Allowable vs. Unallowable Costs

The types of costs you are allowed to include in your request for funding will depend on the sponsor. Costs allowable under a federal grant are determined by federal regulations. Costs allowable under private foundation and industry grants vary.

Some of the standard unallowable costs include:

  • Alumni Activities
  • Commencement Costs
  • Fundraising Costs
  • Lobbying Costs
  • Public Relations Costs
  • Donations
  • Entertainment
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Individual Memberships
  • Memorabilia
  • Advertising Costs

Understanding Direct Costs and Indirect Costs

When preparing your budget, you will need to differentiate between direct costs and facilities and administrative (F & A) costs. Most sponsors have guidelines regarding the percentage of F & A costs they will allow you to include in your request for funding. Following are general definitions of direct costs and facilities and administrative costs:

Direct Costs are those that can be directly identified with a particular sponsored project. Items such as salaries and wages, fringe benefits, consultants, equipment, materials and supplies, travel, printing and duplicating, animal purchases and animal care costs, and contractual expenses can be identified as direct costs.

Indirect Costs are those costs that are incurred for common or joint objectives of the institution and, therefore, cannot be directly identified with a sponsor project. Such costs may include the following:

  • General administration such as accounting, human resources and payroll
  • Grants administration
  • Department administration, such as deans, department chairs and their staffs, and general departmental expenses, such as local telephone, postage and office supplies
  • Facilities and maintenance, including utilities, janitorial services, routine maintenance and repairs
  • Libraries

For details on determining which facilities and administrative cost rate to use in your proposal budget see Determining Costs. See also, the Quick Info page for current rates.

Keep the following guidelines in mind when determining whether a cost is a direct or indirect cost:

Identification with the sponsored project rather than the nature of the goods and services involved is the determining factor in distinguishing direct from facilities and administrative costs.

Similar costs incurred in like circumstances must be consistently treated as either direct or facilities and administrative costs across all functions or activities of the institution, unless special or unlike circumstances exist. For example, phone services are normally considered part of facilities and administrative costs. However, if the project you propose includes long distance calls, these expenses could be identified specifically with your particular sponsored project and would fall outside standard phone services. In similar circumstances, the University treats long distance as direct costs. Therefore, long distance charges would be included in the direct costs for your project.

Sponsored Programs
Administration (SPA)

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2507 University Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50311
Fax: 515-271-4067
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