How institutional instructions differ from the solicitation – and what you need to know

  • April 27, 2021

There is a big world of funding out there. For startups, this fact can be simultaneously motivating and anxiety-inducing. On the one hand, it is great that there are so many ways to find funding. On the other, it can be really tough to navigate the expectations of the agencies that offer the solicitation as well as the individual solicitation itself. Here is a quick how-to for staying sane while preparing government-funded proposals.

Institutional Instructions

Each of the 11 federal agencies that provide government funding to small businesses provides institutional instructions for preparing proposals. These instructions will provide major guidance on items such as allowable vs. unallowable costs, font and margin size, and caps on budgets for salaries and sub-awards. Generally speaking, the institutional instructions are applicable throughout solicitations and are a great starting place for anyone applying for government funding with that specific agency.


Individual solicitations, however, while created by the same 11 agencies mentioned above, often differ from the general guidelines. So which one is correct? Individual solicitation guidelines always supersede institutional instructions. A great example can be found in the National Institute of Health’s funding. While general guidelines are in place, different types of awards will have different guidelines. Consider the differences between an R21 and R01. Both are NIH funded opportunities, and both focus on early-stage research and development. The difference is in the individual solicitation. R21 only allows for a 6 page limit on the research strategy, while R01 allows for 12. Career development awards and training awards from the NIH also have different page limitations than those found in the general institutional instructions.

Which to Read?

The answer is a resounding “both”! It is beneficial to understand the guidelines of the institution, which provide a foundation of knowledge fr the upcoming solicitation. The individual solicitation will provide indispensable deeper knowledge of how to approach the proposal. It is absolutely essential in creating a competitive proposal to read both the institutional and individual solicitation and to understand which guidelines to follow when the two differ.

We work with high-growth startups and organizations that support the startup and innovation ecosystem. We build highly specific non-dilutive funding menus, provide proposal preparation services, and measure outcomes of funding through evaluation. Schedule a consult call with us HERE.