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Grant or Gift?

Ferris State University receives funding support from a variety of initiatives, donors, and sponsors. When the question “Is this a sponsored project or a gift?” arises, the table below may be helpful. Its various elements fall on a continuum.

Placement near one side or the other, together with an understanding of the intent of the source of funds and agreement’s terms, should help to classify a questionable award.

Governmental Sponsors: If the source of the funds is a government agency, the funds are NOT a gift and may NOT be treated as such. Note that most private and corporation foundations refer to their funding as “grants,” so use of that term is not determinative in and of itself.

Some characteristics can be similar between sponsored projects and gifts, and are not determining factors as to whether funds are a gift or support for a sponsored project:

  • Payment or nonpayment of indirect costs. Designation as a gift will not prevent recovery of indirect costs where allowed by donor.
  • A proposal may be solicited or unsolicited.
  • Award is labeled by the donor as a gift or as a grant.

The following factor is an indicator of a sponsored project, but not by itself a determining factor for defining funds as a sponsored project:

  • Awards deriving from both competitive and non-competitive proposals for non-research purposes.

The following table indicates typical features of gifts versus sponsored projects.

Gifts Sponsored Projects
Items of value given to the University by a donor without a requirement for something of value in return, other than recognition. Funding for a project provided by an external sponsor that typically has defined expectations for activities (whether research, scholarly activity, training, instruction and instructional design, etc.).
Funding does not originate from a government agency. Funding may originate from government agencies, as well as from corporations, associations, and foundations (private, public or professional organizations).
Funding for a general or specific purpose, within a general area of work. Funding based on a specific statement of work as stipulated in the agreement conveying the award. The sponsor may also predetermine it.
Deliverables not typically required, or minimal reporting as noted below, plus use of funds as generally requested and awarded. Deliverables defined by agreement, e.g., reports, results, IP rights, services, training, equipment prototypes, specific start and end dates, etc.
Pre-approval of expenditures not required unless a change in circumstances requires the University to revisit the purpose of the gift with the donor. Certain expenditures may require prior approval by the sponsor.
No requirement for return of unexpended funds. Sponsor may (or may not) require that unexpected funds be returned if funds are not approved to be carried forward to extend the project.
No technical reports required. Non-technical reports are recommended as a courtesy. Often requires technical, quarterly or annual progress reports, and detailed financial reports. May also include right of sponsor to audit project.
No restriction on publication rights. Acknowledgement of donor support in publication is recommended as a courtesy. Sponsor requires or restricts acknowledgement of support in publications. May require/request minor publication delays.

Further considerations regarding Gifts and Donations to the University:  If any one of the following indicators exists, the Ferris Foundation will have responsibility for solicitation, negotiation, receipt, and administration of the award by ensuring proper accounting for expenditures, maintaining auditable records, and providing proper stewardship with the donor.

  • Funds received from individuals, closely held corporations, and private foundations are usually classified as gifts; also, funds received from corporations, corporate foundations, and major foundations may be classified as gifts, depending on the circumstances.
  • The award is from a non-governmental source and is for the annual fund, a capital campaign, general project support, for bricks and mortar, or for a Foundation-held endowment.
  • Contractual requirements are not imposed. However, as gifts are transmitted to the university, objectives may be stated; the use of the funds may be restricted to a particular purpose such as scholarships, bricks and mortar, or general research support; and status reports of expenditures, fund balance, and activity may be requested.
  • The donor intends the gift to be irrevocable and, therefore, relinquishes the right to reclaim the gift or any unused remainder.
  • The donor makes the gift without expectations of direct economic benefit or other tangible benefits.
    The gift award instrument requires formal financial reporting on the specific use of funds and/or the project status.

For additional questions, please contact:

  • Sponsored Programs (grants and contracts) are managed by Ferris State University and the FSU Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Please contact Wendy Stapp, or call 231-591-2547, if you are planning to submit a grant or project application to a sponsor.
  • Philanthropic gifts are managed by the Ferris Foundation and FSU University Advancement. Please contact Kara Eagle, Cell: (616) 485-6134, for any questions regarding donor relations and gifts.

If you would like assistance to determine the award category for your project, please complete the fillable pdf form and submit to Wendy Stapp.


Who should you contact for help?
Wendy Stapp, Grants Administrator 
Office: (231) 591-2547
Cell: (231) 250-0114
[email protected]

Kara Eagle, Corporate & Foundations Grants Manager
Ferris State University-Grand Rapids
151 Fountain Street NE, 182H
Grand Rapids, Mich. 49503
Cell: (616) 485-6134 
[email protected]