Does NIH Money Come with No Strings Attached? by Julie Assel, GPC


All National Institutes of Health (NIH) money is awarded in response to proposals describing projects principle investigators (PIs) want to conduct. These projects must align to the mission of the National Institute of Health, “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.” Most are research projects investigating prevention or intervention for a particular disease.

The NIH has 27 institutes and centers which focus on specific diseases or systems in the body. Individuals and teams of researchers apply to these institutes by writing a proposal describing their hypothesis and the research studies they want to conduct to investigate that hypothesis. When funding is awarded to these researchers, it is to conduct the research described in the proposal.

Technically, if something unexpected is discovered during the research process, PIs can notify their NIH program officer to receive permission to use the funding differently than was originally described at the end of the grant period, or potentially during the grant period if it is a multi-year grant, The PI must report back the NIH describing the results of the research and how the funding was spent. If a researcher did not spend the money as originally described and did not ask for a change from the NIH, the NIH may require the money be repaid. In addition, they may not be eligible to apply for funding in the future. Much like foundation funding, alignment to the funder’s priorities, a quality project, and a solid implementation plan are the keys to increasing the chance of future funding success.

GPC Competency 1: Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs.  Skill 6: Identify fundable programs and projects for specific organizations.