Nonprofit 411: Four Reasons Nonprofits Should Be Especially Careful About Intellectual Property

Nonprofit 411 Tennant Lubellby Ellen Lubell, Tennant Lubell, LLC

If “intellectual property” only conjures up images of trade wars and monkeys taking selfies, it’s time to think again. Intellectual property or “IP” is relevant to all of us and should be a concern to your nonprofit.

The website you launch, the software you develop, the logo you design, and the photos you download all involve IP. When using them or permitting them to be used by others, the stakes may be higher than you think.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property refers to the original creations of authors, designers, artists and scientists that are protected in the United States by copyright, trademark and patent law.

Copyright law gives the creator of a work such as a software program the exclusive right to control its copying and distribution. Trademark law gives a company that develops a catchy new logo the right to control copying and use of the logo. Patent law gives the inventor of technology such as solar panels the exclusive right to control their manufacture and sale.

IP laws are intended to encourage development and dissemination of new works for the good of society by granting, for a designated period of time, exclusive rights to the creator. To assure that the exclusive rights are protected, IP laws impose penalties for others using the works without authorization.

IP laws apply equally to for-profits and nonprofits. Both can protect their own IP and permit others to use it, and both need to obtain authorization to use IP owned by others.

So why should your nonprofit be especially careful about use of intellectual property?    

  1. To avoid “private benefit” — As a tax-exempt organization, your resources must be used to advance your mission. If you use them to benefit anyone or anything other than your mission (more than just incidentally), this may be considered “private benefit” and may jeopardize your exempt status.

Your IP may be among your most valuable assets. If you decide to permit others to use your IP, be certain you are getting full value for that use, taking into account the amount of time and resources you expended to develop it when assessing its value. Avoiding private benefit makes good financial sense and will keep you in legal compliance.

  1. To comply with funder restrictions or requirements – If you created IP using grant funding, don’t assume that you can do whatever you like with it. You will need to review the terms of your grant to determine what your funder permits and, if additional uses are permitted, whether any acknowledgments or disclaimers are required. If you hire subcontractors for grant-funded projects, be sure their subcontracts reflect funders’ requirements on ownership and use of IP developed for the projects.
  1. To maintain good relations with volunteers and others with whom you work on an informal basis — Informality is essential to the operations of many nonprofits, but when it comes to intellectual property, formalities such as written agreements are generally required. Nonprofits often feel that they need to keep things “loose” and “friendly,” but losing rights to IP you’ve paid for, or getting into a dispute over the use of IP can damage relationships.
  1. Because your reputation is valuable – Whether you permit someone to use your IP or you use IP owned by someone else, make sure the intended use is authorized in writing. Your use of others’ IP without permission can risk the loss of trust or an infringement lawsuit, and misuse of your IP by others can put your reputation at risk.

Importantly, before you allow for-profit companies to use your organization’s name–your trademark–for a charitable sales promotion or co-venture, you should consider the risks carefully. Your name embodies the reputation you’ve spent years cultivating, which is why companies may wish to use it. Consider how costly it would be if your name were to become embroiled in a controversy over which you have no control, for example involving the companies’ products or financial improprieties.

Nonprofits should be knowledgeable when it comes to business issues, including protection and use of intellectual property. Stay informed on the rules and seek legal advice if you’re unsure. 

Ellen Lubell, Tennant Lubell, LLC, elubell@tlllawgroup.com, 617-969-9610

Nonprofit 411: 8 Tips for IT Security

Nonprofit 411 Tech Networks

by Ashley Fontes, Communications Manager, Tech Networks of Boston

Security is a big issue in our everyday lives and you need to make sure your employees, data, and organization are protected.  Cybint News states, “43 percent of cyber-attacks target small businesses, 64% of companies have experienced web-based attacks, and 62% experienced phishing & social engineering attacks.” These statistics are alarming. Cybercrime will continue to evolve because cybersecurity products and solutions simply can’t keep up.

Many nonprofits may think that they are not large enough to be a target but being smaller in size is one of the things that makes your organization more appealing to cybercriminals. Nonprofits and schools usually have fewer IT staff and resources, making your organization particularly vulnerable. Nonprofit technology staff frequently juggle responsibilities to keep the organization’s systems running, which often means that you and your coworkers have less time to focus on security.

We’ve compiled 8 IT security tips to protect your data:

  1. Avoid phishing scams. Here’s a not-so-fun fact – your email filters have a 10.5-15 percent failure rate.  You can avoid phishing scams by practicing the motto, “think before you click”.  Always check that you recognize the sender and domain by hovering over hyperlinks before clicking.  Never open attachments from an unknown source and always contact the person via phone if something seems unusual.  You can also configure rulesin your company’s email system to provide visual cues to your employees about email safety with external sender notifications. Office 365 also offers advanced threat protection for E1 and E3 plans at a discounted price through Microsoft’s donation plan.

Employees are the first line of defense from cybercriminals and are more important than any firewall.  Implementing a security awareness training program at your organization is critical to your IT security strategy. This should include ongoing training and it should be part of your new employee onboarding process. Tech Networks of Boston offers free phishing tests for your employees, which can be a fun way to test their knowledge.

  1. Practice ’think before you click’ when browsing the web. Avoid visiting unknown websites and always make sure the site is protected with HTTPS when submitting sensitive data.  The ‘s’ in HTTPS stands for ‘secure’ and it means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.  Make sure to never download software from untrusted sources.  Sites that advertise free content such as TV shows, live-streaming, or free software are big red flags and may contain malware. We’ve written more about this here.
  2. Utilize anti-virus or anti-malware programs. Anti-virus software helps to protect your computer by recognizing viruses that can harm your computer by deleting them.  Anti-malware is software that defends against all malware including viruses, worms, spyware, Trojan horses, and other unwanted invaders that can harm your computer.
  3. Keep all software up to date. Microsoft releases hundreds of security patches for computers and servers each month. Always follow best practices for patching and ensure that your devices have the proper updates installed.  If you currently work with a MSP, take advantage of their server and workstation patching services to keep your data safe.
  4. Secure your devices. Always use a passcode on a phone or tablet so that no one can gain access while you’re not using it. For desktop or laptops, make sure you lock your screen or shut down the system when it’s not in use.  If you keep sensitive information on an external hard drive or flash drive, keep them password protected.
  5. Protect all sensitive data. Use encryption when storing or sending sensitive data via email.  Delete sensitive data files from your devices when you no longer need them; this includes keeping social security numbers, credit card information, and healthcare documents removed from your devices. This will be especially important if you were ever victim of a ransomware attack where hackers lock your data and infiltrate your system.
  6. Back up your data on a regular basis and keep it secured. If you are a victim of a security incident, this will allow you to retain your data.  Backups for your entire network infrastructure are crucial and you can enlist the help of a MSP to choose the right solution.  This is also relevant for websites, tablets, phones, and computers. We’ve written more about the ways you can avoid network failures and manage risk here.
  7. Practice secure password management. A strong password should look like a series of random characters and there are some best practices that you should follow when creating them.  While you can use secure password generators online, here are a few simple steps to creating your own secure password:
  • Step 1: Think of a sentence or phrase with at least 8 words that you can easily remember but is hard for someone else to guess. This phrase could be a line from your favorite movie, a quote that you like, or song lyric that always gets stuck in your head.
  • Step 2: Take the first letter of each word in your phrase.
  • Step 3: Capitalize some of the letters at random and leave the rest lower case.
  • Step 4: Now, substitute a number for at least one of the letters, and substitute two more letters with special characters such as an exclamation mark, asterisk, or ampersand.

Example: “You can dance if you want to you can leave your friends behind” becomes Y&d!YwtYc1Yf6

As you know, you should never share your passwords or write them down. We recommend using a password manager on your computer or phone and always having a passcode or password lock on your devices.

We’ve also created a handy document of cybersecurity terms you need to know to stay informed.

Do you have any tips we haven’t mentioned? We’d like to hear yours! Get in touch with us here.

Nonprofit 411: Useful Techniques for Search Engines and Online Databases

Nonprofit 411 MagnusBy Roger Magnus, Roger Magnus Research

Nonprofit workers regularly utilize web search engines and online databases to inform decisions about programming, prepare grant applications, and to achieve many other goals. For these tools, there are many different—and often unknown— ways to search depending on what search features a search engine or online database contains and how they are phrased. One must look at the “Help” menus of each tool to determine the available techniques, and many of these can be combined with others.

Here is a list of quick techniques that nonprofits can start using today to more effectively and efficiently utilize search engines and online databases:

Quotes – Use “ ” for terms with several words to search as a phrase. Without these quotation marks, many websites and databases will search for document hits for each term listed.

  • Example: “Massachusetts business” – returns the exact phrase ONLY

Boolean Searching – Use connectors such as AND, OR, NOT between search terms to narrow or broaden list of results.

  • Business AND Massachusetts – both business and Massachusetts appear in any relevant document
  • Business OR Massachusetts – either business or Massachusetts or both appear in any relevant document
  • Business NOT Massachusetts – business excluding Massachusetts appears in any relevant document

Nested search – There is an order of operations with connectors. Depending on the database or web search engine, AND is usually of higher order than OR or NOT. Use parentheses to search terms correctly or you may not get the results you expect.

  • Massachusetts OR Connecticut AND business – Will retrieve documents with either the term Massachusetts or the terms Connecticut and business together. These concepts are NOT parallel and not likely desired.
  • (Massachusetts OR Connecticut) AND business – Will retrieve documents about Massachusetts and business and/or Connecticut or business. There could be some good articles comparing business in both states.

Proximity Searching – Use connectors such as Within (W) or Near – One term W X (sequence dependent) or Near X (to sequence dependent) number of words of another. These search terms are both more refined versions of AND to retrieve fewer and more relevant documents.

  • Business W (2) Massachusetts Business preceding Massachusetts by two search terms or fewer appear in any relevant document.
  • Business Near (2) Massachusetts– Business within two or fewer search terms of Massachusetts irrespective of order will appear in any relevant document.
  • Business (S) Massachusetts – Business and Massachusetts in the same sentence
  • Business (P) Massachusetts – Business and Massachusetts in the same paragraph

Wildcard or Truncation

  • Wildcard(s) – Place holder(s) in term (beginning, middle, or end) that can be filled in multiple ways
    • Wom?n – to find woman or women
  • Truncation – Word stem that can be filled in at the end multiple ways.
    • Research* – to find research, researches, researching, researcher, etc.

AtLeast – Document will contain X or more references to search term. With this many references, one would expect the focus of most of these articles would be on her and that she would not be mentioned tangentially.

Document segment searching (Such as Title, Title and Lead Paragraph, Author, Text of document, Publication Name, Subject terms of document usually listed at bottom) – Search for terms in particular areas of documents to target search results.

Time frame – Can search for yesterday, a week ago, a certain year, back to the beginning, or a range of dates of coverage for a particular website, database, or publication.

Type of publication – Can specify newspaper, magazine, scholarly journal, report, chart/table etc. to search on.

Number of words – Generally used for longer articles on a subject.

Pages on website – Used to search all files and pages just on that website.

Type of document – Usually for Web search engines (.PDF, .PPT, .XLS, etc.) to search on that type of document ONLY

For further assistance with your organization’s research needs, please contact MNN affiliate member Roger Magnus, Owner of Roger Magnus Research at roger@rogermagnusresearch.com.

Nonprofit 411: Achieving Fundraising Success, Part III- Concluding Your Campaign

Nonprofit 411 giving series 3This three-part article series provides advice to help your nonprofit achieve fundraising gold by equipping your board and leadership teams, safeguarding compliance, and mining giving data. In Part 3, our experts, Lisa Cohen, CEO of Capital Motion, Gail Snow Moraski, Principal of Results Communication and Research, and Brock Klinger, Account Executive at Harbor Compliance, provide best practices for equipping your board and leadership teams, safeguarding compliance, and mining giving data at the close of a campaign.

How should we “debrief” at the close of a campaign?

Lisa: Information-sharing to maximize campaign success is ideally baked into the DNA of the leadership and board team by the close of the campaign. Having put together materials like board “brag books” of interactions with program clients that they found particularly fulfilling, and having shared stories and information throughout the campaign, debriefing will be a natural and important final step in the process.

The team will find that they have learned as much—if not more—than they have shared. Documenting that learning is invaluable. One well-run strategy meeting with an excellent note-taker ought to do it, and be sure to catalogue what was learned from each constituency touched, on what key topics, and what the next steps are on each important open issue, if there are any.

How can we evaluate our performance to drive future strategy?

Gail: Once your campaign is concluded, you can gather metrics on how the various tools and strategies performed for you, evaluate return on investment (ROI), and use that information to inform future campaigns.

For example, if an email service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact was used to send out either a fundraising-focused email blast or an e-newsletter that contained information about a fundraising campaign, before finalizing plans for an upcoming campaign, your organization should review the performance indicators available within the email service tool to see if time and money spent on such an e-communication makes good sense. For example, the number and percent of individuals opening the e-communications should be reviewed as well as information on the click-through rate by readers on any button, image, or link that took them to a website page containing fundraising campaign information.

Are there any regulatory items to address at the end of a campaign?

Brock: Since many requirements are based on contribution and revenue levels, you may find that you have new requirements to address after a successful campaign. A significant campaign may expand your footprint or increase contribution and revenue levels to the point that you have new fundraising registration and financial reporting requirements to meet. For this reason, you’ll need to conduct a post-campaign compliance check and adjust your practices as necessary. If you’ve been involved in a co-venture, your teams will need to compile financial data and file as required.

Do you have any other tips on achieving fundraising gold?

Gail: There’s a lot of great data available in the various online/digital marketing tools and platforms an organization uses to promote a fundraising campaign, and it’s so worth mining the data associated with past campaigns to ensure the best possible ROI on time and money expended for a future one.

Brock: It might seem like a lot of work, but compliance more than pays for itself by inviting donor trust, which is key to the success of any fundraising campaign. For example, studies have shown that solicitations that include disclosure statements get a measurably higher rate of return than those without. So it’s not just about government paperwork. Compliance reassures potential donors that your organization is legitimate and committed to sound governance. Meeting all of your legal and regulatory requirements also safeguards your board of directors, who can be held personally liable for any lapses or oversights.

Lisa: Your leadership teams are the champions of your brand, your fundraising ambassadors. Nonprofits that take time to inform and engage them reap the rewards in fundraising success.

We hope this article series helps you achieve better results at each phase of your fundraising campaign. If you have further questions for our experts, feel free to reach out to them directly:

Lisa Cohen, Capital Motion, lcohen@capitalmotion.org, 617-545-7937

Gail Snow Moraski, Results Communication and Research, gail.moraski@allintheresults.com, 781-267-6687

Brock Klinger, Harbor Compliance, bklinger@harborcompliance.com, 1-888-995-5895

Nonprofit 411: Achieving Fundraising Gold, Part II- Building Momentum

Nonprofit 411 giving series 2This three-part article series provides advice to help your nonprofit achieve fundraising gold by equipping your board and leadership teams, safeguarding compliance, and mining giving data. In Part 2, our experts, Lisa Cohen, CEO of Capital Motion, Gail Snow Moraski, Principal of Results Communication and Research, and Brock Klinger, Account Executive at Harbor Compliance, answer questions about building momentum during your campaign.

Once a campaign starts, how can we keep the momentum going?

Lisa: It helps to break the work into manageable pieces rather than asking each person to go out and ask their friends and colleagues for money all at once (which can be really scary and uncomfortable for some people). A board stymied by their individual to-do lists is absolutely going to stop the ball rolling, which is just what you don’t want.

For nonprofits with professional development staff, one thing that can be helpful is to create a structured handoff from a board member to staff people of donors identified as “hi-potential” by a board member. Why? Board members often express discomfort making an actual “ask,” but can be fantastic at identifying those willing to join the ranks of donors. So this can be super helpful and also can avoid the energy drain of board members feeling uncomfortable.

It’s also helpful to keep everyone working on fundraising fully informed with a steady stream of organizational and project updates. Tools like Frequently Asked Questions that are updated real-time, as the questions are asked and answered, can be invaluable to the team working with community members and funders. Consider also a bi-monthly or monthly all-hands-on-deck conference call or webinar where everyone involved can share the questions they’re being asked, model great answers, hear news from leadership, and feel connected and energized.

What compliance considerations must we address during the campaign?

Brock: If you’ve limited fundraising to certain states, you’ll need to monitor donations received throughout the campaign to ensure that you’re staying within the footprint you’ve established. In some states, registration requirements are triggered if you surpass a certain threshold in number or amount of donations, so it’s important to track your progress state-by-state. It’s also important to meticulously document financials for commercial co-ventures, since many states require a detailed accounting at the close of those campaigns.

In addition, nonprofits have ongoing reporting requirements, including maintaining a registered agent, submitting annual reports, and renewing charitable solicitation registrations, among other tasks. These requirements run throughout the year.

How can we help ensure that we’re hitting our goals?

Gail: One way to gauge success is to review data available in the Google Analytics account associated with your organization’s website (note that having a Google Analytics account linked to your website is a best practice and is easy and free to set up). You can use the Google Analytics tool (for the cases below, access the “Acquisitions” report via Google Analytics’ left-hand menu, and select “All Traffic,” and then “Referrals”) to specifically look at the following data:

  • Number of individuals who visit your website because of clicking on a social media post
  • Number of individuals who visit your website because of clicking on a link in your e-newsletter or e-mail blast

And, of course, Google Analytics will provide general information on the number of individuals who visit your campaign landing page during the campaign’s timeframe (access “Behavior” report, select “Site Content,” then select “All Pages”).

If your fundraising campaign employs Google Ads or social media advertising, these platforms provide extensive performance data such as number of ad clicks, cost-per-click, number of conversions, and cost per conversion (ad clicker completed a specific activity desired by advertiser, such as completing an online form or visiting a certain page). In addition to the easy, obvious review of the volume of clicks and conversions that ads are generating, organizations should pay close attention to the cost-per-click and cost-per-conversion metrics to see if those costs lend themselves to a good ROI equation. If it costs $12.00 for a conversion that equates, on average, to only a $5.00 or $10.00 donation, employing online advertising related to a future campaign may not make good economic sense.

By tracking activity in response to your campaign, you can double down in those areas where you’re getting the best audience response.

These strategies will help you make the most of your fundraising efforts throughout the campaign. In Part 3 in the series, our experts provide suggestions for measures to take once your campaign is concluded.

Have further questions for our experts? Feel free to reach out to them directly:

Lisa Cohen, Capital Motion, lcohen@capitalmotion.org, 617-545-7937

Gail Snow Moraski, Results Communication and Research, gail.moraski@allintheresults.com, 781-267-6687

Brock Klinger, Harbor Compliance, bklinger@harborcompliance.com, 1-888-995-5895

Nonprofit 411: Achieving Fundraising Gold, Part I- Laying the Groundwork for a Successful Campaign

Nonprofit 411 giving series 1This three-part article series provides advice to help your nonprofit achieve fundraising gold by equipping your board and leadership teams, safeguarding compliance, and mining giving data. The series will cover best practices during three key fundraising phases: laying the groundwork for a successful campaign, building momentum as the campaign progresses, and concluding in a way that drives future success. Where a deeper dive is warranted, we’ve provided links for you to explore.

In Part 1, Lisa Cohen, CEO of Capital Motion, Gail Snow Moraski, Principal of Results Communication and Research, and Brock Klinger, Account Executive at Harbor Compliance, answer questions about laying the foundation for a successful fundraising program.

How can I get the leadership team fired up?

Lisa: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, to paraphrase the law of inertia. This law of physics is observably true of effective fundraising; high energy development programs tend to keep on raising money. Programs that have a tough time getting going also have a tough time keeping going. As leaders, the team — executives and board members — can help to generate the energy to put the object (the fundraising program) in motion and to continue to roll it forward.

Fundraising is a new role for a lot of board members, and it’s not always everyone’s favorite job when they first try it. One thing that can help is to reframe the activity set as “community outreach” or “ambassadorship.” This discussion might take more up-front time than just assigning everyone a goal and a list.

These tasks can help to ensure that your board and leadership team members are energized and engaged personally and able to bring their fundraising “superpowers” to the effort.

What do I need to do to prepare the leadership team?

Lisa: It’s been said, of course, and bears saying again, so here goes: be sure to cover the basics before you get started. Make sure everyone is up to speed on the history of the organization, its current mission, population served, programs, budget, and so on.

You can also equip your team by conducting a foundational financial analysis. This is a little different than an audit or routine preparation of required annual financial statements. You may require the assistance of an outside professional, or you may need to ask a member of the financial staff to conduct some financial or scenario analysis that is a bit different from some of the routine work of the office. If the work generates pictures – charts and graphs – showing the impact of major gifts – all the better. This analysis can help a leadership team and board understand and communicate the financial dynamics of an organization and answer questions about how gifts could be of significant impact to an organization’s mission and results, something all major donors and funders want to know.

With so many ways to reach out, how do I focus on the communication tactics that will benefit us the most?

Gail: Often organizations–both for-profit and nonprofit–don’t make or take the time to dig down deep to determine which, if any, of the tactics they employed as part of a past fundraising or marketing campaign were successful in generating donations or some other desired outcome. Most digital marketing platforms, such as email services, social media, and online advertising come with built-in performance analytics tools. Such research and analysis can and should be used to determine where limited marketing dollars and energy should be spent in future fundraising campaigns.

What if this is our first campaign?

Gail: The internet provides so many accessible, no- or low-cost avenues for reaching out. A typical fundraising campaign might include a mix of the following tactics:

  • A website “landing page” specific to the fundraising campaign
  • Posts on a variety of social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn)
  • Email blast specific to campaign or campaign mention in an e-newsletter
  • Online advertising, such as Facebook or Google Ads

Someone versed in these tools and your budget can help you outline the best strategy for your campaign.

Do I need to register before fundraising? What do I need to do to ensure compliance?

Brock: Forty-one states require nonprofits to register for charitable solicitation, and 25 require inclusion of specific disclosures in solicitations. In some states, you also need to get a certificate of authority to conduct operations, a process known as foreign qualification. In each state where you solicit, you’ll need to meet applicable requirements.

The first step is to determine your fundraising “footprint,” the map of states where you’re soliciting. It’s important to understand that solicitation occurs wherever the request for donations is received, not where it originates. With online fundraising, solicitations are potentially reaching donors in all states, which may necessitate meeting requirements across the board. In addition, you’ll need to consider requirements for any special activities such as contracting with professional fundraisers, conducting special events such as bingo, and engaging in commercial co-ventures such as merchandise sales and cash register campaigns.

Once you’ve determined which requirements apply to your activities, you can develop a plan to meet them. Some nonprofits simply register nationwide and begin soliciting. Others take a graduated approach, limiting donations to certain states where they’re registered and expanding their footprint as they grow.

How much time and money will registration take?

Brock: Fees are modest, in the $25 to $50 range. In many states, registration is free, and often exemptions are provided for smaller nonprofits. Yet it can take quite a bit of time to sort through the requirements and file, so it’s really important to address compliance very early in your planning process.

These tips should help you get your campaign off to a strong start by getting your leadership on board, making the most of digital platforms available for getting the word out, and taking steps to ensure a compliant campaign. In our next article in the series, our experts provide suggestions for building momentum throughout your campaign in your ongoing quest to achieve fundraising gold.

Have further questions for our experts? Feel free to reach out to them directly:

Lisa Cohen, Capital Motion, lcohen@capitalmotion.org, 617-545-7937

Gail Snow Moraski, Results Communication and Research, gail.moraski@allintheresults.com, 781-267-6687

Brock Klinger, Harbor Compliance, bklinger@harborcompliance.com, 1-888-995-5895

Nonprofit 411: Simplified Internal Controls: Striking the Right Balance for Your Organization

Nonprofit 411By Kristen King, Insource Services

Internal controls are procedures designed to protect assets, provide reasonable assurance that accounting reports are reliable, comply with laws and regulations, and help prevent fraud. Small to medium sized organizations often struggle to balance the fine line between having enough internal controls to protect the organization and having too many internal controls that they inhibit efficiency in process and become overly taxing on lean internal teams.

An effective internal control review begins with the organization’s assessing its current processes and identifying potential risks to the organization. Management must use their best judgment in determining which internal control procedures are critical for mitigating risk at their organization and which are tolerable given size or capacity constraints.

The simplest way to explain recommendations on transaction controls is to separate them into three key activity areas: the cash disbursement cycle, the cash receipt cycle, and month end close and financial reporting cycle.

In the cash disbursement cycle, for proper segregation of duties, it is important to have invoices approved employees familiar with the disbursement and separate from those tasked with entering the activity into the accounting system software. In general, the approver should also have the authority to initiate the charges to ensure expenditures are appropriate. Payroll reports should be reviewed by an authorized employee outside of the payroll process. This review should pay close attention to the accuracy of gross pay, deductions and changes in employee status for reasonableness. Additionally, we recommend limited accountant authority, meaning the individual cutting the checks should not be an authorized signer on the bank accounts.

There are a few controls in the cash receipts cycle that every organization should strive to incorporate into their procedures to ensure a proper segregation of duties. Organizations should ensure that all checks be endorsed “For Deposit Only” with the organization’s account information upon receipt. A cash receipt log should be prepared by the individual opening the mail and, if possible, this individual should not be also making the deposit. A reconciliation of the two processes is also a good step in the process.

In addition to cash disbursement and receipt control, the Month End Closing and Financial Reporting cycle should also include their own internal controls. Monthly bank and credit card statements should be reviewed by someone outside of the reconciliation function for any odd or unusual activity and compared to account reconciliations. It is important to maintain a month-end close checklist listing all month-end controls/checks such as account reconciliations, approvals needed and the timing of these activities to help ensure an effective level of internal control. Finally, there should be a review of financial statements by the Executive Director monthly and the Finance Committee or Board at least quarterly.

In summary, internal controls are designed to help organizations safeguard their assets, mitigate risk and follow best business practices. The key to any internal control is the enforcement and adherence to the process. An organization should remember to annually analyze its operations and internal controls to determine if changes have occurred within the organization which may require a change in the controls or if new controls are required.

For more information or assistance with a review of internal controls, please contact Saleha Walsh, Vice President, at swalsh@insourceservices.com or 781-235-1490.

Nonprofit 411: Realizing Full Inclusion

By Cheryl Cumings, Our Space Our Place

In so many instances, organizations commit to hiring people of color, women, LGBTQ, and yet hesitate when it comes to hiring people with disabilities. There is data which shows that next to cancer and heart disease,  people’s  greatest fear is becoming blind(1). So often, people say that they just don’t know what to do when they meet a blind person. This article will give some tips about meeting and hiring people who are blind.

The term blind includes people who do not see anything and people who have some sight(2). As the term blind encompasses a variety of levels of vision, there are some common courtesies.

When you meet a person who is blind, say your name and let the person know you are extending your hand for a handshake. If you are going to walk with the person, ask if the person would like to hold on to your arm. If the person answers yes, then bend your arm and let the person know that you are offering them your elbow to hold. Sometimes someone with a guide dog or some vision will answer that they can follow you and don’t need to take your arm. When a conversation is over, let the person know that you are walking away. These same common courtesies can be used when you greet a perspective employee.

Even though magnification and screen reading software may be new to a perspective employer, the interviewer should trust the person’s knowledge because the candidate is an expert on her blindness.

Getting the work done is only one aspect. Another is whether the person will fit in to the culture of the organization. How will other employees interact with a coworker who is blind? This depends on the attitudes and interactions of supervisors and managers. Coworkers take their cues from supervisors and managers.  If this is the first time a supervisor and a manager is interacting with a person who is blind, there are some actions they can take to increase their own comfort level in order to model positive interactions for their staff.

Even before the new employee starts, they can have a conversation with them. One topic may include a discussion of how the employee would like her vision described. Some people asked to be described as “blind,” others prefer “visually impaired,” and others “sight impaired.” They can also talk about how information can be communicated. For some, handwriting a note may work. For others, a voice mail or email. Leave pity outside of the room and have an open conversation of how you will work together.

In addition to talking with the employee, supervisors and managers should reach out to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). MCB is the state agency which provides a variety of services to people who are blind or low vision and it will work with employers to ensure that employees who are blind have the tools needed to succeed at work.

About the author

Cheryl is blind and the Founder and Executive Director of Our Space Our Place, Inc(OSOP) a 501c3 that provides an after school and career exploration program for middle and high school youth who are blind and low vision. The program is housed at the Tobin Community Center in Roxbury. Students participate in theater, dance, cooking, running club, Coding Camp, civic engagement, career exploration workshops and tours of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Science.

 

References

  1. The eye Associates (2016), Blindness a Major Fear.

Blindness – a Major Fear

 

  1. Massachusetts Commission for the Blind

https://www.mass.gov/orgs/massachusetts-commission-for-the-blind

Nonprofit 411: Elections: How Holding a Candidate Forum Can Advance Your Advocacy Goals

Nonprofit 411 (2)

by Stefanie Coxe, Nexus Werx LLC

The legislative session wrapped up in most states by July 31st and many nonprofits will find their legislative hopes dashed. Despite co-sponsors and votes in favor, sometimes the issue isn’t lawmakers’ support, it’s the urgency of their support.

Getting commitments from candidates to not only support, but champion, your organization’s goals is much easier when they are running for office and have something to lose than when they’re safely in office. The easiest way to secure this commitment is to hold, either alone or with other groups, a candidate forum.

Holding a candidate forum helps your association, nonprofit, or union:

  • Increase credibility (as long as you do it well and have good attendance)
  • Make your issues campaign issues
  • Get candidates on the record supporting your issue so you can circle back when it comes time to ask them to co-sponsor or vote your way

Despite laws banning nonprofits from engaging in certain political activities, there are certain things you’re able to do. (To receive a cheat sheet about what activity is allowed, click here.)*

You can hold an issues forum or a candidates’ forum without crossing any lines. The trick is to make sure you never endorse or give the appearance of favoring one candidate over another.

If your organization has ever held a conference or other choreographed event, you’ve already got the right skill set to make sure the forum is a success. In addition to common-sense event planning, here’s how to do it right:

  • Get the most bang for your buck: Secure partners, such as other organizations who care about your issues and/or the local newspaper. Send out a media advisory about the event and a follow-up press release about how it went. Have a hashtag for the event and quote and tag candidates as-it-happens.
  • Make sure you invite all the candidates: (Otherwise you risk your c3 status.) Work with them on scheduling a date. Don’t just schedule it when it works well for you.
  • Involve your members: Ask the best public speakers amongst your supporters to ask pre-selected questions. Have them briefly tell the candidates why the issue is important to them (story-telling). Ask your members to tweet out thanks to the candidates for coming and supporting XYZ issues.
  • Keep it professional: Get a well-respected moderator like a reporter to ask the questions. Solicit questions from your members in advance but sort through them and pick the best. Send the candidates information on your nonprofit and your goals ahead of time. If you’re feeling particularly generous, send them the questions ahead of time, too. This way they can adequately prepare. Chances are they won’t come if they don’t already support you, so making it easier for them helps with your goal of relationship-building and rising higher on their priority list.
  • Stay classy: Make sure both you and your supporters have an even, friendly tone in asking questions. The object isn’t for one candidate to “win” over the other; it’s for your nonprofit to win, to increase credibility. Send the candidates hand-written thank you notes afterwards. Tag them in social media thanking them for participating and for any commitments they make at the forum to your issues. Ask your members to thank them via email or social media as well.

When the election is over and legislative and budgetary priorities are being considered in December and January, visit the elected official and (gently) remind them of their commitment. If they saw your organization as one that helped them reach voters and get press, they’ll be much more likely to put more “oomph” behind their advocacy for your priorities.

*Disclaimer: This information is educational only and should not be construed as legal advice.

Stefanie Coxe is the founder & principal of Nexus Werx LLC, a political training company offering the Learn to Lobby line of online and in-person training products including Effective Activism 101, Lobbying 101, and a Community Monitoring Program for membership-based organizations. Sign up for her e-newsletter to get tips on training and mobilizing members and activists.

Nonprofit 411: When “#MeToo” Becomes “Now What?” Nonprofits Have Lots of Options

Nonprofit 411 (1)by Loraine Della Porta and Amy Rebecca Gay, The Mediation Group

The #MeToo movement has increased the sexual harassment and discrimination complaints in the workplace.  Employees are demanding that individuals and organizations be held accountable through formal investigations and lawsuits.  How will your nonprofit respond?  What are your options? How can you protect your organization from further harm and liability?

First, respond swiftly to the complaint. Second examine your organizational culture and climate to see what factors contributed to the complaint.

Respond to the Complaint

Making an allegation takes courage, so take it seriously.  Thank the employee and tell them you will investigate the matter swiftly and thoroughly.  Promptly notify your Board of Directors.  They may provide support and advice and they don’t like to be surprised with bad news.  Notify your insurance carrier and legal counsel and ask how to limit your organization’s liability.

Conduct the Investigation

Investigate all complaints promptly, even if they appear minor or meritless. Complainants, respondents and witnesses must feel comfortable speaking freely so ensure investigators are impartial, properly trained and experienced.

Internal or external investigator? Your HR staff and in-house counsel understand the unique work environment, have “inside” knowledge of the people and circumstances, and can often respond quickly.

External investigators offer three key benefits:

  • Impartiality & independence – they have no stake in the outcome or preconceived impressions.
  • Credibility and integrity – they demonstrate the allegations are taken seriously and the organization is willing to face the consequences.
  • Experience – a quality outcome is necessary to withstand judicial scrutiny should the matter be litigated.

To learn more about conducting a workplace investigation, attend our Free Wednesday Webinar on September 5 from 10:00-11:00 am hosted by the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

Other Steps

Protect the safety and well-being of the complainant, respondent and witnesses. First, if the allegation is severe, consider placing the alleged wrongdoer on paid leave pending the investigation’s outcome.  Why paid? Presumed innocence is a cornerstone of our justice system. Without evidence, s/he should not be financially harmed.  Second, consider alternative work assignments so the complainant is neither working with nor supervised by the alleged harasser.  Consult with the complainant beforehand so the complainant does not feel punished for making a complaint. Third, be sensitive to the emotional needs of the complainant and grant paid time-off during the process.  Finally, ensure everyone understands that retaliation will not be tolerated.

After the investigation, determine whether the conduct violated the organization’s policies and if so, what to do. Although not all inappropriate workplace conduct meets legal definitions of discrimination and/or harassment, it might still violate the organization’s policies.

Afterward, Look Deeper

Ask what organizational structures and processes contributed to the incident. Typical issues include:

  • Unclear or outdated policies regarding prohibited workplace conduct
  • No redress mechanism for complaints
  • No shared understanding of workplace norms and behaviors
  • Inadequate performance management to address bad behavior

Even with tight resources, a deeper look increases your chances of preventing future claims. Simply being curious can clarify a lot. If after you’ve talked to all the people involved about how management and the organization created circumstances that led to the complaint and you have more questions, consider conducting an organizational climate assessment to get objective data and recommendations for changes.  Typical interventions we see for our clients include mediation, training, and performance management improvements.

Conclusion

With the right process and leadership, a sexual harassment or discrimination claim can spark important organizational changes that improve the workplace for all employees.