Overhead Essentials

If the program is the heart of a nonprofit, overhead is its backbone. Overhead is known as general and administration costs and, in some circles, it includes fundraising as well. Since the definition of overhead may vary, you should be clear on what it means. For example, in government agencies, fundraising is usually not part of overhead, while other entities consider anything besides program costs, overhead.

Overhead rate on grants –Many grantors use “overhead rates” to reimburse nonprofits for administrative costs. This rate, a percentage, is usually calculated based on prior financial numbers and negotiated with grantors. The calculations can be complicated and detailed.

To decrease this complexity, the Federal government pays nonprofits a standard 10% overhead rate on their grants. This means that after reimbursing direct costs, it adds a 10% for overhead. If direct costs are $100, the reimbursement will be $110. This setup may be fine for smaller organizations, but not for larger ones that may negotiate a higher rate. The idea is for the overhead rate to cover costs that cannot be allocated easily to a program, like an electric bill for a building that houses many programs.

This rate should be reviewed every year to make sure that indeed the overhead rate is at least equal to actual overhead costs. If the rate of 10% reflects $100,000, but the actual overhead costs are $120,000, then the organization may need to negotiate a higher rate with the grantor for the next fiscal year.

Overhead requirement on grants and gifts–Another reason overhead is important is that it must be part of every grant proposal or gift. Some nonprofits have funds restricted for certain programs only with nothing much left over for overhead, forcing many to fundraise for overhead mostly. It’s a strange situation where an organization may have money to fund research programs, but cannot pay its phone bill and other basic needs. Quite real and disconcerting situation.

To avoid this issue, nonprofits have started to require a percentage for overhead to be included in the gift or grant or they cannot accept it. I have seen a large nonprofit say no to a large gift because of this issue.

Overhead should NOT be zero –Overhead exists for a reason and if it shows as zero on financial statements or tax forms, you have a problem.  It could be an accounting error in classification or not understanding what overhead is. Whether fundraising is included or not, there should be something allocated to overhead in items like insurance policies, salaries or supplies. Even if all employees are unpaid,  expenses exist that cannot be specifically assigned to a certain program and are part of overhead. While it’s understandable the wish to keep overhead costs low, it’s not realistic to keep it at zero.

The first thing to think about when someone mentions overhead is to understand what it means. That is very important to make sure everyone is talking about the same thing. The overhead definition and calculation may vary among grantors and even government agencies. So, ask questions about it, don’t assume anything and don’t forget about it in proposals.

 

Check out the book”Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide- Second Edition First edition nominated for a McAdam Book Award.

Special Events– Pick up All Costs

 

Planning your next fundraising event? Now it’s the time to consider pesky financial issues that can derail your best efforts. Many fundraisers, focused on the tasks to make the event a success, end up forgetting some crucial activities and costs, such as the items discussed next.
1- Create a Budget for the Event

Be sure to create a budget with all costs way before the event takes place. I have seen an event budget for a gala where the cost of drinks was forgotten. So, it’s easy to miss important items and underestimate the event expenses. A way to avoid this problem is to have someone from accounting or finance department look at the budget numbers. Another way to prevent this issue is for development people to use a template budget form that contains common line items. Not every event is the same, but they usually have many expenses in common.

2- Consider Insurance Issues

Oftentimes events involve certain activities, such as a petting zoo that may require an insurance rider to be sure the event is covered. These riders are usually not expensive, but they are part of the overall costs of an event. Nonprofits can also ask insurance documents from the third-party to be sure all is covered and a rider is not necessary. Be sure to have this cost as part of the template budget form.

3- Look out for Sales Taxes

Many states, such as California, tax specific items within a fundraising event, such as certain auction items. Check your state and other government agencies to verify what is taxed in your jurisdiction. Tax rates may vary by state, county and city, so double-check this issue and consider it in your budget because it can take an unexpected bite of your proceedings. In California, the sales tax rate can be as high as 9.00% +of gross sales.  This tax may change, so double check with your state to make sure you’re OK.  Ask about sales tax waivers, if available.

4- Don’t Forget Overhead

Overhead costs are those that are not directly associated with the event. For example, an event carried on at the premises may involve rent or mortgage, fire insurance, maintenance, utilities and other administrative costs. These expenses are easily ignored because the event organizers don’t have to pay for those; they are often considered to be costs of the organization in general. To account for this “hidden: cost, some nonprofits charge a fee as rent to the event, while others charge a percentage of direct costs. The point is to note all costs associated with the fund-raising event.

5- Don’t Leave Wages out

Wages paid, including any overtime, to employees involved with the event should be part of the event budget, especially when dealing with large events where a lot of time is spent on planning and organizing. For instance, if someone is paid $30K in wages and works three months on an event, about $7,500 ($30,000 x 3/12) should be considered an event cost. Usually, a percentage, such as 20% is added to the gross wages to account for payroll taxes and benefits.

Check out the book “Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide” –– Nominated for the McAdam Book Award