Paying what it takes report

For years, funders in Australia have been reluctant to fully fund overhead costs. Low overhead rates are paid when funding various not-for-profit organisations, regardless of their actual needs. This leaves a sector starved of basic infrastructure ­– the infrastructure needed to run programs, help beneficiaries and deliver meaningful outcomes.

This report was written in collaboration with the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy Australia

About the report

Most funders in Australia do not provide funds for not-for-profit indirect costs, leading to lower capability and effectiveness across the sector.

The Paying What It Takes report by Social Ventures Australia (SVA) and the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) has shown that not-for-profits are underinvesting in critical capabilities, due to a pervasive belief that funders are reluctant to provide the full financial support needed to create impact. Solving this issue requires substantial shifts across not-for-profits, philanthropy, government, the public and the media to ask the question – are we paying what it takes?

Indirect costs to Australia

Indirect costs, or overhead costs, are a fraught topic in the not-for-profit world. Many people across philanthropy, government, the public and the media all expect them to be minimised, or not to pay for them at all. Yet they are essential to running a functioning, effective organisation.

In the context of a struggling not-for-profit sector, this is a crucial issue to ensure the long-term effectiveness of Australia’s charities. US research has shown that one of the key drivers of not-for-profit vulnerability is insufficient funding of indirect costs. This is called the ‘non-profit starvation cycle’, which starts with funders’ inaccurate expectations of the true costs needed to run not-for-profits. These expectations lead not-for-profits to underreport their costs to funders. In the end, they lead to a sector starved of the necessary core funding required to create resilient charities delivering long-term impact on complex social issues.