Research Grants: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you still have clarifying questions regarding the submission of letters of inquiry (LOI) or proposals after consulting our website, please contact us at Due to the large amount of applications we receive, we are unable to read or provide feedback on draft LOIs. We cannot guarantee a response to any questions submitted within 10 business days of a deadline.

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General Questions:

LOI Questions:

Proposal Questions:

Budget Questions:


What does the foundation primarily support?

We are particularly interested in analyses that make use of newly available data or demonstrate novel uses of existing data, to answer emerging or long-standing questions of interest in the foundation’s program areas and special initiatives. We also support original data collection. Proposals to conduct field experiments, in-depth qualitative interviews, and ethnographies are also encouraged.

RSF receives so many applications for its limited funding that it no longer considers submissions that solely make routine use of publicly-available data, such as the Current Population Survey, American Community Survey, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, National Longitudinal survey of Youth, etc. Only novel uses of these data sets, particularly ones that link publicly-available data to new data sets or ones that use the restricted versions of these data will be considered.

RSF rarely considers projects for which the investigators have not already fully-developed the research design, the sample framework, access to data, etc. Investigators are encouraged to submit an LOI after they have developed and pre-tested survey instruments, completed preliminary data analyses if the data are publicly-available or conducted some preliminary interviews for qualitative studies.

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

Yes. Applications for research 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. We do not consider unsolicited proposals unless otherwise specified in a request for proposals.

Who can submit the letter of inquiry?

All letters of inquiry must be submitted directly by an eligible principal investigator (PI) or co-PI of the proposed project. The account must be in the name of the applicant; university administration staff or students may not submit applications. 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. We encourage applicants to use all four pages to provide sufficient details about the proposed project.

What should I include in the letter of inquiry?

Letters of inquiry should be treated as "mini proposals." The LOI should reflect the key elements of a complete proposal, with the majority of the space dedicated to hypothesis, data, power calculations, preliminary or pilot findings if available, 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. Applicants should have a solid understanding of the amount of funds they will need to carry out the project; if a proposal is invited, the proposal budget cannot deviate significantly from the amount requested in the LOI. Letters of inquiry should also be clear as to how the proposed project fits within RSF’s core interests.

An LOI should contain only one research project; you may submit additional LOIs with other (potentially related) projects.

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 2pm Eastern Time/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). All reports must be submitted through our grants management system, Fluxx.

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

Yes, you may submit multiple letters of inquiry (for different projects) for the same funding cycle. You do not need to submit the same LOI to different programs as your application will be evaluated across all of our program interests, regardless of the program you apply to.

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 relevant 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. A letter of inquiry must be submitted within 6 months, or 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, or if the project is underdeveloped, 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 funding priorities may change, 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 a one-time deferral if they are requested at least 2 weeks before the proposal deadline. Subsequent deferral requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If you do not submit your proposal and you have not requested a deferral, your application will be considered withdrawn.

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. Please note that the review process still takes 4-6 weeks on average from the date of the proposal’s submission.

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 $50,000 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.
  • What are the qualifications and responsibilities of the person(s) engaged in the research?
  • 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. Investigators must also include a plan for public release of the data and documentation (see Transparency & Reproducibility below).


In addition to the proposal, you will need to submit the following:

  • Budget – See Budget Requirements and Budget Template.
  • Budget Justification: succinctly explain and clarify the requested budget.
    • 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 RSF 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.
  • CVs (abbreviated – 5 pages max.)
  • Point-by-point response memo to previous reviewer comments.
  • Organization Confirmation Letter (may be submitted later)
  • Proof of IRB Approval (if applicable; may be submitted later).


Where do I include the budget justification?

The budget justification is a stand-alone document that must be uploaded as part of your proposal submission.

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 (must be uploaded in original Excel format);
  4. A detailed budget justification;
  5. Current CV (abbreviated - 5 page maximum) for all principal and co-principal investigators;
  6. Point-by-point response memo to previous reviewer comments;
  7. Organization confirmation letter (may be submitted later);
  8. Proof of IRB Approval (if applicable; may be submitted later).


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 RSF and other sources of funding?

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. 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.

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.

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?

Trustee Grants are generally capped at $200,000, including 15% indirect costs. Presidential Grants are capped at $50,000 (no indirect costs). PIs may request up to $75,000 (no indirect costs) when the proposed research project has special needs for gathering data (e.g.: qualitative research) or gaining access to restricted-use data.

RSF receives so many applications for its limited funding that it no longer considers submissions that make use of publicly-available data, such as the Current Population Survey, American Community Survey, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, National Longitudinal survey of Youth, etc. However, if the project addresses a pressing issue or uses these data in an innovative way, RSF may consider such proposals as Presidential grants with a maximum budget of $35,000.

How much does RSF allow in indirect costs?

RSF allows up to a maximum of 15% overhead for indirect costs on Research Grants above $75,000.

Do the indirect costs apply to all budget expenses?

We do not allow indirect costs on subcontracts to external vendors such as survey firms, laboratories or testing companies, or university-affiliated survey centers; indirect costs are only allowed on subcontracts to other universities or research organizations. Each university or research organizations may include indirect costs only on its portion of direct costs. See our budget requirements 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 our budget requirements for the most up-to-date information.

Are there other restrictions on what the foundation can support?

Applicants must hold a doctorate, or must demonstrate a long career trajectory that supports the ability to carry-out high-level research. 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 not fund residential fellowships elsewhere (See information about the Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar Program, Visiting Journalist Program and Visiting Researcher Program). We do not make general support grants to other institutions; only specific research project grants that further our declared program goals are permitted.

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. All applications and reports must be submitted through Fluxx. New registrations are processed during business hours on the east coast (9 am - 5 pm EST), so if you apply at night or on a weekend it will take until the next business day for your account to be activated. 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 current funding priorities?

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

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

Each project or experiment proposed in the LOI should include as much information as possible in the space provided in terms of data to be used and why it is appropriate for answering the questions posed, sample sizes and power analyses (where relevant), key explanatory variables and how they are measured, the primary analyses to be performed, major strengths and limitation of the approach and design, etc. The investigator should also consider whether the projects/experiments differ enough so  that separate LOIs should be submitted. In most cases however, investigators would have a higher chance of success if they submitted separate LOIs. The primary reason for this is that including more than one project/experiment in an LOI means that there is typically insufficient information on any one on which to base a determination about whether to invite a full proposal. Our experience is that most LOIs that describe multiple projects/experiments in one LOI do not provide sufficient detail about any one project/experiment.

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 at the LOI stage. 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.


See application requirements
See budget requirements
See eligibility and policies


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