Friday, February 17, 2012

The Question To Always Ask A Job Reference

It can be very difficult to get any of the information you really want when you question an applicant's job reference.  Modern employment laws make it hard, if not impossible, to ask any specific questions about a former employee.  If you are going to ask one question, however, Jack DeBoer has the perfect one.

DeBoer wrote in his book "Risk Only Money" that many employers these days don't really want to shoot straight with you when it comes to discussing employees who were not that great.  They don't want to face the possibility of a lawsuit if their answers costs that person the job, even if it's hard to prove it.  If you are going to get the information you need, DeBoer wrote that you should ask the following question: "If you needed the skills of this employee, would you rehire this person?"  This is a great question to ask because it's a simple yes or no answer that requires no further explanation, and it allows the employer to tell the truth without violating any laws.

DeBoer also suggested that hiring managers should learn to read between the lines when listening to an answer.  For example, if you ask how trustworthy the former employee is, listen for any hesitation in the answer.  Anything less than "Oh, absolutely!" can be a signal that you aren't getting the whole truth.  You can also try asking about the employee's performance rather than their character, as DeBoer wrote that there are fewer laws restricting those kinds of questions.

Employee screening can sure be difficult, but the tips above should make it a little easier to get the information you really need.

Nonprofit Exec Testifies In Corruption Trial

The former executive director of a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit testified yesterday in the corruption trial of the organization's founder, ex-congressman Mike Veon.

The Tribune-Review reported today that John Gallo, who was executive director of the Beaver Initiative for Growth (BIG), testified that he knew there was trouble for the nonprofit when he discovered checks written in its account that had no connection to the organization.  Gallo was the first witness in the case against Veon, who is accused, along with co-defendant Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, of theft-related offenses and conflict of interest.  The two are also accused of funneling $10 million in state grants to BIG.

Before being ousted in 2006, Veon was a Democratic power broker from Beaver Falls, Pa.  He is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for previous corruption charges, and faces 19 felonies in the BIG case.  Perretta-Rosepink faces six theft-related counts.

Gallo told the jury that he first found the suspect checks after returning from a month's leave.  The checks were written by Perretta-Rosepink and included a $5,000 payment to the late Rep. Terry Van Horne, who had no association to BIG, and payments to a legislative office in Midland.  Veon's lawyer, Joel Sansone, accused Gallo of stealing money from the organization, citing numerous expenses for flat amounts, such as $400 and $150.  Gallo denied those claims, but acknowledged he could not remember all of the nonprofit's expenses. 

Prosecutor Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter told the jury that Sansone's allegations were "baseless," and accused Veon of using BIG money not to bolster the local economy, but to pay his legislative chief of staff and his law firm for consulting services, among other things.

The trial will resume on Tuesday.  You can read more about it in The Tribune-Review.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Make Your Job Candidates Say "I Do"

After what seemed like an eternity of reviewing resum├ęs and conducting job interviews, you've finally decided which candidate you want to hire. Now it's time to offer them the job.
Before you get too excited there's something you need to remember: Just because you want this person for the job, doesn't mean they want you. When crafting your job offer, you have to make sure to give them every reason to say yes.

Since you have presumably dealt with this applicant for a while, you should have a pretty good idea of what it he/she wants. With that in mind, Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem, in their book "The Big Book of HR," present 10 issues that are most important to job seekers:
  • Commute;
  • Salary;
  • Incentive compensation;
  • Time off benefits;
  • Flexible schedule;
  • Opportunity for work/life balance;
  • Health and other benefits;
  • Ability to progress in the organization;
  • Training and development opportunities; and,
  • Availability of coaching and/or mentoring opportunities.
It's not likely that all of these issues will be important to your preferred candidate but a good number of them probably will. It's up to you to determine which of these issues, if they are not met, would be the biggest deal-breaker. If this is someone you really want to work at your nonprofit, then you should do your best to accommodate them, or at least point out which issues you are most willing to be flexible about.

Finally, Mitchell and Gamlem suggest you include the following information in your job offer e-mail:
  • State your enthusiasm for this candidate to join your firm;
  • The start date for the job;
  • Starting salary; 
  • Additional compensation, if applicable;
  • Contingencies, such as the candidate's references must check out, or he/she must pass the drug screen;
  • Benefits summary;
  • Reporting relationships;
  • Date when offer expires; and,
  • Place for candidate to sign if he/she accepts.

Nonprofit Sues Tax Collector Over Public Records Request

A Florida based nonprofit is suing a Palm Beach tax collector for refusing to release public records of a $1.9 million settlement her office reached with over a dozen online travel companies.

The Palm Beach Post reported yesterday that Citizens for Sunshine, a government watchdog group based in Sarasota, Fla., had sent a member to the office of Palm Beach tax collector Anne Gannon to inspect the document, but was denied access by Gannon's staff.  These types of legal settlements are usually considered fair game under public records law, but Gannon's office says it can't release the documents until it notifies the attorneys of the travel companies.

Citizens for Sunshine disagrees, saying the public has a constitutional right to see the documents, and has asked a circuit court judge to order Gannon to release the records.  Additionally, the nonprofit wants reimbursement for their legal fees.  Gannon told The Palm Beach Post that she plans to release the documents on Tuesday.  Additionally, she said she was not aware of the group's initial request.

The documents in question reflect a settlement that ended a lawsuit that Gannon filed in 2009 that alleged that certain travel companies, including Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, were not giving the county all of the tourism taxes they collect from the hotel rooms they book.  The was for $1.9 million, nearly $1.3 million of which will be used to pay tourism-related expenses.

You can read the full story in The Palm Beach Post.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Professional Development For Volunteers

While nonprofit volunteers will often move on to different opportunities once their work is done, that doesn't mean you don't have an obligation to help them out with their future careers.

Helping your volunteers with their professional development is a good way to show how much you appreciate their work.  And, as John L. Lipp writes in "The Idiot's Guide to Recruiting and Managing Volunteers," it's also a great strategy to keep them motivated.  While this training will help volunteers develop career skills for later in their life, it can also lead to promotions within the organization.

In order to keep things fresh, Lipp recommends bringing in special guest speakers to speak on specific topics.  You may also want to schedule webinars that your volunteers can attend.  Either of these choices provide a level of interaction that will enable your volunteer workers to better enhance their skills.

So how often should you offer these professional development courses?  While Lipp acknowledges there is ongoing debate on how much is necessary, most agree that some follow-up training should be offered at least once a year. 

Missed Yesterday's Webinar?

Thanks to everybody that attended yesterday's webinar on cloud computing.  We hope it was an enjoyable and educational experience for every one involved.  If you happened to miss out on the webinar, not to worry: We have the slides and audio available on our website.

If you missed any of our other past webinars, those are also available in our online library.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Valentine's Day, Make Job Seekers Love You

Cross-Posted From Nonprofit Jobs

As every one who is currently conscious is aware, today is Valentine's Day.  That means you have (or at least you better have) bought gifts for your significant other, and are preparing for a romantic evening together.  Nonprofit employers also have designs to woo someone.  In this case, it's job seekers.

There are many ways to make a job seeker fall in love with your organization, but one of the best ways is to write a strong job description.  At its core, a job description is a marketing tool: It must captivate potential job applicants by communicating the opportunities the position provides.  It must also outline all the requirements necessary so there is no confusion should there be an interview.

In "Nonprofit Management 101," James Weinberg and Cassie Scarano of Commongood Careers provide eight components that make up a strong nonprofit job description:
  • Title: Your job title should be short, concise, and widely recognizable.
  • Organizational Overview: Introduce your nonprofit through a succinct and enthusiastic paragraph that outlines your mission and programs, success to date, growth plans and future opportunities, and culture.  Remember to include your organization's website.
  • Position Overview: Use one well-written paragraph to describe the overall function of the position and highlight the opportunities for impact and leadership.
  • Responsibilities: Us five to seven bullet points to provide detail about the responsibilities of the position.  Avoid the use of organizational jargon.
  • Qualifications: This section should outline the experience and competencies required for success in the position and your organization, without being overly prescriptive.
  • Compensation Range: Despite popular believe, disclosing specific compensation information is not required and in fact, is not recommended, as it limits the candidates you will see.  If you do plan to include compensation information, put it at the end of the posting.
  • Application Instructions: Be very specific about how you want candidates to apply for the position.  Keep the application process simple, as you do not want strong candidates to remove themselves from the process.
  • Equal Opportunity Statement: It is good practice to have an equal opportunity employer policy and to include that in your job description.  In most cases, a simple "XYZ is an equal opportunity employer" should suffice.
If you follow these eight best practices for job descriptions, you should have some of the best applicants out there falling in love with you.  Who knows, maybe they'll even buy you some chocolate.

The Case Of The Disappearing Donations

The Los Angeles Times wrote today that 200 nonprofit groups have reported that all of their donated funds have vanished after the organization that watched over the money, the International Humanities Center, shut down last month.  While the closing of the operation may have come as a bit of a surprise, it was a bigger shock when many of its clients found they were missing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Directors at 40 of the nonprofits affected have tallied their potential losses at $877,000.  The California attorney general's office is currently investigating the matter.

The nonprofits that used the International Humanities Center were mostly small organizations that didn't have the resources to handle the donations and their related paperwork.  The center acted as a financial services organization and handled all of this work for a small fee.

Steve Sugarman, the center's executive director, assured his clients in an e-mail that their funds had been spent appropriately.  This set off a bit of a red flag because fiscal sponsors are not supposed to spend a client's money for its own reasons.  When pressed on this, a consultant for the center, David DelGrosso, told nonprofits that their donations were used to pay legal fees and other bills, but he had been assured those funds would be replaced.  This consultant also said that the center had wasted project funds on a scam e-mail campaign.  This scam cost the center $200,000, and was a big factor in its downfall.

For now, many of the affected nonprofits are unable to pay their staffs or bills.  Some of them have little hope that they will ever see the money again, and have explained the situation to their donors.  This case is a perfect example of how careful nonprofits need to be when handing their funds over to third party.

You can read the full story in The Los Angeles Times.

NY Arts Groups Want Love

Today is Valentine's Day and New York arts organizations have one request to the state: Give us some love!

Crain's New York Business reported yesterday that the Arts NYS Coalition, a group that includes a number of nonprofit cultural organizations like the Children's Museum of Manhattan, is launching a campaign to get increased state funding to the New York State Council on Arts (NYSCA).

Although President Barack Obama's new federal budget proposes an increase of $8 million to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), state funding has declined in recent years, especially in New York.  Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed grants to NYSCA is $31.6 million which, while not a reduction from the previous year, is almost $4 million less than it was in 1985.  The Arts NYS Coalition is asking the state Legislature to increase funding by $4.5 million to $36.1 million.  The ultimate goal is to reach $50 million in funding during the next four years.

Groups like the Arts NYS Coalition say that investing in the arts can pay off big time for the state.  This claim seemed to be backed up by a 2005 study by the Alliance for the Arts, which found that NYC nonprofit cultural groups generate $5.8 billion in economic impact and create 40,500 jobs.

You can read more about this story in Crain's New York Business.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Remembering Whitney Houston's Philanthropy

News broke this weekend that six-time Grammy Award winner Whitney Houston died at the age of 48.  Last night's Grammy Award Show featured many moving tributes to the late singer, whose cause of death is not yet known.  Although she is best known for her great voice and personal troubles, Houston also leaves behind a philanthropic legacy.

Ecorazzi, a pop-culture blog, wrote about Houston's charitable work on Saturday and it showed that as her musical career grew, so did her efforts to help the less fortunate.  Like other celebrities, Houston created her own foundation, the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children, a nonprofit that helped kids with cancer and AIDS all over the world.  The foundation was founded in 1989 and was awarded an honor by VH1 in June 1995 for its charitable work.

Houston also worked to raise money for other charitable causes.  She has worked with a wide variety of nonprofits including the United Negro College Fund, St. Jude's Children's Hospital, and the Children's Diabetes Foundation.  Her performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" hit #1 on the charts in 1991, and all the proceeds from that record went to the Red Cross.  More recently, according to the site Look To The Stars, Houston and her sister created a line of scented candles, with a portion of the proceeds going to Teen Summit, a nonprofit that helps turn around the lives of young adults.

You can read more about Houston's philanthropy in Ecorazzi.

Getting Out Of Komen's Shadow

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been in the news a lot lately.  Their decision to discontinue grants to Planned Parenthood caused a national outrage, which eventually lead to a reversal of that decision.  Now that the fight is over, some smaller breast cancer nonprofits are trying to differentiate themselves from Komen.

While Komen was grabbing the headlines in recent weeks, Wendy McCoole wrote to her supporters and members.  She wanted to remind them that the work they were doing was just as important as Komen's, even if they didn't get nearly the amount of attention.  Now that the Planned Parenthood controversy is dying down, The Seacoast Online reported today that McCoole is working even harder to distance her nonprofit from Komen. 

McCoole, who founded Beast Cancer Stories and My Breast Cancer Support (both based in New Hampshire), is gearing up for the fourth annual CelebratePink 5K Road Race and Walk in September.  The race is one of the biggest fundraising sources for the two organizations, but it occurs just four months after Komen's own event: the first annual New Hampshire Race for the Cure.

McCoole said she has already been asked a lot if the two races are different, so she is spreading the word to make sure people know the two races are separate.  This starts by educating the public about all the money that goes to her organization from the race.  The CelebratePink Race represents 25 percent of the nonprofit's $100,000 annual budget for breast cancer support services at six hospitals in the Seacoast region of Maine and New Hampshire.  While she says that Komen has always been supportive of her work, she acknowledged to The Seacoast Online that it's sometimes frustrating being in the shadows of such a large organization.

So far there is a lot of optimism that the race will experience an increase from the 700 participants last year.  You can read more about this story in The Seacoast Online.

How To Recover From Embezzlement At Your Nonprofit

There have been a number of financial crimes at nonprofits in the month, including one case of a volunteer embezzling money.  This is one of the worst case scenarios for one nonprofit, but it's one that can happen any time.

Being prepared is the name of the game when dealing with financial crimes.  You need a solid game plan to lean on if your nonprofit is hit by embezzlement.  This type of crime effects all businesses, but it hits nonprofits particularly hard given the nature of their finances.  If an embezzler or fraudster is allowed to get away with their crimes, it can set an organization's mission back years.  It could even completely ruin the mission depending on the amount of money stolen.

In her book "Good Counsel," Lesley Rosenthal offered some advice for nonprofits dealing with embezzlement or financial fraud.  She urges organizations to resist the urge to cover up the crime from auditors, board members, or other outside authorities, as this can only bring bad press to an already negative situation.  She then outlines six tips to help nonprofits recover from embezzlement:
  • Make sure that the full facts are known.
  • Punish the offender.
  • Report the fraud or embezzlement and cooperate with law enforcement authorities and other concerned parties.
  • Reclaim stolen property as quickly as possible.
  • Conduct an internal investigation to determine what went wrong. Were fiscal controls or audit processes lacking? Were there weak checks-and-balances? Make sure any problem that is discovered is highlighted in detail.
  • To protect against future issues, incorporate new safeguards to your existing measures.
If you follow these six steps, your organization should be well on its way to recovery.  You can learn more tips like these by subscribing to our weekly newsletters.