Dani Robbins

Archive for the ‘Organizational Development’ Category

Payroll Pain Points for Nonprofit Leaders

In Leadership, nonprofit executives, Organizational Development on August 14, 2019 at 7:24 pm

There are three payroll-related issues, really labor-related issues, that get nonprofits in trouble. They are: managing interns, exempt versus non-exempt, and contract services versus employees.

Let’s start with contract services. The financial difference between contract services and an employee is whether you pay payroll taxes or not. That’s not the only difference, but that tends to be the primary difference nonprofit leaders consider. It’s cheaper to hire contract service employees because the agency doesn’t have to pay the payroll taxes.

The challenge is that it’s not always legal to hire contract services employees. If you want someone to do direct service, if you want to control where they work, how they work, or the actual (not number of) hours that they work, you’re going to have to put them on the payroll. Contract services staff cannot be controlled in any of those matters. They can’t have a desk, they can’t have office hours (as defined as hours you expect them to be in the office), and you can’t control the work that they do.

You can give them a goal, and let them work towards the goal, but if you want to control how they get that work done, you’re going to have to pay them as an employee. This is also how nonprofits get into trouble with interns.

Nonprofits – and for-profits- primarily get into trouble with interns when trying to use interns to displace actual workers, inaccurately distinguishing unpaid interns from volunteers, or inappropriately classifying paid interns as contract services.  Here is the Department of Labor’s updated fact sheet.

Interns working for nonprofits can either be paid or unpaid, but they can’t be contract services. See the work requirements listed above for why. When you get this wrong, the Department of Labor can come in and require you to pay back taxes for every intern (employee) that was incorrectly classified.

Exempt and Non-Exempt, which actually means the exact opposite of what you think it’s going to mean. Exempt means exempt from the overtime law. Non-exempt means not exempt from the overtime law.

The laws are about job responsibilities and overtime- how people work, the roles they fill, how much control they have over that work (how independently they work) and their minimum salary and supervisory responsibilities. Leaders often confuse this with salary and hourly, and while that’s usually close enough to right, it’s not precisely right. You can still be salary and a non-exempt employee. You can still be hourly and an exempt employee. That’s not generally material to the issue, but it’s true.

The material difference, which is why and how nonprofits confuse it, is whether you’re responsible for paying overtime or not. Overtime is required to be paid for hours that are worked over 40 hours for an hourly non-exempt employee. In other words, vacation, sick time and holidays don’t count. You have to work more than 40 hours in one week to get overtime, but only if you’re non-exempt. As long as I’ve been in the field, nonprofit leaders have been confusing exempt and non-exempt staff and who can serve as which.

The Obama administration’s goal of raising the salary of exempt staff to the lower $50ks further complicated the issue but that didn’t pass and it’s not the law right now. The current law requires a minimum of $455 per week (which is $23,660 and appallingly low, even for us) for exempt staff and still requires you to meet a set of criteria and have independent control over your work. This is scheduled to change on January 1, 2020 when it will go up to $684 per week and $35,568 per year. Direct service program staff, other than some supervisors, generally do not meet the threshold of non-exempt.

Here’s a fact sheet which includes the invitation to “see other fact sheets in this series for more information on the exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, computer and outside sales employees, and for more information on the salary basis requirement.”

When you get non exempt wrong, the Department of Labor can come in and require you to provide back pay for overtime for every employee classified incorrectly.

There are many lessons we have to learn the hard way, but this is not one of them. Do your homework, review your team, assess if people are in the right spots and if they’re not, move them. Better you do it now, than pay the price of doing it later.

What other payroll issues do you see? What have you gotten wrong? Please use the comment box or hit the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

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Discretion and Discernment: A Call to Action on Behalf of Our Young People

In Advocacy, Community Strategy, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Organizational Development on February 24, 2019 at 12:07 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about discernment and discretion in the past few weeks. I’ve been thinking about 9/11, Sandy Hook and Parkland and about the processes we put in place since then. I’ve been mulling what happens in the worst cases and the best cases of our policies being realized.

After Sandy Hook, schools across the country became lockdown facilities, even though Sandy Hook was a locked facility and it didn’t help. We had to do something! Hand wringing, prayers and fear weren’t getting us anywhere and many of us were devastated. Locking the doors was one roadblock we could erect.

After Parkland, many schools put in school resource officers even though Parkland had an officer outside who did nothing AND there’s ample evidence to suggest that the introduction of a school resource officer criminalizes behavior that otherwise would stay at the school level. It’s another roadblock, though I’m not convinced it’s the right roadblock.

We have reporting policies and after 9/11 have “see something say something” policies. We need those policies. We also need discretion and discernment in assessing the information that gets reported.

In an era when we have police officers being dispatched because there’s a random black person in someone’s neighborhood or a college student asleep in the common room of his own dorm, we have to have a conversation about discretion and discernment.

Sensitive content warning:

Many years ago, when I ran a program for school age youth in Texas, I had a young staff member who heard the youngest of three boys in a family use the word blowjob. She immediately decided that that meant that kid was being sexually abused at home and she called Children’s Services.

This is one of those (countless) incidences when where you sit determines where you stand. She was young, right out of college and new to the field. Would a more experienced staff member have read the situation the same way? Would you have?

What happened when Children’s Services showed up at that family’s door? Does a kid with two older brothers using the word blowjob automatically indicate sexual abuse? How could that family prove the absence of child sexual abuse? Children’s Services had to make that call. They have processes in place to help them to do so. It’s an impossible position.

The law requires staff that work with youth be mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse or neglect. We have to report and we should!

But there should also be some discretion on the part of the person who takes the call of asking follow-up questions before they deploy resources.

This is hard. I don’t harbor any illusions that this is not hard. How do you decide from a phone call what’s really a threat and what is not? How do you decide who is in danger or who just has older siblings or was allowed to watch a show that perhaps he shouldn’t have been?

After that incident we added an addendum to our reporting policy that employees should speak with a supervisor before they made such a call. That policy (and the law) was very clear that the final decision was still the employee’s and we would never stop an employee for making that call but we did want to have a conversation around discernment.

Every time we deploy police officers, children service workers or security staff, we disengage the people whom they’re questioning. We put those people in the position of defending themselves, sometimes rightly; sometimes not.

We know that once the door opens to the criminal justice system, it can be a one-way door – especially for families that are already living on the edge.

How do we not get to that door for people who don’t need to walk through it? How do we protect the kids we are entrusted to serve, and hold accountable the people who are trying to hurt them? How do we respect the dignity of visitors and not feed the racism or fear of those who want to decide who “belongs?”

How do we protect our young people – and everyone – by putting in place the right policies to keep us safe, while also protecting people’s dignity and right to be heard? How do we not create spaces where fear breeds and every stranger is a danger?

We have to figure out how to deploy our resources in the right places, for the right reasons and not further alienate those we are also entrusted to serve. We have to build policies to take into account and discern actual harm from rumor, speculation, racism, implicit and explicit bias.

I understand and support the need for locked schools. I believe in roadblocks. We can never 100% protect against a threat but we can put as many roadblocks in place as possible. I support policies that keep people safe.  But I’ve also seen too many incidences of leaders hiding behind a policy that made something worse in an uneducated attempt to respond.

We’re the grown ups and the leaders. We decide what’s safe for our community’s children and what’s not. We decide what’s a reasonable policy and what’s rife for abuse. We assess what will protect us and what will get in the way.  Let’s have the policies, but, please, let’s also have a conversation around discretion and discernment. 

What are your ideas to introduce discretion and discernment?  Have you been successful in your community? What’s your experience creating policies that protect and also discern?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

The Implications of Donor Advised Funds on the Charity You Love

In Community Strategy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Uncategorized on February 6, 2019 at 10:09 pm

Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) were created to be a charitable option for those who have or have received a significant influx of funds. They are touted as a way to democratize philanthropy. DAFs have opened up vehicles for giving to midsize donors in a way that family foundations could not. For the first time, donors with sometimes four but more often five-figure gifts to donate could do so, long term.  Of course, they could always do so short term. 

Despite the DAF commercials you may have seen (Wells Fargo wins for the most appalling), it was always possible to donate a significant gift straight to the nonprofit of your choosing.  What wasn’t available was a long-term option, other than a family foundation, which is expensive to start and has significant compliance obligations.

The introduction of DAFs allow a donor to get an immediate tax deduction, while they – in theory – can research where they want to spend their philanthropic dollars, later.

To be clear, it’s called Donor ADVISED Funds for a reason.  The donor can advise the DAF sponsor on where they want the gift to go.  The DAF sponsor usually sends it to the intended destination but reserves the right not to based on the law, the mission of the recipient organization and the sponsor’s internal policies. For example, your local Jewish Foundation will likely grant your recommendation to send a gift to your local Jewish Community Center, but not likely to your local hate group. 

There are a few requirements of the donor.  DAF funds cannot be used to pay a pledge.  In fact, the donor can‘t receive any benefit from the gift – this is standard for any gift you want to deduct. It’s why you can’t deduct the full cost of the gala you went to last weekend but can deduct the cost of the ticket minus the expenses to the charity.  In the case of DAFs, you can’t buy the ticket with those funds at all, since you received a benefit (gala tickets) for your gift.

DAFs can be named for your family, or whatever or whomever you’d like.  You can name it your initials, or for your dog. That makes it difficult for charities to prospect, thank or steward gifts received from those who have DAFs, or even to know from whom their most recent donation arrived. 

Another challenge for our field is that there’s no requirement that money be given out. There’s also no requirement that the name of the donor be released. In fact, there are rules against their names being released. You read that right: a donor can park significant resources in a donor advised fund, which is then owned by the DAF sponsor, to be given out without attribution to the donor, at the donor’s leisure or not at all.  In all cases, the donor gets an immediate tax benefit.

Actual charities may get nothing. The government definitely gets nothing because it goes in and continues to grow tax free. No taxes get paid. The data  suggests that donor-advised funds have a net negative effect.

The only ones who consistently benefit is the donor and the fund owner, which may not actually be a charity at all, and likely will be a for profit company managing a “nonprofit spin off.”  Here’s the Chronicle’s explanation “Much of the criticism is directed at Fidelity Charitable and other sponsors of donor-advised funds that are nonprofit spinoffs of financial-service firms. These organizations typically pay their for-profit parent to manage the money in the funds, which means they have a financial incentive to accumulate assets and hold onto them.”

How it works is this: A donor sets up a donor advised fund, either at a community foundation, or at a for-profit company that manages “a charitable institution.” The word charity is used in the loosest way, meaning under the law it’s a charity, but in reality it provides no services other than as a vehicle to house funds which will be given out at a later date, maybe. It will generate annual fees for the sponsoring institution, often but not exclusively a for profit entity, in perpetuity.

That’s part of the challenge for the nonprofit field, and the government. DAFs take huge amounts of money out of the economy, and out of the charity designation pot each year that actual charities providing real services may never see. Unlike foundations, there’s no distribution rules. Even the DAFs housed in foundations have no distribution requirement.

In other words, you could sell a business for $100 million today and put some portion of that money in a donor advised fund.  You would get an immediate tax deduction and the donation could sit there … in perpetuity.

Those who are fans of Donor Advised Funds will argue that money is given out.  They say that even more money is given out because of DAFs.  But because most of the giving, the “owning” and the management of donor advised funds is done in secrecy, we don’t really know.

A smaller challenge is that many agencies don’t know how to properly thank donors who send gifts from donor-advised funds.  Because they may not understand that the gift came from a DAF, meaning the deduction has already been granted, they may send a letter with tax deductible language. The donor may not notice when the letter comes in but totally notices when they’re trying to figure out their taxes at the end of the year.

To be clear, there is a fairly significant section of nonprofit leaders who like Donor Advised Funds and many leaders do not care from whom the money comes or by what vehicle it arrives, as long as it comes.  Some will say, and they will be right, that if you know your donors, you know who has a DAF and this is not a problem.  Is that true? Sometimes. 

It’s critical nonprofits know from whom they’re receiving gifts.  There are too many instance of charities taking money from people or companies who later embarrassed them, or publicly compromised their principles or values. If you don’t know, you can’t protect your organization.

Still, some leaders love DAFs.  Of course, leaders of community foundations love them.  Community Foundations are a huge holder of DAFs.  I appreciate that and if you insist on starting one, please consider the community foundation in your area. 

There are even some charities who have started managing DAFs themselves.  Many of the big nonprofits have started their own, often aligned with their organizational values and with a requirement that a portion of the funds go to them. Still, the charities and the community foundations don’t come close to the big companies.

As far as charitable recipients, Fidelity Charitable is at the top, coming in at #1 for the second year running and in the second spot for the five preceding years of charitable data. DAFs are so significantly represented that a full 50% of the top 10 recipients of charitable funds in 2017 are sponsors of funds and not community serving, program providing, (actual) charities.  One is a community foundation. 

The DAF debate is happening at the same time that the field and the world is beginning to challenge status quo of philanthropy. 

The following questions are currently being discussed:

When does being donor focused come at the expense of the mission, clients or community?

Should deductions be tied to community need?

Does the current model of philanthropy promote inequity?

How do nonprofits distinguish themselves in a world of social enterprise?

Does big philanthropy reinforce the inequity it purports to address?

What’s your take on DAFS? Are you asking, and how do you answer the questions listed?  I welcome your feedback, insight and experience.  A rising tide raises all boats.

What is Your Organization’s Theory of Change? What is the Path to Your Goal?

In Community Strategy, Leadership, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on July 21, 2018 at 8:04 am

I have had multiple conversations over the last couple of weeks about how to get there from here. Of course, that all depends on where you want to go AND on how you want to get there. The path matters and you need both. Similar to getting anywhere, there are multiple paths. Say you wanted to go to Chicago – you could fly, drive, bike, walk or take the train. What’s the best way forward, for you, your community, program or organization?

In the nonprofit world, your theory of change is the path to your goal. What is the desired goal? What path will get you to it? Strategy is the selected theory of change; it’s the high-level plan to meet a goal. Anne E Casey defines it in their manual, which if you haven’t read I highly recommend: “A theory of change (TOC) outlines how to create that change. It is an essential part of a successful community transformation effort. This manual, created for the Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative, defines theory of change using Casey’s impact, influence and leverage platform, and shows community advocates how to create their own TOC by showing the relationships between outcomes, assumptions, strategies and results.”

It’s useful at the community level and also at the organizational or even program level. It really comes down to this: What’s the goal? What strategy will you use to get there? How will you know when you do?

What if you wanted to address high school dropout rates?

You could work at the program level: You could talk to kids who graduated and find out what made them successful. You could talk to kids who dropped out and found out why they dropped out. You could shore up, revise, introduce or improve supportive programs in kindergarten, 3rd grade, 6th. and 8th. You could look at early education programs and their impact on HS success.  You could research wrap- around programs.

You could work at the community level:  You could gather school principals and district executives, youth development leaders, funders, and government officials together and agree to coordinate efforts. You could set a community theory of change, sub goals to get there, and team leaders over the sub-goals to make sure you do.  Each group can coordinate their efforts toward the goal and the funders can align grants to provide incentive.

You could work at the policy level:  You could revise academic curricula to ensure every kid is engaged.  You could address suspension rates. You could address discipline, both the way its meted out and by whom.

You could also work to change the law. We allow students to drop out at 16. We don’t have to do that. Sure, it will create a whole host of other issues if we do, but we can – we have power and choices.

The theory of change model is useful for improving process too.

This morning I was on a coaching call – shout out to you, Ken – and we were talking about increasing individual giving. What can you do you increase individual giving? You could ask (or ask more) people for money. You could assess your current practices.  You could steward your current donors better. You could look for new donors. You could move up the lower level donors you have into middle donors. You could engage the middle donors you have into larger donors. You could prospect for more donors. You could say thank you more or engage people better.  You could engage your Board and your team to create a culture of philanthropy.

Each option is a strategy to get to the goal. What’s the goal? How are you going to get there?

In the nonprofit world, the theory of change is usually implemented via a strategic plan, but it doesn’t have to be.  What is does have to be is agreed to by whomever will be working to move it forward, with sub-goals, strategies for each, metrics so you know you get there, assignments and due dates.  Strategy that can’t be assessed is a wish and as the Heath brothers so eloquently put it “hope is not a strategy.”

Where do you start?  You start wherever you are. Get all the people together who are working towards or are impacted by the issue (yes those impacted too- don’t do for people without people), start mapping, talking, wishing and planning. Social Justice is the concerted effort of a group of people to affect change.

You can spend your days putting out fires. You can spend your days addressing the end result of injustice or you can gather your fellow activists, funders, donors, leaders and fight for justice.

What social justice issue are you trying to address and at what level? Have you had the opportunity to set a strategy to reach a goal? What’s your experience setting theories of change?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Does Your Agency Aspire to Social Justice or Charity?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on May 23, 2017 at 11:40 am

The two questions I repeat the most, in both my classes and in my practice, are these: What’s the goal?  Who decides?

What’s the goal?

Is your agency’s goal to be the best food pantry (or any other service providing/safety net charity)? Or is it to address the underlying issues related to food scarcity (or any other complicated, multi-layered critical issue)?  If it’s the former, that’s charity.  If it’s the latter, that’s social justice.

Social Justice is working to change systemic issues. Charity is responding to immediate needs.  As anyone who has ever taken my class or worked in our field will tell you, we need both.  We’re not going to ignore the hungry child in front of us to work for social justice. Yet, we can’t only get food for those who are hungry, because the root causes are what’s causing food scarcity.

Every person who serves a nonprofit has to decide where to plug in. Every staff member. Every researcher. Every leader. Every volunteer. Every donor.

What’s the goal?

Do we keep fishing cats out of the river, or look upstream and deal with whatever or whoever is causing the cats to be in the river? What’s the goal? (It’s a handy question.)

Nonprofit Boards, in concert with their CEO, set the goal. The goal sets the path. (This could be a great generative conversation for a future Board meeting.)

If the goal is to be the best food pantry, and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best food pantry –  unless your goal is social justice, and then you’re on the wrong path. The path supports the work toward the goal.

Maybe you want both?  I always did. I wanted to run the best agency I could, doing good work, meeting our mission, with a well trained, dedicated and talented Board and staff, serving our clients with dignity AND I want to work with my community partners to eliminate the need for my agency.

That means dual goals with dual paths. You can be the best food pantry and also work with community partners to eliminate food scarcity.  Food scarcity, and all systemic issues, is a big scary multi layered bucket of issues that include privilege, implicit bias, legal and policy challenges, poverty elimination, racism, sexism, classism, housing, school funding imbalances, and lots of other things that are hard to tease out and even harder to solve.

Being the best is a go it alone, we have the answers, and we’ll get it done model. It’s a bit more territorial and a lot less collaborative, but it’s not ineffective and sometimes the circumstances call for it.

Am I competing against my partner agencies for funding?  Sometimes I am. Does that mean I can’t also work with them to address the underlying issues in our community. Some will tell you it does.  I’m here to tell you it doesn’t.  Where you sit always determines where you stand.

It’s why your values have to match your agency’s policies and its aspirations?  As I mentioned in Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice “saying you value one thing but actually doing another sends a very inconsistent and confusing message. If we want our teams to live our values, then we have to live them and our policies and systems have to reflect them.”

Who Decides?

You do, collectively and individually. You decide at the agency level.  You decide at the community level. You decide at your leadership level- on your team, in your neighborhood.  Every day.  With every decision. Every donation. Every allocation. Every choice.

There was a great piece on NPR this morning  In Some Rural Counties, Hunger Is Rising, But Food Donations Aren’t looking at just this issue. It’s not just SW Virginia.  There are communities across the country that are discussing systemic issues and setting goals for change in their community.  I’m proud to tell you that several of those cities are in Ohio; Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus have been and continue to have these conversations.

I’m hoping it’s a national trend. Even if it’s not yet a trend that has come to your community, you can still move toward social justice.

We each get to decide if we run our agencies to be the best organization alone or if we work together to eliminate the need for all of our agencies, because we addressed the systemic issue requiring our agencies.  How?

By deciding to be less territorial and more collaborative. Call your partners and other leaders in your community who work on like issues and invite them to discuss the options. Are you ready to set a Theory of Change for your community?  If so, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a great manual on how.

Before you do, you might have to stop being afraid of scarcity and start embracing abundance.  If you’re currently looking at the world and your ability to impact change as a zero sum game –  and it’s how many of us have been trained to think –  I invite you to read Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance.

We can change our corner of the world alone at our desks or we can do it together.  If our goal is social justice, together will get us farther, faster.

What’s your experience standing in the breech between social justice and charity.  Where did you elect to stand? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Advice for Graduating Students Joining the Workforce

In Leadership, Lessons Learned, Organizational Development on May 2, 2017 at 8:13 am

Four not very long years ago, I wrote the post An Open Letter to College Bound Daughters, including My Own, for my step daughter and the thousands of girls like her heading to college. She, they, my current and former students, and many others are now graduating and beginning their journey forward into the workforce.  As such, I offer each of you my experience, wishes and hard won wisdom about applying, interviewing and selecting your next job.

  1. Apply to Anything that Seems Interesting

I read a Harvard Business Review article a few months ago that said men apply to jobs for which they’re 60% qualified, yet women only apply to job for which they’re 100% qualified. If it seems interesting, you meet most of the requirements, you think you could do it AND you want to do it, or at least learn more about it, apply.  You’ll rarely get an interview for a job to which you didn’t apply.

When I graduated, you had to have nice paper, matching envelopes and stamps  – it took work to apply for a job.  Now you just click a button.  It is, literally, free.  Do it!

One caveat:  if it lists a license requirement that you don’t have, don’t bother.  If they say they need a license, they probably do.

  1. Write a Cover Letter

Always write a cover letter. If possible, try to figure out the name of the manager to whom to send it.  If not, you can get away with To Whom It May Concern.  (Do not send it to Dear Sir.  I know they don’t teach that anymore, but in case we have any older graduates, I wanted to include it.) You can send it to Sir or Ma’am, but I wouldn’t.

In your cover letter, tell them to which job you’re applying and why. Summarize your qualifications. Tell them how you meet their requirements and can address their needs. In other words, tie your experience to the job posting.

Include your name and phone number. You never want someone to have to work to figure out what you want or find your contact info. Make it easy. Tell them. At the end, thank them for considering you.

  1. Have an Appropriate Voicemail Message and Email Address; Check your Social Media Names and Posts

Have a professional voicemail message, and a reasonable email address.  I realize that voicemail is passé for your generation and many of you don’t use it, but until you find a job, use it. No one is going to keep calling. They’re going to assume you’re not interested and move on. Record a professional voicemail message and then listen when you get a message. When you do, respond within 24 hours.

I had Youth Gone Wild by Skid Row on my answering machine (yes, not even voicemail, yet) when I got the message inviting me to interview for my first job out of college.  My article Names Withheld to Protect the Guilty is about that executive director; clearly, she wasn’t the best and I did turn out alright, but please, make a better first impression.

Also check your Instagram, Twitter and other social media names and feeds. If you don’t want to be judged by what’s out there, take it down.  As many celebrities and politicians have learned before you, taking it down does not erase it.  Your best bet is avoiding putting anything on social media you don’t want to have to explain to a potential boss, or your mother.

  1. Before the Interview

Do your research. Remind yourself of the job to which you applied. Learn all you can about the interviewer, the position and the agency. Find a way to work into the interview what you’ve learned.

  1. Be Present at the Interview

Put your phone on silent, or explain why it is not. Bring a notebook to take notes, another copy of your resume and a pen.

Ask questions. You have to have questions! If you don’t, the interviewer will assume you’re not interested. Those questions should be specific questions about the position and the expectations. Some examples:

  • What are your expectations of the first 90 days?
  • By what metrics will you be evaluating the position?
  • What are the goals for the agency?  How do the goals for this position roll up under those goals?
  • What’s your management style?
  • What’s the culture of the office?
  • What are the  organization’s values? Is there a story that demonstrates one value? (Fair game, they may ask you about your own values, too.)
  • After one year, what could have I have accomplished that would make you thrilled?
  • (If you’re in the nonprofit sector, it is fair game to ask) How is this position is funded, and for how long?
  • Ask any other relevant question you have.
  1. Things Not to Ask, Say or Do

Do not answer the question of why you want this job with an answer of why you need to live in the city the job is located or why you need a job in general.  The answer needs to be about why you want this job.

Do not ask about anything you should have been able to find, or about the programs in general.

Do not ask about vacation, salary or benefits. The time for those questions is at the second interview, or if it hasn’t been addressed, when you’re offered the job. Is that reasonable? Not especially. Is it factual? Yes.

Also, and I’m embarrassed to tell you this because it’s irrational – especially in the nonprofit field but likely in many other fields as well – you will be applying for jobs for which the salary is not listed. You, literally, will not know what the job pays until the second interview or unless the interviewer deigns to share that interview.  As I said above it’s considered poor form to ask about it until the second interview.  It’s stupid but again, it’s real.

Do not assume that just because you’re not sitting down across a desk the interview is not happening. While you are walking down the hall, if you get invited to lunch, if someone takes you on a tour….  no matter what is happening, the interview is ON! Every one of those people will be reporting back on their impressions of you. It’s not a one-way street, you too should be paying attention to them. Do they seem happy? Do they trash the boss when they’re out of sight?  Do they live the values they purport to hold? Do they seem disgruntled or disengaged? Do you want to work with these people?

  1. Remember the Goal

The point of a phone interview is to be invited to an in person interview. The point of that is to be invited for the final interview. The point of that is to be offered the job.

They want to like you!  Let them.

  1. Trust your Intuitions and Be Clear about Your Intentions

Never go against an uncertain conscience. If you have a bad feeling; a creepy vibe, if the interviewer looks you up and down when you first meet; if you feel something is unethical, inappropriate or just wrong, trust it.  You don’t have to be able to articulate it for it to be real. Pass.

Don’t continue to go on interviews if you’re not interested in the job. If you don’t want to move forward, remove your name from consideration. The first interview is fair game to learn more. Other interviews are less so.

  1. Listen to My Mother, and Likely Yours, too

My mother always said this about interviews: “Stand up straight. Firm hand shake. Look them in the eye.”

You’d be amazed how many people do none of the above.

  1. References

Do not use family for references. The first reference question is usually how do you know the applicant. The answer cannot be, “she’s my niece.” Aunts, mothers, fathers, etc., are not unbiased and your relationship with them is not professional.  When they say references, they mean professional references unless they specifically ask for personal references. If they do, go with a neighbor.

  1. Write a Thank You Note After the Interview

Whether you go with a hand written card or a typed letter is up to you but always write a thank you note, within 24 hours. You can get away with an email for a phone interview.  Say thank you. If you are interested in moving forward, tell them why.  Remind them of why you’re qualified. Thank them for their consideration.

  1. You are Worthy

It’s so easy when you go on job interviews to only think about if they like you. You have to like them, too. It is not a one-way street. They are not doing you a favor.  They are looking for the best person to fill the role they have and you are looking for the best place to land.  Your needs matter, too. Don’t ignore them.

  1. Consider if You Actually Want the Job, then Negotiate

I offer this whether you’re on your first, fifth or tenth job, especially when those jobs come to you: Once you’re done being flattered, you have to actually want to do the job.

If you do, when you receive the job offer, you can ask for a higher salary and possibly additional benefits than they’ve offered.  Do so in a friendly and respectful manner. You can also ask for a day or two to think about it. If you do, confirm when you’ll be back in touch with your answer.

Men often negotiate and women often don’t. This compounds over time. Other than executive jobs, you can’t usually negotiate for additional benefits, though sometimes you can.  You can usually negotiate for additional money. Do.

  1. No Decision is your last Decision

If you take a job and you hate it, find a new job. Life’s too short. If you can stick it out for a year or two, do. If you can’t, get out. Find a new job first if possible.  If isn’t a good fit, learn the lessons and move on. No decision is your last decision.

  1. Be Excited and Afraid

That’s how you should feel about a new job. When I started teaching at OSU, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep through the night-  for months!  If you are not excited and afraid, be worried. The other side applies too – if you’re exhausted just hearing about the job, that’s important information too. Jobs that make you tired before you’ve even been offered them should be avoided.

In summary, go get the job you want! Trust your instincts. Listen to your feelings. Be excited! Be great! Change the World!

What advice would you offer to new graduates? Do you have any interviewing stories to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for posts and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

The Thing About Nonprofit Leadership

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on April 13, 2017 at 9:49 am

One of the honors of my professional life, in addition to leading nonprofits and working toward social justice, is teaching at the Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. The students are so earnest and bright! Every semester, and sometimes every week, a student tells a story and I answer, “that was a leadership decision.”

  • A donor wants to control the programming; that’s a leadership decision.
  • A Board member wants you to co-mingle grant money; that’s a leadership decision- and a teachable moment.
  • A parent challenges a procedure; that’s a leadership decision.

How you react is the difference between an agency that flourishes and one that struggles.

Donors, community leaders and others may want your agency to go in a way that is contrary to your agency’s agreed upon strategic direction. (Saying no to those requests, alone, is worth the investment in a strategic plan.) They may want you to do something with their gift that is against your values. Their values may be contrary to your organizational values. They may not want you to go in the direction that the Board has set.

That is the beauty of a strategic plan. In addition to aligning the work of an agency and getting everyone on the same page working toward the same goals, it allows the CEO to say no. Or, if the opportunity is so fabulous that no is not the right answer, to bring the idea to the Board for their consideration. That, too, is a leadership decision.

It’s easy to say yes. Someone brings you something, you say yes. They go away happy. No, on the other hand, engenders the completely opposite reaction. It’s hard to say no. It’s also critical to your and your agency’s success.

Those are not even, or by a long shot, the only decisions you will make or the only people to whom you will say no. Here’s some more:

  • A funder wants you to apply for a new grant. It’s a lot of money but it’s not exactly what your agency does. Do you say no? (Yes, you do.) Can you? (You can.) Do you follow the money? (No.)
  • A staff member does something that is against the spirit of a policy (or the law) but not technically the letter of that policy (or the law).
  • The Executive Board regularly makes decisions in lieu of the full Board, which very well may be codified in your by-laws. (I recommend that clause is only used in the case of emergency.) That, too, is a leadership decision and while it’s not your decision as the CEO, it’s totally your problem. Fix it.

Your Board members will be as aware of their role as the person who trained them, which may have been no one. If you want your Board to speak with one voice, to understand their role and the expectations of that role, to understand your role, and the responsibilities within each, you will have to train them.

You will get the Board you build; some might say (have said) you will get the Board you deserve. The nonprofit Board structure is an illustration in opposites. CEOs serve at the pleasure of their Board. Our Boards are intended to be representative of the community we serve. We want and need a diverse mix of Board members, with a diverse set of experiences, and a diverse set of skills, who have the time, talent and treasure to help us move our missions forward. It is also true that nonprofit CEOs – many of whom have spent our lives in this field and have advanced degrees, decades of experience working on the issues our agency exits to address, and significant knowledge of board process, nonprofit governance and the law – may be reporting to a group of people who have none of the above.

It’s why building your Board is so critical. You can get a lot done on sheer willpower and many nonprofit CEOs have, but your agency will be unstoppable when your Board is trained to their role and fulfilling that role.

Everyone has different goals and often different priorities. It’s why it’s so important to define both for an agency.

That’s the thing about leadership, whatever you allow, whatever you promote, whatever you support, overtly or implicitly, intentionally or accidentally, you own.

The other thing is this: you also own the decisions the people who report to you make. How you react afterward? That’s all you!

We all know that any day could be the day we quit or get fired. There’s still a job to do – and you’re in the chair. Decide wisely.

What’s your experience with leadership decisions? Do you have a story you can share?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.  A rising tide raises all boats.

Things Nonprofit Boards of Directors Can Do, But Shouldn’t

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development on December 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Serving on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit is an honor and a privilege as well as a job and a liability.  As with any job, there are things that you cannot do because they’re illegal and things that you should not do because they’re inappropriate and/or unethical.

Here is a list of things Board members shouldn’t do, even though, technically, they can.

Pay Yourselves

I had the privilege of co-facilitating a training recently and no less than five representatives of different agencies stood up and asked us follow up questions when we said Board members shouldn’t get paid.

Here are a few of the questions:

“Can we pay them a stipend?”

“Can we give them a gift card?”

“We really can’t pay them?”

Um…no.

It is not illegal to pay Board members, but it is widely considered to be inappropriate in a charitable institution that is soliciting donations from its community. The one exception is when the (paid) executive director has an ex-officio seat on the Board. Other than that, staff shouldn’t be on the Board and the Board shouldn’t be paid.

You can pay mileage to and from the Board meeting and reimburse expenses when Board members are on agency business. You can, but you really shouldn’t, pay Board members for doing the work of the Board of a community agency.

Assign Work to Staff, other than the CEO

Boards have one employee, the CEO.  Every other employee works for that CEO.  The CEO’s role is to lead the staff, support the Board, manage the day to day operations and serve as the face of the organization in the community. It is the CEO’s role to execute the strategic plan in support of the mission and vision of the organization.

It is hard to sit in a Board committee meeting that is staffed by a senior yet non-executive leader of the agency and not assign work to that staff member. Work often gets assigned in such meetings and it likely there is a process in place for the staff member to go back to the CEO and update her on the results of the meeting. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is the Chair of the committee or of the Board directly assigning work to a staff member, outside of a committee or Board meeting and unbeknownst to the CEO.

When Boards choose to not honor the “one employee” rule, and assign work to staff, it quickly becomes very confusing whose instructions take precedence and whom will be held to account. It also plants a seed that challenges the CEO’s legitimacy.  That seed (of dissent) grows and eventually it becomes difficult for the CEO to maintain his or her position, either because they quit, or challenge the Board’s overstep and are fired.

Hire Staff

Since we’re already here, let’s keep going. The only staff Boards should hire is their CEO. All other staff should be hired by that CEO. There will come a time when you do not have a CEO and also have other positions open. It will seem reasonable to try to hire some of those positions in the interim. Resist!

You don’t know what skills your new CEO will have, so it is unlikely you will be able to hire someone to complement those skills. Unless you have organizational values that you will expect your CEO to honor (which you should also be asking about in the CEO search process), you won’t know which values are important to your new CEO and won’t be able to see if the person you want to hire is a match. It is as likely that whomever you hire will not be a good fit for the team already in place and since you know them but don’t directly work with them, you might not be able to assess that.  You want the CEO to build their own team. That may mean you have to let them.

If you must, hire someone as a temporary with the option to stay at the discretion of the new CEO. That sets the tone for both the new person and the new CEO that the Board understands the difference in roles.

Avoid Fund Raising

Boards are tasked with securing the resources of the organization. I’ve heard consultants say that Board don’t have to fund raise, but it is very rarely true. Fund raising is a group effort, led by the leaders.

The CEO cannot raise money alone. The Development Director cannot raise money alone. Fund raising works best in a culture of philanthropy when both the staff and the Board are working together.

The Board’s role is to set the fund raising goal, financially support the agency themselves, embark on the campaign, open doors, introduce staff, “make the ask” when appropriate, pick up the tab for lunch when possible, and thank the donor.

The staff is responsible for training the Board, coordinating the assignments, preparing the askers with relevant donor information, drafting and supplying whatever written information will be left with the donor, including a letter asking for a specific dollar amount, attending the meetings as necessary and documenting the meeting in the database as well as writing the formal thank you note, and then creating a plan to steward the donor.

Unless you are getting all of your money from program fees, and if you are you may have issues with the public support test, fund raising is one of the five roles of the Board.

Do Business with the Agency you Serve

The law allows Board members to “do business” with the agency they serve if it is at “fair market value.” Do not be fooled. This is a case of the law allowing something that it’s likely public opinion will not support. Just because something is allowed does not make it right. It is an enormous conflict of interest and a quick way to get a spot on the front page of the paper for all the wrong reasons.  If you are on the Board, do not do business with the agency you serve.

What things have you seen Boards do that they shouldn’t?  Any advice to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

Do People Understand What Your Agency Does?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Organizational Development on July 25, 2016 at 7:40 am

I have a theory that the vast majority of Americans think there are three to five nonprofits:  One that works on children’s issues. One that works on whatever medical issue has affected their family. One for animals. One that provided the day care where their kids went to pre-school and maybe, maybe one that offers a thrift store, which I just realized may be what they think the agency does, not what funds what the agency does.

Yes, that is a huge, enormous difference.

I was driving with a friend earlier this week. This is the conversation we had:

Friend:  It’s so weird that there is a Party Center right next to a Goodwill.

Me:  Why?

Friend, who I know for a fact regularly donates to Goodwill:  The Party Center is for people who have money to entertain and Goodwill is for the poor.

Me:  Goodwill doesn’t serve the poor. Goodwill is a workforce development agency that employs people who have Developmental Disabilities. The thrift store is how they fund their work. (Please see Goodwill’s actual mission below.)

Friend:  Are you sure?  I don’t think that’s what people think they do.

He’s not even wrong. If he thinks that, lots of other people think that too. Goodwill is one of the largest and most recognizable names in our field. What does that mean for the millions of smaller, less recognizable agencies? It means we have work to do, and an opportunity!

Sometimes people don’t have any idea what we do. They don’t know! Even our partners sometimes find it hard to keep track of our work. I once had a conversation with a program officer of a foundation that funded us. It went like this:

Hey Dani, I ran into your counterpart last week from the Boy & Girls Clubs of – I don’t even remember where but it was someplace that I knew didn’t have a Club, but did have a Big Brothers Big Sisters. I mentioned your name but he didn’t know you.

Me:  I don’t think we have a Club there. Could it have been Big Brothers Big Sisters?

Program Officer: Oh yeah. Probably.

If a program officer who we’d been working with for years couldn’t easily remember the difference between a Big Brother Big Sisters and a Boy & Girls Clubs, no one else will either.

There was a study fifteen years ago or so (I looked but couldn’t find it so I’m going on memory here) that found that the vast majority of Americans could recognize the largest agencies among us but had no idea what they did. United Way – in almost every workplace – 20% recognition. Boys & Girls Clubs – thousands of Clubs across the country and on military basis around the world with our logo behind home plate at every Major League Baseball game, nope. Red Cross working local, nationally and internationally, not so much.  Goodwill, in almost every community, clearly not.

We have got to tell our stories better. How?

First and foremost, we each have to clarify how we communicate what our organizations do? Not the mission, though that too, but every day. What does your website say you do?  Is it obvious? I’m here to tell you that for people who are coming at it cold, it’s not always. Sometimes I have to go to three or more different pages on an organization’s website to figure out what they do – and I work in this field!  For someone who doesn’t, I’m not even sure how they’d figure it out.

Make it easy. Put your mission, a short summary of your work, and its impact on your home page. While you’re at it, make sure there’s a link to your leadership, including the Board, and a donation button. Then, put up some client’s stories. If you work in a field in which confidentiality issues are paramount, or a small town where it will be easy to identify someone, create a compilation story and put an asterisk to explain why it’s a compilation and not an actual story.

Train your people – Board and staff – to have a three sentence explanation of your work.  They should also know your mission.  I do trainings all over and when I do, I invariably ask about the missions represented in the room; many audience members cannot tell me their agency’s – the ones that sent them to hear me speak- mission.  If they don’t know your mission, they’re not moving your mission forward.  (It’s the same with organizational values, but that’s a different blog post.)

My Club’s mission was “to inspire and enable all young people to achieve their full potential as responsible, productive and caring citizens.” We did that by providing “after school and summer programming for school age, primarily at risk, youth.”  Now the youth development field calls it “out of school time”, which is both better and clearer and also shorter.

My local Goodwill’s mission “Transforming the lives of individuals with disabilities and other barriers through pathways to independence and the power of work.”

Mission, programs and work are not the same thing. Mission is why your organization exists. Programs are how you get to your mission. Work is the sum total of your programs and may also include advocacy and awareness. I’m separating them out here because agencies often do a lot of community awareness around their issue but don’t necessarily include that information in their program list, though they certainly could.

When I ran domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers we did a lot of formal and informational advocacy and awareness, and a lot of training of the police and medical workers, but didn’t count either as a program. That was a long time ago so I’m hopeful that is no longer the case.  It was a missed opportunity for us.  It was also one of the things that I believe greatly increased our impact, which is the demonstrated change of your clients and community because of your work.

It starts at your website but it can’t stop there. Your people should be able to explain your work, your programs and their impact.  If they can’t easily explain the impact, or won’t be able to answer follow up questions from whomever they’re talking with, make sure they have a staff member’s name to give out who can.

We often only get one shot to explain what we do. Take your shot. Tell your story. Move forward your mission.

How have you ensured people understand your organization’s work? What have you done? Any advice to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

The Case for Major Donor Cultivation Plans

In Leadership, Organizational Development, Resource Development on June 15, 2016 at 1:35 pm

The Giving USA 2015 numbers are out! $373.3 billion was given to charities in 2015, up 4% from last year. 80 percent of that money was given by individuals or individuals who recently died by way of their bequests. That percentage hasn’t changed as long as I’ve been paying attention to this statistic. “Individual gifts and bequests, on average, equal slightly more than 80% of the charitable donations given in this country each year. Just less than 20% is given by corporations and foundations.

Do organizations take advantage of that knowledge? Some do better than others.” Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising

If you do not currently have a robust individual giving program, I hope you will consider these statistics and introduce one. A robust giving program includes an intentional plan to develop donors at all levels of giving. Perhaps you are currently doing an annual appeal letter. If so, consider adding in person asks of your top donors and calls to your mid level donors. Perhaps you accept donations but aren’t sure how to solicit them. Perhaps you do not currently have 100% Board giving. Perhaps you have some large donors but aren’t sure how to engage them. If any of these apply to your organization, opportunity is knocking!

Major gifts are defined as the top 10% of gifts to an organization and often include gifts from several if not all Board members. It doesn’t matter if your top 10% give $50 or $50,000. If you are a 501 (c) 3 and would like to increase the charitable gifts you receive, a major donor cultivation plan for each of your major donors and every Board member could help. Please click over to read more about how to move a prospect to a donor and how to steward that donor.

Please also note that it is very hard to raise money in any community without the financial support of 100% of the Board. If you do not currently have 100% Board giving, that is the place to start. It is critical to your success. Board members should be cultivated and stewarded like the donors they are, or should be.

Major gifts (from major donors) are one part of a robust resource development planning process.  Resource Development, as a term, is a bit broader than fund raising as it encompasses fund raising, plus friend raising, plus in-kind gifts and the need for each of us to have ambassadors in the community helping us move forward our missions.

Your resource development plan may include events, grants (government, corporate and foundation – remember the latter two are only 20% of national giving), planned as well individual giving in all its forms, including annual campaigns in the form of letters, calls and in person asks of Major Donors, Board and Staff.

I recommend a plan for each Major Donor. I like plans. They allow us to do the work, rather than think about the work. So, write a plan for each of your major donors that maps out your giving request for the year. You don’t want to go to them five times to ask for different stuff, or if you do, you want them to know you’re coming. This is most easily accomplished by asking for what you want on whatever schedule is most comfortable for them, which is likely to be (but may not be) an ask meeting once annually and periodic stewardship check in meetings or calls throughout the year. Donorcentric is the goal. It may not be what is most comfortable for you. (If it was, we’d all get all our money in January and then focus on other things all year, but alas……)

Putting together a major donor cultivation plan will, of course, require you to know your donors, their family, history of giving to your agency and possibly other agencies if you can find it; what they’re passionate about; and your aspirations for their giving, which should be based on their level of engagement and capacity as well as who the right person is to send to ask. In other words, just because someone can give you $50,000, if they have a history of giving you $100, it’s unlikely they’re going to give you $50,000 – unless you greatly increase their level of engagement. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen because of course it does. It’s the difference between a wish and a plan. Both are useful but the latter is more actionable. Bring people into your community, engage them in your work, involve them on a committee, invite them to volunteer in a program: build your relationships! Build a plan for each of them too. Consider this template:

———————————————————————————

Name:  Dani Robbins

Spouse/partners and children’s name and salient details:  Dani elected not to share this publicly.

Occupation and passions: Consultant with the goal of making nonprofits stronger; passionate about women and kids, the disadvantaged, diversity, inclusion and parity, and all underdogs, everywhere.

Giving History: increasing mid-level donations of $100-200 annually for the past three years; occasional attendance at events; also supports the Boys & Girls Clubs, Local Matters, City Year, Dress for Success, and other social service/social justice agencies.

Recent Touch Points: coffee March 2016, call November 2015, lunch July 2015.

Remainder of 2016 plan to check in: weekly e-blasts, lunch in summer, fall coffee, Thanksgiving card, invitation to Holiday (no ask) VIP party

Communication and ask preferences: Dani prefers to be asked for her gifts once a year and likes quarterly check ins and to receive our mailings.  She also follows us on Twitter, can be counted upon to share our news with her network and is connected to several of our staff and Board on LinkedIn.

2016-2017 Engagement Plan: We are planning to ask Dani to teach one of our team members how to write a grant. We also occasionally call her for advice and may ask if she’d like to serve on a committee.

2017 Gift Request: We plan to ask Dani for $250 as follows:  $125 as a year-end gift for general operating, $125 to support summer programming.

Who is the right person to ask Dani (regardless of ego, you always send the person who will get a yes):  Dani is very close to our CEO and Board Members Q, N and R. Any two are likely to be well received.

Future engagement opportunities: We may ascertain Dani’s interest in Board service, once our current Board governance person rolls off. She is also a prospect for our capital campaign and possibly for a planned gift.  As she continues as a donor we hope to grow her gift as she grows her practice, possibly to a legacy society level.

————————————————————————————-

This template is one option among many. I made this up. Use mine. Make up your own. There is no right template. There is only right for you.

Whether you’re a seasoned fund raiser or a new Executive Director, creating plans for your donors is a great way to put all the information in one spot, put the plan in the hands of your development staff or volunteers and get to it!

What’s your experience with major donor cultivation plans? Do you have a template you like and can share?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.  A rising tide raises all boats.

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