Sponsored Award vs. Gift

The distinction between a gift and a sponsored award (grant or contract) is not always clear, but it is always important to make this determination.

Determination of whether funds given to an investigator represent a gift of a sponsored award requires consideration of many factors, including but not limited to:

  • the mission of and potential benefit received by the funder
  • the value exchanged
  • the project scope of work
  • whether there are any defined activities and, if so, their nature and the specificity with which they are defined
  • the terms of accountability for use of funds and deliverables
  • the ability of the funder to recoup the disbursed funds or to obtain a refund of unused funds.

The information below is provided to assist in determining if funds given to an investigator represent a gift or a sponsored award. Please note that when it is not readily apparent whether funding constitutes a gift or a sponsored award, Central Post-Award will review the documentation and make a final determination which classification is most appropriate. As of May 1, 2018, the determination is issued via Sponsored Award or Gift Determination Checklist that is issued by Post-Award staff that have signature authority. To request a determination, please email postaward@tufts.edu

Generally speaking, a gift is a voluntary, non-reciprocal transfer of money or property from a donor. The donor may be an individual, a corporation, or a non-profit organization. The donor does not expect anything of value in return other than recognition, and does not have control over expenditures. A gift may meet the interests of the donor and can be restricted or unrestricted. A restricted gift is a contribution designated for a specific purpose, program, or project. If the donor does not specify any restrictions, the gift is unrestricted and Tufts allocates the funds at its own discretion.

University Advancement and Corporate and Foundation Relations (CFR) are the only offices able to accept gifts on behalf of Tufts University. Gifts accounts are opened by the Budget Center via Advancement and CFR and are assigned DeptID accounts.

A sponsored award (a category including grants and contracts) is the transfer of funds from a sponsor to an institution to carry out specific activities that align with sponsor’s mission or interests. Sponsors typically provide such funding on the basis of a specific project or research plan and budget, for a specified period of time, with funds unused at the expiration of the time period often reverting to the sponsor. Central Pre-Award accepts sponsored awards on behalf of Tufts University. Sponsored accounts are then opened by Post-Award and assigned award account numbers.

Any funding provided by U.S. Government agencies, at the federal, state, or local level, in support of Tufts University activities is treated as a sponsored award and not a gift. Similarly, funding from voluntary health organizations or associations, such as the American Cancer Society or American Heart Association, is usually treated as a sponsored award and not as a gift.



  • Sponsored Award: Represents an “exchange transaction” in which each party receives commensurate value
  • Gift: Represents a “contribution,” an unconditional transfer of cash which is voluntary and non-reciprocal


  • Sponsored Award: Usually has reporting requirements or specific restrictions on how the funds can be spent
  • Gift: No reporting, No restrictions

Time Period

  • Sponsored Award: Usually has a specified time period over which the work will be done (a start date and an end date)
  • Gift: No specific time period


  • Sponsored Award: Often requests that unused funds must be returned to the awarding agency /foundation /corporation
  • Gift: Usually all the funds are received upfront. Tufts is given unconditional rights to the funds and unspent funds do not need to be returned to the sponsor

Key Offices


Central Pre-Award

Central Pre-Award

Central Pre-Award provides mandatory review, approval and submission for sponsored funding.

Central Post-Award

Central Post-Award

Post-Award provides financial oversight of all sponsored award activities from set up to closeout, and is part of the Finance Division, office of the Controller.