How Do I Value Volunteer Time in a Grant Proposal?

How do you value volunteer time for a grant proposal?

Unless the funder gives different instructions, it is always best to use the guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in Circular A-110. This requires that you value volunteer time at the rate your organization would have to pay someone to do the specific work performed by the volunteer.

Here's the excerpt from that guidance. "Volunteer services furnished by professional and technical personnel, consultants, and other skilled and unskilled labor may be counted as cost sharing or matching if the service is an integral and necessary part of an approved project or program. Rates for volunteer services shall be consistent with those paid for similar work in the recipient's organization. In those instances in which the required skills are not found in the recipient organization, rates shall be consistent with those paid for similar work in the labor market in which the recipient competes for the kind of services involved. In either case, paid fringe benefits that are reasonable, allowable, and allocable may be included in the valuation."

But always read a funder's instructions carefully. Even some federal agencies will provide a figure that must be used for valuing volunteer time.

What type of 501(c)(3) should our new organization become?

My organization is new and our founder wants to have nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. But she would rather not have a board of directors because she wants to maintain control. We realize that in the nonprofit 501(c)(3) status there are two distinct categories charitable organization and private operating foundation. She would rather be set up as a private operating foundation. Is it more difficult for a private operating foundation with a nonprofit 501(c)(3) status to obtain funding from larger foundations? Is there a source that I can go to find out what foundations may provide funding for private operating foundations?

First, this is not legal advice. We encourage you to consult with an attorney who has expertise in this area prior to making any decisions about the organizations structure or desired tax exempt status.

There are two subgroups of 501(c)(3) organizations: private foundations and public charities. Private foundations generally receive their money from one source, such as a business, individual, or family. With their income tax exempt status comes certain responsibilities, including minimum distributions each year.

Within the subgroup of a private foundation is another subgroup of “private operating foundations”. The word “private” does not mean that the control is vested in one person. It means that it is a private foundation that operates its own programs or services. So, rather than distributing grants as a private foundation does, a private operating foundation may meet its required distribution amount by using its money to support its own programs–although it might also award some grants to outside organizations.

All 501(c)(3) organizations have governing Boards of Directors that are responsible for the organization. If your organization becomes a 501(c)(3), it would no longer “belong” to the founder. The organization would also have certain responsibilities in return for its tax exempt status regardless of whether it is a private foundation or a public charity, and governance would lie with the Board of Directors in any case.

Private foundations are generally interested in seeing broad community support, involvement, and investment in the organizations they fund. Public charities that have only the minimal number of Board members, or where the Board members are related to each other and/or the staff, are generally viewed with at least a bit of skepticism.

This IRS website offers more information about private operating foundations (as well as other types of 501(c)(3) organizations):,,id=136358,00.html The organization may also wish to check out the following resources regarding various standards that many nonprofit organizations work to meet: Standards for Charity Accountability: Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector: Independent Sector has some very helpful information available as well:

What is grants management?

What exactly is grants management? Funding sources ask about our plan for grants management and I am not sure what this means. Do I need some specific software? Help!

"Grants management" relates to all of the administrative tasks required to handle the money, reporting, and program implementation in a way that meets generally accepted standards as well as the requirements of the funding source.

You don't necessarily need a software program. The funder wants to know that the accounting and financial systems are in order and can adequately keep track of and report on income and expenditures--it’s great if you’re able to state that your books are audited annually by an independent CPA. The funder wants to know that your organization can handle the required reporting (both fiscal and programmatic) and has a track record of meeting deadlines.

You also need to address how your organization will oversee program implementation. Is strong leadership in place that will ensure the program operates as planned, document progress, and manage it appropriately? Application guidelines usually lay out the information the funder wants to see.

By the way, what one funder calls "grants management" another may call a "management plan." Some funders may expect to see this sort of information presented in the section on “applicant background” or “applicant experience.” Check out The Grantsmanship Center's publications on grant management written by Henry Flood. They're on the Publications for Purchase section of this website, under the RESOURCES section.

How can I recover indirect costs for a federal grant my organization has been awarded?

My organization received a federal grant to provide specific assistance to individuals. All the grant funding goes directly to assist those individuals with payments to prevent eviction from their homes. There is no funding to support staff, supplies, paper clips or other costs of implementing the program. I understand indirect vs. direct costs, and I understand how to put together a budget that delineates direct vs. indirect costs. But, who do I propose this to?

You should communicate with the funding agency's grants management staff about your desire to negotiate an indirect cost rate. Even if you can negotiate that rate now, it may, or may not, be possible to use it for this particular grant since it has already been awarded. IF it is possible, its likely that the total amount of the grant would not change, but rather the direct costs would be decreased in order to cover the indirect costs.

It is strange that there was no allowance in the grant budget to cover staff and other direct program operations. Did the Federal agency not allow other costs? Were the program management costs committed as a required “match” for the government funding? Or did the applicant not think about those costs?

As a matter of course, costs for things such as program staff, supplies, and paper clips would be direct program expenses and not indirect costs. Indirect costs are really those related to operating the entire agency that cannot be directly attributed to any one program. In preparation for future federal grant applications, your organization should proceed with negotiating an indirect cost rate. Then, it can be included in grant proposal budgets if the funding agency allows indirect cost rate reimbursements (within the maximum allowed for a particular grant program).

Your organization should talk to the federal agency from which it now receives funding about negotiating the rate. Also, review the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) circulars relevant to the organization. They can be found on the OMB website

Where can we get training on how to properly evaluate our grant-funded programs?

Our federal grant proposals have been funded and we are looking for training on how to properly evaluate the grant-funded programs.

All grant proposals should include a plan for evaluating the grant-funded program. But, if the proposal did not include an evaluation plan, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Contact the person at the federal agency in charge of your grant program. Most federal agencies have substantial information about evaluating the kind of programs they fund. The federal contact person should be able to give you advice.

2. Discuss your agency’s needs with an expert from a local university who is involved in your field and in program evaluation. This expert may be able to provide guidance, provide training, assist you in evaluating your programs, or refer you to someone more appropriate for the task. If you don’t know who to contact, call the department at the university that relates to your field and ask for a referral.

3. Speak with staff members at other organizations who offer similar services and find out how they evaluate their work.

4. Contact staff at state agencies who are involved in your field and ask if they have suggestions.

Can one federal grant serve as a match for another federal grant?

Can one federal grant serve as a match for another federal grant? Are there basic rules regarding match requirements for federal funds or is it on a case by case basis?
Generally, you cannot use money that originated at the federal level as matching funds for another federal grant program. However, each federal agency grant program has its own rules and regulations. Read the instructions of the funding source and if it is not clear, make a call to the program officer.

Managing the Grant

Everyone is elated! All the planning and research paid off and your organization has been awarded its first grant. Whether it’s a $500,000 grant from the US government or a $10,000 grant from a private foundation, now’s the time to lay essential groundwork to ensure grant funds will be spent and accounted for as required and that program obligations will be met. Welcome to the world of grants management.


Responding to a Funder's Advice

CLASSIC ARTICLES - Your agency submits a grant proposal to a longtime funder and the program officer responds with high praise. There's just one hitch-she also wants you to redefine your mission. What's a board to do? Three experts offer their own advice.