March 17, 2013

Meet US(T) Mondays- Lisa

Lisa (in red) poses with Laura, Megan, Angela, Robin, and Kim (from left) with their UST mugs.

Lisa- Customer Service & Enrollment

When Lisa started working with the Unemployment Services Trust (UST) in May of 2012, she was revving to go. “I was excited about the opportunity to finally—after many years of working—be doing something that actually makes a difference,” she explains.

As a Customer Service & Enrollment Specialist, Lisa spends the majority of her time talking to nonprofit organizations all around the U.S. to explain how the Trust can help lower the cost of unemployment, and to get them the information they need to make an informed decision. She prides herself in being a gateway for each new organization; helping each agency weigh their decision about whether to stay with the State UI system, opt out and reimburse on their own, or join the Trust.

“I have volunteered at retirement homes, as well as in the critical care unit working for new babies, and I feel very strongly about both the elderly and infants/children. They are the most vulnerable and innocent populations and I love helping them,” she says.

“But in my time off, I’m such a homebody,” she laughs. “I read, watch movies, do cross-word puzzles and spend time with my family and friends…and dance in the living room. In fact, if I could dance for a living, I would. I love to dance on my own to music, just expressing whatever I feel. But my absolute favorite place to be is curled up on my couch on a rainy day with a great book, my kitties around me, and someone I love next to me.”

As much as Lisa’s cats and her couch may call her name though, she’s still been bitten by the travel bug: “For years the Beatles were an enormous part of my life, and I adore them, so I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Liverpool, England, and see where they began.”

Have questions for Lisa? Want to talk about why the Trust makes sense for so many different orgs, or tell her about your own Beatlemania? Tweet her @USTTrust!
March 14, 2013

Guest Infographic: The Devastating Human Impact of Sequestration Cuts by the National Council of Nonprofits

Made available to us by the National Council of Nonprofits (as featured in their March 11 issue of Nonprofit Advocacy Matters), the following infographic helps illustrate the true human impact of the sequestration.

Sequestration infographic


March 11, 2013

US DOL Releases Instructions on Sequester Impact on UI

by Guest Blogger Douglas J. Holmes, President of UWC- Strategic Services on Unemployment & Workers' Compensation

The US Department of Labor has released instructions to states in response to the federal sequester that became effective March 1, 2013.

Changes to UI, as announced in the recent UI program letter, could affect your organization. Have you read the full letter yet?

Regular state unemployment compensation amounts are not directly impacted by the sequester. However, the details of the impact on funding for UI administration at the federal and state level and in sorting out the reduction amounts for individual weekly Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and Extended Benefit (EB) claims will be confusing for claimants, state agencies and employers and will likely result in higher error rates due to the short time to respond with programming, lack of training for staff, and misunderstanding of changes.

Sequestration specifically applies to

  1. UI state administrative grants under Title III, Social Security Act
  2. Administrative funding for UCFE, UCX, and administrative funding for TRA, ATAA, and RTAA benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act
  3. Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments (REAs) for regular UI program claimants
  4. UI national administrative activity funding
  5. Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits and administrative funding
  6. EUC related Reemployment Services and Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments
  7. Federal reimbursements of state Short Time Compensation benefit costs
  8. The federal share of extended benefit reimbursement


The DOL has asked that states make adjustments necessary to implement the reductions as soon as possible, and that EUC weekly benefit amounts and total EUC benefits payable be reduced by 10.7% effective with the week of March 31, 2013. However, recognizing that there may be some states that are not able to implement the reductions on March 31, 2013, states may delay implementation but the applicable percentage reduction will increase with later implementation.

The DOL has prescribed a notice to be sent to claimants explaining the reason for the reduction in EUC payments.

Impact on charges to state UI trust fund and employers in federal share of Extended Benefits

Of particular concern to employers in states that have triggered regular Extended Benefits (EB) is that the federal share of the EB payment will be reduced from the temporary 100% federal reimbursement, increasing the share to be paid through charges to employers and the state unemployment trust fund. Alaska is currently the only state triggered, but this cut in reimbursement should be noted as a concern in other states as well. A state may pass legislation detailed in the DOL program letter to reduce the EB Weekly Benefit Amount by the percentage of the cut.

A number of states enacted optional EB trigger provisions due to or conditioned on there being 100% federal reimbursement for the payments. The federally promised 100% reimbursement is now being cut, raising the policy and legislative issue as to the impact on laws requiring 100% reimbursement and states that assumed 100% federal reimbursement when enacting the optional triggers.

State administrative complexity will cause overpayments

Instead of simply reducing the total amount payable in EUC, the Office of Management and Budget and DOL have decided to implement the reductions with respect to individual weekly claims as well as in reduction of the total. The result of this decision will be difficult programming and administration by states with very little additional administrative funding ($40,000 per state). The determination of the amount of the reduction on a weekly basis, the relationship to state weekly benefit amounts, overpayments and a host of other issues are likely to result in significant numbers of overpayments and confusion on the part of claimants.

Employers and states should review the program letter (linked below), specifically with reference to EB considering measures to avoid increased charges to state unemployment trust funds resulting from a reduced federal share reimbursement.

The full program letter may be viewed at http://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=4985.
March 03, 2013

Meet US(T) Mondays- Robin

Robin (right) and Lisa feel peaceful as they take the tram.

Robin- UST AP Specialist/Claims Analyst

In 1976, Robin’s parents did the unthinkable. They drove across the U.S.—from Southern California to Montreal, Canada—with 3 small children in tow.

For days they stopped at historic landmarks across the East Coast letting their children experience the excitement and historic fervor of some of the most famous historic landmarks in the U.S., including the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty and many others in Washington D.C., before attending the Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Still her favorite childhood memory, it’s possible that this early exposure to the many different cultures of the U.S. helped ground her in her hometown of Carpinteria—where the UST administrative office is located—and led her to UST where she enjoys working with state agencies on behalf of our members.

“I knew UST would be a perfect fit for me,” Robin says, “the challenges of working with state agencies on behalf of nonprofits and providing the best customer service that I can is something that I love doing every day.” And, she sheepishly admits, “I loved the idea of working in my own community. I’ve lived here all of my life, but I’ve never actually worked in town.”

But with only 3 stoplights, and a downtown area that is only about four blocks square, it’s not surprising that Robin had never before worked in town—even if her Grandmother’s portrait does hang in the town’s historic museum.

Have questions for Robin? Want to swap Olympic memories with her? Tweet us @USTTrust!
February 27, 2013

Mugging with UST

Laura, Megan, Angela, Lisa, Robin, and Kim pose with their UST mugs outside our office.the very best of our members "Mugging with UST!"

Beginning mid-March we're going to be featuring the very best of our members "Mugging with UST!"

Send us your pictures* with a UST mug, logo, pen, newsletter, or whatever else you can think of, and we'll feature you on our social media channels! All submissions should be sent to stroup@ChooseUST.org.

*Please include the link to your website if you would like us to also highlight the nonprofit you work for! (We're all about sharing the love.)
February 10, 2013

Meet US(T) Mondays- Angela

Angela- Customer Service Representative

After more than 10 years with UST, Angela—who moved into a newly created position of Customer Service Representative at the beginning of the year—is still excited to talk to nonprofits about UST.

“When I first joined UST I was excited about the program and my involvement in it because it’s a unique way to help nonprofits save money. I love that our purpose is to help nonprofits across the U.S. save on unemployment costs specifically so that their own missions can be furthered!” she remembers.

Always excited to help others succeed, Angela splits her time between school, work, and volunteering at the local schools her daughters go to.

“I’m very social and I like to volunteer when I can. Throughout the year I volunteer at my daughters’ schools and help out whichever way I can, whether that means working as a classroom aide, working at the annual jog-a-thon, or helping out at the snack shack during athletic games.”

And in many ways, her desire to help others comes from early childhood experiences. “I have many fond memories of my childhood,” she says, reminiscing about her walk-in closet that was outfitted with a child-sized grocery cart, all the plastic toy foods you can think of, and a wide array of cabbage patch kids with their matching carrier, diaper bag, car seat, and stroller sets.

“Not all children experience what I had as a child, which is why I feel that it is so important to give back to our community and lend a helping hand to those with less,” she explains.

And while she’s outgrown her cabbage patch kids and the fake plastic food in her closet ‘grocery store’, Angela still loves to bake—especially around the holidays!—and take care of her friends and family. “When I’m not at work or at school, I like to spend my time with family and friends and just hang out. And I make sure to take my bulldog, Chula, on walks on the Bluffs around my house a few times a week so that we don’t forget how lucky we are to live in a place with mountains on one side and the beach on the other!”

Have questions for Angela? Want to congratulate her on the new job? Tweet us at @USTTrust!
February 05, 2013

Meet US(T) Mondays (On Wednesday!)- Laura

When Laura, Customer Service & Enrollment Supervisor, isn’t herding cats around UST, she’s busy at home with her two young daughters—who I might add, are both under the age of 5, and are absolutely adorable?!—and convincing them that art museums featuring anything from romanticism to modern art are where it’s at.

Clearly she isn’t turned off by a tough sell.

So, beginning earlier than the rest of us wake up, Laura heads into the office, gets on the phone, and helps nonprofits across the country solve problems, better understand their rates, and save money that they can then put back toward their core mission.

And Laura jumps at the opportunity. “I was very excited to work with nonprofits,” she explained about her start with UST.

“I had always wanted to get into the nonprofit world as I feel very drawn to cause related endeavors and feel this opportunity fits my skills excellently.”

(Even her blood wants to get involved with helping those who need it! “I donate blood several times a year as a form of community service because I qualify to donate to the local neonatal intensive care unit.”)

And, echoing the sentiments of much of UST, Laura loves spending time with her family when she’s not at work. Recounting time spent growing up she explains, “My family would spend a month of every year in the Redwood National Park.”

“It was an amazing chance to explore nature, spend time together, and learn independence. We would stay in a very small town with only one grocery store/tackle shop and the same families would go there every year. I have very fond memories of the early mornings spent learning to fish with my father and then hiking and swimming with my mom and brother.”

"Those summers taught me that my presence has an affect on the world around me, and I feel that those early experiences really showed me that I can do things to help others succeed, which is-- at the heart of it-- what UST is all about."

Have questions for Laura? Want to know more about the UST Team? Tweet us at @USTTrust!
January 20, 2013

Meet US(T) Mondays- Adam

After spending years working at a major electronics retailer—yeah… you know… the really BIG one. Now imagine working there on Black Friday—as an Operations and Sales Manager, Adam was ready for a change.

“I really liked the idea of supporting organizations that make a difference,” he explained.

Having served the members of UST first as an Operations Manager and then as the Director of Operations, Adam has been exposed to a whole new side of the nonprofit world while working with the Trust. But his success at easily adapting to a new challenge wasn’t unprecedented—he once had to repair his fuel line with a tire patch kit and electric tape to make it home from a camping trip in Death Valley, California—or unexpected. “I appreciate the feeling that comes with overcoming an unexpected obstacle,” he explains, “and I like having the opportunity to test myself.”

Of his move to UST, Adam recalls, “I was fascinated by the variety of organizations that were members of UST: schools, museums, zoos, assisted living centers, mental health associations, symphonies, hospitals…the list goes on and on. And I realized that my definition of ‘nonprofit’ had been really narrow.”

Taking that newfound knowledge to heart, Adam expanded his volunteer and nonprofit experience by doing work with both Habitat for Humanity and the United Way which allowed him to better “appreciate their focus on the communities that they serve.”

Growing up as part of a Navy family that moved around with his father, a career Navy man, a lot, Adam also supports and admires the efforts of programs like the Wounded Warrior Project because he recognizes the need “to honor and serve those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.”

“One of my favorite childhood memories is having my dad surprise us by coming home early from a nine-month deployment,” he remembers.

And, in fact, family features prominently in many of his stories.

He often begins stories with “My wife…”, and even goes so far as to tell new Trust employees that she features prominently in many of his stories, so that they know who he is talking about when her name pops up. Similarly, his children feature prominently in his office, with mugs designed by them, pictures, and artwork proudly displayed. And, luckily for them, Adam jumps at the chance to learn with, and teach them something that amazes them… makes for a good story as well.

Have questions about Adam or want to know more about how the UST Operations Team works? Follow #MeetUSTMondays or send us your questions at info@chooseUST.org!
January 13, 2013

Meet US(T) Mondays- Cheryl

Cheryl- Account Executive

For the past 16 years Cheryl Jones, VP, Account Executive, has fought relentlessly to help UST thrive. Responsible for all of the personal sales contacts, new business partnerships with state and national nonprofits, and the continued growth and success of the Trust, Cheryl works closely with Donna Groh, the Board of Trustees, and the 75-plus Sponsors that help make sure nonprofits across the country aware of their choices when it comes to funding unemployment.

“I’ve been in the insurance industry for more than 25 years and I jumped at the chance to work with a client whose values I identified strongly with,” explained Cheryl. “I fought hard to make Unemployment Services Trust—which was still HSUT and NNUT—my client and I still love it.

“I have always called UST my ‘Ben & Jerry’s,’ meaning that it’s a great ‘product,’ with great employees which allows you to have a lot of fun at work.”

A frequent traveler for work, Cheryl jumps at the chance to spend time at home relaxing. “I spend so much time traveling for work that when I am home I like to take it easy and be with my friends. I have been very lucky to have traveled to every state and to have met so many interesting people. I used to say that I learned geography by following the Grateful Dead around the country, but really I am thankful every day that I have a job that allows me to go places and meet so many people. I don’t know what I would do if I had to sit at my desk 5 days a week.”

Having completed her dream house in the past couple of years, Cheryl explains, “I would much rather entertain at my house than go out, so I like to use my frequent flyer miles to bring my friends and family out to see me so that I don’t have to get on another plane in my time off.”

Even her perfect weekend revolves around being close to her home, and family and friends. “The perfect weekend would be getting up and exercising then going for a walk or bike ride and having friends over for dinner; if I couldn’t do that though, I would like to be on the water either rafting, boating, snorkeling, walking along the ocean or whale watching.”

Have questions about Cheryl or want to know more about how the UST Operations Team works? Follow #MeetUSTMondays or send us your questions at info@chooseUST.org!
January 06, 2013

Meet US(T) Mondays- Donna

You know their names, and you may even know their voices, but we’d like to introduce you to the “real” UST team! Join us over the next few weeks for #MeetUSTMondays! >In July 2009, Donna Groh joined UST as Executive Director. With broad experience in not-for-profit organizations, associations and healthcare, she is known for her expertise with strategy development, change management, nonprofit governance and board development.

“Even before I joined UST as the Executive Director I had known about the Trust from a previous employer and felt encouraged by what we do,” explained Donna of her earliest encounters with UST.

“While I was with my former employer, Holly Smith-Jones, my predecessor at UST, was a board member for the organization I worked at and helped us make the decision to join the Trust. I remember that I liked what UST does for nonprofits, and at the very height of the Great Recession, I saw it as a challenge to join the Trust and take it forward.”

But working with the Trust isn’t the only thing that Donna does. An avid world traveler Donna has been to all continents except for Antarctica—a blemish she hopes to remove from her wayfarer record in 2014 when she will travel from South America down to Antarctica.

When at home with her dog Murphy—a constant companion—Donna enjoys cooking and entertaining. “My daughter is always in charge of cocktails and I am in charge of the buffet.”

Describing her perfect dinner party, Donna imagines an eclectic group of people that would create a great dynamic. “The meal would be catered by Mario Batali who would, of course, also be a guest.”

“I would also invite Abby Wambach, my favorite female soccer player,” Donna said, admitting that while she was a terrible player herself, she was a decent coach.

“Then I would invite Sherlock Holmes because I love the way his mind works, and Jude Law because I like the way he looks. Clive Cussler because of his adventure stories, and David Foster who has created more hit music sensations than anyone else. Bette Midler would round out the group,” she concluded.

Prior to joining UST, Donna was the Executive Director of Toastmasters International and before that Director of Operations & Business Development for the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Previously she served as Vice President/COO of the Irvine Medical Center. She has a BS and Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and has completed coursework for an Ed.D in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University.

If you have questions for Donna, or want to know more about how the UST team works, follow our hashtag (#MeetUSTMondays) or send us your questions on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter!
December 19, 2012

The Impact of UI Claims- Part III

Wondering what kind of impact unemployment claims will have on your nonprofit in 2013? Trying to decide if staffing changes will make a difference in your budget? Well, we’ve got answers!

What Will Affect My Organization During Unemployment Peaks?

The Number of Employees at your Organization. Since smaller organizations may have made smaller contributions into the state-run UI trust fund, even one benefit claim can have a significant impact on the organization’s future experience rating.

The Filing Date of the Benefit Claim. The filing date of a claim determines the base period which determines the former employee’s wages that will be used to calculate their UI benefit payments. In the majority of states, the base period is the first four of the last five completed quarters worked.

For example, if Sally H. worked for Organization ABC from December 2004 to January 2013, and filed a base period claim in February 2013, your organization would be charged for her UI benefits based on her wages from 4th quarter 2011 to 3rd quarter 2012 (or approximately Oct. 2011- Sept. 2012).

The Amount of Wages the Employee Earned. Like most taxable areas, the higher the wages your former employee earned, the higher UI benefits they’ll receive once approved. And, in turn, the more high wage earners you have with high benefit payments, the faster your organization will see an increase in employer taxes.

The Amount of Benefits Paid to a Former Employee. Whenever employees stop receiving benefits before the full amount runs out—usually because the employee has found a new job and stopped collecting—it positively effects your experience credit and tax charges.

It is important to note however that not all employers are subject to paying unemployment taxes and some, like 501(c)(3) organizations with 10 or more employees, have alternative cost saving options available to them that can help reduce the price of unemployment at their organization. To find out if a better option exists for your organization, contact us at info@chooseUST.org or request a complimentary Savings Evaluation today.

Want more information? Send us your questions on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook!

December 18, 2012

The Impact of UI Claims- Part II

Wondering what kind of impact unemployment claims will have on your nonprofit in 2013? Trying to decide if staffing changes will make a difference in your budget? Well, we’ve got answers!

What Will the Unemployment Office Look at When Determining the Eligibility and Cost of a Claim?

The Type of Employer your Organization Is. A few nonprofits are not required to pay unemployment claims under IRS tax code 501(c)(3). But if you have employed four or more individuals in some portion of a day in each of twenty different calendar weeks, in either the current or preceding calendar year, you must pay into the unemployment system, and your employees are eligible for benefits. Regardless of whether you are exempt or not, it is highly encouraged because it provides financial security to your employees should they lose their job through no fault of their own. If your organization is required to pay (or reimburse) the state for unemployment claims, the unemployment office will continue examining the claim to determine the eligibility of your former employee.

The Type of Employee Involved. Not all employee types qualify to collect unemployment benefits. For example, part-time workers or independent contractors may not qualify for unemployment benefits. However, if an employee is misclassified or other errors occur during the claims review process your organization may be held responsible for benefits paid to the former employee.

The Number of Places the Employee Has Worked. If a former employee worked for several employers within the base period*, the charge to your organization—and the effect it will have on your taxes—may be less because it would be split among all of the employers identified in the base period claim.

The Length of Time the Employee Worked at your Organization. The longer an employee has worked at your organization, the more likely it is that your agency will shoulder the brunt (and eventually all) of the base period claim effects.

The Nature of the Employee Separation. Whenever a new benefits claim is filed, the unemployment office determines whether or not a former employee meets eligibility requirements to collect benefits under state law. In some cases, the unemployment office may determine to provide benefits to an employee you don’t think should collect based on the nature of the separating event, and your organization is able to contest these at an unemployment hearing. Proper documentation is crucial to winning the case so you must be prepared, and some nonprofit trusts like UST will even provide you with a case representative to help you with court cases. (Nonprofits who used a hearing representative had a 72.3% win rate compared to 57.4% for employers who did not**).

It is important to note however that not all employers are subject to paying unemployment taxes and some, like 501(c)(3) organizations with 10 or more employees, have alternative cost saving options available to them that can help reduce the price of unemployment at their organization. To find out if a better option exists for your organization, contact us at info@chooseUST.org or request a complimentary Savings Evaluation today.

Want more information? Send us your questions on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook!

Missed a Part? Read Part I here. Read Part II here.

* Base period claims are those in which a claim form is sent to EACH employer for which the claimant worked during his base period (usually the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the beginning of a claimant’s benefit year). So if your former employee is hired for only a short duration by another employer, you both may liable for a portion of their benefits.


** Source: Equifax Workforce Solutions
December 17, 2012

The Impact of UI Claims- Part I

Wondering what kind of impact unemployment claims will have on your nonprofit in 2013? Trying to decide if staffing changes will make a difference in your budget? Well, we’ve got answers!

Why Does Unemployment Insurance Matter?

Unemployment insurance was designed to provide jobless workers—who lost their jobs through no fault of their own—with weekly income during periods of unemployment. Lasting up to 26 weeks in normal circumstances, the payment amounts vary by state and are determined in part by state-dictated taxable wage bases. For most employers, the rate contributed is hinged on their “experience rating.”

The experience rating of each organization takes into account:

  1. The employer’s size,
  2. The amount the organization has paid into the state UI tax system, and
  3. The amount of UI benefits collected by former employees in a given period of time.


For employees, unemployment benefits provide a form of financial protection that helps them pay household expenses while looking for their next job. And, in extreme cases, unemployment benefits may enable them to continue paying for basic necessities until they are re-employed.

For nonprofit employers, paying UI taxes to the state or reimbursing benefits paid by the state provides the peace of mind that goes with knowing that employees will be financially taken care of if a bad economy, lost grants, or withdrawn financial support forces your organization to let someone on your team go.

It is important to note however that not all employers are subject to paying unemployment taxes and some, like 501(c)(3) organizations with 10 or more employees, have alternative cost saving options available to them that can help reduce the price of unemployment at their organization. To find out if a better option exists for your organization, contact us at info@chooseUST.org or request a complimentary Savings Evaluation today.

Want more information? Send us your questions on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook!

Want more info? Read Part II here, and Part III here.
December 12, 2012

Matching Employees Jobs with Pay

How much are your employees worth? And what would you do without them?

If you don’t know the answer to both of these questions, it might be time to take a look at how traditional job evaluations are giving way to salaries that are now based on market pricing and a little flexibility.

Turning away from traditional job evaluations that looked at job ranking, job classification, point factor, and factor comparison, many newer job evaluation tactics take into account the fact that people are more fluid in their careers and no longer care how their job is evaluated—so long as they’re being paid fairly. New salary determination methods also take into account that you should never pay more than the job is worth to you.

For nonprofits, especially those where employees give their all to change the status quo and to make a difference for your mission determining salary scales based on market pricing might not be a bad idea.

But nonprofit market pricing doesn’t always compare to the for-profit side where employees may have an easier time paying off their cars, homes, and bills, as well as enjoying that extra dinner out and more vacations.

When you’re ready to set salaries for your nonprofit staff, make sure that you (and Human Resources) know:

  • The upper limit of what each job is worth to your organization and how that compares to other companies in your area
  • What the lowest acceptable wage you could pay—for that job—in your market is


After determining those, it’s time to evaluate the pay structure of your nonprofit employees using a base job salary and base area salary.

Because more jobs are opening up in the for-profit sector—jobs that can often afford to pay employees higher salaries with better benefits and more stability—it’s important that you take into account more than just what job surveys suggest is a fair salary range. Consider questions that look at your employee’s health and happiness while doing this—i.e. would $1500 a month pay the rent or mortgage for your volunteer manager? Would they be able to afford their base bills too? Or would they be left commuting long hours because they couldn’t afford area rent? Do you know how that would affect your agency?

State economic development offices and regional development agencies can help provide up-to-date and accurate state and regional pay information that can then be broken down by skill level and neighborhoods. The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a similar database that can help you determine fair pay scales for your employees.

Your best resource is always other area nonprofits though. Although they might not cover the same mission that you do, other nonprofit employers can help you determine if your pay scale is fair. All you have to do is ask a few of the right questions!

Consider asking these questions in addition to those you think of on your own:

  • What type of industry do your employees work in?
  • What types of job titles do you have at your nonprofit?
  • How many employees work for your nonprofit?
  • What level of education or experience is required for your employees?
  • How long would you like a new employee to work for your organization?
  • How long do the majority of your employees stay with your nonprofit?
December 09, 2012

$2M in Unemployment Benefits go to Inmates in Missouri. Wait…What?!

In early October, after a 3-month cross matching study, it was reported through official channels that nearly $2 million in unemployment benefits were paid to 1,100 people in county jails or state prisons throughout the State of Missouri. $43,000 of that went to a single inmate in Missouri’s Cook County Jail.

While the recipients may now face state and/or federal criminal fraud charges in addition to their previous charges, the overpayments in Missouri are simply a small indication of the larger, systematic overpayments—more than $13.7 billion this year!—that are a regular occurrence across the country.

Unfortunately there is little that can be done to force those who have maliciously collected improper payments to repay their debt, which has further weakened the already unstable UI system. And, as is to be expected in an employer funded tax pool that has already been maxed out in many states, the overpayments—whether intentionally improper or not—have strained the ability of businesses to further develop, which has prevented necessary workforce expansions. And ultimately continues to hurt the economic recovery.

Although unemployment benefits only provide a portion of a jobless workers former wages (when properly collected), the benefit funds allow those still looking for work to continue supporting themselves by paying for basic household and living expenses, which has allowed nonprofits that serve those hardest hit by the financial depression to reach a greater portion of the population most dependent on their services for basic living needs.

According to the Congressional Budget Office though, more than $250 billion have been spent on unemployment benefits in the last five years, with more than two million jobless workers currently receiving expanded UI benefits from the Federal Government, which totaled $94 billion in the last fiscal year alone.

For nonprofits still paying into the state’s pooled UI tax system, continued overpayments and the high cost of paying for the unemployment trends at other, larger companies, further creates a drain on much needed monetary resources that could be better directed back toward their founding mission.

To learn more about how your nonprofit can opt out of the state’s UI tax system and reduce unemployment costs request a quote today.
December 04, 2012

What is UI integrity – and why do I care?

It’s a familiar situation. A notice arrives informing you that your long-term employee, recently let go due to an unavoidable loss in funding, has filed for unemployment. “Oh,” you think, “nothing to do here. Of course Bob is entitled to unemployment benefits.” You set the notice aside and go about your day.

But wait, what’s wrong with this picture? You may not realize it, but disregarding that notice has just exposed your organization to serious risks.

UI Integrity

What is UI Integrity? Depending on which state you work in, it may already be familiar, but if you haven’t seen the impact of this federal legislation yet, it’s coming. Passed as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2011, compliance with UI Integrity provisions is required of all states no later than October of 2013.

UI Integrity was designed to address one of the biggest weaknesses of Unemployment Insurance funds nationwide: the persistence of unemployment benefits paid in error. In fiscal year 2011 alone, nearly 12% of unemployment benefits nationwide—approximately $13 billion dollars—were paid in error. While a common conception is that benefits paid in error are the result of bureaucratic incompetence, the truth is that most of these unwarranted payments occur when the state awards benefits to an applicant whose claim is later overturned. Frequently, the decision to award benefits is reversed when the employer offers information that wasn’t provided to the state in response to their initial request.

To address this problem, UI Integrity requires employers to provide complete and timely information for all unemployment claims in response to the state’s first request. And to make sure the reform yields the necessary savings, this law has teeth. Any employer that fails to provide a complete and timely response to a claim loses any hope of relief from charges attributable to that claim—even if you ultimately win the claim, you’re still on the hook for any benefits paid to the claimant.

Even more alarming, if the state identifies a pattern of failure to provide complete and timely responses, your organization and your claims administrator are at risk of permanently losing valuable protest rights and/or facing monetary penalties.

The bottom line on UI Integrity is that your organization has to be prepared to provide a response to every claim, every time.

At UST, our goal is to do everything we can to help minimize our members’ unemployment costs. As a claims administrator, we help nonprofits respond in a timely manner to all unemployment claims, which gives us the best opportunity to save more funds for our members’ missions. Learn more about UST claim management here: http://www.chooseust.org/claims-savings/
November 27, 2012

AICPA Audit Clarity Standards are Coming: Planning for Possible Changes in Your Audit Engagement

by Guest Blogger Barry T. Omahen, CPA, Managing Partner, Lindquist LLP Certified Public Accountants

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has issued new standards that may impact your future audit engagement. Statements on Auditing Standards (SAS) Nos. 122–125 (referred to as “Clarified Auditing Standards” or “Clarity Standards”) introduce changes that go into effect for financial statement audits for periods ending on or after December 15, 2012.

For most entities, that means the standards will be effective for the year ending December 31, 2012, or later.

Some changes may affect all audit engagements

  • Auditors are now required to review the terms of the engagement with you annually, even if you have a multi-year engagement letter.
  • Management’s responsibilities are spelled out more clearly in the engagement letter as a result of the new standards, but management responsibilities are unchanged.
  • The audit team is now required to ask you more questions regarding your legal and regulatory framework and to review correspondence with licensing or regulatory agencies, if applicable.
  • All confirmations are now required to be in writing (verbal confirmation is no longer an option).
  • Internal control communications (management letters) will now include a description of the potential effect of significant deficiencies or material weaknesses that the auditors identify through their procedures.
  • The audit report (opinion letter) has changed, with added headings to distinguish each section and a more complete description of management’s responsibilities.


Certain changes may only apply in unusual circumstances

  • When performing an audit on your organization for the first time, auditors are now required to perform and document various procedures on opening balances and consistent accounting procedures.
  • If your organization uses a financial reporting framework (previously called basis of accounting) other than Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), your auditors will need to discuss the appropriateness of the framework and may perform additional procedures regarding related-party transactions.


Some of the benefits of the clarified auditing standards include enhanced communication between your team and your auditors, improved audit quality and increased confidence in the audited financial statements.

These new standards will require auditors to redo much of the system evaluation work and memorandums that they carry forward from one audit to the next. As such, it’s encouraged that you work closely with your auditor to make these changes as smooth and efficient as possible!

For a more detailed version of this article, refer to Lindquist LLP’s website: http://www.lindquistcpa.com/AICPA-Audit-Clarity-Standards-11092012.htm



Barry T. Omahen, CPA, is Lindquist LLP's managing partner based in the firm’s San Ramon office. Barry specializes in serving the audit, accounting and reporting needs of not-for-profit organizations and employee benefit plans. He serves as the partner in-charge of the firm's quality control review and audit and accounting practice. He can be contacted at (925) 498-1546 or bomahen@lindquistcpa.com.

Lindquist LLP provides this information for general guidance only. It does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation. Tax articles are not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding accuracy-related penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided "as is," with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.
November 18, 2012

Do Your Employees Love What They Do?

Do your employees wake up every Monday morning dreading the day? Or do they come to work full of energy and ideas that they’re ready to implement? If it’s the latter, your employees may well love what they do, which gives your organization a leg up over unhappy competitors. Read on for a list of 7 things that show your employees love their jobs.

  1. Employees actively help one another out. When your employees regularly work together it suggests a couple of things that create a successful workplace. One, it suggests that they feel collaborative efforts are worth their time and energy, and two it suggests that they feel confident in the skills and opinions of their peers.
  2. Employees regularly suggest—and implement—new ways to help your organization and your mission succeed. When your employees come in first thing Monday morning with fresh ideas they’re ready to put into action it shows that they’re not only thinking about work outside of their M-F workday, it shows that they’re committed to improving the foundation that your organization has already laid.
  3. Employees like one another. Have you ever heard of the airplane test? Basically it says that when meeting—or interviewing—someone new you should ask yourself how you would feel being stuck on an airplane with them. If you’re happy to be sitting next to your companion the flight will go well. If you aren’t, it probably won’t.
  4. Employees feel confident in approaching upper management with concerns and new ideas. Having a strong connection with upper management suggests that your employees not only feel valued within your organization, but also that they know that your organization will take their ideas into consideration when planning next steps—a big plus!
  5. Employees happily share credit with one another. Former President Harry Truman famously said that “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
  6. Employees regularly exceed expectations. If your employees are going to work because they have to, your organization may be stifled by their lack of enthusiasm and contribution, but if your employees are coming to work because they love what they do, chances are they will regularly exceed expectations because enthusiasm and hard work are a very reactionary combination.
  7. Employees know what they do matters and that it makes a difference within the organization. For most employees a secure knowledge of who they are within the organization, how their work matters, and how it makes a difference to those outside of the organization equals happier work life self-esteem.


How do you measure employee happiness? Would you add anything to our list? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn!
November 07, 2012

Making Sure that Talent Management Works for Your Nonprofit

Understanding talent management and succession planning at your nonprofit is about more than just knowing where your next hire will come from and planning for transitions. It’s all about understanding the non-negotiables, the employee skills and talents that are necessary for the continued success of your nonprofit. And, in the long run, it’s about carefully planning for the future ahead of each critical position.

Building your Talent Management Capabilities

Successful agencies don’t simply happen overnight, and neither does successful succession planning. It’s important that key people within your organization recognize that people will leave, employees will retire, and key positions will need to be filled ASAP. When this recognition happens, you can begin approaching succession planning within your agency as an opportunity to train and support talented employees in a way that moves their career forward.

When you are open and up-front with employees about the opportunities available for them at your organization, you position yourself and your Board for success. But you also get employees involved in the talent management of your agency.

Getting employees on board early and often, means that they’ll be prepared to do the work required to grow to their aspirations. It also helps ensure that they’ll understand the steps required to get a promotion and help new hires assimilate to your mission. To do this you must start with an internal review of your existing talent management steps and be prepared to change them as necessary.

Internal Review

To get started, begin considering what you’re doing now to develop the people within your organization that you know you would like to groom for future leadership. Ask questions that will help you gain understanding and insight into areas which they need strengthening in, and prepare to demonstrate the importance of investing in their development to others within the organization.

Some questions to consider before you begin explaining the importance of talent management and succession planning might include:

  • What is your average turnover/tenure rate?
  • How do you identify internal talent with a high potential to take on leadership roles?
  • How do you measure their performance and support their growth?
  • What would you do if a key member of the agency gave a two week notice today?
  • What problems or obstacles would their successor encounter before they are fully integrated into the agency?

Plan Overview

As you get past the planning stage and actually begin drafting a plan overview, make sure that you remember key items such as visible support from key management and Board members that strong succession plans often include. Lastly, make sure that key leadership criteria with incorporated information from focus groups and industry best practices, and agency accountability and follow-up options should also be included in your plan.

Defining Success at your Agency

Before you get too deep into writing the plan overview and creating the framework for your organizations talent management though, it’s important to determine what the most vital positions are.

You’re first thought might be to say your agency couldn’t survive without the Executive Director, or the CFO, but what about the Intake Coordinators, Fundraisers, and front-line workers your agency couldn’t live without?

While determining which positions are most important at your organization, be careful that you’re not only including top management, top performers, or current, well-liked employees. Include positions that are crucial to the daily functions of your organization and give these the highest priority for review based on the risk the organization runs with each vacancy.

Once the most important positions are determined, develop a success profile for each position that identifies the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience a new hire would have to have for this critical role. Now might also be a good time to take a look at the performance assessments that have been conducted on this position- regardless of the employee within the position- over the last few years. (Learn more about setting the stage for an effective performance Assessment here.)

Developing the Talent

Now that you’ve determined the most critical positions within your organization and developed success profiles for each of them, you’re ready to begin figuring out how to develop the employees you would like to groom for these positions.

You’re goal in this should be to identify and develop internal candidates that may be potential successors for specific positions. These potential successors should match:

  • Your needs as a nonprofit agency
  • The skill set that they can or will be developing
  • The employees aspirations for their future

If an employee you think might be worth developing doesn’t match on any of the above three points, begin developing outside connections that expose you to the potential employees that would help fill the gaps in your agency.

Throughout this step you’ll want to use performance management tools that integrate organizational data outside of the typical performance review to help build a complete profile of the individual that is in the position. A more comprehensive talent inventory that involves multiple aspects of the position will allow you to identify skills gaps at the departmental level and systematically identify the people with qualifications that fill those gaps.

Recruiting and Hiring the Right Talent

Before finishing your succession planning, make sure that you have identified the timing and process for bringing new people into the organization, particularly for your critical roles. Because successful recruitment occurs long before a vacancy occurs, the profiles and assessments you create now will help you identify the types of skills and talents that your organization thrives because of.

Read the original Capability Company report here.

November 04, 2012

Nonprofits and the Criminal Element

In late 2010, nonprofits earned more than $670 billion and employed more than 1 in 12 Americans. However, recent screenings have revealed that nonprofits don’t tend to hire employees with criminal backgrounds.

Whether intentional, or unintentional, only 5 percent of those who were screened by Lexis Nexus Risk Solutions had ever been involved in any kind of criminal activity. But more than 1-in-5 of those who had a criminal background had been convicted of serious charges, including drug-related offenses, sexually-based crimes, kidnapping, and murder.

Nearly 1,200 nonprofit employees who were given background checks during the study had been convicted of murder. There were also 600 kidnapping offenses included in the audit.

Every year, Lexis Nexus combines forces with thousands of nonprofit agencies across the United States to conduct background checks and gather information designed to better protect nonprofit organizations in the event of a bad, or worse, accidental, criminal hire.

New EEOC Guidance May Soon Change This

In April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission approved new guidance on criminal background checks that requires all employers to individually assess whether an applicant’s past criminal conduct is job related or consistent with business necessity before throwing them out of the hiring pool.

For nonprofits who have encountered problems with employees whose criminal background prove not so distant, and for those who protect clients from criminals, the new rules will be jarring because the EEOC provides only 2 circumstances in which an employer can meet the “job related and consistent with business necessity” on a consistent basis. The first occurs when an employer is able to validate the criminal conduct screen for the position in question. This can only be done in accordance with the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures Standards if the data about the candidates’ criminal conduct, as related to their work performance, is available and can be validated.

The second, more time consuming and personal, option requires that a nonprofit employer must develop a targeted screen of all applicants considering the nature of their crimes, the time elapsed, and the nature of the job available. The employer must then provide applicants excluded by the screen the chance for an individual assessment to determine whether the policy, as-applied, is job related and consistent with business necessity.

The individual assessment would further require that the candidate is notified that they have been excluded from consideration because of a criminal conviction. According to the EEOC, the notice would have to include an opportunity for the screened candidate to demonstrate that the exclusion should not be applied based on the particulars of the candidates’ circumstances.

The employer must also consider their appeal with merit to the particular circumstances that are revealed during the consideration period.

What It All Means

Thankfully, the same study that found that only 5 percent of those employed by nonprofits have criminal backgrounds found that the number of nonprofit employees with criminal backgrounds has declined for five consecutive years, dropping from 7 percent in 2007 to 5.3 percent in both 2010 and 2011.

According to the study, which is called The Power of Positive Information, “The results… demonstrate that our background screening programs are working for nonprofits and underscore the importance of continued screening vigilance at nonprofits since nearly one-fourth of the records included in the audit were for serious offenses.”

More importantly, the study shares several best practices and program recommendations including:

  • Developing a standard screening policy that’s automated across locations to boost program efficiency and effectiveness
  • Volunteer rescreening, which keeps organizations updated about any evolving risk
  • Expanding minimum screening requirements to supplement a national criminal database search with a country-level search to enhance program strength.


To learn more about the study or how you can better improve the security of your nonprofit, visit http://www.lexisnexis.com/nonprofit for the full study.
October 25, 2012

Organized Nonprofit Sector Linked to Lower Local Unemployment Rates

In a study finding that probably won’t shock anyone working with a nonprofit, it has been found that an organized nonprofit sector is linked to reduced unemployment rates in the surrounding community.

By categorizing an organized nonprofit sector to include the number of nonprofits per capita in each community and the degree to which nonprofits directly engage local residents, the study, “Civic Health and Unemployment II: The Case Builds,” presented three key findings:

  1. There is less unemployment within counties that have a higher density of nonprofits than in similar counties that have a lower number of nonprofits,
  2. Social cohesion, or “the level at which citizens trust, talk to and help neighbors, and socialize with family and friends,” is another strong factor in preventing unemployment, and that
  3. The organizations most likely to be linked to lower rates of local unemployment are those that “provide direct, tangible benefits to their members” and those “whose supporters perceived themselves as genuine members.”


Further emphasizing the importance of an organized nonprofit community that is involved with those in the local area, the study suggests that while nonprofits directly contribute to a lower unemployment rate by creating jobs, there also appears to be a ripple effect in which organizations that engage with local residents create a change in the local unemployment rate.

Released by the National Conference on Citizenship this study may well become highly influential for those who most often are called upon to discuss the importance of establishing strong nonprofit sectors. And although it doesn’t offer all the answers as to why organized, involved nonprofits are able to directly impact unemployment rates, there will undoubtedly be more information to come in the next few months as the unemployment rate continues to trend downward.

Read the original NPQ article here.
October 22, 2012

New LinkedIn Features Let You Connect to Potential Board Members Online

Every great nonprofit is built on great employees, which are often built by a great leadership team, but finding that great leadership can be incredibly difficult if you don’t have a wide net of already established nonprofit-focused connections. Thankfully, Board Connect, the newest social media program from LinkedIn looks like it will be able to help make the pain of a Board search a thing of the past.

By allowing nonprofits to connect directly with potential board members, Board Connect, a project of the Social Impact division of LinkedIn, aims to help you build a stronger Board of Directors that bring the ideal set of skills and expert knowledge to every nonprofit organization.

While it is only available to a select group of nonprofit organizations at this time —notably those in the fields of social entrepreneurship and education leadership— LinkedIn has dedicated a lot of time and energy to ensuring that the program is a success.

For instance, the Board Connect program provides nonprofits with free access to Talent Finder, one of LinkedIn’s premium accounts focused on finding top candidates across the site, access to an exclusive educational webcast, and an invitation to join the Board Connect Group. While participation is limited to registered U.S. nonprofits, the new program will help better connect the right people—with the right Human Resources, Marketing, and Business experience—to your organization.

Focusing on deepening relationships and cultivating connections by creating a stronger network of connections for your organization, LinkedIn bills itself as the perfect platform to connect with the people and resources every nonprofit needs to accomplish its mission.

What do you think? Is LinkedIn the right online platform to connect nonprofits with potential Board Members?

And, when the program becomes more readily available, will you consider using it to find a new Board Member? Will it significantly change your Board Membership or the methods you use to search for them?

Sign up here.
October 17, 2012

Unemployment Benefits Changes Considered For Households with Annual Incomes above $1 Million

When unemployment insurance benefits were first offered in the 1930s, the question of whether an employee deserved to collect was fairly straightforward. The answer simply revolved around whether or not an employee had lost their job through any fault of their own, whether they were available for work, and whether they were actively looking for work.

Three questions—questions that could be solved with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’—determined who could, and who could not, collect unemployment benefits.

In recent years though, the question of which employees deserve to be able to collect has become a much more complicated topic as budgets have been restricted and more and more jobless workers apply for unemployment benefits.

But now, another complicated topic of discussion has arisen: Should millionaires that meet all other standards be allowed to collect unemployment insurance benefits?

First debated on the Senate floor after a Congressional Research Service report revealed that almost 2,400 people with annual household incomes topping $1 million, and another 954,000 with incomes topping $100,000, received unemployment insurance benefits in 2009 the question has received shocked attention.

While these groups only make up 0.08 percent of the 11.3 million U.S. tax filers who reported unemployment insurance income in 2009, the report was released after about 1.1 million people exhausted their jobless benefits during the second quarter of 2012. The timing of the release served to further drive home the importance of finding a long term solution for state unemployment insurance trust funds, many of which have run low, as another 4.6 million jobless workers filed for benefits.

As the nationwide jobless rate continues to remain around 8 percent, and more jobless benefits run out, the question of who collects unemployment benefits must be definitely answered. But, what other questions will the answer reveal?

Read the Bloomberg News article here.
October 16, 2012

Keeping Virtual Employees on the Same Page

When working with virtual teams telecommuting from many different places, it quickly becomes apparent if your team is on the same page…or not. Questions pop up about the final direction of a project. Important deadlines aren’t met in lieu of less important ones. Information isn’t shared with all the people who need it.

Even though they sound small, these little miscommunications can spell out a much bigger problem.

Whether you learn that not everyone knows where a project is going, or you learn that not everyone knows what is going on with the big annual project, it’s important that your team communicates clearly to keep misunderstandings or the lack of shared information from ruining your ability to achieve the group goal.

Thankfully, thousands of simple tools exist to help you keep your team on the same wavelengths. Tools are nothing without rules though, so keep these in mind when working with your virtual team:

Don’t overdo it! Don’t throw too much information at your team. If you’re asking a question that only requires an answer from one person, drop everyone else from the email unless it’s vital they also hear the answer.

When you pump too much information at your team at once, the important stuff is likely to get lost or overshadowed. And, if you’re sending out too many irrelevant emails, it’s likely that people will be less likely to prioritize your communications.

Check availability. The fact that your employees work from somewhere other than the office doesn’t mean that they’re less busy. Even if you can see that they’re online, or that they aren’t currently on the phone, extend them the courtesy of asking if they have the time to devote to whatever it is that you want to go over.

By simply expecting that your employees are hard at work helping your mission succeed, you’re more likely to allow them to get their job done right.

Make it easy. If your team is currently running 5 different instant messaging programs, and using 3 separate email accounts to get their jobs done, there’s a high likelihood that things are going to get lost in the shuffle.

Make it easy for your team by paring down your communication channels to something more manageable for everyone. One instant messaging program, one email software, and one phone line can help keep everyone up-to-date without slowing down your communications.

Build relationships. Whether you encourage your team to join the rest of your nonprofit in the office once a month or you ask them to set up their own time to meet and have a virtual coffee, encourage your team to get to know each other one-on-one. More than anything else, having a personal relationship and a companionable dialogue with one another can reduce flare-ups and misinterpretations between co-workers.

Ragan’s HR Communication has more ways that your team can nurture positive communication habits between virtual team members. Read their article here.

Need to beef up your HR services? Check out pan for HR tools.
October 03, 2012

There Are Worse Things You Could Do…But Not Many

Everyone knows that employees are your most valuable asset. Your relationships with them—both individually and as a working group—determine the productivity and success of your agency.

But many nonprofits put relationships with employees at a lower level of importance than relationships with donors and other funding sources. Ultimately this common mistake undermines the entire organization and detracts from your mission because it creates a counterproductive work environment.

To begin fixing these botched relationships, and celebrating your employees for who they are and what they do, we’ve put together the top 3 things NOT TO DO.

1. Playing favorites: We all know you have favorite employees. Whether they’re your top performers, best friends, or just people you really like for the job, don’t treat them any differently than you treat the rest of your employees.

Better yet, treat the rest of your employees the same way you treat your favorites.

2. Not giving employees a forum for voicing suggestions: If you want employees to know that they’re valued members of your organization encourage them to make suggestions to improve your operations or the way that their job is handled.

More importantly, take the time to recognize and implement the best suggestions. This will motivate employees to improve working processes and implement new activities.

3. Lack of communication with employees: Open and easy communication helps build the strongest relationships within your agency.

However you accomplish it, make sure that you’re present and easy to get in touch with when employees want, or need, to talk.

Connect with us on Facebook, on Twitter @USTTrust, or on LinkedIn and tell us what other things you would add to the list.
September 30, 2012

(Tele)commuting and Nonprofit Employees

More and more, virtual offices are becoming the norm for nonprofits as gas, office space, and traffic jams put a priority on your work time and budget, not to mention employee morale. But what’s the best way to determine who would be a strong telecommuter? And how do you know that your agency is ready to take the leap into a virtual office space? More than that, how do you manage a virtual office from your physical location?

According to an article by The NonProfit Times, studies about telecommuting have shown that virtual offices work better for some organizations than others based on employees, manager expectations, and employee performance of day-to-day operations.

Telecommuting has not proven to be a success in situations where managers are skeptical of, or hostile to, the very idea, says The NonProfit Times. But Jill Dotts of the American Heart Association explained at the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals 49th International Conference that if you are looking to develop a virtual office space, you should look for employees who possess the following traits:

  • Top performers
  • Results focused
  • Strong communicators
  • Disciplined
  • Self-directed/ Self-driven
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Proficient in technology
  • Proficient in administration
  • Possessing a sense of urgency about the work they do and the overall organizational goals


Employees who are able to organize their day, achieve much more than is expected of them, clearly communicate what they did and why it mattered, and believe in your organization’s mission as much as you do are most likely to work well from home.

Dotts also suggested that before you think about offering a virtual office to any of your employees, you should think about preparing a ROI analysis and baseline to determine the actual benefits of having telecommuting employees. Included with this she recommends that you shore up an infrastructure to make their telecommute feasible, establish a program and standards that could apply to any future telecommuting employees, align performance objectives with their time in the virtual office, restructure communications to accommodate telecommuting, and prepare for changes in implications for management and your overall organizational culture.

Read the full article here.

But this still leaves us with the question of how to manage a virtual office. How do you ensure that your employees are doing their best, and meeting organizational goals when they’re working from home?

Much of it comes down to communication and trust. If you can’t rely on an employee to communicate well and meet organization objectives, telecommuting might not be a good solution for your nonprofit. But, if you believe that your employees are going to continue to be high-performers from their virtual office, and they have shown that they can maintain strong communication portals from another location, go ahead and start planning for your virtual offices!
September 27, 2012

The Value of a Professional Reading Group at your Nonprofit

Time is critical at every nonprofit we’ve ever seen, so we understand that managers and front line staff often don’t have time to keep up with the latest, newest, and most recently groundbreaking changes to the sector.

But falling behind can mean you miss valuable ways to help meet the needs of those you serve.

In fact, our guess would be that everyone at your organization probably agrees that staying up-to-date is important for the continued success of your agency. But how do you manage the flow of information while still being waist-deep in meeting the ever-growing needs of your nonprofit community?

Bridgestar suggests starting a professional reading group. A suggestion UST's whole Division of Nonprofit Research heartily agrees with.

But, simply starting a professional reading group doesn’t guarantee its success. And, if you’re not sure of the reaction that managers and front line staff will have to a reading group that requires them to read and digest more information than they already are, start with small steps.

  1. Send interesting articles to those that they are most relevant to. If you read an article about new nonprofit hiring trends, don’t send it to the entire staff, send it straight to those who work on your hiring staff or have a vested interest in sector hiring trends. If you send an article that’s only relevant to one part of your organization to everyone, people will stop paying attention to the articles you send. It’s like crying “wolf.”
  2. Offer a weekly reading list that compiles information about your nonprofit sector to those that indicate an interest. An optional reading list is a no-pressure way to get people in the habit of reading professional materials on a regular basis, and is a great step toward building your reading group. It also sparks discussion among your staff about the included articles which can lead to greater group productivity and knowledge.
  3. Offer incentives to employees who are reading a relevant book and are willing to share their new knowledge with the group. As straight forward as this is, it might be one of the most difficult steps to achieve since it requires reading longer, and often more complicated, material that must then be shared with the larger group. But if you find people willing to do it, capitalize on it. Even if they’re too busy to come in and share with a large group all at once, ask them to write out their thoughts and include them in the employee newsletter or at a regularly scheduled meeting.
  4. Ask employees to contribute articles and information they think is valuable! This again capitalizes on your employee’s involvement, and encourages them to become involved in the continuing education of your agency. By asking for their input you also interest a larger group of people and expose yourself to new reading materials and sector news without having to continually hunt things down.


If these steps show promise and you’re getting a good response from enough people, suggest to your employees that a reading group should be formed to help your nonprofit stay on top of new developments and innovations.

If scheduling is an issue and causes your employees (or volunteers) to balk, offer several different reading group times that allow employees with different schedules to still meet with each other once a quarter or more often if there is time. Or try pre-recording group input and making it available online. This is the time to be creative in getting people on board and involved because the more your employees invest, the more they'll be able to tout the strengths of the reading group to employees who haven't joined yet.

Bridgestar suggests that when you finally start your professional reading group you:

  1. Gauge interest before springing a reading group on your employees.
  2. Keep the group small; aiming for only 5 to 8 people at each meeting. Think about recording the meetings and making them available to people who didn't attend the meeting.
  3. Have group participants report back on what they’ve learned. And how it's impacted their work.
  4. Build your organizations library and refer to it often. Even if you save everything on a bookshelf in your break room, make sure that your employees are able to access the information library. If it's kept up-to-date, you'll make an even bigger impact on your staff.
September 26, 2012

New Mexico Seeks Unemployment Insurance Fund Fix

In late March, New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez reactivated a long-dormant council in hopes of fixing the state’s rapidly shrinking unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund. Since 2009, the fund has dropped from more than $500 million to $60.6 million.

Like many states desperately trying to save their funds from insolvency, legislators in New Mexico passed a bill last year that would have slashed unemployment benefits and hiked the premiums businesses still in the tax-rated state system would have to pay. Martinez, however, eliminated the higher premiums and signed a new bill this year that approved lower rates through 2013.

Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D- Albuquerque) is warning, though, that the state will soon have to borrow from the federal government at a high interest rate because employers only paid $197.8 million into the fund last year. And with more than 40,000 employers drawing from the fund, the remaining $60 million won’t go far.

For nonprofit agencies still in the state system, there are other options, such as leaving the state to join a Trust, like the Unemployment Services Trust (UST), that can help save more money and gain greater predictive control over yearly budgeting.

In fact, New Mexico nonprofits that leave the state system and join UST save an average of $3,483 a year.

To learn more about your opt out alternatives, visit http://www.chooseust.org/501c3-unemployment-alternatives/ or sign up for the an upcoming Exclusive Nonprofit Savings webinar.

Read the full Albuquerque Journal article here.
September 24, 2012

5 Things Your Nonprofit Should Know About Unemployment Insurance

Last week our partners over at the Maine Association of Nonprofits (MANP) published the following article in their e-newsletter and on their blog. We're excited to share this with you because it does an excellent job of breaking down the top 5 things that Maine every nonprofit should know about unemployment insurance.

And, because keeping unemployment costs low is vital to so many agencies across the U.S., we've added state-by-state information for taxable wage bases, and a general overview of the unemployment insurance program that applies to all states.

MANP Help Desk FAQ: 5 Things Your Nonprofit Should Know About Unemployment Insurance



by

We get a variety of questions related to unemployment tax – also known as unemployment insurance – and encourage nonprofits to be proactive in learning about this system.

What is Unemployment Tax?

>The MDOL provides a helpful overview of the program, and this summary: “Unemployment is an insurance program providing temporary, partial wage replacement to workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. The program is funded by Unemployment Taxes paid by employers based on the amount of wages paid for covered employment. The Unemployment Tax is paid on the [taxable wage base] an employer pays to an individual in a calendar year.” (Read our overview or see what your state's taxable wage base is.)

Is Your Nonprofit Liable?

501(c)3 nonprofits are exempt from federal unemployment taxes, but may be liable for state contributions if they meet something called the “4 for 20″ provision. This provision is triggered when four or more individuals are employed on the same day for 20 weeks in a calendar year, though not necessarily for consecutive weeks. It is important to note that who is considered “employed” for these purposes is not always straightforward – see #4 below.

Why You Should Consider Coverage Even If You’re Exempt

While many nonprofits in Maine are very small and potentially exempt, MANP encourages all nonprofits – as a best, ethical practice – to pay into the unemployment tax system or alternative coverage (see #5) to protect their current employees. At the very least, your employees should be made aware of whether or not you provide unemployment coverage. Unemployment compensation is a safeguard for people – and our communities as a whole – against the potential economic and emotional domino effects of losing a job.

Why Independent Contractors May Still Be Considered Employees

There are different rules and tests used by government agencies to determine independent contractor status, because different agencies are responsible for separate aspects of law. For the purposes of unemployment insurance, the Maine Department of Labor uses something called the “ABC test”, which makes it sound simple, but is more complicated when applied to real situations. The ABC Test establishes criteria that an work relationship must meet in order to for the services of that individual to not be considered employment. The three parts of the ABC Test relate to employer control/direction of the worker, place(s) of business or courses of business, and proof that the worker is independently established in the trade. A nonprofit may have to pay unemployment taxes even if IRS or Maine Revenue Services determine that, for income tax purposes, individuals may be independent contractors. Nonprofits should be familiar with this FAQ resource on Independent Contractors, and with this guide about Independent Contractors and the ABC test.

Cost-Saving Alternatives

The Unemployment Services Trust (UST) provides an alternative to paying into the Maine unemployment tax system, and can be a cost-saving option for nonprofits, especially those with more than 10 employees. Through UST, agencies directly reimburse the state only for the claims of their former employees, rather than paying the state unemployment insurance tax which covers all Maine employees. (You didn't think we'd take this one out, did you?)

This post does not constitute official or legal advice. A version of this article originally appeared on blog.nonprofitmaine.org.
September 19, 2012

Georgia Unemployment Rate Remains Dismally High

For the 59th month in a row, the Georgia Department of Labor has announced that the unemployment rate, at 9.3 percent, remains higher than the national average. Only 7 states, including Washington D.C., have a higher unemployment rate.

For nonprofits, this isn’t the worst of the news.

After falling below 9 percent in April for the first time in more than 3 years, the rate has begun a steady climb upward again, negatively affecting nonprofit employers throughout Georgia by simultaneously increasing cost and need. Compounded by the state’s depleted unemployment insurance trust fund and an outstanding loan balance of more than $742 million that is still owed to the federal government, nonprofits are facing a higher possibility increased unemployment taxes in 2013.

Because Georgia quickly depleted its unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund, the struggle to provide benefits has hurt employers and jobless workers as the state has made large cuts to benefits and steeply increased the overall unemployment costs paid by employers.

Further adding to the coming financial strain, the interest on the federal unemployment trust fund loan cannot be paid from the unemployment tax fund and must instead be paid from other state revenues, causing further financial stress for legislators.

To pay it, the Georgia legislature passed SB 347 earlier this year, which, in addition to cutting jobless benefits and increasing unemployment benefits paid out by employers, includes provisions to:

  • Assess employers an unemployment insurance tax on the first $9,500 of each employee’s wages, up from the current $8,500, beginning January 1, 2013.
  • Assess employers a solvency tax, called the Statewide Reserve Ratio surcharge, whenever the balance in the state’s unemployment fund falls below a specified level.
  • Reduce the number of weeks jobless workers can collect unemployment benefits from 26 to a period ranging from 14-20 weeks depending on how high the statewide unemployment rate is.


While this legislation makes Georgia one of 11 states that have cut jobless benefits in the past year by reducing the duration and level of payouts and by restricting eligibility, the legislation may ultimately harm nonprofits specifically as it forces unemployed workers to turn to nonprofits for aid, while also increasing the amount that agencies must set aside to pay for unemployment costs of their own.

For nonprofit organizations still in the state tax system, there are other options available though. Since 1972 nonprofit employers have had the exclusive ability to opt out of the state system and reimburse directly the dollar-for-dollar costs of only their own unemployment costs.

By safely leaving the state’s pooled liability system and paying only for their own unemployment costs, many nonprofits- particularly those with 10 or more employees- can save up to 50 percent off of their UI taxes and gain greater predictive control over yearly budgeting. In fact, Georgia nonprofits that leave the state system and join UST save an average of $14,321 a year.

Learn more about your nonprofits money saving alternatives, or sign up for an upcoming webinar to learn how UST can help your nonprofit reduce SUI costs.

Read the original Savannah Morning News article.