Monday, December 1, 2014

Nonprofit Knowledge Matters | The Compensati​on, Benefits, and Employment Issue

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The common sense of compen$ation
When questions about a nonprofit leader’s exceptionally high salary make the front page of the paper, we wince. A single nonprofit is being criticized for being an outlier, but it feels as if all charitable nonprofits and their values are being questioned.
At the National Council of Nonprofits we are frequently asked, whether by the media, curious nonprofit staff members, or well-intentioned board members, how to determine what the appropriate compensation is for nonprofit staff.
The answer is, “it depends.” The legal process, promoted by the IRS, is to task the board or convene a group of board members (but not anyone employed by the nonprofit) to compare the salary and benefits of similar positions at similarly-sized organizations in your nonprofit’s geographic area, serving a similar mission. The process should be documented. A written description (such as in the minutes of a meeting) of what data was reviewed, and who was involved in the process, can protect the nonprofit and its board of directors from IRS penalties, in the unlikely situation that the IRS would find that the nonprofit approved compensation that was “excessive.” (Our website resources go into more detail about the process recommended by the IRS.) Of course, nothing can completely insulate a nonprofit from media scrutiny, but following the IRS “comparability” process, and taking pains to document all the research that went into approving compensation levels, offers protection against allegations of unreasonable conduct.
Comparing apples to apples, and proving that you did, is common sense, but it’s often hard to nail down data to use for the comparison. And the more practical question that comes up whenever a nonprofit is attempting to fill a position is: what salary level is attractive to candidates, but simultaneously won’t derail the nonprofit’s budget? Determining the appropriate salary and benefits for staff leaders is time consuming, but taking the time to “get it right” will make the hiring process more efficient and ensure that your nonprofit is attracting and retaining the talent it needs to advance its mission.
How many people work for nonprofits in the United States?
Here’s a conundrum: As we often point out, the federal government can tell us how many heads of lettuce were grown in the US in a given year, but not how many heads of people were employed by charitable nonprofits! However, the charitable nonprofit community is a bit closer to having the data we need to show our clout and significance as an economic force in the workplace. According to recently released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) covering years from 2007-2012, there were at least 11.4 million people employed by nonprofits in 2012, which amounts to 10.3 percent of all private sector employment. (The actual number is higher since the data were based only on employer-units that participate in state unemployment programs, and many nonprofits opt-out of government programs, preferring to follow a private insurance route.) This BLS data revealed that of the nonprofit employees identified, their wages amounted to $532 billion, or 9.8 percent of total private sector wages! BLS made this data available in response to repeated requests from the nonprofit community. The BLS is now seeking input from nonprofits on the methodology of the research, the usefulness of the data, suggestions for future data products, and – most importantly – whether it should continue to release this information, so that the public can benefit from it. The National Council of Nonprofits believes this information is vitally important to nonprofits (which is why we have long included this provision in our annual Public Policy Agenda: “… governments have a responsibility to collect and disseminate nonprofit employment and economic data that identify the impact of nonprofit organizations in their jurisdictions”).
  • Please join us by contacting BLS officials to thank the government workers who rolled up their sleeves to make this data available, and tell them how important it is to your nonprofit so they will continue to release this public information that the federal government already collects.
  • If you have questions about the data, or suggestions on how to improve the usefulness of the data, or the process of obtaining datasets, please also let BLS know.
What’s new in health insurance benefits?
Nonprofits that utilize the small-employer health credit to help pay for employee health insurance coverage will see a 7.3 percent reduction next year as the result of the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as “sequestration” that were enacted in 2011. The shrinking health credit is only one of thousands of arbitrary cuts that can adversely affect the work of charitable nonprofits. According to the IRS, these and other cuts will occur “unless and until a law is enacted that cancels or otherwise impacts the sequester.” In December 2013, House and Senate budget negotiators reached an agreement to avert another round of sequestration cuts, but that deal expires in 2015. White House officials revealed in October 2014 that President Obama will propose sequester relief in his fiscal 2016 budget due to be released in February 2015. That’s a long time to wait! Please help us help you by sharing your story about the small business health care tax credit with us. Thank you!
For information and special access to health and other types of insurance coverage tailored for nonprofits, such as Directors’ and Officers’ insurance, connect with your state association of nonprofits.
Before your nonprofit hires a professional fundraising firm – CAUTION!
$1 million+ in penalties was assessed against a Minnesota fundraising solicitation firm that contacted potential donors in South Carolina with “robo” calls, without registering with the state. Did you know that the majority of states require nonprofits to register BEFORE soliciting a single contribution? Your nonprofit is not off the hook for registration if it is not the one making calls to prospective donors directly or sending out direct mail pieces. Moreover, if your nonprofit is directing potential donors to an online portal (such as Paypal or others) that processes donations, your nonprofit may still be required to register in various states. We recommend that you know your state’s charitable solicitation law and are also aware of state laws in other states where your nonprofit is soliciting contributions. Here is a 50-state fundraising compliance guide. (This guide is not legal advice and was created by Harbor Compliance.)
The “lesson learned” is that nonprofits can be responsible for the actions of their employees, and also of independent contractors they hire. As a result, it’s a good idea to set the limits of authority and define responsibilities for independent contractors in a written agreement with them. See our resources about independent contractors.
Q: Where can I find comparability information about salaries and benefits for nonprofits in my area?
A: Many state associations of nonprofits offer salary and benefits reports that are state-specific. Related resources are available on our website.
Q: May interns receive a stipend?
A.  If you are not careful, that stipend can turn a volunteer intern into an employee who is owed minimum wage. Read about compensation for interns.
Q: We need to downsize a program and thought that one solution would be to make one of our employees a consultant instead. Any risks?
A. It will be important to analyze whether the employee you are downsizing truly meets the definition of a consultant, otherwise your nonprofit could face penalties and back wages. Blue Avocado explains this issue.
Top 10 Nonprofit Employment Mistakes  (Siobhan Kelley, J.D, NonProfit Times)
Who’s an employee and who’s an independent contractor – and why it matters (National Council of Nonprofits)
Your Voices
Last month, we asked if your board monitors the impact of public policies on mission delivery and resources? Here's what you said:
Quick Poll Result
New Resources from the National Council of Nonprofits
What does it cost to deliver a nonprofit’s mission? #OwnYourOwnCosts
Worth Reading
Two words that change how people think of you: “Thank you”
The Paradox of Generosity (Smith and Davidson, Oxford University Press 2014)
Overcoming the nonprofit starvation cycle – A conversation with Ann Goggins Gregory, interviewed by Nell Edgington (Social Velocity blog)
The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions
By Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell (Jossey-Bass 2014)
TSNE survey
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