Frequently Asked Questions: Virtual Exchange Grant Competition

Learn more about the 2022 Virtual Exchange Grant Competition here.

Submitting an Application

Q: Do you provide technical support for the SurveyMonkey Apply platform?

A: While the Stevens Initiative can provide some support for applicants having technical difficulties, Survey Monkey Apply is a good place to become familiar with the platform or to ask for help. The Initiative recommends you start there and then reach out to stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org. with additional questions.

Q: Can documents be submitted in languages other than English?
A: No. All documents and application answers must be completed in English.

Q: Are past funded projects listed somewhere online?
A: Yes, see http://www.stevensinitiative.org/projects/.

Q: How do you ensure that review committee members are not biased?
A: Review committee members are required to agree to a conflict-of-interest statement and may not be involved if they are working with any organization that is applying for a grant. Committee members pledge to score applications fairly and use a scoring rubric in order to apply consistent standards to all applications.

Q: Does the Stevens Initiative prefer lower requests for funding? Will larger requests for funding be a negative factor in the assessment of the proposal?
A:  All amounts within the eligible range for each type of grant are permissible and no preference is given for larger or smaller amounts within those ranges. Note that cost-effectiveness – demonstrating the requested funds would be used well – is a selection criterion for funding.

Q: Who should submit the application: the U.S. partner or the MENA partner?
A: Either an eligible U.S.-based organization or MENA-based organization can submit an application. The organization that elects to submit the proposal must serve as the prime grant recipient, meaning that this organization is responsible for submitting reporting (financial, progress, and evaluation) to the Stevens Initiative and should be the primary coordinator of project activities and the administrator of the federal award.

Q: Can the application be submitted by two organizations, or by co-applicants? 

A: Only one applicant can submit the application, and that organization will be responsible for managing the award. If you are considering which partner should be the prime applicant, you may want to consider which organization is eligible to receive funding (see the call for proposals for additional information about eligibility) and which organization is best-positioned to carry out the terms and conditions of the federal subaward. Other organizations or entities may be included in the application and on the budget as partners and can be involved in the development of the proposal, program design, implementation, and logistics. If an application proposes a setup that includes a financial relationship with partners, whether as contractors or subawardees, the prime applicant would be responsible for disbursing payment to the contractors or subawardees. For more information about partnership setups, contractors, and subawardees, please consult the “partnerships” section of this document.

Q: Is this competition open to applications from organizations that do not currently run or implement virtual exchange?

A: Yes.

Q: Can a seeding grant be awarded to launch a new virtual exchange program?

A: Yes. Seeding grants can go toward launching a new virtual exchange program or to small, early-stage virtual exchange programs that meet seeding grant criteria. Any organization that meets the listed eligibility requirements can propose a program for any of the grant types, whether that program is new, has already been piloted, or is established. Careful attention should be paid to the parameters, requirements, and differences between the grant types before deciding on an appropriate grant type for a proposal.

Q: Can my organization apply for multiple grant types or submit multiple applications for a given grant type?

A: The Stevens Initiative does not restrict the number of applications an organization can submit in total or for a specific grant type. It is important to note, however, that if a proposal or proposals are selected, the Initiative would not be able to provide funding beyond the budgetary cap to a given organization (applicants cannot request more than 80% of their fiscal year 2021 budget).

Q: Can an applicant participate in more than one proposal, e.g. be an applicant on one proposal and be a partner on another proposal?

A: Yes, if the proposed programs and resources, participants, etc. are distinct. The Stevens Initiative encourages organizations involved to consider feasibility and organizational capacity required to implement, coordinate, or participate in multiple projects, should all of the proposals be funded.

Q: What percentage of applicants receive an award?

A: While the percentage of successful applicants depends on the number of applications received, the process is generally competitive. During past competitions, approximately 10-15% of eligible applications successfully received funding.

Support for Applicants

Q: How can applicants ask questions?
A: All questions should be submitted by email to stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org. The Stevens Initiative will host webinars to discuss the call for proposals on June 29, 2022 (general questions), July 12, 2022 (questions about the budget and compliance), and August 10, 2022 (last-minute questions). Register for each webinar here. The Initiative will post webinar recordings to its YouTube channel following each webinar.

Q: Can applicants arrange a call with a member of the Stevens Initiative team to discuss a proposal or ask advice about a specific project element?

A: The Stevens Initiative does not plan on conducting calls with individuals or organizations. The Initiative is not able to give advice about specific or potential proposals given its need to maintain impartiality and avoid any potential conflicts of interest for this federally funded open competition, and due to organizational capacity. However, questions about the application or process can be sent to stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org and will be answered as quickly as possible.

Program

Q: To what extent should everything be in place before we apply for funding?
A: Organizations should formulate plans to the greatest extent possible before applying. The more information that can be provided in the application, the better.

Q: The Stevens Initiative lists priority topics in its call for proposals. How much of a priority are these topics? Can my organization submit a proposal on a topic outside of the Initiative’s priority topics?
A: Applicants can submit a proposal that falls outside of the Stevens Initiative’s list of priority topics. The Initiative seeks to fund some programs that are focused on priority topics, but the review committee will not award additional points for focusing on priority topics.

Q: The application mentions sustained communication. How long should programs run?
A: While the Stevens Initiative does not have a specific rule around program duration and participant contact hours, the Initiative wants to see young people engaging in a way in which they get to know each other, work together, and build relationships and a sense of trust over time through repeated synchronous and/or asynchronous communication. Many, but not all, virtual exchange programs involve youth participants in eight to 30 hours of synchronous and/or asynchronous communication over a period of two to eight weeks.

Q: Can an organization’s programming include young people from countries outside of the MENA region in addition to students from the U.S. and MENA region?
A: Young people from outside the U.S. or the MENA region cannot be supported through a Stevens Initiative grant.

Q: Might the list of eligible countries change?
A: No, the list of eligible countries – the United States and the countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as defined by the Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs – are the only eligible countries for Stevens Initiative participation through this grant competition. No countries will be added or removed from this list in this competition. Organizations based or proposing to conduct work outside of these two regions are welcome to use the Initiative’s other resources.

Q: Is it allowable to have implementing staff in multiple countries?
A: Yes.

Q: Is there a limit to the number of Principal Investigators or co-PIs there can be on a project?
A: Note that there must be one prime applicant entity/organization for the award who will be responsible for managing the grant and the proposed program. As far as individuals listed under the “personnel” section on the proposed budget, there is not a specific limit or requirement for roles. The Stevens Initiative encourages applicants to be mindful of having one or a small number of people designated to be the point person(s) for the Stevens Initiative team, should funding be awarded, and to oversee federal award management and processes.

Q: Does the Stevens Initiative prefer to fund programs between the U.S. and one MENA region country? Can my proposal include multiple MENA countries?
A: Grants support both bilateral (the U.S. and one other country) and multilateral programs (the U.S. and more than one other country) and do not prioritize one arrangement over the other.

Q: Is program participation restricted to students currently enrolled in academic programs?
A: Programs do not need to be restricted to people enrolled in education. The program does not need to be administered through an educational institution.

Q: Can proposals include an in-person exchange component?
A: Domestic or international in-person exchanges or activities for young people, educators, facilitators, or program organizers may be included to complement the virtual exchange activities. The Stevens Initiative encourages applicants to carefully consider local travel guidelines and whether travel is feasible given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants should develop alternative plans in case in-person travel is not possible.

Q: Do the number of participants involved in the grant need to be equal between U.S. partners and MENA partners, i.e. do all online exchange activities (synchronous and asynchronous) need to be structured on a 1:1 participant basis?
A: The ratio of youth participants does not need to be strictly 1:1, though the Stevens Initiative recommends that participation be approximately balanced between the U.S. and the MENA region. Some programs provide good justification for having slightly more participants from one place or another.

Q: Does the total number of participants include the teachers and facilitators, or does that number specifically refer to youth participants?
A: The count of participants in the table listing U.S. states and the MENA country participants should include only the youth participants who will participate in the program.

Q: What kind of supervision is expected in programs supported by the Stevens Initiative? Does every part or session of virtual exchange need to be supervised?
A: The Stevens Initiative expects adults to observe virtual exchange activities to ensure that communication is appropriate and that participants have a safe and constructive environment for discussion and collaboration. This is particularly important for programs that include minors. While not every synchronous or asynchronous activity needs to be directly observed in all cases, applicants should demonstrate that they plan for educators or other trained facilitators to participate in and observe an adequate number of the activities to be highly confident that communication is appropriate. The extent and style of supervision and facilitation is likely dependent on the age of participants and other factors unique to the program design and the participants involved.

Q: The application asks about preparing facilitators for virtual exchange. What is the Stevens Initiative’s recommendation for how to prepare facilitators?
A: The Stevens Initiative is not in a position to recommend a specific way to train or prepare facilitators, particularly because a variety of approaches can be effective. It is important for virtual exchange programs to ensure that the adults responsible for supervising and facilitating virtual exchange are adequately prepared for their role and feel supported. In many cases, training by experts is an important step at the beginning of a project and throughout the project as new facilitators are trained. In many programs, facilitators are educators (teachers or professors), though in other programs, facilitators are staff members of a civil society organization or education institution. Sometimes, the facilitator is a “near peer,” such as a recent university graduate serving as a facilitator for a high school or undergraduate virtual exchange after participating in virtual exchange themselves. Effective facilitation involves familiarity with cross-cultural dialogue, using communication technology, the subject matter specific to the exchange program, and many other related topics, skills, and experiences. Effective facilitation also ensures that all participants in the program are experiencing a meaningful intercultural exchange. There are an increasing number of organizations – including many Stevens Initiative grantees, listed on the Stevens Initiative website – who have experience conducting training programs for virtual exchange facilitators at various education or age levels.

Q: Should current geopolitical issues be taken into account when designing a proposal?
A:  The Stevens Initiative expects organizations to put forward plausible, appropriate, safe plans to connect young people in the U.S. and the MENA region and recognizes that this could require additional effort and safeguards to ensure participants and staff are as safe and supported as possible.

Partnerships

This section covers several aspects of partnership formation and formalization for different kinds of partner relationships.

Q: What does the Stevens Initiative mean when using the word “partners” in the proposal? 

A: The Stevens Initiative uses a broad scope when defining partnerships in a virtual exchange grant proposal. Generally speaking, partners are individuals, organizations, or institutions that support the grant-receiving organization in implementing the proposed virtual exchange program. These partners often but not always represent the different communities that the virtual exchange program intends to serve. Partners often but not always contribute to the program design, provide or recruit participants in different communities, support with the implementation of the virtual exchange program, and can in some instances support with the administration of the federal award.

Q: Can the Stevens Initiative help with finding international partners?
A: The Stevens Initiative is not able to help find international partners during the open competition phase. Organizations seeking partners may consider social media as a recruitment tool. Once grantees have been announced, the Initiative will try to include organizations, schools, and universities – including those that submitted unsuccessful applications – in grantee programs where feasible. The Initiative offers several ways for organizations to get involved with funded programs, and, in turn, for funded programs to indicate their interest in bringing additional partners into programming.

Q: Do we need to have all of our partnerships confirmed prior to submitting an application?
A: Some organizations may not wish to sign a contract, MOU, or other agreement with an organization until funding has been awarded. While partnerships do not need to be confirmed and finalized, strong proposals will outline feasible, appropriate partnerships and will include clear plans to confirm and finalize such .

Q: Is it possible to include partnerships in another region (assuming the program also includes U.S. and MENA region participants)?
A: The funds provided via this competition may only be used to support activities in the MENA region and in the U.S. Any other countries that might be involved in an organization’s program cannot be covered through any Stevens Initiative funding. It is conceivable that a partner serving youth participants based in the U.S. or in an eligible MENA country (or countries) may be based or headquartered outside of these two regions, in which case it is acceptable for that partner to be included in the proposal.

Q: Is it expected that the program would be conducted with a partner organization? What are the expectations about engaging partners?
A: Given the international nature of this work, nearly all past proposals have involved international partners to a certain degree. Strong virtual exchange programs are often rooted in longstanding collaboration between the partnering institutions. While it’s possible an organization that has very deep roots and high capacity both in the U.S. and the MENA region might be able to put together a proposal that shows adequate capacity in all countries, or could seek to use staff and effort solely in one country, these would be outlier cases and the Initiative would encourage the organization to make sure that they have adequate capacity, whether their own or through a partnership, in all of the places where they propose to reach young people.

Q: Is the applying organization responsible for securing partners and participants from the MENA region (if U.S.-based) or the U.S. (if MENA-based)?
A: Yes. The Stevens Initiative is not able to support applicants in finding international partners during the open competition phase.

Q: The Call for Proposals calls for grantees to be registered in countries where they are carrying out activities. Does the U.S. grantee need to be registered in each proposed MENA country if they work with local partners in these countries? Or would partner registration be sufficient?

A: Grant-receiving organizations must be registered in the countries in which they are located (in the United States for a U.S.-based applicant and in the respective MENA region country for a MENA-based applicant). If an applying organization is based in the United States, it must be a registered, tax-exempt organization in the United States. The organization does not need to be registered in the countries in the MENA region it is intending to work in, though from a risk perspective the organization may want to consider partnering with organizations in the MENA region that are registered in-country. A U.S.-based organization intending to work with MENA region partners through a subrecipient relationship must adhere to federal guidelines outlined in the Uniform Guidance which would require appropriate in-country registration on behalf of the MENA partner. In-country partner organizations in the MENA region or MENA region-based prime applicants may need approval from the government in that country to do work with U.S. government funds or to work in certain settings (such as public schools or refugee camps), so applicants and partners should consult the local requirements.

Q: Can an applying university work with local non-governmental organizations on the proposal, or vice-versa? 

A: Yes. As long as there is a prime recipient organization submitting the application that can manage the administration of the grant and the program itself, and as long as partners are appropriate, it is at the applying organization’s discretion how they wish to set up a partnership structure for the proposed program.

Q: Should partners in the MENA region be classified as subrecipients vs. contractors?
A: The answer to this question depends on the type of work the partner will conduct. Generally, a subrecipient provides substantive, programmatic work into the project. And generally, a contractor provides a good or service as part of the project. Each relationship determines the legal agreement needed to document that relationship: a contract will be negotiated with you, the applying organization. A subaward will be governed by the same federal regulations that govern a Stevens Initiative grant recipient’s agreement. The Stevens Initiative suggests you use the contractor vs. subaward determination checklist below to help guide you.

SECTION 1 – SUBRECIPIENT
Description: A subaward is for the purpose of carrying out a portion of a Federal award and creates a Federal assistance relationship with the subrecipient. Characteristics which support the classification of the non-Federal entity as a subrecipient include when the contractor:

    1. Determines who is eligible to receive what Federal assistance;
    2. Has its performance measured in relation to whether objectives of a Federal program were met;
    3. Has responsibility for programmatic decision making;
    4. In accordance with its agreement, uses the Federal funds to carry out a program for a public purpose specified in authorizing statute, as opposed to providing goods or services for the benefit of the pass-through entity.

Entities that include these characteristics are responsible for adherence to applicable Federal program requirements specified in the Federal award.

SECTION 2 – CONTRACTOR
Description:
A contract is for the purpose of obtaining goods and services for the non-Federal entity’s own use and creates a procurement relationship with the contractor. Characteristics indicative of a procurement relationship between the non-Federal entity and a contractor are when the non-Federal entity receiving the Federal funds:

    1. Provides the goods and services within normal business operations;
    2. Provides similar goods or services to many different purchasers;
    3. Normally operates in a competitive environment;
    4. Provides goods or services that are ancillary to the operation of the Federal program.

Entities that include these characteristics are not subject to compliance requirements of the Federal program as a result of the agreement, though similar requirements may apply for other reasons.

Q: Do we only have to use lower tiered subaward agreements with subawardees, rather than with individual schools or other participating groups?
A: The type of legal relationship between the prime applicant and the schools or participating groups depends on the nature of the work that the school will be conducting, the service they will be providing, or the way the participating group will be engaging with your program. Generally, a subrecipient provides substantive, programmatic work while a contractor provides a good or service. The Stevens Initiative suggests you use the contractor vs. subaward determination checklist above to help guide you.

Q: Could you provide a sample of the lower tiered subaward agreement based on the prime grant agreement?
A: The lower-tiered subaward agreement must be approved by the Aspen Institute prior to execution. The Stevens Initiative has a memo that can be shared with the subrecipient on the terms and conditions that should flow down, but that will not be provided until the grant negotiation phase (after applications have been submitted and reviewed).

Q: Do my partners need to complete the Domestic or Foreign Subrecipient Profile Questionnaires?
A: The domestic subrecipient profile questionnaire or the foreign subrecipient profile questionnaire only needs to be completed by the organization applying to receive and administer the grant. As a subrecipient to the Stevens Initiative, you are required to flow-down monitoring and oversight procedures to your partners. Some organizations find it useful to also have their partners complete the domestic or foreign subrecipient profile questionnaire because they know that it’s part of their responsibility as a subrecipient to the Aspen Institute to also flow down monitoring and due diligence techniques. The Stevens Initiative encourages you to consider taking this step, though it’s not required. The questionnaire is an assessment and not a contractual agreement. Subrecipients of the prime applicant must receive a lower-tiered subrecipient agreement that contains most of the terms and conditions listed on the prime subrecipient agreement (the agreement between Aspen Institute and applicant). The lower-tiered subrecipient agreement must be reviewed and approved by the Aspen Institute prior to being executed. If payment is not provided, then technically a lower-tiered subrecipient agreement is not required, but some kind of a document or agreement, such as an MOU, that governs the relationship is strongly encouraged. If there are no legal or other barriers preventing payment, financial payment given to implementing partners to help ensure their engagement and overall commitment to the project is recommended.

​​​​​Participants and Participant Information

Q: What is the minimum or maximum number of participants that my organization can propose? Can we propose fewer participants than the minimum, or more participants beyond the maximum?

A: The permissible cost per participant ranges specified for each grant type in the call for proposals create, in effect, minimum and maximum numbers of participants for each grant type. Each application must simultaneously fall within the permissible range for cost per participant and requested budget.

Q: Can a university propose to work with high school partners and participants?
A: Yes. A university can propose to implement a program with high school-aged participants or with both high school-aged and university-aged participants; applicants proposing this set up are encouraged to put into place mechanisms that ensure safe communication between minors and adults as well as propose content that is appropriate across age levels.

Q: Can my organization propose to work with students who are older than 35?
A: The Stevens Initiative aims to fund programs that reach young people who are elementary or primary school-aged through post-graduate age of 35. The Stevens Initiative recognizes that working with some populations, such as a community college population in the United States, may involve non-traditional students who are over the age of 35. If the proposed program is integrated into a course, an individual or a small number of students should not be excluded from participating in the program. If a proposed program is open enrollment, in which young people are getting involved on their own, implementers should consider ways to ensure the applicant pool is comprised of age-appropriate participants.

Q: The guidelines say that the Stevens Initiative will collect information about youth participants in the programs it supports. How will that information be used?
A: The Stevens Initiative will collect contact information for each participant in the programs supported through these grants. The information will be used to share information from the Initiative about learning and networking opportunities that are part of the Initiative alumni engagement activities. The information will also be used to invite alumni to “opt in” to the U.S. Department of State’s alumni community and deidentified information will be used to assess the reach of the Initiative. Information will be kept securely. The Initiative acknowledges that collecting participant data may pose challenges; if this is applicable to your proposed program, please describe the situation in the proposal and the Initiative will be in touch with applicants who are put forward for funding.

Q: Can participants in Stevens Initiative programs receive academic credit?
A: Yes, participants can receive academic credit if it is offered by the institution through which they are participating.

Q: Can participants pay a registration or tuition fee to be part of my virtual exchange program?
A: No. Stevens Initiative-supported participants may not be asked to pay to be part of the Initiative-funded virtual exchange programs. If a virtual exchange program is integrated into a university or private school course, the Initiative understands that there are tuition fees associated with enrollment, but participants should not pay any additional fees for the virtual exchange program specifically. Similarly, the Initiative will not support “registration fees” to participate in the virtual exchange in an applicant’s budget (though registration fees for specific activities, such as a justifiable expense for a staff member to attend a relevant conference may be considered). While Initiative funding is intended to offset general costs passed on to participants/families, it cannot support offsetting a “registration fee” to participate.

Additional Grant Deliverables: Monitoring and Evaluation, Alumni Engagement, Communications

Q: What are the indicators the Stevens Initiative requires grantees to use to evaluate their programs?
A: You can access the Stevens Initiative’s list of indicators here. If a proposal is selected for a grant, the Initiative and its external evaluators will work with grantees to further develop an appropriate program evaluation plan.

Q: Is an IRB (institutional review board) required for an evaluation to meet the project requirements?
A: No, it is not required, though some Stevens Initiative grantees have gone through the IRB process. The Initiative encourages grantees to meet the standards of their field, their institution, and their implementing partners. Grantees also work closely with the Initiative’s evaluation experts to make sure they meet common standards of evaluation.

Q: Do we need to follow a uniform process for ethical research review, for which there may also be costs associated?
A: The Stevens Initiative looks to each organization to determine the research standards that their community and their institution require of them. For several, that might be an IRB, for others it might be different. The Initiative looks to you to explain what those requirements are.   Based on this, the Initiative will work with you and its independent evaluators to make sure that the research methods meet its standards as well.

Financial/Grant

Q: Is there a template for the budget attachment, and how do we find it?
A: This template is available to download in the application in Survey Monkey Apply. Applicants must use the provided budget template and not alter it.
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Q: Can you share past budgets as examples?
A: We do not provide examples of completed budgets because budgets vary depending on program design. Please use the budget template that is included as part of the full application to guide your preparation. All line-item costs must be included and fall under one of the already provided budget categories. Your program design will be the primary factor in developing your budget.

It may be helpful to see a list of allowable costs. Note this is not a comprehensive list:

    • Salary and fringe benefits
    • Stipends for U.S. and International teachers directly involved in the program
    • Technology support for participants, including tech stipends, mobile minutes, and hotspots
    • Curriculum development/integration
    • Interpretation
    • Monitoring and evaluation
    • Internet based fees or mobile data and minutes for partners/participants with demonstrated need
    • Communications support including website development, outreach materials, certificates, e-signature platform (for waivers)
    • Educational materials
    • Software or supplies such as digital cameras, webcams, laptops, etc. to support online project work, as long as this equipment is not given to youth participants to keep after the program has ended
    • Staff site visits or monitoring visits
    • Indirect costs

Q: Are stipends for youth participants considered an allowable cost?
A: Stipends provided to participants for a very specific reason to ensure their participation in a program – such as travel stipends or mobile data stipends – are allowable costs if they are reasonable and necessary. Cash incentives or prizes for participation or completion of a program are not allowable costs.

Q: Are applicants expected to propose cost share?
A: Cost share is permitted but not required.

Q: The application indicates that applicants cannot request more than 80% of the 2021 annual operating budget of the applying organization. If the applying organization has partners in the project with larger budgets, can the budget request be up to 80% of the partners’ budgets?
A: No. The budget request may be no more than 80% of the 2021 annual operating budget of the applying organization.

Q: Is there a minimum operating budget for an organization to apply?
A: In effect, yes, because there are minimum grant size limits, and an organization may request no more than 80% of an organization’s 2021 budget.

Q: What documents should be submitted to verify a request is not larger than the allowable portion of an applicant’s 2021 budget?
A:  As part of their final application, organizations are asked to submit its last three years’ audits or financial statements. The Stevens Initiative will verify if the request is within the allowable portion of the applicant’s 2021 budget with these documents. If they are newly organized and have less than three years’-worth of audits or financial statements, then the applicant should submit what they have and provide a letter that thoroughly explains the reason for their lack of audits or financial statements. Applicants should upload that letter in the section in which financial information is requested.

Q: For applicants outside of the U.S., can the Stevens Initiative disburse funds to U.S. partners in order to avoid wire transfer fees?
A: No. Funds to organizations based outside of the U.S. will be disbursed only to the primary applicant.

Q: Can funds be shared with international partner institutions?
A: Yes. The Stevens Initiative issues payment to the grant-receiving organization. That organization can elect to then make payments to contractors or subawardees.

Q: To whom do grantees report over the course of the grant?
A: Grantees report to the Stevens Initiative team at the Aspen Institute, which relays information to other partners (such as the U.S. Department of State) as appropriate.

Q: Do all applicants need to conduct work for the full period of performance window?
A: Applicants are strongly encouraged but not required to work throughout the eligible period of performance. Applicants with extenuating circumstances or questions should contact the Stevens Initiative.

Q: Can Stevens Initiative funding support hiring a new staffer to oversee the project?
A: Yes.

Q: How will the allocated funds be distributed over the period of performance?
A: Stevens Initiative grants are cost-reimbursable, meaning that grantees will submit financial reports outlining work conducted and then receive payment. The pace of payment will be determined before an agreement is signed between the applying organization and the Aspen Institute, but it is generally disbursed quarterly. Advance payments are considered on a case-by-case basis, and if approved, the subrecipient will be expected to submit monthly financial reports to validate their spending.

Q: Can we add expense types or categories in the budget?
A: You may add additional rows to the budget detail section, but you cannot add budget categories to the budget. If you are adding additional rows, make sure the formulas are calculating correctly in each added row and that the budget summary section includes the newly added rows.

Q: How can we account for indirect costs in the budget?
A: Indirect costs should be applied based on your negotiated indirect cost rate agreement (NICRA). If you do not have a NICRA, you can elect the 10% de minimis rate, which uses a Modified Total Direct Cost base (MTDC). The MTDC base means that you cannot collect indirect costs on participant support costs and only up to the first $25,000 of each subaward.

Q: What is the full definition of participant support?
A: Participant support costs are defined here in the Uniform Guidance. The definition is: Participant support costs means direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with conferences, or training projects.

Q: Are there restrictions or recommendations on how much of the overall budget should be dedicated to staff or personnel costs?
A: There are no specific restrictions on how much should be allocated to staff of the prime grantee organization. Considerations, however, must be made to the implementing organizations as well; personnel charges being charged to the implementing organization of the prime organization should be an appropriate representation of the work they will conduct. Charges need to be an accurate reflection of the work that will be completed by the prime grantee.

Q: Is there a limit on the percentage of a given staffer’s level of effort (LOE) in the budget?
A: No. A given staffer’s LOE in the proposed should be an accurate reflection of the work they will do for this specific project.

Q: Is there a cap on the fringe rate we can propose in our budget?
A: No. If an organization has a NICRA that includes a fringe rate, the Stevens Initiative will honor that rate. Organizations that do not have a NICRA should attach documentation as part of the “additional attachments” in their proposal that outlines the applying organization’s fringe policies and how the proposed fringe rate is calculated.

Q: Are costs for an Executive Director allowable since the Stevens Initiative prohibits Presidents/CEOs listed under “personnel”?
A: It may be the case, particularly for smaller organizations, that the Executive Director charges direct work on a project, so the Stevens Initiative can consider an Executive Director listed under “personnel” as appropriate.

Q: Are applicants allowed to include technology hardware costs in requested budgets and what guidance is given about these types of costs?

A: Applicants can propose a reasonable cost for technology hardware (laptops, etc.) that will allow for the program to be carried out. Specific costs should be as specific as possible, broken out (e.g. listing “laptop computers,” and “internet hotspot sticks,” rather than just “technology for participants”), and should be rooted in assessed need rather than written in “as needed.” Also, if laptops (or similar hardware) are purchased, ownership and responsibility for the laptops resides with the applicant and/or partner organizations and cannot become the personal property of the participant.

The Grant

Q: Does the Stevens Initiative offer the possibility of grant renewal for successful grantees?
A: At this time, the Stevens Initiative does not have plans to offer non-competitive renewal opportunities following the end of the period of performance. Grantees are eligible to request new funds through future competitions. The Initiative encourages grantees to plan for other funding sources and strategies to sustain and grow the program beyond the period of Initiative support.

Q: When will applicants be notified that they are receiving a Stevens Initiative grant?
A: The Stevens Initiative aims to make funding decisions by late 2022 and begin negotiating grants in early 2023. The Initiative will publicly announce grant recipients in the spring of 2023.

Q: What should I do if my organization is not eligible to apply for funding, or if our proposal is unsuccessful?

A: Organizations that are not eligible to apply for funding (e.g. not an eligible receiving organization, or the organization’s operating budget is too small) may still be written into applications as partners. A for-profit organization, for example, could potentially provide a service under a contract to an implementing organization that receives a grant. Organizations may also visit the Stevens Initiative’s Ways to Engage page which outlines other opportunities to get involved in Stevens Initiative-supported virtual exchange programs. The Stevens Initiative shares various opportunities to get involved in virtual exchange throughout the year via newsletter and social media. Some of those may be funding opportunities, some are training or other kinds of assistance.

Q: When will the Stevens Initiative open its next award competition?
A: The Stevens Initiative anticipates opening its next award competition in 2024, with proposed work beginning in 2025.