The etiquette of contacting sponsors varies depending on the sponsor. For some, it is important and worthwhile to make personal contact during the proposal process; for others, such contact is discouraged. General advice is provided here, but it is essential that investigators identify and follow the requirements and preferences of the specific sponsors they are targeting. If you have questions on sponsor guidelines, contact SPA for assistance, and they will help you determine what is appropriate for a particular sponsor.
Before contacting any potential sponsor to solicit feedback on a proposal idea, it is important to have a clear idea of what you propose to do and what you expect from the sponsor. Prepare a brief concept paper, proposal prospectus, or proposal as a guide and prepare a list of questions.
If seeking funding from industry, direct personal contact and networking at conferences and seminars may prove more fruitful than depending on funding databases for information. Continued personal contact may be part of the process of soliciting funding.
Some private foundations, on the other hand, require investigators to limit initial contact to a brief letter of intent. If the foundation is interested, they will then request a full proposal.
Many of the large government agencies encourage investigators to contact them to discuss project ideas. It is a good idea to take time to contact the appropriate agency representative and develop a good working relationship with that person, as it may increase your chances of getting funded--but you must know whom to contact and when to contact them.
If you are seeking funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), for example, it is important to contact the Program Officer, as identified on the request for proposal. The Program Officer will discuss your project idea with you and let you know if your proposed project is in keeping with the goals of the relevant NSF program. The Program Officer will advise you on redirecting your project goals, if necessary, or will inform you of other opportunities within NSF that may be better suited to your idea. SPA can assist you in identifying the appropriate contact person.
Note: Reviewers at agencies such as NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are working professionals in the relevant field of study; they are your peers. You should not contact active agency reviewers at any time during the proposal process. If you know someone who has previously served on a review panel for the relevant program, however, it is acceptable to contact that person for advice.