Talking About Racism at Work: How Nonprofits Can Foster More Inclusive and Supportive Workplaces

By YW Boston

MNNYWBostonSept2020-min

Talking About Racism at Work: How Nonprofits Can Foster More Inclusive and Supportive Workplaces

Whether or not your organization has made a public commitment condemning racism and committing to greater racial equity, as a nonprofit leader you may be wondering, “Should my team be engaged in more conversations about race and racism?” And if so, “How do I make those conversations productive?” We recognize that racism and other oppressive systems are institutionalized, and that this makes racism within organizations difficult to dismantle. Racial equity is not achieved by engaging in short-term actions and requires long-term commitment and hard work. Even within nonprofit organizations, modern-day standards of “professionalism” may encourage employees not to talk about racism and can make it hard to identify next steps. For nonprofits limited by capacity, resources, and the inexperience of looking internally to engage in anti-racism work, conversations about racism and seem daunting and could lead to greater harm for Black staff and employees of color.

As YW Boston continues to partner with organizations looking to create lasting change and improve their workplace cultures, we have gathered some considerations that can help those hoping to talk about racism for the very first time:

Before engaging in org-wide conversations, consider who you are reaching out to and why

Many interventions start with internal conversation amongst the organization’s executive team, followed by the identification of strengths and growth areas that then lead to action planning. This approach seems practical—identify a problem, assess the problem, identify a solution, implement the solution. When thinking about organizational change through a racial equity lens, additional considerations and more careful planning are necessary in order to prevent exacerbation or perpetuation of the challenges you are trying to address.

Instead, utilize a different framing when your organization is in these early stages of the conversation. It is important to assess your organization’s intentions, current impact, and intended future impact. 

  • Intentions: Ask yourselves, “why does my organization want to address racism and engage in DEI work?” Are you responding to external pressure from your stakeholders, funders, or constituents? Are you responding to internal employee feedback? Are you reacting to a national crisis? Are you hoping to improve and evolve organizational values?
  • Impact: There is a difference between our intentions, aspirations, and how we want to be perceived vs. the impact of our action/inaction and the harm we may be causing or allowing to continue. Racism is not just an ideology or prejudice, it is currently and has been historically embedded into institutions and systems that impact our workplace and employees, such as housing, education, healthcare, technology, and more. For that reason, it is not just unlikely, but impossible that racism does not play a part in our society, including our workplaces. It’s important that we don’t assume our nonprofit organizations are exempt from racism, otherwise, we can miss its impact on employees, stakeholders, and the organization’s bottom line.
  • Intended impact: As you learn more, your intended impact may also evolve. What is the change you wish to achieve? What does “success” look like and for whom? Who will be involved and be held accountable for this work? What outcomes do you wish to achieve? All of these questions will inform your action planning and decision making. It is important to consider here the relationship between intentions and impact. For example, you may intend to improve organizational culture by launching new DEI initiatives but end up overtaxing employees of color by asking them to lead or contribute to this work when it is not part of their job description. In other cases, conversations about racism may cause more harm if your facilitators do not have sufficient experience leading conversations through stress and trauma.

If you would like to access more resources about anti-racism and diversity, equity, and inclusion at work, refer to our Racial Justice and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Resources.

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About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sbornstein@ywboston.org.

Nonprofit 411: Using Board and Staff Surveys to Drive Continuous Improvement

By Davis Harris, Interim Executive SolutionsNonprofit 411 IES - September SN Copy-min

Representing all voices, and hearing from all voices, are not the same thing. Nonprofits have become acutely aware of the need to bring diversity to the staff and to the board, but that does not necessarily mean they are hearing diverse perspectives. Organizations function best when all perspectives are considered but there is often too little time or opportunity in board meetings, staff meetings or even 1-1 conversations to explore differences based on background, lived experiences, or vision for the future. Not only can well-crafted board and staff surveys allow voices to be heard, but they can also highlight common areas of concern and opportunity that can lead to meaningful change.

One recent board survey surfaced the issue that a board was expecting its long-time ED to retire in the near future and many of the board members were expecting a particular director to succeed him. When the results were shared, the board was informed that the director had other plans in mind which prompted the need to develop a new succession plan. In another example, a staff survey surfaced concerns that staff were unsure about the finances of the organization and also felt they did not have all the information they needed to do their jobs. This indicated the need for more open and frequent communications between leadership and the staff.

What gets measured gets done, and a survey every couple of years is a great way to measure progress at both the staff and board level and highlight the priority areas on which to focus. Surveys can help assess whether the work being done is building an organization with a clear vision and if it has the personnel, processes, knowledge, resources, commitment and collaboration required to achieve that vision sustainably.

Staff surveys might include such issues as how decisions are made and how effective they are, the clarity of roles and responsibilities, adequate access to information, training and feedback, perceptions of fairness, equity, diversity and inclusion as well as leadership and culture.

Board surveys often cover two topics areas:

  • How the board oversees and supports the organization: Mission, vision and strategic planning; CEO selection and evaluation; Ensuring adequate financial resources; Overseeing and monitoring financial performance and operating policies; Providing expertise as needed; and Building the reputation of the organization.
  • The board’s own governance: size, structure and committees, composition, leadership, processes (such as meetings), recruitment, orientation and fund-raising.

There are many sources for such surveys, some of which can be taken online and will tabulate the results for a small fee. The value of using an off-the-shelf survey is that it is easier to measure quantifiable progress from survey to survey. That said, it is most often the comments that provide the insights, and it may be better to design a survey around issues that seem particularly prescient and then implement the survey in a tool like Survey Monkey. To ensure the most responses, set short deadlines, send frequent reminders, and have a single person (who commits to individual confidentiality) responsible for collecting and collating results.

Finally, share the aggregated information no matter what it says, and be prepared to act on the results. Failure to do so will reverse the value of soliciting and hearing all voices and perspectives.

How understanding history can help nonprofits address persisting inequities

By YW Boston

MNNYWBostonSharedSectorAugust2020-min

As nonprofits, we dedicate ourselves to a mission larger than ourselves, our immediate geography, and our moment in time. In order to meet our organization’s goals, internally and externally, it is necessary for us to gain an understanding of how inequitable systems have created and perpetuated violence in our communities. Inequitable systems that have propagated violence against people of color, and Black people in particular, continue to influence all realms of American life, including education, healthcare, housing, and beyond. By naming inequities as violence, we can better commit to creating truly nonviolent organizations.

YW Boston recently facilitated the workshop titled “Understanding Inequitable Systems as Violence” and in it we provide historical context to help foster a better understanding of U.S. history and how inequitable systems came to be. We also provide strategies and pathways for organizations looking to make a positive change:

What is collective violence and how does it manifest itself in the world around us?

Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” Collective violence specifically refers to violence enacted upon members of a group against another group or set of individuals.

Collective violence can be broken down into three categories; social, economic, and political. While social violence can be seen in mass incarceration rates and funding for both school districts and housing, political violence can be seen in redistricting, voter ID laws, and disenfranchisement. Economic violence can be best understood when looking at the most recent financial crisis where predatory lending, subprime mortgages, and unemployment was disproportionately affecting people of color. It is important for nonprofits to consider how these inequities manifest themselves today and the ways in which they interact with our work.

What can nonprofits do to take action?

We often hear how important it is to “take action” but it can be difficult to know exactly what to do. Non-violence is not just about which actions to avoid, but also about what we are going to do about the violence and injustice present in our society.

For an organization to become more diverse and equitable, and to create an inclusive culture, change has to encompass all areas within the organization. For organizations to create lasting change, we suggest a focus on the following seven pillars:

  • Buy-in from leadership
  • Regular working groups with various perspectives
  • Diversity within decision-making structures
  • Shifting toward unbiased hiring, retention, and promotion systems
  • Examining all practices and systems within the organization for inequities
  • Defining and finding intention around the culture of the organization
  • Allocating resources to support the change you are trying to achieve

Learn more about the history of systemic racism and about strategies for organizational change by accessing a recording of YW Boston’s workshop.

Photo credit: Sushil Nash

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About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sbornstein@ywboston.org.

Nonprofit 411: Final Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Regulations Released

By Jessica Sullivan, Insource Services, Inc.Nonprofit 411 Insource - August SN-min

Several months ago, most employers began preparing for Massachusetts quickly approaching Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML). Recently, the DFML released the final regulations. The changes were not substantive but provided clarification, as listed below. Click here for the full redline version of the regulations.

A refresher: PFML, a state-offered benefit for qualified MA employees, provides up to 26 weeks of job-protected, paid leave for medical and/or family reasons. The cost is shared between the employer and employee or employers may opt to cover the entire cost. A quick summary of the provisions is included below. Note that many of these were modified in the recently released final regulations.

  • Job protection extends to employees who choose to use a richer employer sponsored paid leave policy (sick bank, temporary disability, company leave policy) rather than filing for benefits under PFML. The employer is responsible for notifying the state/private plan and the employee also receives PFML job protection. Employers paying the PFML state tax are also eligible for reimbursement in the amount equal to what the state would pay for the same leave.
  • Treatment can include telehealth visits with a health care professional.
  • Leave can be taken in increments of 15 minutes but will not be payable until either 8 hours has accumulated or 30 days have passed from date of first use.
  • Employers with a private plan can require proof of wages from a newly hired employee (or current employee who has not worked the requisite quarters) to determine eligibility.
  • When employers transfer to or from the state tax to a private plan or between private plans, claims in process will remain with the plan through which the claim was originally approved.
  • Employees eligible for coverage while employed should apply for benefits with the former employer if covered under a private plan and if not more than 26 weeks has passed since employment ended.
  • Leave for substance abuse applies only to treatment through a licensed program. A family member of an individual in treatment may also be eligible for PFML leave.
    • If employers with an established policy regarding substance abuse in the workplace that is communicated to all employees and have proof of a violation of this policy, the employer can terminate the employee while on leave or within the 6 months after returning.

An employer providing a company paid leave benefit for a reason that would otherwise qualify under PFML is eligible to be reimbursed for the amount the state would have paid the employee for the same leave. This is applicable to employers who pay the PFML tax. What should you be doing now?

At this time, most employers are considering the practical application of PFML: how existing leave policies will intersect with PFML and what changes, if any, should be made to unify benefits and leaves. And, we are all waiting for the DFML to release their protocols for applying, turn around time for payment and the process they will use to work with employers. For now, here are a few reminders:

  • Display the poster: PFML Mandatory Workplace Poster and add Mandatory Employee Written Notices to new hire information (they must be shared within 30 days of hire).
  • Review or consider instituting a workplace substance abuse policy.
  • If you plan to require a fitness for duty from employees returning from leave, it’s a good time to start reviewing and updating your job descriptions. Employers need to provide a list of essential functions within 10 days of an approved leave to qualify the employer to ask for a fitness for duty at the end of a leave.
  • Review and begin to update employee handbooks to coordinate the benefits and requirements across your leave policies.

If you would like to review your leave policies with us or need further assistance, we would be happy to help at Insource Services.

 

Nonprofit 411: Tips on Alleviating Employees’ COVID-Related Hardships

Nonprofit 411 JohnsonOConnor-min (1)
By Joseph M. Giso, CPA MST

 

The Internal Revenue Service declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a “qualified disaster,” thereby generating more favorable tax benefits for both employers and employees.

 

QUALIFIED DISASTER RELIEF PAYMENTS

The declaration of a “qualified disaster” excludes from a taxpayer’s gross income certain payments to reimburse or pay for expenses related to a qualified disaster (i.e., “qualified disaster relief payments,” or QDRPs). In an employee-employer relationship, compensation is usually considered taxable for the employee and a deductible business expense for the employer.

 

ASSISTANCE THROUGH EXISTING CHARITABLE ORGANIZATIONS

All existing charitable organizations can operate an employee assistance program (EAP) provided they abide by certain provisions and documentation, as described below.

 

Charitable Class

The IRS defines a “charitable class” as “the group of individuals that may properly receive assistance from a tax-exempt charitable organization. A charitable class must be large enough or sufficiently indefinite that the community as a whole, rather than a preselected group of people, benefits when a charity provides assistance.”

 

The IRS adds, “If the group of eligible beneficiaries is limited to a smaller group, such as the employees of a particular employer, the group of persons eligible for assistance must be indefinite. … The proposed relief program must be open-ended and include employees affected by the current disaster and those who may be affected by a future disaster [emphasis added].”

 

Needy or Distressed Test

Eligible beneficiaries must be selected based on an objective determination of need, and the charitable organization must maintain adequate records demonstrating the recipients’ need for the disaster assistance provided.

 

Documentation

As the IRS explains, the documentation should detail:

  • The nature of the assistance provided
  • The costs of providing the assistance
  • Why the aid was given
  • Members of the selection committee approving the assistance
  • Objective criteria for disbursing assistance
  • How the recipients were selected
  • Each recipient’s name and address
  • The amount disbursed to each recipient
  • Any relationship between a recipient and officers, directors or key employees of, or substantial contributors to, the charitable organization

Selection Process

An independent selection committee must choose the recipients, or adequate substitute procedures must be in place to ensure that any benefit to the employer is incidental. The selection committee is considered independent if a majority of its members are not in a position to exercise substantial influence over employer affairs.

 

ASSISTANCE THROUGH EXISTING DONOR ADVISED FUNDS

Certain community foundations and other public charities maintain separate funds or accounts to receive contributions from individual donors. These donors then receive advisory privileges over investment or distribution of the donated funds. These organizations are known as donor advised funds (DAFs).

 

A donor advised fund or account established by an employer to assist in “qualified disasters” can make grants to employees and their family members based on the criteria established for public charities and under the following circumstances:

  • The fund serves the single identified purpose of providing relief from one or more qualified disasters.
  • No payment is made from the fund to or for the benefit of any director, officer or trustee of the sponsoring community foundation or public charity or any members of the fund’s selection committee.

 

ASSISTANCE THROUGH EXISTING UNRELATED EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE CHARITABLE ORGANIZATIONS

An employee assistance fund (EAF) can be established as a public charity.  An EAF charity is an independent public charity with an exempt mission or purpose to provide emergency, need-based financial assistance to an employer’s workforce. It can maintain its public support requirement under the Internal Revenue Code because it receives donations from a variety of companies and their employees who sign up for their services. Unlike a DAF, an EAF charity can provide assistance to eligible individuals in response to any type of disaster or emergency employee hardship.

 

Using an EAF charity partner provides several benefits to the organization, including:

  • Allows the organization to offer a comprehensive program covering a wide range of financial hardship situations to the company and the employee.
  • Eliminates the administrative burden required to implement and manage an EAF.
  • Allows an objective third party to review applications and approve grants, providing anonymity to the applicant and protecting employees’ private information. This minimizes risk to both employees and the organization.

 

SUMMARY

QDRPs are a very complicated area of tax law. But with the right vehicle and program, an organization can provide much needed relief to employees in times of hardship.

Joseph Giso CPA, MST

Partner

Joe has more than 30 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations in the human services, healthcare, education, and cultural sectors. Joe provides tax consulting services that are dedicated to improving the accountability and efficiency of tax-exempt organizations, including counseling on compliance with federal, state, and local agencies. Additionally, he has expertise in the area of organizational tax and reporting compliance. Joe is a member of the AICPA & MSCPA.

Nonprofit 411: Raising Your 501(c)(3)’s Voice in an Election Year without Risking Its Exempt Status

Nonprofit 411 HemBarr-minBy Dylan O’Sullivan* and Eleanor Evans, Esq., Hemenway & Barnes LLP

Nonprofits play an indispensable role in our nation’s civic discourse, engaging policymakers and the public on issues of moral, social, and economic concern.  For 501(c)(3) organizations, however, this role becomes more complicated during election season due to rules prohibiting them from supporting or opposing candidates for public office.

The Rule Against 501(c)(3) Campaign Intervention

Federal tax law permits 501(c)(3)s to educate and advocate around issues related to their mission, even if those issues are highlighted in political campaigns.  However, 501(c)(3)s that intervene in a campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for elected public office –federal, state or local – risk losing their tax-exempt status.

While 501(c)(3)s may communicate about policy issues related to their mission, they must avoid commenting positively or negatively on candidates, explicitly or implicitly, in writing, orally or online.  A message conveying a preference for or against a candidate violates this prohibition even if it does not expressly encourage voting for or against the candidate or specifically mention the candidate by name.  The line between a permissible and impermissible communication is ultimately a question of whether the communication is about an issue or about a candidate.  Navigating this line is a recurring challenge – one made more acute in a time when many policy issues have newfound partisan political undercurrents.  Despite this ambiguity, there are some factors that can guide 501(c)(3)s as they determine whether or how to weigh in on policy issues during an election.

Factors to Consider When Commenting on Policy Issues in an Election Season

A communication is more likely to be deemed a permissible issue statement if it:

  • Addresses an issue clearly within the scope of the organization’s mission;
  • Concerns an issue the organization regularly comments on outside of election season;
  • Is part of an ongoing series of similar communications on the same issue not related to the timing of any election;
  • Comments on incumbents’ official actions rather than their candidacy (and, preferably, refers to incumbents not up for election as well as those who are);
  • Shares information related to a non-electoral event, such as a vote on specific legislation;
  • Includes a disclaimer noting that, as a 501(c)(3), the organization does not endorse or oppose candidates for elected public office (however, a disclaimer alone is not determinative).

A communication is more likely to be deemed impermissible campaign intervention if it:

  • Identifies candidates (by name or otherwise) or voting in a specific upcoming election;
  • Expresses approval or disapproval of a candidate’s positions and/or actions or compares them to the organization’s views;
  • Is issued close in time to an election;
  • Addresses an issue that has been raised as distinguishing candidates for a particular office;
  • Represents an increase in the organization’s volume of commentary on incumbents as their reelection approaches;
  • Comments on a candidate’s qualifications, character or record, rather than focusing on the substance of a policy issue;
  • Disseminates election-related statements from political campaigns or partisan organizations that have endorsed candidates (e.g., by re-tweeting, liking or sharing social media posts or linking to campaign-related websites).

Commenting on political issues during an election requires 501(c)(3)s to carefully consider the content and context of their communications.  By understanding and applying these rules, 501(c)(3)s can raise their voices on important issues throughout election season without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

 

*Dylan O’Sullivan is a law student at Northeastern University School of Law. He is not a practicing attorney.

How Nonprofits Can Address Stress and Trauma in the Workplace

YWBostonMNNJuly2020-min

The average full-time employee in the United States works 47 hours per week according to a 2014 Gallup poll. What’s more, technology has increasingly blurred the lines between our work and personal life, especially as more workplaces implement remote work in response to COVID-19. Yet in many workplaces, leaving your personal life behind remains a core expectation of professionalism. In a recent webinar, YW Boston explored how unreasonable this expectation is given that stress and trauma experienced by employees are part of their life and consequently can impact them at work.

More than ever, nonprofits are considering office-wide discussions to acknowledge and support staff as they process emotions. With these conversations, there’s always the possibility of conflict or discomfort, yet it is an even bigger risk to go about businesses as usual and pretend that your employees and constituents are unaffected.

If your nonprofit is planning a company-wide conversation, here are some things to consider:

Examine the intentions behind having this conversation

First, spend some time thinking about the intentions behind your desire to hold this conversation. Why does your organization want to hold this conversation? Are you reacting to an incident within the organization? Are you responding to requests for dialogue by staff? Is this part of your existing DE&Istrategy? 

Be explicit about your purpose

Ensure, as a convener, that everyone knows the purpose of the conversation. It’s important to connect this conversation directly to your organizational values and/or DE&I strategy.

Develop a format appropriate for the size, structure, and culture of your nonprofit

While open forums sound simple, larger nonprofits will likely find them hard to implement and employees who do not get an opportunity to speak may leave feeling frustrated. Typically, more structure, rather than less, is going to lead to better results, especially if your organization does not have a shared foundation for challenging conversations. Consider this:

  • If the goal is to give staff a place to express feelings, this cannot happen effectively for a staff of 40 during a one-hour meeting. In fact, it may do more harm than good to staff most impacted by the subject matter.
  • Encourage staff not to schedule work meetings directly following this conversation to allow time for staff to process and gather themselves.
  • Consider working with your meeting group to set community agreements at the beginning of the discussion. Think of these agreements as guidelines for “how we would like to be together.”

Develop a format and agenda that aligns with your organizational culture

If staff are used to speaking informally and across levels, structure this conversation similarly. If you have a top/down culture, leadership should initiate and/or lead the conversation. Senior leaders can be powerful models by being authentic and, where appropriate, vulnerable. If staff are invited to “ask anything,” be prepared to answer honestly, including when an answer isn’t readily available.

Be mindful of who you ask to organize and facilitate

Consider your organizational assets. Is there staff with facilitation experience? Can you engage your DE&I leaders? That said, be considerate and intentional with your requests. Too often, staff most impacted by an event are the ones asked to initiate discussions and educate their colleagues.

Consider setting some context and shared understanding

We all perceive the world through the lens of our identities and lived experiences. It can be helpful to provide participants pre-reading or shared glossary. Such context will also support organizations in identifying systemic changes they can make.

About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBostonand LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sbornstein@ywboston.org.

Our Shared Sector: Responding with empathy and understanding

By YW Boston

MNNJune2020-min

Right now, your organization, and the nonprofit sector as a whole, has an obligation to bolster its commitment to employees and constituents of color, especially Black employees and constituents. The last few months have been difficult for nonprofits, as our means of operating and much of our funding have been challenged due to COVID-19. In the face of a crisis, equity and inclusion work is too-often deprioritized and neglected. It is critical that nonprofits do not let commitment to DE&I waver. As employees and constituents navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the existent crisis of systemic racism, it is important for nonprofits to lead with empathy and understanding.

First, this requires that nonprofits acknowledge the undue burden that racism is putting on Black colleagues and constituents. When it comes to COVID-19 outcomes, Black communities are experiencing three times the death rate as compared to White communities. This means that Black employees are more likely to be experiencing grief, fear, and anxiety due to structural inequities. Further, the news coming out daily about police brutality and state violence, enacted on innocent Black individuals and protesters in support of Black lives, can be especially exhausting and traumatizing to those who either fear or have experienced similar violence. Your Black colleagues may or may not speak about this during the workday, but it is the duty of employers to express increased empathy, regardless. Just as nonprofits regrouped to strategize how to support employees and constituents through a global pandemic, we should consider how we will support employees and constituents experiencing heightened stress, trauma, and risk due to ongoing racism and heightened police brutality.

One way to lead with empathy, for instance, is to be open and honest about the COVID-19 racial disparities we are witnessing, and how that directly impacts your staff and your mission as an organization. Do not fall back on tropes of “We are all in this together,” or “this pandemic is an equalizer,” because the data show that this notion is false. Particularly after high-profile racist events, such as the murder of George Floyd and ongoing police brutality against Black people, do not go about business as usual by prioritizing the work routine and ongoing projects over the wellbeing of your staff. In addition to making a public statement denouncing racism, demonstrate to your staff how you are committed to more equitable outcomes for your staff and communities. Provide optional space for staff wishing to have a conversation about recent events with colleagues. Prioritize mental health and let your employees know they can take time off if they wish to do so.

In addition to short-term responses, we must ensure we don’t “go back to normal” when COVID-19 and police brutality stop being front-page news. Inspect your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) strategies to determine areas for growth. Take an intersectionalapproach by considering the ways in which all forms of discrimination–such as racism, sexism, classism, or ableism – interact. One of the most important things your organization can do is reach out for help when you need it. Whether your organization has never openly spoken about race before, or you wish to deepen your existent commitment, make an intentional investment in addressing inequities within your organization and in our broader communities.

Remember, our country has hundreds of years of racism in its history. It is not enough to denounce racism, but instead continuously work towards eliminating it. All of us in the nonprofit sector have the responsibility to our staff and to our constituents to keep learning and evolving–and most importantly, to take action.

About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBostonand LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sbornstein@ywboston.org.

Nonprofit 411: 7 Important Factors of Maintaining Internal Control in a Remote World

Nonprofit 411 BerryDunn-minby Preston Kinney, BerryDunn

In a matter of weeks, our world and our workplaces have changed. With stay-at-home orders in effect, we need to consider how to keep our organizations safe as we work remotely from our homes. The following are seven internal controls that will help organizations maintain consistent and reliable controls now and into the future.

  1. Accounts payable and check signing

Your accounts payable and cash disbursement process will likely be upended as a result of your new remote environment. Some have designated certain personnel responsible for checking mail on an infrequent basis. Bills received through the mail will need to be scanned to the accounts payable clerk for entry into the accounting system.

Check signing may also prove to be a challenge as blank check stock may be inaccessible. Electronic approval of invoices and signing of checks, as well as the use of wire and ACH transfers, are feasible solutions.

  1. Segregation of duties

Segregation of duties may become difficult as employees shift to alternative work schedules or have other responsibilities. Maintaining segregation of duties should be a top priority and is something that should be reassessed as circumstances change. Challenging times may force you to get creative by requesting that employees perform duties they are not otherwise accustomed to performing.

  1. Digital sign-offs

Control owners should be cautious about the integrity of an employee’s initials simply typed onto a digital document, as any employee can perform this task. Digital signatures, which require an employee to enter credentials prior to signing, enhance the integrity of a sign-off and are often time stamped. Digital signatures may also “lock down” the document, prohibiting any changes to the signed document.

  1. Timely review

Preparation and review may take longer than usual. If additional time is granted for the preparation and review of documents, consider the implications this has on the transaction class. The longer it takes to complete a control, the greater the consequences may be if you identify an error. For example, the impact of incorrect billing can be substantial if not identified timely.

  1. Information and communication

If you have moved from a paper to a digital environment, sharing of information may not be an issue. For those still operating primarily in a paper environment, performing tasks and sharing information with team members may prove to be difficult. Further, those without the ability to scan and send documents from home could compromise a specific internal control altogether. Being forced to work remotely may be the perfect excuse to move paper processes to digital.

  1. Monitoring

Monitoring your internal control environment is of utmost importance given these significant changes. Frequent conversations should be had with control owners to ensure changes to processes do not render controls ineffective. Identified gaps in internal controls should be addressed proactively. Control owners should discuss changes to control processes with departmental stakeholders so these departments can consider the impact of changes on internal control. This also gives these departments the opportunity to cover any resulting gaps.

  1. Permanent changes

Once the remote work mandates end, the effects of working in such an environment will not. There are benefits and efficiencies to be found in working remotely. As people have been forced to work in such an environment, they will be more comfortable doing so. Therefore, let’s take this opportunity to revise processes and internal controls to be “remote workplace” compatible. This could provide a long-lasting impact to your organization beyond the pandemic.

If you have questions about these 7 important factors, or if you have specific questions about maintaining your organization’s internal controls in a remote environment, please reach out to Preston Kinney at pkinney@berrydunn.com, who is based in our Waltham, Massachusetts office. We’re here to help.

Our Shared Sector: 7 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Make Virtual Meetings More Inclusive

By YW Boston

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In the midst of a crisis, continuing to foster an inclusive workplace is as important as ever. Nonprofits know that COVID-19 is impacting communities in different ways. As some organizations continue to work remotely, leaders and managers must ensure that they support staff of all identities. Here are some best practices for supporting staff and practicing inclusivity in a virtual landscape.

  1. Acknowledge and address the diverse challenges of working remotely and during a crisis.

Let people know you are aware that individuals’ experiences vary during this time. The ability to work remotely in a comfortable space is a privilege not everyone has. People may not have the technology for regular video conferencing. Living situations also vary by individual: many people live with roommates or are balancing work with caring for others. Give people advance notice if there is an expectation for them to participate via video, and send a follow-up email with action items.

  1. Explicitly incorporate an inclusion lens and remain mindful of bias.

Begin meetings with a focused statement that centers DE&I and your organization’s mission. Recognize that microaggressions can still occur virtually, and encourage people to reach out to you or to colleagues for support if they run into barriers to full participation. Setting a precedent of open communication around decision-making can also go a long way in empowering employees. Before announcing a policy change, emphasize that your organization is seeking solutions that do not cause disparate impact and that team members should weigh in with their feedback. Provide private ways for employees to submit feedback, in order to mitigate the risk of making anyone feel like their needs and concerns are being exposed.

  1. Offer micro-affirmations.

Managers can help counteract feelings of isolation among those they manage, especially employees who hold marginalized identities. Micro-affirmations include recognizing the achievements of others, taking a professional interest in staff, and asking for others’ opinions. These small gestures can often be overlooked during times of crisis.

  1. Leverage technology + structured participation to capture diverse viewpoints.

Without the ability to see body language, people with marginalized identities may find it even harder to jump into a discussion. Incorporate different participation strategies, such as a round-robin, that give everyone the opportunity to speak. Emphasize that you want to hear input from everyone. Use technology tools—such as chat rooms, polling, and other in-app nonverbal feedback functions—to get input on ideas.

  1. Delegate responsibilities.

Prioritizing inclusion can be more challenging when simultaneously managing technology. Consider holding meetings with a co-host. By sharing the work, you can focus on facilitating and noticing which individuals the team has not heard from.

  1. Take advantage of supervisory meetings.

Managers have opportunities to build their inclusive practices during 1-on-1 meetings. Ask open-ended questions to learn about specific concerns and listen for challenges related to employees’ physical workspace, feelings of isolation, or changes in mood and appearance. Work with each employee to ensure they have what they need to feel good about their work. As a manager, you can use these learnings to advocate for all staff members to ensure everyone receives necessary support. Your organization’s leadership should observe common themes in order to implement new policies and practices.

About YW Boston 

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.