Gift vs. Grant

Investigators working with new sponsors should attempt to clarify whether funding will be made available to them in the form of a gift or a grant. Gifts and grants are handled by two separate Harvard units and each carry their own distinct sets of policies and procedures. The full policy on distinguishing gifts versus sponsored awards is available on the Office for Sponsored Programs website.

In some cases, the distinction between a gift and a sponsored award (grant or contract) is ambiguous and requires consideration of many factors. 

No single indicator, by itself, distinguishes a gift from a sponsored project (“grant” or “award”). However, the following factors are normally indicative of a gift:

  • Use of the funds is directly related to the University’s mission
  • The donor receives no value, or only nominal value, in exchange for the support provided
  • No detailed scope of work, budget, or period of performance is specified by the donor or promised by the University (the general area of work to be supported may be specified)
  • There is no line-item budget, nor any restriction on the use of funds (as long as the use is consistent with the donor’s original, accepted, stipulations)
  • There is no requirement to return unexpended funds to the donor

The following factors are normally indicative of a sponsored project:

  • A line-item budget for the expenditure of funds for the project Activity
  • A detailed statement of the planned Activity or scope of work
  • A specified period of performance as a term and condition
  • A commitment by Harvard to provide “deliverables” (e.g., products, or periodic technical or progress reports)
  • Fiscal accountability, such as submission of financial reports, audit provisions, sponsor prior approval of or control over expenditures, and/or an obligation to return unexpended funds
  • Obligation to convey rights to tangible or intangible property resulting from the project (equipment, data, technical reports, copyrightable or patentable materials).

In the FAS, the Office for Sponsored Programs (OSP), the Office of Technology Development (OTD), the University Development Office (UDO), the Office of the Recording Secretary (RSO), FAS officials, and the Office of the Provost are responsible, under the procedures and considering the factors specified above, for working in conjunction with one another to reach a determination as to whether the external funding is a gift or a sponsored award.