Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Some Thoughts on Gratitude

Thankfulness, thanks, appreciation, recognition, acknowledgment, credit - that's the definition of gratitude according to the dictionary.  

Thanksgiving is a great annual reminder to be grateful for the good things in our lives -- family, friends, home, work. It's also a good time to remember the many nonprofit organizations that have touched our lives and made this world a better place.

Here is my top ten list of nonprofits I plan to recognize, acknowledge, thank, and support this season:
  • Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood has been providing affordable accessible health services for all women since 1916. Supporting them is one small way to make an important personal and moral statement in today's political climate.
  • Soccer Without Borders: I play in a weekly pick-up soccer game. I know how this beautiful game builds confidence, skills, friendship, and community. This nonprofit uses soccer as a safe haven and a vehicle for positive change worldwide, from Oakland to Uganda.
  • West Marin Community Land Trust (CLAM): In rural West Marin where I live, CLAM provides desperately needed affordable housing for people who are raising their children and work here.
  • Tomales Bay Library Association: When I was a kid, I walked to my local library every Saturday to browse, read, and take out books. As an adult, I still do. I believe that free public libraries are the foundation of community and democracy.
  • Point Reyes National Seashore Association: I'm blessed to live right next to amazing forests and beaches and meadows; our national parks preserve these beautiful wild places that touch our souls.
  • West Marin Community Services: You may have passed through Point Reyes or Inverness and just thought of these small unincorporated villages as charming tourist destinations, but real people with real needs live here. This organization provides a food bank, emergency services, holiday assistance, and much more.
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival: I am grateful not just for nonprofits that feed people but also those that feed our souls with creative, imaginative, eye-opening art that is moving and thought-provoking.
  • J Street Education Fund: J Street is a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that advocates for an equitable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite all odds, I hope to see this dream realized in my lifetime.
  • HIAS: Originally formed to help protect Jews during the 1930's, this agency now helps all of those whose lives are in danger for being who they are - and stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom.
  • The Dance Palace Community Center: The list wouldn't be complete without this nonprofit I founded and ran for 37 years. At its heart, it's about building and sustaining community through recreational, cultural, and social services for people of all ages -- and I'm proud that it continues to do so.
Take a moment to think about those nonprofit organizations that matter to you. And then take a moment to make a contribution so their work can continue. Like me, you'll be glad you did.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fundraising Paralysis: Facing What Freaks You Out

Are fundraising calls on your ongoing to-do list? Do those calls keep falling to the bottom of the list? Are you, in short, terrified?

In order to overcome your fear of fundraising you need to face what freaks you out. Here are six common fears, and how you can re-think them:
  • Fear of rejection: You're going to be turned down; on average 50% of good prospects will give. Your job is to know that being turned down has nothing to do with you personally. When people choose not to give, they do so for many reasons - it does not mean you are a bad person or that they hate you. And whether they give or not, every conversation you have is a great opportunity to educate folks about your organization and its programs.
  • Fear of failure: It's important to change your definition of success in fundraising. Success is how many times you ask. If you make all your asks, you get an A+.
  • Fear of looking stupid: No donor will expect you to know everything. And when someone asks you a question you can't answer, say, "That's a great question - thanks for asking! Let me talk with the Executive Director and get back to you." 
  • Fear of asking the wrong person: If you develop a strong database and do your homework, you will be asking the right people. Know that if if turns out you made a mistake, or someone is in the middle of a personal/fiscal crisis, you can always simply and graciously apologize.
  • Fear of alienating friends: Have you ever ended a friendship because someone asked you to contribute to a favorite cause? Have you ever lost or damaged a friendship because of a charitable request? If you make your asks with integrity and without blindsiding your friends unexpectedly, they may or may not give but they will not disinherit you. It helps to give them an out - "Please feel free to say no" or "If you choose not to participate, that's totally OK; we'll still be friends. But I sure hope you can help."
  • Fear of now knowing how to ask or what to say: You and your board should work together to identify key talking points and achievements, pinpoint good stories to tell, write a basic script, and practice with each other. But your most important job is to speak from the heart - focusing on your agency's mission, making a clear case, listening carefully, and inviting the donor to become involved. There are lots of fundraising techniques but they are far less important than your passion for your organization's good work.
Fundraising is not about your feelings - it's about the donor. Just as you feel good when you make a charitable donation to a cause you care about, you are giving the donor an opportunity to feel good. So take a deep breath, kick your fears out of the way, and go out and make those calls.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Where's the (Nonprofit) Money?

Statistics about nonprofit income abound - and often seem confusing and contradictory. Consider these from the National Center for Charitable Statistics:
  • Charitable contributions: 72% come from individuals, 15% from foundations, 7% from bequests
  • Nonprofit revenue: 21% from contributions and grants (only 4% of this from foundations); 72% from program service revenue (including government fees and contracts); 7% from dues, rentals, and special events.
So what's the message here? The largest source of charitable contributions is individual giving. The largest source of revenue is program service fees. Foundation funding is at the bottom of the barrel, along with special events.

But you should also know that none these bare figures take into account expenses, staff and volunteer time required, or value added. Nor do they take into account differences between small and big nonprofits, program service sectors, organizational cultures, or the communities being served.

There is in fact no one right model for a nonprofit fundraising program. Instead, consider these four guidelines to use as you shape a strategy for your unique organization:
  • Diversify your income. Aim for a health mix of grant income, individual contributed income, and earned income. Avoid becoming totally dependent on one source of funding, both overall and within each category. If the loss of one significant major donor, one government contract, or one big foundation grant would cause a financial crisis you've got a major problem.
  • Assess your return on investment. Look at how much actual time and resources go into raising dollars. Is that grant really worth the staff time spent in reporting and administration? Does that special event actually make a profit? Are you wasting time asking for donations from rich folks with no connection to your cause?
  • Be realistic. It's always best to assume a one-year foundation grant is just that, and not an ongoing commitment. And never apply for funding for a project that doesn't fit your mission or organizational scale just because the money is tempting. Use grant funding to kick-start important new projects or substantially strengthen ongoing programs, with the knowledge you're going to have to raise more money to keep them going.
  • Seek sustainable, unrestricted funding wherever possible. One of the key values of individual gifts is that most of them are unrestricted and can be used for those basic operating expenses that make your programs possible. And once donors make a contribution - as long as you continue to do good work - a majority will continue to make annual gifts. Having an option for monthly donations is another great way to build a source of ongoing unrestricted cash flow.
And always remember that the basis for successful fundraising and strong nonprofit organizations centers on building relationships over time with people - community leaders, foundation staff, key government representatives, clients, volunteers, and donors.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nonprofit Professional Sports: Really?

Nonprofit professional sports - it sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? And yet, these organizations are classified as nonprofit under U.S. tax law: NHL (National Hockey League), PGA (Professional Golfers' Association, and - until just a few months ago - the NFL (National Football League).

A little background on the IRS code: Section 501(c)(6) allows a tax exemption for business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade, and professional football leagues. All of these are supposedly not organized for profit, and no net earnings can be used to benefit any private shareholder or individual. The explicit inclusion of professional football leagues was part of a 1966 deal Congress made when it granted an antitrust exemption that allowed the NFL to merge with the AFL (a now defunct football league).

Here's a quick summary of revenues and salaries for these "nonprofits":
  • The NFL reported revenue of $327 million in 2013; Commissioner Roger Goodell's salary was $44 million; the average price for 2015 Super Bowl tickets was $2,600.
  • The NHL has annual revenue of $3.7 billion; Commissioner Gary Bettman's combined salary and benefits come to $8 million.
  • The PGA takes in $973 million annually; I couldn't find any public data for current Tour Commissioner Pete Bevacqua, but previous Tour Commissioner Tom Finchem received a salary of $5.1 million.
The NFL opted out of its tax-exempt status a mere 4 months ago; Major League Baseball did so in 2007, largely to avoid IRS reporting requirements - now they don't have to make public the salaries for their top executives.

Even former Republican Senator Tom Coburn (an ardent anti-tax Tea Party proponent) believes these organizations should be paying income and property tax. His proposed Marketplace Fairness Act would have ended the practice of allowing professional sports leagues to qualify as tax-exempt. According to Coburn, the result would be a gain of $91 million in tax revenues for the U.S.

And there's the sad case of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association). FIFA is a registered nonprofit under Swiss law. Its 2013 revenue was $1.3 billion, with a net profit of $72 million. Its top 13 executives received $26.1 million. They've been in the news lately due to the arrests of top executives for bribery, kickbacks, and match fixing. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas - home of exhibits on gangsters, Mafia bosses, drug cartels, and all manner of corruption - just opened a new exhibit on FIFA called "The Beautiful Game Turns Ugly."

There's something rotten in the world of tax regulation in the U.S. and internationally when these bedfellows get to call themselves nonprofits.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Brevity Is the Soul of Messaging

We live in a world of busy people, short attention spans, quick sound bites, Twitter messages of 140 characters. catchy marketing phrases, chat acronyms, and emojis that replace words completely.

So it's essential that you keep it short and sweet in your website, enewsletters, email appeals, and solicitation letters. Here are a few practical tips for you:
  • Highlight visuals. You've heard the old adage "one picture is worth a thousand words." Take photos and videos regularly, and use them.
  • Tell very short stories. When it comes to fundraising, one pithy story is worth a thousand statistics.
  • Use word count. This invaluable computer tool allows you to literally count words in text. Set a limit for yourself, write your text, check the word count, and then delete, delete, delete!
  • Use bullets. There's nothing worse than long dense paragraphs - at best people will read the first sentence, and at worst they will not read it at all. Instead, break text down into key points using bullets that can be easily scanned.
  • Focus on key achievements. I know you want to tell everyone about every wonderful thing your organization does. And you want to provide lots of impressive statistics to back that up. But they don't have the time or patience. Pinpoint key achievements with short pithy sentences and use statistical data strategically and sparingly.
  • Drive people to your website. In your newsletters, entice them and leave them wanting more - which they can find by easily clicking the link to your website.
  • Steal good ideas. Take the time to scan relevant websites and communications you receive from other nonprofits. What catches your eye? What motivates you to find out more? What causes you to lose attention? Use what you learn to inform your own communications.
Note: I limit myself to an absolute maximum of 500 words in each monthly blog post. I'm proud to say this one, appropriately, is a mere 327.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Good News or Bad? Giving USA 2014 Report

Giving USA just came out with its annual report on 2014 charitable giving in the United States

Here are some top findings on the good news side:
  • A record $358.4 billion was contributed to nonprofits in 2014, an increase of 5.4% over the previous year.
  • Donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations all exceeded the previous all-time high of 2007 (right before the recession caused donations to plunge.)
  • This recovery from the recent recession was the shortest on record, and much faster than all the experts predicted.
  • Charitable giving rose in all service areas except international aid (which is largely driven by situational disaster assistance). Arts, culture, and the humanities were tops with a 7.4% increase followed by the environment and animal welfare at 5.3%.
  • Corporate giving increased a remarkable 12%, largely due to big growth in pre-tax profits and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Individual giving accounted for an astonishing 58% of the increase in giving in 2014.
And on the not-so-good news side:
  • Corporate dollars were up - but not by much - .7% of pre-tax income (compared to 1.8% in 1985 and 2% in 1986). And much of this giving was in-kind rather than actual dollars.
  • Religion still reigns at 32% of total gifts, but has been losing ground to other causes since 1982 when it topped the charts at 53%.
  • This past recession hit harder than originally estimated, with a 14% decrease in gifts from 2007-2009 - making it the most serious decline since Giving USA started keeping count 60 years ago.
  • Despite the big 2014 increase in individual giving, the average donated remained consistent at 2% of disposable income. This hasn't varied over time, even when the economy has been strong.
  • Individual giving is not increasing as fast as giving by corporations and foundations - total contributed in 2014 was $258.5 billion, still short of the 2007 high.
Reading between the lines, the other important story is that the increase in individual giving has largely been driven by donations from "mega-donors." These gifts in the range of $80 million and up are being designated for big mainstream institutions (universities, hospitals, museums, etc.) as well as foundations that provide grants for big nonprofits.

In other words, a very small number of donors are controlling our philanthropic dollars, and they are not giving to small and mid-sized organizations that serve the neediest among us. The income inequality we are seeing throughout the country is indeed being reflected in the current landscape of charitable giving.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Stories vs. Statistics: What Raise More Money?

Three different studies highlight a fascinating discussion going on in the nonprofit world about the relative effectiveness of storytelling versus statistical data in fundraising:

1) Wharton School of Business Professor Deborah Small wrote about an experiment where people were given $5, then instructed to respond to various charitable solicitation letters. Stories generated the biggest response; in fact, the more statistics provided, the less generous people were. Her conclusion? To fundraise effectively, you need to appeal to the heart with a touching story rather than to the head with statistics.

2) Princeton University Professor Peter Singer wrote about another study in which individuals shown a picture of a girl named Rokia and told her story were willing to give far more than when asked to help three million hungry children in Malawi. His conclusion? Individuals are more amenable to contributing towards saving one person than to save thousands.

3) M+R Strategic Services did their own survey and came to a very different conclusion. They showed two random groups one letter using the old-fashioned approach outlining accomplishments and needs, and a second version based on a personal story. The first letter generated four times as much money, almost twice as many donors, and a higher average gift.

So what does this mean for you as the average grassroots nonprofit desperately trying to raise more money for your good work?
  • Statistics are powerful. Numbers provide insight into community need, let people know how many people you are serving, outline your demographic reach, and demonstrate the quantifiable impact of your services. Yet so many nonprofit appeals stop right there, assuming impressive statistics will move people to donate.
  • Stories are powerful. People who care about your cause will respond deeply and generously to a story told from the heart. This works best when you tell your own true story with passion and well-chosen words. What doesn't work are sappy stories clearly crafted to manipulate emotions.
  • Storytelling is also a comfortable entryway into fundraising. People like to hear and tell stories; using them in personal asks can help folks make the leap away from fear of fundraising. Try this: practice telling 90-second stories about the direct impact of your work. Yep - keep it that short! It keeps people focused, and it's fun. And you'll see how very engaged everyone will be.
  • How you use them depends on the context. Online and email appeals need to be very short and sweet, coupling visuals with a quick story, and sending the reader to your website to donate. Solicitation letters should include a quick story along with a selected few key achievements and statistics. Personal phone calls or meetings should include time of story and data, as well as the opportunity for the donor to ask questions and tell his/her own story. 
My final conclusion? Use them both. Numbers provide valuable data; stories invite action by appealing to donor emotion and empathy. And keeping track of your response rate will allow you to pinpoint what works best in your community for your organization.

Friday, May 1, 2015

To Do or Not To Do: Fundraising Events

Are you already dreading your next fundraising event? Then it's time to do an honest assessment that addresses profitability, sustainable fundraising, and mission impact. Ask yourself these questions:
  • How much time is dedicated to your fundraising events? Do a quick survey - I'm guessing you'll be flabbergasted at how many hours (staff, Board, volunteers) go into making your event happen.
  • Is this the best use of staff, Board and volunteer time? Consider these statistics: to raise $1, the average nonprofit spends 5-10¢ doing major donor appeals, 25¢ writing grant applications, and $1.33 putting on a fundraiser,.
  • Do you know if you actually make a profit? Take the time to figure out all of your costs, both direct and indirect - including supplies, hall rental, publicity, volunteer and staff time, facility usage, and basic overhead. If you are like the over 5,000 nonprofits surveyed by Charity Navigator you might just discover you are losing money.
  • Is the work involved taking up all the fundraising juice of your Board?  Board members love events - they seem like a fun, easy way to fulfill their obligation to fundraise. Yet their time could be used much more effectively if you train your Board and support them in making personal asks.
  • Does the event raise awareness for your mission? Often nonprofits forget to put their mission at the center of a fundraiser. Designate time for a thoughtful visual presentation about your work (people love short videos or slide shows). And if you can plan an event theme that relates to your mission, even better.
  • Have you attracted new donors and volunteers? Fundraising events provide a great opportunity to introduce new folks to your nonprofit and to get them involved. Schmooze with people, have brochures available to hand out at the door, and get participants to sign on to your mail/email list.
  • Are you using your event to build and sustain relationships with ongoing supporters? Your event is an opportunity to deepen your relationships with existing donors. Make sure they are personally invited to the event, and provide complimentary tickets to significant donors. Be sure to thank and engage with them personally during the event.
  • Is your fundraiser actually fun for your Board and staff? Fundraisers usually start with tremendous enthusiasm. Then, the founding volunteer or Board member leaves, and no one else really steps in. The event becomes a dreaded annual staff responsibility. So ask your Board and staff: is anyone still having fun?
Fundraising events can play an important role if they attract new donors and volunteers, build relationships with existing supporters, generate excitement about your nonprofit work, raise some needed funds, and educate the community about your organization's mission and achievements. Take the time to evaluate your event. Figure out how to use it wisely and effectively. If you can't, take a deep breath and let it go.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April Fool's Day: Comic Relief for Nonprofits

Underpaid and overworked? Dealing with the Board member from hell? Can't face the thought of your upcoming fundraising event? Take a moment out of your day for some laughter with this year's nonprofit jokes:

   Izzy and Howard were brothers who had lived and worked in Brooklyn all their lives. Unfortunately, nothing good could be said about them - they ran a crooked business, they womanized, they didn't go to synagogue on Yom Kippur, they lied, and they cheated the poor. But they were also very very wealthy.
   When Izzy dies, Howard goes to Rabbi Bloom and said, "I will donate $100,000 to the synagogue if you will say at the funeral that my brother Izzy was a mensch (Yiddish for person of integrity and honor)."
   The Rabbi struggles long and hard with his conscience, spending a sleepless night thinking about what he'll say at the funeral.
   The morning comes.The Rabbi stands in front of the congregation and says, "This man was a complete scoundrel, a swindler, and a whoremonger. But, compared to his brother, he was a mensch."

   An Executive Director, a Development Director, and a Board Chair were adrift on a raft after their ship sank.
   The Board Chair looked at the Executive Director and said, "This is all your fault. You were steering the boat!"
   The Executive Director looked at the Development Director and said, "Oh no, it's all the Development Director's fault. You were in charge of the sails."
   The Development Director looked at the Board Chair and Executive Director and retorted, "It's both your faults."
   All three of them were devoured by sharks. It was the worst board/staff retreat ever and the organization never used that team building company again.

   A Development Director found a magic lamp, and rubbed it. Presto! A genie appeared and offered the Development Director one wish. Not wanting to be greedy, she said, "I wish for one million dollars to support my nonprofit organization."
   "Done," said the genie. "Come to your office tomorrow, and it will be there."
   The next day she arrived at the office, and when she opened the door, out fell three million binder clips.
   "What the hell?" she said to the genie. "I asked for one million dollars!"
   "Yes," said the genie, "but you didn't say it couldn't be in-kind…"

My father was a wonderful joke teller, so every time I tell or share a joke - including in this annual blog post - I feel I am honoring his memory. Here's one of his favorites: "Experience is when you make a mistake the second time, but you recognize it." As I have, I hope you'll pass these jokes forward to your staff, Board, colleagues, and friends.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What's Up With the Charitable Deduction?

President Obama's call for a limit to the charitable deduction and the subsequent massive protests by Republicans and mainstream nonprofits made me realize how little I truly knew about the history and mechanics of taxes. Here's what I learned:
  • When was the charitable deduction first introduced? The first income tax (2% on income greater than $4,000) was instituted in 1861 to pay for the Civil War. A year later it was ruled unconstitutional. The 16th Amendment, approved in 1913, gave Congress the legal authority to collect income taxes. The highest rate was set at 7%, and only the top 10% of wealthy Americans had to pay. The charitable deduction followed in 1917. War was the impetus once again - in order to cover the costs of World War I, the top rate had been raised to 77%. The deduction was initiated to help the war effort by underwriting contributions to the War Chest and the Red Cross.
  • How do charitable deductions work? For itemizers, the tax write-off is tied to your income tax bracket. Folks in the 2014 top 35% tax bracket get a tax savings of 35 cents for every donated dollar. If you're in the 35% bracket and earn $1,000, you'd be required to pay $350 in taxes (keeping $650). But if you make a charitable gift of $100, your taxable income goes down to $900, your gross tax bill (now $315) is reduced by $35 - and voila! your $100 donation only ends up costing you $65.
  • How have charitable deductions changed over time? During World War II, income taxes went up again (top rate: 94%) and expanded such that 70% of Americans were required to file and pay. This meant more folks could take advantage of the charitable deduction. It also meant that more people had to deal with long complicated tax forms. So Congress came up with the standard deduction which lowers your taxable income by a fixed amount and makes filing easier - but doesn't allow you to write off charitable gifts.
  • Do tax rates and the charitable deduction actually make a difference in the level of giving? Loud voices in mainstream philanthropy would say otherwise, but history does not support this position. In 1944 when the standard deduction was introduced, nonprofits lobbied heavily against it, insisting that it would the death of charitable giving - but it wasn't. In 1981, Congress dropped the top bracket from 70% to 40% - and charitable giving did not suffer. In 1992 and 2003, the top bracket was lowered first to 39% and then to 35%, and still charitable giving did not take a dive. In fact, statistics from Giving USA indicate that individual giving over the past 25 years has remained remarkably consistent.
  • What motivates people to give? I know that for myself, the tax deduction is not a primary factor. I make thoughtful, focused gifts to organizations that I care about and know to be effective. If the charitable deduction were abolished tomorrow, I would do the same. And in my 40+ years of experience as a nonprofit Executive Director (and fundraiser), that was what I saw from donors. Folks give because they care, not because they can deduct.

Monday, February 2, 2015

How Are You Treating Your Staff? Some Thoughts on the Ethics of Nonprofit Compensation

Nonprofits are specifically formed to provide charitable benefit - to do good in this world, to work for positive change. So it's troubling to discover in my consulting practice how poorly employees are often treated, usually under the guise of economic constraints:
  • Minimum wage: In the midst of the recent push to increase the minimum wage, numerous instances have surfaced where nonprofits have insisted they cannot afford to do so and asked for special dispensations. There is a deep disconnect between a charitable mission of making this world a better place and nonprofit staff who are paid wages that leave them at near-poverty level.
  • Exempt vs. non-exempt: Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay; exempt employees are not. With few exceptions, to be exempt an employee must be paid on a salary basis (under federal law as little as $23,600; for California $37,440), and perform exempt job duties (administrative, executive professional.) Do your exempt employees meet all of these standards? Does your nonprofit have exempt workers at low salary levels? Here's what President Obama had to say about this: "It doesn't make sense that in some cases this rule actually makes it possible for salaried workers to be paid less than the minimum wage. If you're working hard, you're barely making ends meet, you should be paid overtime. Period."
  • Independent contractor vs. employee: You are required to withhold and/or pay income tax, Social Security and Medicare tax, and unemployment tax for employees but not for independent contractors. Here are some basic guidelines for determining status: Employees provide services that are a key aspect of the organization, which has the right to direct and control the worker. Independent contractors usually have their own offices, work for other organizations as well, and are paid a flat fee for a specific project. Note that the IRS does not consider a contract defining status to be a sufficient determinant. It's not ethical to label a key employee as an independent contractor just so you don't have to pay the cost of basic benefits - and it's also not legal.
  • Part-time vs. full-time: You all know what "part-time" means in the real nonprofit world - it means dedicated, overworked program and administrative staff (usually defined as exempt) who put in many more hours than they paid for just to be able to get their work done.
  • Income inequality: It's not only for-profit organizations that boast big disparities between salaries for executives and staff. Many nonprofits, particularly in the education and health care fields, have executives making thousands of dollars more than basic program and administrative employees. And I've seen this even in community nonprofits with budgets of $500,000 or less. Labeling employees as exempt, part-time, and/or independent contractors contributes to this gap.
Here's my plea - take the time to evaluate your compensation policies. Pay all your employees reasonable salaries, define staff hours that reflect how much time is needed to get the work done, and provide basic benefits. Along with doing your good work, consider doing the right thing by your staff.

Monday, January 5, 2015

How Important Are Job Descriptions?

In two words: very important. And yet, frequently job descriptions remain on the virtual shelf gathering dust until an employee fails to meet expectations or leaves or gets fired. Here are three important reason to review and revise organizational job descriptions on an annual basis:

     1) The job description is your key document defining essential job functions and qualifications. In other words, it outlines what your employees are supposed to do as well as required skills and certifications, sensory and physical requirements, work schedules, chain of command, and salary. It should also state whether the job is exempt or non-exempt. Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); exempt employees (typically salaried administrative, executive, and professional staff as delineated under state and federal guidelines) are not.
     2) The job description helps protect your organization from lawsuits. Wrongful termination lawsuits are the most common suits to hit nonprofits. Consider this: if you don't have written documents that say your employee needs to be able to lift heavy weights, you've got a problem on your hands if you discover the employee cannot do so and you want to let them go. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require written job descriptions, but having them provides clear evidence of whether a particular job function is essential. It is legal to decline employment to someone if their disability makes it impossible to do the job as per clearly documented duties. Note also that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires you to document any hazardous exposure as well as specific environmental and/or safety conditions of your work environment (such as hot or cold temperatures, fumes, loud noise, etc.)
   3) The job description provides the basis for your annual performance reviews. (You are doing annual performance reviews aren't you? If not, start right now). Your review process should include a written assessment of job performance in every aspect listed in the job description. It provides the opportunity to note when employees need more training or assistance as well as to pinpoint if in fact the job duties have changed over time. In which case you need to rewrite the job description.

Here is some important language to include: "This nonprofit organization retains the discretion to add or change job duties at any time." And this: "The essential functions include but are not limited to…"

Here are some job requirements to include that you might not have considered: physical requirements including vision, ability to answer phones, driving for a specific purpose; work schedules, especially if night and/or weekend work is required; ability to work well with others (co-workers, Board members, clients, volunteers); ability to handle stress, challenging situations, and difficult people; specific information about required technological skills.

A job description is a living document, one that is a key element of prudent management. Change it as needed based on organizational priorities, input from performance reviews, and staffing changes.