A sponsored project proposal is a formal request for financial support from an extramural source. It is also a binding offer of University resources, representing commitments that must be tracked (for example, proposed investigator effort levels, or cash cost sharing). Generally, a proposal consists of a technical section and a budget section.
A pre-proposal (depending on the sponsor, this may also be called a preliminary proposal, white paper, letter of intent or concept paper) is a short description of a project that does not involve a binding commitment of university resources. A pre-proposal may include a total cost estimate but does not typically include a line-item budget, and is not expected to result directly in an award. Note that even when a line-item budget is not being provided, the total estimated project cost presented to the sponsor should factor in F&A (indirect) costs (except in situations where only direct cost totals are requested).
Typically, the purpose of a pre-proposal is to inform and interest the potential sponsor so that the sponsor requests a formal proposal including full technical and budget information. If a sponsor does not require signature of the institutional official on a pre-proposal that does not include a line-item budget, a Northwestern investigator is not required to route the pre-proposal through the University proposal routing process (InfoEd PD).
If a sponsor does require signature of the institutional official on the pre-proposal, a detailed/line item budget will not be required by OSR unless this is being required by the sponsor. Note that presentations of line item or detailed budgets to sponsors in pre-proposals always require institutional endorsement.
At the full proposal stage, a detailed/line item budget should be provided by the department, even if the sponsor does not require one.