Info You Can Use: Know Your Funding Rights

An event of note to be aware of is that last month the federal Office of Management and Budget said “that when governments hire nonprofits to provide services, those nonprofits legitimately need to incur and be paid for their “indirect costs”—which is government-speak for overhead and administrative expenses.”

According to Chronicle of Philanthropy, non-profits should receive at least 10%, if not more, “of the direct costs of their grant or contract to pay indirect costs.”

Given that non-profits are frequently anxious about revealing their true overhead costs for fear of having it count against them with donors and foundations, this mandate is seen as a victory because it starts to institutionalize the practice of covering those costs.

However, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy story, the enforcement of these rules may depend on the self-advocacy of non-profits.

While the new rules are now the law of the land, the indirect-cost regulations must be interpreted and applied consistently by tens of thousands of individuals in fragmented departments, agencies, and offices at “pass through” entities (usually state and local governments and large nonprofits) that use federal funds to hire nonprofits to provide services in their communities.

The regulations are already in effect, but the multiple levels and layers of government have not learned about or communicated the existence of the new rules, let alone provided consistent training programs, to employees scattered across these pass-through entities.

Making matters worse, there has been no transition time for the thousands of jurisdictions to purge and modernize their outdated statutes and regulations to enable them to comply with the new federal requirements.

Unless we all take concerted action, it’s quite possible that we will slide back to what had been the status quo: inconsistencies in our nation’s archaic, patchwork government-nonprofit grants and contract “system” that have left nonprofits at the mercy of often contradictory policies and practices of disconnected federal, state, and local government departments, agencies, offices, and employees. Arbitrary, unjustifiable caps on indirect costs could remain routine.

The author of the piece, Tim Delaney, chief executive of the National Council of Nonprofits, encourages foundations to lend a hand with this advocacy. He points out that often grant makers end up filling the indirect cost gap that government entities may refuse to cover. Correct practices could mean a savings for grant makers who would no longer need to provide this assistance.

As an arts organization, you may be thinking that you don’t have any government contracts so this doesn’t apply to you. However, notice that these rules apply to pass through agencies which, depending on the program, may include arts councils and other organizations receiving funding from places like the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Council of Non-Profits has put together a guide to help people know their rights and advocate for them. It presents different scenarios where you may be told these new rules don’t apply and how to respond to them.

Two points brought up in the guide that lead me to think these rules apply to state and regional arts councils: One- it doesn’t matter whether it is called a contract or grant or any other term, the rules are based on the substance of the transaction.

Two – Sub-recipient non-profits who are required to acknowledge part of the funding is received from the federal government are covered under these rules.

If you have been required to acknowledge part of the funding is received from the NEA, these new rules are applicable to that program unless specifically excluded by by legislation.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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