Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ten tips for telecommuting and flex-time arrangements

Does your organization offer telecommuting or flex-time to employees?  If so, good for you: alternative work arrangements can help employees and their families at home, lower turnover, and sometimes save time and expense, not to mention environmental impact.

It’s to every nonprofit’s advantage to have a happy, productive workforce. Customizing work times and locations can go a long way in satisfying and motivating valued employees. But a good system must be in place to ensure fairness and effectiveness. If you’re considering alternative work arrangements, here are some things to think about:

1. Decide on a process for providing flex-time or telecommuting. Do you want to proactively offer it or allow employees to request it? What is the process for determining whether an employee is eligible? Whose input will be sought?

2. Develop a form for documenting alternative work arrangement requests or offers, that describes the request (e.g., telecommute two days, work four ten-hour days, etc.)

3. Consider whether the position is compatible with the alternative work arrangement. Generally jobs that include a lot of field work, customer service, or staff support aren’t compatible with alternative work hours or telecommuting.

4. Analyze how the arrangement will affect the organization, other employees, programs, agendas, etc.

5. Assess whether the employee has demonstrated she can meet goals and is capable of working independently.

6. Consider arranging a trial period first, and re-evaluating after 60 or 90 days.

7. Develop a policy for home office equipment: who provides it? Who maintains it? What are the requirements—broadband, server access, printer, fax, etc.?  Also, make sure you that security issues and requirements (e.g. data stored on home computers, security protocols, anti-virus software) can be effectively addressed.

8. There are many legal issues to consider. For example, if a telecommuter develops a repetitive stress injury because she doesn’t have ergonomically correct workstation furniture at home, your organization could be held responsible. OHSA rules and regulations apply to all workplaces including telecommuters’ home offices.  Other types of policies (e.g., harassment, confidentiality, etc.) also extend to telecommuting arrangements.

9. Develop a telecommuting agreement that details the arrangement and states that it can be revoked at any time. The agreement, which the employee must sign, should also include assurances related to safety. Many employers also require employees to check phone and email messages regularly (e.g., at least every two hours) or be available by live chat. The agreement might also address meeting locations, handling of files, access to data, and other relevant policies and procedures.

10. You will need a system in place for tracking, monitoring and reporting. Think through how employees will track hours and report the status of their work, as well as how employers will make assignments and monitor outcomes.

Philanthropic leader on the deficit, nonprofits, and our greatest civic challenges

We hope you were able to join us for the Alliance’s annual conference on April 27. We came away inspired by the speakers and breakouts, full of ideas for our work as an organization, and with a renewed sense of connection to our nonprofit sector and the Mid-South community.

Rip Rapson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, spoke eloquently about recent and expected changes in the nonprofit funding landscape and how Kresge and private foundations in general are preparing to respond.

According to Rapson, the current deficit reduction crisis is the second “tectonic shift in the nonprofit landscape” that will “almost certainly redefine how nonprofits work.”  Budget reductions, he reported, will “cascade down from Federal services and funding flows to the states, from the states to local government, and from local government to real people living in real places.”

Rapson described the scrambling of the sector to survive amid the financial crisis as a “training wheels exercise” that did not fully prepare us for this new era. He urged the audience not to think of the current environment as a passing phase, or a mere funding crisis, observing that “we are witnessing the deconstruction and reconstruction of what constitutes the common good.” Questions about our deepest ethical priorities as a society are at stake, he declared:

“How will we balance the virtue of long-term investment with an insistence on minimizing tax payments?  How do we preserve a civic architecture of compassion for those less fortunate while honoring the accomplishments of those who have achieved positions of economic and political power?  How can we avoid dismantling structures of mutual assistance in the face an impulse to trust and promote market efficiencies?

The combination of these factors – the new normal, the innovation imperative, and the recasting of the common good – presents a civic circumstance that isn’t temporary or minor or limited.  It’s real, it promises to endure, and it’s becoming embedded in virtually every dimension of modern American life.”

You can read Rapson’s speech here to learn how Kresge is responding to the crisis and how the philanthropic sector as a whole might—or must– move forward in this new age. You’ll also find presentations and articles by other conference speakers, including Cynthia Gibson of the Philanthropic Initiative and Richard Brewster from the National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise.

Funding cuts undermine vision for government-nonprofit partnership

The financial crisis of recent years forced many nonprofits to restructure or rebuild their funding streams. Many had to give up donations and grants they’d long relied on, cut staff and services, and create new revenue-earning programs.

Most nonprofits found strategies to help them through the recession and cope with falling funds and rising demands. But now, with the Federal government calling for trillions of dollars in spending cuts over the next decade, it seems the last few years may just have been an opening act for an even larger test of survival.

It’s impossible to ignore the signs that nonprofits are entering a new era of financial reckoning, including the compromise 2011 budget passed last month, the 2012 budget plan, the various 12-year plans to reduce the Federal deficit by no less than four trillion dollars, the first year of baby boomers coming up for Medicaid, and the fact that by 2015 Social Security will be cash negative.

In a compromise over the 2011 budget, Congress and the White House agreed to cut $40 billion from last year’s budget. Across-the-board reductions of 0.2 percent were made in addition to cuts in the arts, community health centers, national and community service, family planning, and many other programs. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “nearly every kind of nonprofit program financed by the government will have to fight to keep the budget scalpel at bay.”

That nonprofits must reconsider their relationship to the Federal government seems altogether obvious, but what does this mean? Some conservative thinkers believe that nonprofit dependence on government funding has always been inappropriate and has kept the sector from developing sustainable levels of private funding. According to the Chronicle, observers such as Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research propose that the current crisis is an “opportunity” for private donors to pick up the slack.

Given that saving nonprofits was hardly top priority for the country’s wealthy corporations and citizens during the recession, this solution seems far-fetched. On the other hand, the lobby to prevent budget cuts may be just as idealistic. Liberals who believe the government can best serve its citizens by funding nonprofits are calling for aggressive advocacy against the cuts that will undoubtedly burden vulnerable people and communities. But few clear alternatives have been proposed. Any effective plan to save nonprofit funding will necessarily involve detailed ideas for reducing program and administrative costs, not to mention a compelling case for changing tax policy, which never gets much traction.

Perhaps the real battleground is closer to home, where the fiscal outlook may be even bleaker.  Closing the Federal budget gap will entail cuts to already struggling state and local governments, which constitute a huge portion of public spending on human services programs. One quarter of state funding comes from the Federal government, even more in recent years due to the 2009-2010 stimulus package.

Now states are certain to slash their nonprofit funding, especially because most are in a state of crisis over unfunded pension and retirement liabilities. Last week’s Pew Center on the States report described the estimated $1.3 to $2.4 trillion in payout obligations paralyzing state coffers, and how rising Medicaid costs are adding to debt that will certainly put downward pressure on human services spending. And just like at the national level, raising state taxes to increase revenues is an unpopular solution, and not easily achieved due to requirements for legislative super majorities and public voting.

But funding trickles down even further, to the local governments that receive almost a third of their revenues from states. As the GAO reported in its April 2011 Update, local governments are in a precarious position with respect to the rising cost of health care for their workforces and retirees. According to the report, state and local governments can expect that “the fiscal position of the sector will steadily decline through 2060 absent any policy changes.”

Talk of a “new era for nonprofits” under the Obama administration once referred to the President’s ideas for building new government-nonprofit partnerships, expanding social entrepreneurship, and scaling up effective community programs to the national level. Now this new era is looking a lot less rosy. Greater reliance on nonprofits to deliver essential services assumed a proportionate allocation of funds. But partnerships with nonprofits always take a hit when budgets are cut at every level of government, and all the nonprofit innovation in the world can’t make up for a lack of public investment in the work it’s entrusted to do.