In this moment of American history, we stand with others in denouncing racism, bigotry, and intolerance. Yet that stand alone is not enough. As we all search for ways our nonprofits can play a meaningful role to bridge our deeply divided country, we urge nonprofits to return to our roots. Let’s use our next staff meeting and board meeting to discuss our core values, as individuals and as organizations. To promote strong values externally, we must know, understand, and “own” those values internally. What do your organization’s written values statement, code of ethics, or other pertinent policies say? When were the words last reviewed? Adopted? Are updates needed? How do individuals plan to live the desired values? How can the organization apply them to strengthen the external community? Honest internal dialogue can help board and staff members reflect, learn, and take action steps needed to promote positive shared values in the broader context of advancing the mission.
This month’s issue considers the important role that nonprofits play to bring people together to solve community problems. We explore an important characteristic of leadership that can help nonprofits bridge the divide in our polarized society: empathy. We also reveal how every nonprofit can help influence rules about overtime pay that the U.S. Department of Labor is considering. And, in this month’s Best Practices Podcast, we provide a breakdown of what it really looks like to “manage a conflict of interest.” These are gnarly problems – who better to solve them than nonprofit leaders?
What is the appropriate response to violence and hate-filled rhetoric? During this time of deep social, economic, and political divisions, nonprofits have an important role to play. We can help our communities, and thereby our country, bridge the divide. We really can. Nonprofits frequently bring people together to solve problems. That’s what we’re good at. It may be daunting to think how one nonprofit can make a difference. Yet, sitting on the sidelines is not going to help. We can take courage from journalists who are doing their best to facilitate conversations between the very people who are “dug in” on opposite ends of these spectrums. One of these efforts describes its goal as to “overcome stereotypes and break out of filter bubbles and be part of facilitating transformative conversations beyond the borders of partisan politics.” That’s a mouthful, but it certainly describes what we believe is needed. We also applaud efforts by those curious and courageous enough to participate in such conversations. Is anyone convening such conversations in your community? Why not your nonprofit? An intentional effort feels urgent and necessary. What will your nonprofit do?
One of the nonprofit community’s greatest strengths – and constant challenges – is the inherent ability/tendency to look beyond internal needs to see and serve the needs of others. That skill, and tension, came out last year in response to proposed new federal rules about paying more employees overtime: many nonprofits proclaimed that they had “moral support” for the increases, but “operational anxiety” regarding how the nonprofit could sustain the increased costs. A federal judge blocked implementation of the new overtime rules, but now the issue is back on the drafting table.
Under current law, employees working in a "white-collar" role ("bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity") are not eligible for overtime pay. These rules (explained on our website) affect many nonprofit employees. The US Department of Labor is taking another look at rules that define when employers (nonprofit employers included) have to pay workers overtime compensation. Multiple – or even no – changes could be made, such as increasing the threshold salary level that triggers the obligation to pay overtime, as had been sought by the Obama Administration. Before making changes, the US Department of Labor has opened a comment period (deadline September 25) to get feedback from the public about whether and how the overtime rules should be updated.
This comment period gives every nonprofit the opportunity to help the DOL understand the ways that overtime rules may unfairly hurt, or help, charitable nonprofits and those we serve. If individual nonprofits don’t respond and educate the DOL, the federal regulations will be shaped by academics, for-profit management groups, worker rights organizations, bureaucrats, and others based on assumptions and data from other sectors, not taking into account special circumstances that impact nonprofit employers and employees. We’ve prepared an initial analysis for you, but it will be best if DOL hears directly from individual nonprofits so the rule-makers can understand how diverse the nonprofit sector is – because the rules will affect different size workforces differently, and the cost of living and salary levels are different in rural regions than they are in urban areas. These and other forces influence the practical results of paying workers overtime.
When you respond to the questions posed by the DOL, the National Council of Nonprofits encourages all nonprofits to conduct a mission-based analysis of the questions. That means, when you answer questions about how an increase in the minimum salary levels would affect operations, resources, and staffing, also think about what impact changed regulations would have on the people relying on the services and the mission of the nonprofit. For background on current law and annotations that explain several of the questions presented in the Request for Information by the DOL, see the National Council of Nonprofits’ free analysis, Labor Department Reopens White-Collar Salary Exemption for Comments. The deadline for submitting comments to the Department of Labor is September 25, 2017.
For leaders to be effective, they must be able to understand the feelings, perspective, or motivations of others. Such empathy can underscore a leader’s (or a nonprofit’s) credibility and can be essential for mobilizing people to take action. Listening to someone, or reading something written by someone whom we believe understands our perspective makes us more likely to respect what we are hearing and respond in a supportive way. Exhibiting empathy may come naturally to some. Empathy may even be included in your organization’s statement of values. It’s the underpinning of philanthropy, yet may be overlooked as one of the most important qualities of successful leaders. When we think about the characteristics each of us may wish to develop as leaders, let’s consider how empathy can help strengthen our workplace, our relationships with board members and donors, and also with those we serve. On our blog, we share some remarkable findings about elephants and empathy that inspired us to consider steps we each can take to lead with empathy.
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