Monthly Archives: August 2011

Love at work: dictating office dating?

What should you do about employees dating each other?

Sample employee handbooks almost always have conflict of interest policies that restrict inter-office romance. Lawyers frequently advise their clients to include no-fraternization policies. Sexual harassment lawsuits can destroy an organization. And most of use could tell a story or two about workplace love gone very wrong.

On the other hand, it feels overbearing and unrealistic to dictate employees’ dating lives, especially in a society where almost a third of us marry a co-worker and about twice as many of us date one. What can you do to protect your organization without playing the Love Police?

First, why have a policy at all? One reason is conflict of interest—romantic relationships may affect decisions or be perceived as doing so, especially if one of the parties is responsible for the other’s assignments, performance reviews, or compensation. Second, sexual harassment—-strict laws hold employers responsible for sexual harassment, and protracted and expensive lawsuits can be the result if an employee sues.

All nonprofits should have policies to prevent against these risks. Conflict of interest policies should restrict nepotism and can also require disclosure of intimate or familial relationships so that employers can determine if there is conflict of interest. Sexual harassment policies define and prohibit harassment and explain how the employer will investigate and respond to harassment complaints.

If you develop careful, clear conflict of interest and harassment policies, you probably don’t need a strict non-fraternization policy. Your conflict of interest policy should include the prohibition of supervisor/subordinate relationships. Remember,  there doesn’t have to be demonstrated favoritism or lack of objectivity, only the potential due to conflict of interest. Some HR specialists advise that policies also specifically address on-the-job behavior, such as limiting physical contact or personal exchanges that could make others uncomfortable. (An example is here.)

It has become increasingly common to require employees to report intimate relationships so that potential conflict of interest can be ruled out and/or employees can be re-assigned. The standard legal advice is for employers to protect themselves by reserving the right to terminate one of the employees if conflict of interest is identified and re-assignment is not possible. (Of course, it is difficult to say what constitutes an intimate relationship and at what stage disclosure should be expected. Most policies aren’t explicit about this.)

As for sexual harassment, policies should spell out detailed complaint procedures and clarify exactly how the employer will respond to complaints. The burden is on employers to demonstrate that immediate action is taken, that there are serious consequences for the perpetrator, and that retaliation is prohibitied. Sexual harassment policies also cover third parties, such as other employees who believe they are being affected by one person’s treatment of another.

In addition to harassment policies, many large corporations have “love contract” requirements that require employees to sign a document acknowledging that a workplace romance is consensual and waiving the right to claim sexual harassment for any event prior to signing the contract.  (You can view a few more samples here (PDF) and here.

Outright bans on office dating are largely on the wane. Prohibiting dating doesn’t prevent relationships from happening and can lead to problems by pushing them underground. From an employer liability standpoint, it may be harder to produce evidence that a relationship is consensual if there is ever a harassment claim than if it was out in the open.

Bottom line?  Policies should protect employers and employees, help maintain  morale and productivity, and be appropriate for the organizational culture.

Do you have a written policy on dating? Drop us a line—we’d love to know how your organization handles the risks and realities of on-the-job romance.

New ratings sites offer broader view of nonprofit performance

What should would-be donors know about your organization? Your overhead rate, or your core strategies? Your budget size, or the program capacity you’ve built?  How much money you raised, or what you’ve accomplished with it?

According to some nonprofit leaders, new ways of assessing nonprofit accountability are needed. Critics of nonprofit ratings sites like Charity Navigator say that the “metrics only” approach to judging a nonprofit sends the wrong message, and that other kinds of information should be widely available. Now, a handful of web-based ratings sites are trying to expand public information on nonprofits past the old “efficiency” indicators of overhead and budget numbers.

The Charting Impact is one such framework. Designed by Guidestar, Independent Sector, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to “encourage strategic thinking,” the site offers nonprofits a chance to create a report that summarizes their strategies, capacities, and measurement techniques. The report is then reviewed by the Board Chair and CEO, who can add comments, and by anonymous stakeholders. The reviews are intended to validate the report, which includes answers to five questions:

1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

Once an organization completes a Charting Impact Report, its responses produce a document with a unique URL that can be shared on the Charting Impact site, on GuideStar profiles, on BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluations, and on their own websites. The idea, say the founders, is to allow current and potential donors a concise look at your plans and progress, and to judge your strategic thinking along with your overhead expense rate.

Charity Navigator has also shown a shift in its model, which now includes such indicators as having a conflict of interest policy in place and audited financials posted on the site. Eventually the service plans to include results reporting as well, including logic models and benchmarking documents. These will become part of the program’s star ratings for measuring nonprofit effectiveness.

Can the new direction help clear up myths about nonprofit effectiveness and reduce the tendency to focus on nothing but the numbers?  It depends on whether potential supporters know where to look. But nonprofits can link to their organizational reviews and reports on the scoring sites from their own websites, using the tools as a way to help donors do their research. The sites provide nonprofits the opportunity to craft online information that more accurately reflects “what’s going on” beyond financials, and to think critically about how it will be received. For instance, you can show donors that you distinguish between outputs, such as “number of trainings conducted” and outcomes, such as increased knowledge and skills. It never hurts to have a reason to concisely articulate your goals, strategies, and progress.

Women, new CEOs mean more corporate giving

Guess what leads to more giving from corporate funders? Women in charge.

According to Harvard Business School’s Christopher Marquis and Matthew Lee, the number of women in high seats in a corporation is directly associated with its levels of corporate giving. Higher levels of generosity, they say in a new report, are associated with female ownership and leadership.

In addition to women CEOs and Board members, Marquis and Lee found that another leadership factor influences corporate giving. Companies with newer CEOs tend to give more than companies whose CEOs have been in office for a while. New CEOs, they report, are eager to launch new initiatives and look for high-profile organizational change and impact.

Bigger Boards give more, say the researchers, but they may have less governance. A bigger Board equals more corporate giving but less unified strategy and less oversight, they say. Members of bigger Boards are more able to use “corporate” giving to fund their own pet projects.

The study also found that companies whose headquarters are located in lower-income areas give more. This is likely because decisionmakers are more exposed to local needs and issues, and because there’s comparatively more opportunity to assert their role in a community.

Between one third and one half of corporate giving is made through foundations, which must file publicly accessible 990PFs. The rest is below the radar, with no reporting requirements. Research into corporate giving has typically been hindered by the fact that companies are reluctant to disclose this information. As Rick Cohen wrote in Corporate Giving: Decloaking Stealth Philanthropy, it’s not uncommon for corporate Boards to give large grants to “nonprofit” special interest groups and “think tanks” that advance their corporate position or employ their members. Despite a call to increase disclosure and reporting, grantmaking has not yet been targeted as part of corporate accountability reforms.

Marquis and Lee don’t offer advice for nonprofits, although the research reinforces several age-old principles of corporate grantseeking: find companies with ties to your community, look for business practices specifically aligned with your mission, and research who’s in influential positions in those companies (hopefully new women CEOs). Also, corporations see grants as a kind of marketing investment—organizations with a good PR opportunity still have a better shot at corporate grants.

Time to get with Google Docs?

Is your organization using Google Docs yet?

Writing grants, preparing presentations, sharing spreadsheets—Google Docs has become a standard tool for collaborative document development.  For nonprofits, it’s one of the easiest and most efficient ways to manage both internal projects and those with outside clients or partners. It can save time spent on meetings and making sense of multiple drafts and comments, and it can foster collaborative thinking and creativity.

The old way to share documents was to send them as email attachments. The documents “lived” on your computer. Every time you sent one, you were really sending a copy, not the original version. If you sent a draft of a proposal to three people for comment, there were four versions of the document. Likely the copies you sent spawned more copies, as the recipients then shared their drafts, and then created new ones to send back to you. The result—a sprawling, hard-to-keep-track-of family of related but different documents in different places.

Docs can vastly improve workflow by changing how you think about digital documents. In Docs, your documents don’t live on your computer, they live on the Internet. The software allows you to securely share any document created with people you choose, and lets people revise and contribute as needed. When you enter the e-mail addresses of those who are working on a project, they will be sent an e-mail stating that a document has been shared. You can specify whether each recipient gets read-write access or view-only access.

In Google Docs, documents can be saved to a user’s local computer in a variety of formats including Microsoft Office, HTML, and PDF. They’re saved to Google’s servers to prevent data loss, and a revision history is automatically kept. The service is supported by most major Web browsers. Documents can be tagged, classified, and archived for organizational purposes.

For those who are used to Word’s Track Changes function, Google Docs provides a similar feature. Changes and additions made by contributors are visible in real time, and you can see all the iterations separately or together. But unlike in Track Changes, all the changes are on a single copy of the document. Multiple contributors can work on a document at the same time, allowing them to avoid duplicating work and to stay on top of changes and additions. This way, groups avoid wasting time managing drafts—reviewing, changing, sending back, and comparing countless versions of the same file.

Google Docs is one of many cloud computing document-sharing services, and one of the only free ones (up to 1 G, more storage is available for small fees.) If you get the Google Cloud Connect plug-in for Microsoft Office, you can automatically store and synchronize Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets, with the Google Doc copy automatically updating each time the Office document is saved. (This way, Microsoft Office documents can be edited offline and synchronized later when online.)

There are now thousands of free templates to use in Google Docs, including those for infographics, meeting minutes, communications plans, event feedback survey, business plans, presentation checklists, timecards, business cards, fixed rate calculators, press releases, project timelines, and travel expenses.

And one more reason to start using Google Docs? It works with most mobile apps, including Android, iPhone and iPad.  Mobile users can create, view, and edit, and create Google Docs documents, spreadsheets, and presentations wherever they are—a lifesaver when you’re working under a grant deadline or other tight schedule and need quick revisions and contributions.