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1. The Basics of effort and sponsored projects

What is "effort"? 

Effort is the time you spend on an activity, expressed as a percentage of all the time you spend on your UMASS job duties.

Your UMASS job duties may include:

  • Instruction
  • Administration
  • Research
  • Service as a member of a committee or governance body
  • Outreach to the community

A sponsored project is activity that is funded by a grant, contract, or cooperative agreement under which there is a scope of work, a specific budget, and specified terms and conditions. It requires detailed financial accountability and compliance with the sponsor's terms and conditions. In this course we'll focus on effort associated with sponsored projects and the relationship of that effort to your non-sponsored activities.

What is effort certification?

If you work on a sponsored project, you're required to assure the sponsor that:

  • You did, in fact, devote effort to the project at a level that corresponds with how you were paid from the project, and
  • You've met your commitments of effort to the project, regardless of whether the sponsor provided salary support.

Effort certification is the university's means of providing this assurance to sponsors.

To certify your effort, you'll review a statement that shows:

  • The sources from which you were paid, and
  • Your cost-shared effort on sponsored projects

Your task is to make sure that the statement shows a correct distribution of your effort.

This requires a good understanding of many things, including:

  • Cost-shared effort
  • Commitments to sponsored projects
  • How to classify the things that you do, so you can sort them into buckets for the purpose of determining your effort distribution

In this course, the terms effort certification and effort reporting are used interchangeably.

Effort certification is not an exact science

Don't worry – you don't need to come up with a precise accounting of your time. Sponsors recognize that research, teaching, service, and administration are often inextricably intermingled.Reasonable estimates are all that's expected. But there are some rules you must observe.

Certifying 100% of your UMass effort

If you work on a sponsored project, what's important is the effort on that project in relation to your other effort. This leads us to the first rule: You must certify 100% of your UMass effort.

The next module explains what we mean by UMASS effort, as opposed to non-UMASS effort.

Effort is not based on a 40-hour work week

This is one of the most common misconceptions about effort on sponsored projects. Regardless of your appointment percent or the number of hours you work, your 100% effort equals all the activities for which you are compensated by the university – your total UMass effort.


  • If you have a quarter-time job, your 100% effort corresponds to everything you do for that job. So, for you, 0.25 FTE = 100% UMASS Effort
  • If you work 80 hours a week, your 100% effort corresponds to all the activities for which the UMass compensates you during that time. Here, 80 hours = 100% UMASS effort

This may seem counterintuitive, but it stems from cost accounting anomalies that would arise if 100% effort corresponded to a 40-hour work week and you worked more than 40 hours in a week. For example, let's say you devote 30 hours a week to sponsored projects and 30 hours a week to teaching. Under the traditional "40 hours equals 100%" rule, you're working 150%. If you divide your activity as 75% teaching and 75% sponsored research, then you've carved your 100% effort and related salary into more pie pieces than you have available.

If, alternatively, you were to charge 75% of your salary to sponsored projects and 25% to university funds, your compensation per hour of sponsored research is three times your compensation per hour of teaching. That's a disproportionate charge to sponsored projects because the amount of time spent on each activity was the same. This violates federal regulations that govern how the university charges a sponsor for salary expenses. So, no matter how you slice it, cost accounting standards make it impossible to base effort on a 40-hour week.

Sponsored and non-sponsored activities

If you teach a class and work on a research project, you're probably aware that you can't charge your teaching time to your sponsored project. The time you spend on your research project is sponsored activity. Classroom instruction is an example of a non-sponsored activity. Sometimes it's hard to know whether to classify an activity as sponsored or non-sponsored. For example, mentoring a graduate student is sponsored activity only if the mentoring is specific to a research project. Otherwise, it's instruction – a non-sponsored activity. The federal government is very specific regarding the activities that are allocable to sponsored projects.

This leads us to a second rule: When determining your effort distribution, you must distinguish between activities that are allocable to sponsored projects and those that are not.

The next module provides more details about this.

Putting it all together

The diagram below illustrates the net effect of these two rules. In this diagram:

  • The pie chart represents your UMASS effort – the activities for which you are compensated by the university.
  • This pie is divided into only two pieces: the activities that are allocable to sponsored projects, and those that aren't


Module 1

If you work on multiple sponsored projects, you'll subdivide the sponsored piece into two or more slices – one per project.

In short, effort certification is largely about being able to answer two key questions:

1.      How big is your pie?
2.      What's the relative size of the slices?

Go back to main menu The Basics of Effort Reporting or

Continue to Module 2. UMass Effort and activities that are allocable to sponsored projects

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