Nonprofit organizations frequently enter government contracts. Whether contracting with town, city, state, or federal government entities, nonprofits provide a valuable service to government entities. This mutually beneficial relationship spans many areas of nonprofit work including education, health and human services, the arts, and much more.
However, there are common challenges that nonprofits face once they have contracted with government entities to provide services. We’re not talking about the obvious initial hurdles that nonprofits must overcome to secure contracts, such as winning RFP bids to be on approved vendors lists and so on. No, we are talking about challenges that arise once the contract is signed and work has commenced.
Below are the top three challenges faced by many nonprofits and possible solutions. Perhaps after reading these, you’ll recognize your own work, and the challenges you face, in similar situations. Some of these dovetail with grant management challenges, so read our article on that topic for additional insights.
Challenge 1: Contract rates do not cover administrative costs
This one can make any nonprofit feel a pinch in the pocketbook. Unfortunately, it’s all too common—in one survey conducted by the state of Oregon, 75% of respondents felt this was the number one challenge when dealing with government-based contracts.
Nonprofits need to clearly assess the overall administrative costs of all contracts and add these costs into the contracted amount. What roles will be required to administer, maintain, and support the contract? What are the salary and related costs associated with the administration, and for what duration should the contract cover them?
To address this challenge requires working with your accounting and finance team to accurately assess costs for future contracts and ensure it is written into the contract itself. If you fail to do so, you could find yourself losing margin on future contracts as administrative costs sap whatever margin you intend to make from the account.
Challenge 2: Timelines are unrealistic
This is another challenge frequently encountered by nonprofits—the timelines given to them by the government agency to achieve a stated goal are considered unrealistic. Perhaps the government wishes to see a change of X percent in Y days, but given your knowledge of the issue, that is impossible.
First, ascertain where this time pressure is coming from within the government entity with which you are conducting business. Is it coming from a politician eager to gain votes? Or is it from a time-pressed bureaucrat who simply doesn’t understand the work itself?
It’s important to determine the source of the timeline pressures so you can address them. If it’s coming from people eager to see results (and enhance their standing within the organization) then sitting down with them and helping them to understand why a slower approach may be beneficial is essential. They may agree with you that more time is needed to get better results, which will also reflect well on them.
But do your part as well when negotiating contracts. Oftentimes nonprofits are so eager to secure government contracts that they do a poor job estimating how long it will take to achieve the desired results—or they do not have all the information necessary during contract negotiations to make a sound estimate. Adding some padding to timelines ahead of the project may give you enough grace to successfully achieve the desired outcomes or at least negotiate a longer timeline.
Challenge 3: Burdensome reporting requirements
Red tape, red tape, and more red tape—if you feel like you’re tangled in it, you’re not alone, as many nonprofits in the previously cited Oregon study also felt that reporting requirements were often burdensome.
To make reporting less burdensome, keep good records along the way. Using a cloud-based fund accounting system can make the financial reporting easier, for example, as it can directly chart expenses and revenues to specific budget lines.
Some nonprofits find that having a staff member on the team dedicated to the government contract and solely responsible for reporting requirements takes the burden off the rest of the team, enabling them to deliver services without worrying about completing the proper reports You may wish to plan on a portion of a team member’s time for this function for your next government contract to avoid the feeling of always working on reports, rather than the delivery services for which your organization has been contracted.
Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact us for more information.