Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Project & Presidential Grants

Please see our Frequently Asked Questions below for details regarding funding priorities and application procedures. If you still have clarifying questions regarding the submission of letters of inquiry (LOI), please submit them no later than 30 days prior to the next LOI deadline. Due to the large amount of applications we receive, we are unable to read or provide feedback on draft LOIs. Please contact us at We cannot guarantee a response to any questions submitted within 30 days of the LOI deadline.

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General Questions:

LOI Questions:

Proposal Questions:

Budget Questions:


What does the foundation primarily support?

The foundation only supports projects that further its mission. We provide support primarily for analyzing data and writing up results. However, for projects that address questions of particular importance to the foundation and in which existing data are insufficient, we will consider providing support for new data collection. We are particularly interested in innovative projects that collect or analyze new data to illuminate issues that are highly relevant to the foundation's program goals. We also encourage projects that are interdisciplinary and combine both quantitative and qualitative research.

We do not generally consider projects that are in the very early stages of development. Projects that use newly-available data or make new linkages across data sources have a higher priority than projects that analyze only public use data from widely available data sets. For projects that use data from any Census or Current Population Survey or American Community Survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey and many other data sets, the budget request should total no more than $75,000. However, RSF will consider budget requests that exceed this amount if the investigator fully explains why the project requires a higher amount.  

Do I have to submit a letter of inquiry before submitting a proposal?

Yes. Applications for external grants must be preceded by a brief letter of inquiry (4 pages max. excluding references) to determine whether our present interests and funds permit consideration of a proposal for research. We do not consider unsolicited project proposals unless otherwise specified in a request for proposals.

Who should submit the letter of inquiry?

All letters of inquiry must be submitted directly by the principal investigator or co-PI of the proposed project. University administration staff or students may not submit applications on behalf of the principal investigator. If the person submitting the application is not eligible to apply, the foundation will not consider the application.

How long should my letter of inquiry be?

The letter of inquiry (LOI) must not exceed 4 pages (single spaced, with standard 11 or 12-point font and 1 inch margins). This 4-page limit does not include references.

What should I include in the letter of inquiry?

An LOI should contain only one research project; you may submit additional LOIs with other (potentially related) projects. The LOI should reflect the key elements of a complete proposal, with the majority of the space dedicated to hypothesis, data, power calculations, and research design. LOIs are expected to have well-developed conceptual frameworks and research designs, analytical models must be specified, and research questions and hypotheses (where applicable) must be clearly stated. The LOI should also include a paragraph about the qualifications and responsibilities of all key investigators and a brief paragraph outlining the major budget categories. 

Are there deadlines for submitting applications?

Yes, please refer to our current deadlines for the latest information. Our deadlines are strict due to the large volume of applications that we receive. Please be sure to submit before the specific time, which is generally 11am Pacific Time. Any applications submitted after the cut-off time will automatically be deferred to the next round of applications. This applies even if you submit your application 10 minutes late.

What are the reporting requirements for grants funded by the foundation?

We require annual financial reports from the organization and narrative reports every 6 months from the PI(s). Please click here for our reporting templates and upload all reports here.

Can I submit more than 1 letter of inquiry for the same funding cycle?

Yes, you may submit multiple letters of inquiry for the same funding cycle. However, the online application system will only allow you to start one letter of inquiry at a time (you cannot have several letters of inquiry "in progress" at the same time); you will need to submit the first letter of inquiry in order to start another.

If I submit a letter of inquiry, when can I expect to hear about the foundation's interest in my project?

Applicants will be notified by email as soon as a decision has been made. Decisions may be made at different stages of the review process. We aim to send out decisions no later than 1 month before the corresponding proposal deadline. Letters of inquiry received in between deadlines will only be processed as time permits; in general, LOIs will be kept on file until the next deadline and only processed at that time. 

Is there a time limit in which I must submit my letter of inquiry once I start an application online?

Yes. If a new letter of inquiry is not electronically submitted within 6 months, the application will automatically be deleted from the online system and you will need to restart the process.

How are letters of inquiry reviewed and what can I expect in terms of feedback?

The foundation employs a rigorous review process, even for letters of inquiry. Letters of inquiry can be reviewed by foundation program staff, external reviewers from multiple disciplines with substantive expertise in the project’s topic area and/or methodology, one of the foundation’s standing Advisory Committees, or some combination of these.

Because of the large volume of applications that we receive, we are unable to provide individual feedback on every inquiry. If your proposed project is not seen as a strong match to the foundation's program and funding priorities, you will not receive any specific feedback on your inquiry. If the proposed project aligns with the foundation's priorities, you may expect to receive some feedback based on the comments we receive from external reviewers and/or one of the foundation’s standing Advisory Committees, if we feel that these comments may be useful in explaining the response to your application. Please be aware that we only request brief comments from our reviewers at the LOI stage, but occasionally receive longer comments if reviewers choose to provide more feedback. The amount of feedback you receive will therefore vary from one application to the next depending on the reviewers.

If I am invited to submit a full proposal and I miss the submission deadline, can I defer my proposal until the next deadline (or is my proposal automatically deferred for consideration)?

No. Because the foundation has evolving funding priorities and new initiatives in development from one funding round to the next, invited proposals must be submitted by the deadline (date and time) stated in your invitation. If you do not submit by that deadline, your application will be considered withdrawn and you will need to restart the application process by submitting a new letter of inquiry. We may consider deferral exceptions if they are requested at least 2 weeks before the proposal deadline.

I was invited to submit a proposal for a Presidential Grant, but my project is time constrained and I need a decision before the next funding cycle. Can I request an earlier decision?

In rare circumstances, the foundation may make decisions about Presidential Grant applications outside of its regular funding cycles if the proposed project is time constrained due to external factors and is submitted in between deadlines. A special request must be made to the foundation outlining the reasons for the time-constraint, which we will evaluate on a case-by-case basis. Please be aware that only external factors affecting your proposed project, such as the implementation of a law or an election cycle for example, qualify as valid time constraints. Whether the foundation can accommodate your request is also subject to the availability of time and funds.

How are proposals reviewed?

As with letters of inquiry, invited proposals can be reviewed by foundation program staff, external reviewers from multiple disciplines with substantive expertise in the project’s topic area and /or methodology, one of the foundation’s standing Advisory Committees, or some combination of these. Proposals with budgets greater than $35,000 that receive positive reviews in the first stages of the review process will undergo a final review by the Board of Trustees.

How long should my proposal be and what should it include?

Proposals cannot exceed 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 and (3) appendices. 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? Please include power calculations if appropriate. 
  • 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.

Where do I include the budget justification/narrative?

The budget justification/narrative must be included in the proposal itself and counts towards to 20-page limit.

What needs to be included as part of my application if invited to submit a full proposal?

A complete application will include:

  1. Completion of the online submission form;
  2. The proposal as outlined above;
  3. A detailed budget in the RSF template;
  4. Current CV (abbreviated - 5 page maximum) for all principal and co-principal investigators;
  5. If a survey firm is budgeted, please provide a letter from the survey firm outlining the work they will carry out and the cost estimate. This should be appended to the proposal and referenced in the budget justification;
  6. An organization confirmation letter;
  7. If you are submitting a revised proposal: a point-by-point response to the reviewers' comments.

Should I include supplementary materials?

No, you should not include any materials in your proposal other than those listed above. Recommendations, letters of support, published articles or unpublished manuscripts, etc., should not be a part of your application.

Can I submit the same proposal to the Russell Sage Foundation and other sources of funding?

You cannot be funded for the same proposed research from multiple sources. We require that you inform us of your current funding for the proposed research and any pending proposals. We can then confer with the other funding source(s) to avoid duplication. Co-funding is encouraged as long as RSF is made aware of existing and/or potential co-funding and requested RSF funds are allocated to budget items that are not covered by other funders.

What is the foundation’s policy regarding project cost-sharing?

Cost-sharing by your university or organization is encouraged and should be reported in the budget and budget justification section of the proposal.

Can I request funding for a project that is largely written up or ready for publication consideration?

No. We do not support projects where the proposed research has already been circulated as a working paper or submitted for publication.

What are the maximum budget amounts per level of funding?

Project Grants are generally limited to $175,000 (including overhead) and subject to availability of funds. Projects that use publicly available data are capped at $75,000, including overhead. Presidential Grants are capped at $35,000 ($50,000 if new data collection/access costs are included) and do not allow overhead; Behavioral Economic Small Grants are capped at $7,500 (lifetime cap).

How much does the Russell Sage Foundation allow in indirect costs?

RSF allows up to a maximum of 15% overhead for indirect costs on Project Grants. The foundation does not allow indirect costs on any grants up to $50,000.

Do the indirect costs apply to all budget expenses?

Foundation budget guidelines prohibit indirect costs on subcontracts to external vendors, such as survey firms, nor do we allow indirect costs to be charged on subcontracts by both the organization and subcontract organization. See the budget guidelines for more information.

Are there budget restrictions on salary or other forms of support?

Yes, there are restrictions on salary request, as well as other budget categories. Please see the budget guidelines for the most up-to-date information.

Are there other restrictions on what the foundation can support?

Our guidelines restrict us from funding pre-doctoral study or research, and we do not give scholarships or other types of grants for support of college funding. As a general rule, we do not provide tuition reimbursements. We do support graduate and/or undergraduate research assistance as part of proposed projects. We do not fund residential fellowships elsewhere (See information about the Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar Program, Visiting Journalist Program and Visiting Researcher Program). We are enjoined by IRS code from making general support grants to other institutions. Only specific research project grants that further our declared program goals are permitted. Applicants must hold a Ph.D. or other advanced terminal degree, or must demonstrate a long career trajectory that supports the ability to carry-out high-level research.

What is an organization confirmation letter?

The organization confirmation letter is a letter from the university/institution/organization in which the principal investigator is affiliated that states that the organization will act as the grantee for the project,  that is, it will manage the funds for the project should a grant be made. The organization confirmation letter should be included in your submission whenever possible and it must be received by the foundation before a grant can be processed.

Do I have to use the online application system?

Yes. Please contact us at if you are having difficulties with the system.

Does the foundation fund conferences and workshops?

The foundation does not typically provide support for conferences and workshops independent of a specific project and affiliated grant. In some rare cases, we will consider providing partial support for a specific research conference that furthers the goals of the foundation. Open-ended conferences will not be considered.

How competitive are RSF grants?

The foundation’s limited budget means that it can only fund a small number of projects each year. All applications go through a rigorous peer-review process. Because the foundation receives many more high-quality proposals than it can fund, it is frequently unable to support worthy projects in its priority areas. Based on our recent funding cycles, investigators can expect that of every 100 letters of inquiry we receive, approximately 16 will result in an invited proposal, of which 4-5 are likely to be funded.

What are the foundation's core program areas and current funding priorities?

RSF currently has four core research programs and several special initiatives under which it considers projects. All current funding opporutnities can be found here

 Can I propose several interrelated projects for funding consideration in one letter of inquiry?

In some very rare instances, especially in which the same data are being used across multiple investigations, proposing multiple projects in one LOI may make sense. In the vast majority of cases however, investigators should submit separate letters of inquiry for each project. The primary reason for this is that including more than one project in an LOI means that there is typically insufficient information on any one project on which to base a determination about whether to invite a full proposal. Our past experience is that most LOIs that describe multiple projects in one letter do not provide enough information about any one project on which to make an informed decision. Different projects, even if interrelated, are most often addressing different problems, use different data or different analytic approaches. All of these should be fully fleshed out in separate letters of inquiry for each project, thus requiring separate letters for each project.

 Do I need to include a draft of my data collection instrument with the LOI?

No, you do not need to include the draft instrument. However, you do need to confirm that you have or will have a draft instrument ready to include with your proposal, if invited. Your LOI must include a discussion of the proposed instrument as part of the research design section. You may include example questions if it helps to provide some context for your research design. RSF will not support the development of the instrument as part of the proposed project.  

 Do I need to include a draft of my data collection instrument with the proposal?

Yes, your proposal must include your (draft) data collection instrument as an appendix. RSF will not support the development of the instrument as part of the proposed project.  


Click here for detailed information about eligibility and application requirements.
Click here for budget guidelines.

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