Your One Goal for 2019

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

In many ways, 2018 was the year of the story. Nonprofits were encouraged to share the impact of their work with supporters by using narratives that read almost like short stories. Appeal letters featured heartwarming tales of struggling protagonists who were helped along their journey by a nonprofit organization, with the donor as the hero.

But 2019 needs to be the year of questions. I’m not saying we need to throw stories out of our toolbox this year. But, if we are going to use them, we need to question the narrative. Does our story empower those we serve? Does this story unintentionally perpetuate racism, sexism, ableism, and other –ism’s? How can you be sure you’re telling a compelling true story and not disseminating poverty porn?

In addition to moving past stories and creating empowering narratives, questions can help us gain clarity of purpose and clearly articulate impact. As a donor, I want to know how my support helps. This doesn’t mean I need a log of how my $200 paid for lunches. I want to know: What change did I affect with my giving? Did I contribute to making the world a better place? What did we accomplish together and what remains to be done?

Importantly, nonprofits must keep a finger on the pulse of their field, having a ready answer to the question: Does your nonprofit treat a symptom or solve the root cause of a problem?

Both types of work are absolutely needed. Symptoms need to be treated until we can figure out how to solve the root cause of a problem, which will likely need to occur through advocacy for systemic changes. However, where does your nonprofit fall on this spectrum? What is the root cause and is anyone in your community tackling it?

If your organization goes through a facilitated strategic planning process every three to five years these questions are likely raised at that time. I would argue that this is not sufficient. Questioning what, how, and why we do our work should be a constant dialogue in our offices. Questions ensure we not only stay on track but are on the right track. Questions help us become better leaders, fundraisers, front line staff, board members, community members. Questions help us solve problems.

As you sit down to write your goals for the year, make sure to add this one to the top of your list: Ask more questions.


Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for Disaster?

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

The recent string of disasters around the world, from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to the literal earth shaking events in Mexico, remind us that disasters can strike unexpectedly and have dire consequences for the ill prepared. Planning for a disaster is critical for all employers but more so for nonprofits that not only have to look after staff but also constituents. Does your nonprofit have documented emergency procedures? Have they been updated recently? Now is the time to get your ducks in a row. Consider the following:

  • If your nonprofit organization offers critical or crisis services, how will you ensure continuity of services during a disaster? Or, ensure that your services will be available shortly thereafter?
    This will be more important for some nonprofits than others, and chances are if you offer crisis services, you have a plan in place. But, for all nonprofits getting back in business after a disaster will be the focus. Contingency planning will ensure that staff know how to safely handle the situation when it arises. The best emergency procedures indicate a variety of sentinel events and the organization’s response to each, since the ability to reinstate services will differ if there is significant property damage versus just a power outage. Take the time to think these through with staff and come up with a plan. Ideally, revisit and reassess the plan annually.
  • Does your nonprofit have an emergency kit?
    This should be a no-brainer. Your kit can include emergency contact information for all staff (and constituents if they are on site), a designated safe meeting location, first aid supplies, extra supplies (i.e. flashlight, water, food, etc.), directions to the nearest hospital, and any other needs specific to your nonprofit and its location.
  • Do you have a list of vendor contact information on hand?
    We typically have access to our vendor representatives through email or a shared database, but these may not be accessible during a disaster. Including a paper copy of contact information for the various vendors your nonprofit uses will come in handy if you need to reactivate your accounts or reestablish a connection. This can include your nonprofit’s IT provider, telephone company, cable company, and third party contractors.
  • Has one staff member been assigned to lead emergency preparedness efforts?
    Identifying one lead staff member (or one per department for large organizations) not only ensures that the preparatory work gets done, but also minimizes confusion during a disaster. This staff person should schedule emergency drills, update the emergency kit as needed, update contact information. Importantly, this staff would be responsible for scheduling regular trainings to ensure that all personnel understand the nonprofit’s emergency procedures and know how to safely utilize emergency equipment (i.e. fire extinguishers, first aid kit).
  • If you share an office building, has your organization considered sharing your emergency plan with the other businesses?
    Sharing your emergency plans with the other businesses can lead to a coordinated effort during a disaster and limit confusion. Moreover, during a disaster the other businesses may have some information that yours does not so initiating that contact early on is critical. Further, if another business in your building already has an emergency plan, your organization can simply modify that to meet the specific needs of your nonprofit rather than creating a new plan from scratch.

It is easy for disaster preparedness to slip down the to-do list, especially for small nonprofit organizations that only have enough time and personnel to focus on the problem at hand. However, a simple plan and conversation with staff as little as once a year can go a long way in ensuring the safety of staff and constituents during a disaster, and get the organization back up and running quickly thereafter.

For more information on how to design an emergency plan that is appropriate for your nonprofit, check out:

Five Questions to Consider For Your Nonprofit’s Remote Work Policy

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

Allowing employees to work from home can be a win-win for employees and employers. It can be a great money-saver for organizations that choose not to rent office space either for cash flow issues or just given the nature of their work. Moreover, flexible schedules allow nonprofits to offer a non-monetary benefit that many employees value. While more organizations are offering this benefit, not all have remote work policies and are vulnerable not only to lawsuits but also lost information and security breaches. This policy does not have be complicated, but it should lay out specific guidelines and expectations for employees working from home. When drafting your remote work policy, consider the following questions:

  1. What are the availability expectations of staff working from home?
    For organizations that allow staff to work from home a set day of the week, the expectation is likely to be available for phone calls and emails during office hours. However, for nonprofits that allow staff to schedule work from home days as needed, employees typically do so because there are personal tasks that need to be tended to during office hours. For instance, an employee is getting furniture delivered and is asked to be home during a four-hour block of time. Other staff may use work from home time for travel. In these cases, a remote work policy should specifically indicate when staff need to be available to answer emails and phone calls, and when paid time off should be used.
  2. Are employees required to request work from home days in advance?
    I would argue that employees should request work from home days in advance, and indicate work from home time on a shared calendar, if there is one. While exceptions to this will inevitably arise, (i.e. an employee’s child is sick and they need to stay home) scheduling work from home days ahead of time allows other staff to plan meetings and team work. No one works in isolation so this courtesy to other staff should be included in a remote work policy.
  3. What equipment will employees use?
    If the organization only purchases desktop computers, the employee will need to use their own computers to work from home. In this case, who pays for maintaining the equipment? How will the organization ensure that the employee’s home computer meets security standards? This may seem like minutiae; however, the last thing any nonprofit wants is a cybersecurity breach that leaks client or donor data. Again, this does not have be complicated and could be as simple as the employee bringing their home laptop into the office and the nonprofit’s IT contractor installing the appropriate software. Or, the employee is asked to download specific software before their first work from home day.
  4. What is the procedure for turning over all property- equipment, files, intellectual property- over to the nonprofit?
    Clarifying this procedure is particularly important when employees use their own computers to work from home.
  5. Who covers injuries that occur during remote time?
    Your workers’ comp policy may already address this issue, but it does not hurt to also include this language in your remote work policy so staff have easy access to the information. Many workers’ comp policies indicate that employees who are injured while working remotely are covered under the employer’s policy so long as they were doing work directly related to their employment at the time of the injury. If, for instance, an employee working from home somehow gets hurt while doing a load of laundry, this would not be covered by workers’ comp, even though the injury occurred during office hours.

There are many benefits to allowing employees the flexibility of working from home, including increased loyalty, decreased burnout and a boost in productivity. A clear work from home policy should not discourage employees from working from home. Rather, it should clarify the expectations and protections available on both sides of the work from home arrangement.