In some cases it is possible to establish a grant account (a.k.a. Master File Key, or MFK) before an official award has been processed. Those with reason to believe a project will soon be funded may submit an Advance Master File Key Request, seeking an advance account to purchase items before the actual project start date, receipt of the fully signed sub/contract, or receipt of the notice of grant award.
Note, however, that an advance account is possible only in certain cases, when specific criteria are met. You must, for instance, present compelling evidence that the project will be funded and know the official project start date. In addition, the funding must be coming from a sponsor that permits advanced spending. Note that, while federal agencies often allow advance spending, private-sector entities rarely do.
You must also have all applicable compliance issues approved (IRB, IACUC, eCOI, Export Control) before an advance MFK may be issued.
There is, however, always some degree of risk in establishing an account in the absence of a formal award notice/agreement. In signing the request for an advance account, the investigator's department is assuming any financial liability that may result, should the grant or contract, for whatever reason, not be awarded after all.
Provided all criteria are met and risks are assumed, advance accounts can usually be established within a few days.
For information about a particular sponsor's guidelines for advanced spending on a grant or contract, contact the corresponding agency specialist in DSP.