of results for meta-analysis, to find out about available survey instruments, and to access and download data. As a condition for providing substantial support for randomized controlled trials (RCTs), RSF requires RCTs to be pre-registered. Investigators must include as part of their application where and when they plan to pre-register the trials. In other cases, RSF may strongly recommend pre-registration as a funding condition. Some existing registries include:

Publishing Funded Work:
RSF does not consider or prioritize the type of publications proposed by investigators (e.g., journal articles, book manuscript) in its evaluation and selection of projects for funding. However, Russell Sage does have an active publishing program and if a book is proposed, the Foundation reserves the right of first refusal. With the launch of our new journal, RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, the Foundation no longer provides funding for projects that propose edited volumes.

Intellectual Property Rights:
With the exception of book-length manuscripts (covered in the preceding paragraph), RSF may reserve usage rights over intellectual property produced with Foundation support. RSF will negotiate intellectual property agreements with principal investigators (and their host institutions) when it has made a substantial investment in the research underlying the product and has a substantial interest in the widespread distribution of the product to advance RSF's mission and/or its own future initiatives. RSF will not require such an agreement if the investigators (and host institution) agree to distribute the product on principles consistent with those of RSF.

Click here for budget guidelines.
Click here for a list of frequently asked questions about applying for an award.

The Russell Sage Foundation
Journal of the Social Sciences

The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers awards and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


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