Topic 2: Understanding indirect costs and indirect rates

In this section, we’ll unravel the concepts of indirect costs and indirect rates, shedding light on their significance in budgeting, financial planning, and grant management within NGOs. 

Let’s have a look at an example of Direct Cost Recovery in an NGO:

Let’s go back to our imaginary NGO that provides education to underprivileged children. Suppose your annual budget for running the education program is $100,000. This includes expenses like teacher salaries, classroom materials, utilities, and other direct costs.

Now, you need to raise funds to cover these expenses. You receive donations from individuals, grants from foundations, and maybe some revenue from fundraising events. Your fundraising efforts bring in a total of $120,000.

Here’s how total cost recovery works in this scenario:

  1. Calculating Direct Costs: You start by identifying the direct costs associated with your education program. These are the expenses directly related to delivering the program, such as teacher salaries, books, and classroom supplies. Let’s say these direct costs amount to $90,000.
  2. Covering Direct Costs: With $120,000 in funds raised, you can cover your direct costs of $90,000 and still have $30,000 left over. This $30,000 can be allocated to cover other expenses like administrative costs or saved for future needs.
  3. Budgeting, monitoring and reporting: Throughout the year, you keep track of how the funds are being spent and ensure that they are used for their intended purposes. You provide regular reports to your donors and supporters, showing them how their contributions are making a difference. Bear in mind that you report mostly on your direct costs only for now. 
  4. Planning for Financial Health: With your direct costs covered, you can focus on ensuring the long-term sustainability of your education program. You might explore opportunities for expanding the program to reach more children or improving its quality by investing in teacher training or educational resources. 

By effectively managing your finances and prioritising direct cost recovery, you’re able to create a stable foundation for your NGOs operations and maximise its impact on the community.

Of course this takes good budgeting skills. If you interested in learning more about budgeting, then please register your interest here

Direct cost recovery in NGOs is all about ensuring that the funds raised are sufficient to cover the expenses directly associated with delivering programs or services. Total cost recovery is having enough money for all your costs, direct and indirect. 

It’s essential for the sustainability, transparency, and accountability of NGOs, enabling them to make a more significant impact on the communities they serve.

Remember, as future leaders and changemakers, understanding concepts like cost recovery is crucial for building effective and sustainable organisations that can create positive change in the world. Keep learning, keep growing, and never underestimate the power of making a difference!

If you have any more questions or need further clarification, feel free to ask in the upcoming live session. We are here for you to help you on your journey of learning and discovery!

What is an Indirect Cost Rate?

Imagine you’re still running that amazing NGO focused on providing education to underprivileged children. Now, in addition to the direct costs we discussed earlier—like teacher salaries and classroom materials—you also have other expenses that are essential for running the organisation as a whole. These could include things like rent for your office space, utilities, administrative staff salaries, and accounting services.

These costs are necessary for the overall functioning of your NGO, but they can’t be directly tied to any specific program or service. They’re what we call indirect costs. We also covered this in the previous session, so please skip back if you need a refresher. 

Because it may be impractical to calculate the indirect costs that apply to each programme each time you start a new programme, NGO professionals choose to apply an average indirect cost rate. 

An indirect cost rate is a percentage applied to your organisation’s direct costs to cover these indirect expenses.

Why is Knowing your Indirect Cost Rate Important?

Understanding your NGO’s indirect cost rate is just as crucial as knowing about direct cost recovery. Here’s why:

  1. Financial Sustainability: Just like direct costs, indirect costs are essential for keeping your NGO up and running. By knowing your indirect cost rate, you can ensure that you’re allocating enough funds to cover these overhead expenses and maintain the overall financial health of your organisation.
  2. Budgeting and Planning: When you know how much of your budget needs to be allocated to indirect costs, you can create more accurate budgets and financial plans. This allows you to better anticipate expenses, manage resources efficiently, and make informed decisions about fundraising and program development.
  3. Grant Compliance: Many donors and grant-making organisations require NGOs to include indirect costs in their budget proposals. By understanding your indirect cost rate, you can accurately calculate these costs and ensure compliance with funding requirements.
  4. Transparency and Accountability: Just like with direct cost recovery, being transparent about how you allocate funds—including indirect costs—builds trust and credibility with donors, supporters, and other stakeholders. It shows that you’re responsible stewards of the resources entrusted to you.
  5. Fairness and Equity: Knowing your indirect cost rate allows you to distribute costs fairly across different programs and activities. This ensures that no single program is burdened with a disproportionate share of overhead expenses, promoting equity and sustainability within your organisation.

Finally, an accurate rate protects your organisation from running out of money. 

Calculating your Indirect Cost Rate

So, how do you calculate your NGO’s indirect cost rate? It involves a bit of maths, but don’t worry—I’ll walk you through it step by step!

  1. Identify Your Indirect Costs: Start by making a list of all the indirect expenses your organisation incurs. This could include things like rent, utilities, office supplies, staff salaries, and professional services (like accounting or legal fees).
  2. Calculate Your Total Indirect Costs: Add up all these indirect expenses to get your organisation’s total indirect costs for a specific period, such as a fiscal year. 
  3. 3. Determine Your Total Direct Costs: Just like with direct cost recovery, identify the total direct costs associated with delivering your programs or services. This includes expenses like salaries, materials, and other costs directly tied to your NGOs activities.
  4. Calculate Your Indirect Cost Rate: Divide your total indirect costs by your total direct costs, then multiply the result by 100 to get your indirect cost rate as a percentage. 

Indirect Cost Rate = (Total Indirect Costs / Total Direct Costs) * 100

Example of Indirect Cost Rate Calculation

Let’s go back to our imaginary NGO. Suppose your total indirect costs for the fiscal year amount to $20,000, and your total direct costs (as we calculated earlier) are $90,000.

Using the formula, we can calculate your indirect cost rate:

Indirect Cost Rate = ($20,000 / $90,000) * 100 = 22.22%

So, your NGO’s indirect cost rate is approximately 22.22%.

Understanding indirect cost rates is essential for the financial sustainability, transparency, and accountability of NGOs. By knowing how to calculate and manage these costs, organisations can ensure that they allocate resources effectively, comply with funding requirements, and maintain trust with donors and stakeholders.

Just like with direct cost recovery, mastering the concept of indirect cost rates is another valuable skill for aspiring leaders and changemakers in the nonprofit sector. So, keep learning, keep growing, and keep making a positive impact on the world!