A subaward is a formal written agreement made between the University of Minnesota and another legal entity (subrecipient) to programmatic activity under a University sponsored project.

See the Subaward Processing Checklist—Department/PIs and the Subaward PI Quick Guide for additional guidance.

Characteristics of a Subaward

  • A defined portion of a sponsored project is assigned to another entity
  • The subrecipient assumes full responsibility, including intellectual leadership, for completing the assigned work
  • Work is generally performed by the subrecipient’s personnel (including graduate students) using their resources (usually at their site)
  • The subrecipient must comply with the terms and conditions of the subaward agreement, including terms flowed down from the University’s sponsor
  • A subrecipient will need to obtain approvals from their IRB or IACUC if human or animal subjects are used in their portion of the work
  • Subrecipient personnel might be a legitimate author or co-author of a paper written about the project
  • An invention might arise from the work performed by the subrecipient

Subrecipient vs. Contractor

It is important to correctly determining whether an entity should be considered a subrecipient or a contractor, so that the appropriate terms and conditions are applied and budget calculations are performed accurately.

A subaward is likely appropriate if you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Does the entity’s scope of work represent an intellectually significant portion of the programmatic effort of the overall project? 
  • Does the entity have responsibility for programmatic decision making? 
  • Could the entity’s work result in intellectual property developed or publishable results (including co-authorship)? 
  • Will the entity need animal and/or human subjects approval for its portion of the work?

Conversely, an entity would be considered a contractor if they provide goods or services within normal business operations to many different purchasers and operates in a competitive environment.

For additional guidance on determining if work conducted by an institution or organization outside of the University should be procured under a subaward or a different mechanism, such as a Contract for Professional Services, see FDP Checklist to Determine Subrecipient or Contractor Classification. Services not requiring a subaward are covered by the financial policy on Purchasing a Professional Service.

Contact your project's SPA grant administrator for additional guidance.