Indirect Cost Rate Monitoring

Indirect cost rates fluctuate each year based on the results of your operations.  If the indirect rate decreases, it could be a sign that your organization is heading to a major cash flow problem to resolve.  Stay on top of your current year’s indirect cost rate to plan and prepare for any changes.  It is similar to your personal yearly tax planning to reduce taxes or prepare for the inevitable tax bill.  Your indirect cost rate is decided each year with the Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (NICRA), which you prepare and submit to your cognizant agency after the closing of the year.  If the indirect cost rate calculated is different from the amount you have been using, you will need to adjust the indirect cost taken for the full prior year plus all months since the end of the year.

The best practice is to monitor your indirect cost rate monthly and quarterly.  As part of your monthly closing process, your organization should be calculating and charging the allowable indirect costs to each grant based on the grant’s restrictions each month and based on year-to-date.  For the most part, organizations calculate this monthly charge using an excel template. The template should be taking year-to-date expenses and properly reducing the direct costs by expenses that are not eligible for indirect costs based on the grant restrictions.  You can insert a calculation in that template, based on the calculation used in the NICRA which takes the totals year-to-date in the spreadsheet and calculates a preliminary rate for the year.

How much does the indirect cost allocated to admin (as a negative charge back) cover the year-to-date admin expenses?  Is it too much, too little? Either one could be an indication of a problem.

The calculation of indirect cost is extremely sensitive, meaning that adding or deleting expenses can make a significant difference.  There are decisions you can make to change the indirect cost rate during the year, such as hiring the admin staff you desperately need.  However, with the indirect cost rate you mostly have to estimate, plan and prepare for an expected outcome – much like tax planning. There is only so much you can do to influence the rate without going against the rules of your grant or creating cash flow problems for your organization.

Without proper planning and preparation, significant cash flow problems may arise if you are required to return funds that you had requested during the prior fiscal year and current year-to-date while using an inflated indirect cost rate.

Action plan

In Search for Balance & Purpose, Part II

So your books are balanced.  In fact, you have supported the major balances in your balance sheet and have traced the activity in your statement of revenues and expenses.  The reports are ready to be published.  Now what?  What is the purpose of these historical reports?

In my first article, I presented my opinion on balance and argued that it is simply a part of a larger process that leads to well-presented reports and financial statements.  In this article, I discuss the purpose and objective of these financial statements.

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In Search for Balance & Purpose, Part I

We are constantly looking for balance in our lives.  Balancing work and family is a popular concern, as is balancing our investments or even balancing our diets.  Can anyone ever claim to have successfully achieved balance in these areas of their lives?  Once we achieve it, can we maintain it? And then, how do we use it?

What about purpose?  Is there a purpose to everything we do, and can we successfully argue that our true purpose is ever-changing?  In this first article of a two-part series, I will give you my opinion on the value of balance in accounting, and in the second article, I will explore the higher purpose of accounting.

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Board Responsibilities and Liabilities

I recently attended the BoardSource Leadership Forum called Governance by Design as an exhibitor.  The classes were created to provide information to CEOs and Board members. I attended with two objectives in mind: My objective as an exhibitor was to meet potential clients. My objective as the treasurer for a non-profit organization was to learn from the classes.

I have attended many other non-profit leadership classes and found that there are a few central themes in regards to becoming or serving as a board member—understanding the responsibilities and risksof being a board member.  Many individuals are asked to join a non-profit board as a favor to a friend, while others look for organizations to lend a hand for a cause they want to support or possibly as a requirement of their job. In this blog, I’ll discuss why board members of non-profit organizations should know their responsibilities and risks before they accept a position. This will allow them to swiftly adjust to their board position and serve the organization accordingly.

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Learn It Here, Apply It Anywhere

When I accepted the job offer from Lumix coming out of college, I was a bit nervous to change industries—my internships were related to politics, media, and outreach. Simply put, none of the outlets I worked at were CPA firms. I quickly realized the skills I would learn here are transferable and that a successful CPA firm has more than just accounting knowledge to offer. To any readers wondering if an industry change could benefit your career and make you a better professional: It absolutely can. If you are willing to adapt and your employer is willing to cultivate talent, dividends will show. I promise.

In a previous blog post, I discussed my development of professional skills while at Lumix. I will use these sharpened skills to improve every endeavor I embark upon. These aren’t skills to put on a resume; rather, they are skills you use togrow and facilitate goal achievement, both personal and professional.

This blog post is about my transferable skills, or skills I could seamlessly apply to another industry. Specifically, what are the most significant and tangible skills I’ve learned here so far?

Needless to say, a growing CPA firm like Lumix would give any young professional the opportunity to learn a collection of applicable skills. As long as you’re willing to learn, the environment and people will make you a better individual, holistically and on paper. These three vital skills I’m developing at Lumix will be applicable to any career:

Taking Care of Clients: Any company can mention on its homepage that clients come first, but in my short time here, I’ve noticed that Lumix’s treatment of clients is based on service, not just support. The client is the director, top-billed actor, and the supporting cast—they run the show, and Lumix helps them succeed every step of the way. I’ve learned how our firm supports clients by providing innovative solutions, adjusting to their deadlines, and staying two steps ahead of problems. Our team moves one way and one way only—toward the clients’ goals.

Being a part of Lumix’s client service is akin to a rookie quarterback learning from Peyton Manning. I know how the best take care of business, so when it’s my turn to step up and take charge, I’ll know exactly what to do.

Learning New Technology: The running joke between our company president and me is that I, a millennial, am fully cognizant of emerging fashion trends, and new cultural shifts. While my youthfulness keeps me connected to pop culture, I still have much to learn about new technology in the workplace. Lumix thrives off the cloud accounting model, which makes client work secure and efficient. When I began my work at Lumix, I had no idea that major accounting work could be performed on the cloud.

Six months later, I am learning how to use Intacct, Expensify, and These apps have expanded my palate for new technology. These apps also help me realize (and appreciate) the fact that even a millennial needs to learn and keep up with new technology in 2014.

Developing a Program: When I started at Lumix, the team did not have a new media program. During my first three months on the job, I quickly learned how to set up the program within a chain of command. We formed detailed workflows, visuals, calendars, and checklists to make sure our social media, blogging, and newsletter tasks are completed and the loop is closed. More importantly, a clear and stratified new media program allows team members to quickly identify where things go wrong; organization makes sure mistakes aren’t made twice.

Now, we are forming a vlogging operation and hope to be among the first CPA firms to further embrace the digital landscape. Vlogging will add another layer to our operation without complicating things. After setting up the new media program at Lumix, adding layers to different facets of my life is no longer challenging. Managing student loans, jiu-jitsu practice, and leisurely writing are no longer time restraints; they’re simply layers I add to my daily ventures.

To observers, a digital CPA firm may be an unlikely outlet to teach its team members transferable skills. From the inside, I’ve learned that many of my tasks cultivate holistic and transferable skills. This had made me a better professional, and just as important, a better student of life.

Jason Patel is the digital media and administrative assistant at Lumix CPAs and Advisors. He is a graduate of the George Washington University and currently studies political management. He is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu player, outdoorsman, and aspiring entrepreneur. You can add him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, or view his profile on LinkedIn.    

Little Fish in a Big Pond: Controlling Your Nerves at a Networking Event

Networking at a big event can be a daunting task, depending on who you ask. For the new guy, it can be quite the obstacle.

Imagine my surprise when my supervisor told me that I, the new digital media assistant, would be attending the CEO Updates/Leading Authorities Association Leadership Awards with our firm’s senior management. Not only was the event’s guest list replete with accomplished professionals, but our firm was also taking its heavy hitters to the venue. I was a little fish in a big pond in a big ocean.

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Sharpen Your Thinking by Jumping Out of an Airplane

When your work team needs you at a crucial juncture, will you be the one to step up? When an opportunity comes calling, will you be in the position to seize the chance?

How do you put yourself in a position to succeed?

Answer: Invest in yourself to sharpen your thinking.

It’s tough out there. The globalized job market has young professionals competing against international competition, and rapidly changing technology has us constantly adapting to the next industry change. Getting better isn’t just a choice; it’s a necessity.

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Dashboard Reports Rotation

Only ten minutes into my call with the board’s treasurer and we had already brought up six different financial reports we could prepare and present at the next board meeting.  Each presented the organization’s achievements and shortfalls from a different perspective, and all presented information important for the board’s awareness and discussion.  But honestly, six reports, in addition to the regular financial statements presented at each meeting is, in my opinion, number saturation.  Particularly because many board members do not enjoy hearing about metrics, financial results, and other numerical values.

In my previous article “4 Fiscally-Responsible Changes You Can Make as a Board Treasurer,” I proposed that at each board meeting the treasurer should present a full set of financial statements and no more than two dashboard reports.  In this article, I propose that the organization prepare five different dashboards and a treasurer’s three-point report and rotate the dashboards at each meeting.  Here are the dashboard reports I have recently recommended to my clients:

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The Journey From College Student to Becoming a Full-Time Professional

For millennials, the transition from college to full-time work is fraught with barriers and roadblocks. The underemployment rate for recent college graduates stands at 46%, so when I received my job offer from Lumix to become its first digital media and administrative assistant, I was grateful (and relieved) to have the privilege of finally calling myself a full-time professional.

Interestingly, this commenced my transition, or more appropriate, my journey, to becoming a consummate professional—a goal I chase and have yet to achieve. Luckily, my supervisors at this firm have taken the time to help me focus on a few professional skills that I needed to develop.  These primary skills, which I fostered when I interned at several outlets in college, were necessary to succeed at a digital CPA firm.

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Aren’t Nonprofits Penalized for Having a Reserve?

This is a question, and many times, a forceful statement I hear at least once a month.  My clients and members of nonprofit boards I belong to have a deep misconception that nonprofits are not allowed to accumulate savings (aka reserves).  Several years ago, I did an extensive search and asked various experts in the field, only to arrive at the same conclusion – nonprofits are not penalized for having savings.  Most importantly, there is no reserve level at which the elusive penalty kicks in.  So why do people hold so firmly to this misconception?   If you’ve ever had a conversation with an inquisitive 6-year-old (the “but why?” loop), you will understand the conversations I have when trying to explain this conundrum.

“But aren’t we supposed to operate at breakeven?”  The term “nonprofit” refers to a legal entity type (corporation), defined by state law, that prohibits the entity from operating at a profit that will benefit an individual or another entity.  Nonprofit corporations do not have owners to which profits can be distributed.  There are also controls at the state and federal level (through IRS regulations) to limit excessive salaries, which could be a form of personal benefit.    The main point is that there is no legal prohibition from operating at a surplus and keeping that surplus within the organization for use in future programs or as a reserve to create financial stability.

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