UW-Madison Guidance for Hosting Meetings/Conferences on Sponsored Projects

Updated: June 29th, 2023

An important consideration for meetings and conferences hosted by UW-Madison is the source of funds being used to pay for the event. If sponsored project funds are being considered to support a meeting or conference that UW-Madison is hosting, faculty and staff must remember that agencies may restrict use of their funds to pay for meeting or conference-related expenses.

When the Uniform Guidance was implemented on 12/26/2014, it contained updated guidance on conferences. The updated guidance specifies that a conference's "primary purpose is the dissemination of technical information beyond the non-Federal entity and is necessary and reasonable for successful performance under the Federal award." (emphasis added) ("Non-Federal entity" refers to UW-Madison.) Several agencies also have updated their guidance documents to clarify limitations placed on meeting or conference expenses. A handful of examples are listed in the table below. Please contact the RSP accountant for your award with any questions.

Examples of Agency Policies on Meeting/Conference Expenses (NOT a comprehensive list)

Agency/Guidance Document (Date) Relevant Term
Dept. of Education (This guidance is from an individual award document, not from terms & conditions published online.) Some excerpts on conferences and meetings from a Dept. of Education award document include:
  • Before deciding to use grant funds to attend or host a meeting or conference, a grantee should ensure that attending or hosting a conference or meeting is consistent with its approved application and is reasonable and necessary to achieve the goals and objectives of the grant.
  • A grantee hosting a meeting or conference may not use grant funds to pay for food for conference attendees unless doing so is necessary to accomplish legitimate meeting or conference business.
  • Grantees are strongly encouraged to contact their project officer with any questions or concerns about whether using grant funds for a meeting or conference is allowable prior to committing grant funds for such purposes. A short conversation could help avoid a costly and embarrassing mistake.
Dept. of Energy/Special Terms and Conditions for Use in Most Grants and Cooperative Agreements
(February 2015)
  • The recipient shall not expend any funds on a conference not directly and programmatically related to the purpose for which the grant or cooperative agreement was awarded that would defray the cost to the United States Government of a conference held by any Executive branch department, agency, board, commission, or office for which the cost to the United States Government would otherwise exceed $20,000, thereby circumventing the required notification by the head of any such Executive Branch department, agency, board, commission, or office to the Inspector General (or senior ethics official for any entity without an Inspector General), of the date, location, and number of employees attending such conference.
EPA/EPA General Terms and Conditions
#20. Light Refreshments and/or Meals:
  • The recipient must obtain prior approvals from EPA for use of grant funds for light refreshments and/or meals served at meetings, conferences, training workshops and outreach activities (events)...Agency policy prohibits the use of EPA funds for receptions, banquets and similar activities that take place after normal business hours unless the recipient has provided a justification that has been expressly approved by EPA's Award Office or Grants Management Officer...
NIH/NIH Grants Policy Statement
7.9.1 Selected Items of Cost, Meals:
  • Allowable for subjects and patients under study, or where specifically approved as part of the project activity, provided that such charges are not duplicated in participants' per diem or subsistence allowances, if any.
  • When certain meals are an integral and necessary part of a meeting or conference (i.e., a working meal where business is transacted), grant funds may be used for such meals only when consistent with terms of award.
  • The cost of meals served at a meeting or conference, for which the primary purpose is the dissemination of technical information, is no longer allowable on NIH grants where the primary purpose of the grant is to support a conference or meeting (see also Support of Scientific Meetings (Conference Grants) Section 14.10.1). However, when such a meeting/conference is an ancillary effort under a grant where the primary purpose is other than to support such a meeting/conference, then the cost of meals would be allowable. When allowable as a direct charge, the cost of any meal must meet a test of reasonableness. However, recurring business meetings, such as staff meetings, should not be broadly considered as meetings for the primary purpose of disseminating technical information in order to justify charging meals or refreshment to costs to grants.
NSF/NSF Grant Proposal Guide
II.C.2.g.xii(b) Meals and Coffee Breaks:
  • No funds may be requested for meals or coffee breaks for intramural meetings of an organization or any of its components, including laboratories, departments, and centers...
Office of Naval Research/Office of Naval Research Terms and Conditions
February 2015
#25. Food and Beverage:
  • ONR Funds shall not be used to pay for food or beverages.
USDA/NIFA/National Institute of Food and Agriculture General Terms and Conditions, Grants and Cooperative Agreements, Effective December 26, 2014 IX. ALLOWABLE COSTS/Meals:
  • Meals are allowable when they are part of the cost of meetings and conferences, the primary purpose of which is the dissemination of technical information (in such instances the cost of transportation, rental of facilities, speakers' fees, and other items incidental to such meetings or conferences are also allowable). On the other hand, business meals may not be charged as project costs when individuals decide to go to breakfast, lunch, or dinner together when no need exists for continuity of a meeting. Such activity is considered to be an entertainment cost. Note: Meals consumed while in official travel status do not fall in this category. They are considered to be per diem expenses and should be reimbursed in accordance with the organization's established travel policies subject to statutory limitations.

UW-Madison's policies and procedures related to meetings and conferences are available on the Division of Business Services' website.