Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, President, VisionServe Alliance

There is strength in numbers.  The scope and diversity of services to people with vision loss are keys to VisionServe Alliance’s strength. The features that distinguish your Alliance – your spectrum of talents, missions, and nationwide view – are much of what make VisionServe Alliance’s members an unparalleled force for progress and social cohesion. Just as important is the characteristic that VisionServe Alliance members share a fundamental, collective commitment to the public good, to generosity and voluntary effort.

Yet, for the things you have in common, for your unifying values and common needs, it’s essential to have an organization that stands for the whole.   

Together … You Speak With One Voice

There is strength in collective expertise.  By weaving your various efforts into a strong and consistent commitment, VisionServe Alliance members help other members to adapt, innovate, and excel. Most important, your coalition improves lives. Through your membership, members hear their individual voices amplified nationally. Each of you benefit from the collective expertise and knowledge of colleagues from around the United States. Through VisionServe Alliance, leaders providing services to people with vision loss collaborate to find creative solutions to some of this country’s biggest challenges.

Together … You Improve Lives

There is strength in coalition.  VisionServe Alliance members enrich lives and communities throughout the United States and now in Canada in diverse ways such as teaching independent travel with white canes or guide dogs, preparing toddlers for school, opening access to jobs and careers, teaching skills for independent living, teaching the use of and providing access to Braille, using magnification to enhance residual vision, advocating on behalf of people with vision loss, assuring high quality standards and certifications exist, and providing access to equality in education.

Drawing such a large and varied community together, envisioning your collective potential, and organizing your vast network of talent and resources is crucial to the success of communities everywhere.

Together … You Are More Effective

There is success through experience.  Through VisionServe Alliance, members share vital expertise that enriches and enlarges their work.  Assembling information from a wealth of practical and technical resources, allows you to spotlight successful approaches to accountability, effectiveness, communications, and best practices in services to people with vision loss or blindness. By sharing expertise, each of you help organizations of all types respond to problems and enrich lives.

Together … You Are Smarter

There is power in knowledge.  Your attendance at twice annual conferences provides a premier opportunity to explore pressing issues from around the country and to network with top leaders from throughout the country. The connections that result, which often lead to continuing partnerships, create new ways of thinking and practical plans of action for organizations and for communities. By working together, VisionServe Alliance members extend their impact far beyond any one service system or organization!

By Roxann Mayros, President & CEO, VisionServe Alliance

Roxann Mayros headshot

In 2018, VisionServe Alliance saw 8 of its members retire, and there are already 5 who have announced their intent to retire in 2019. Over the years, I combined the following information from various sources and have given it to specific members.  With the number of members who recently retired or have announced their intent, I thought this would be good information for all members to read and keep handy … just in case you are the next to announce your retirement. 

Please Note: This document was created from several sources over several years. I thank those authors from whom I pulled information, and apologize for not being able to give credit. 

  1. How do we define success?  It’s hard to overstate the importance of defining success.  To define success, you don’t need an exhaustive up-to-the-minute strategic plan, but you do need a collective expression of the board’s aspirations for the organization.  At a minimum, as the surrogate for the full board, the search committee should be able to coalesce around preliminary answers to the big questions affecting the organization’s future. 
  2. What worries us the most?  A clear understanding of shared concerns at the board level can prove enormously useful in discussions with potential CEOs. The concerns usually reflect issues of culture and competence, and the pendulum is always swinging between the two. Clarity around the board’s biggest worries will help CEO candidates understand the board’s priorities. 
  3. How much change can we stand?  In nonprofits with more than a few minutes of operating history, there will be some vocal board members and staff who want everything to stay the same and some who want to change everything.  Every new CEO faces the challenge of honoring the organization’s past while securing its future.  Within this balance of heritage and hope lie enormous challenge, risk, and reward for the board and the next leader.  Which aspects of the organization (and its culture) do we want to preserve, and which aspects do we know should be amended?  How big, really,is our appetite for change?
  4. How can our new CEO add the most value?  An organization with any momentum at all can project future results from current operations, perform a basic gap analysis to understand what is needed to get from here to there, and then recruit to fill the predicted gap.  By asking, “How can our new CEO add the most value,” however, the committee substitutes what’s likely with what’s possible.  Given the assets and issues you know about and the results to be expected under normally competent leadership, ask what are the possibilities under abnormally competent leadership?  The real added value may have little to do with vision and everything to do with execution.  The trick is to determine the best combination consistent with your mission and values.
  5. How can we ensure the CEO’s success?  In most cases,the search committee’s members will become the new CEO’s most logical champions.  More than most other board members, they will be the new CEO’s natural allies, sounding boards, and mentors.  At the outset of the process, every committee member should examine ways in which she or he could be most supportive of the future CEO.  CEOs new to a community or to blindness and vision loss will profit from help negotiating the twists and turns of the new environment.  Managers new to the CEO role itself will profit from a link to peers outside the organization.  This is why I always recommend new CEOs become active in VisionServe Alliance where they will network with, and learn from, their peers … other CEOs. 

VisionServe’s 30th Annual Executive Leadership Conference took place October 28 – 31, 2018, in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. 124 conference attendees took part in three days of executive training, networking and discussions with peers in the blindness and visual impairment field.

Conference activities included the welcome reception, great speakers, a Dine Around, and especially having flex time for networking and collaborative brainstorming sessions. Willa Adams, attending from Nu-Visions Center in Lewistown, PA remarked, “I liked the amount of time to meet with other attendees and get out of the building and look around. The lunches were relaxed and conducive to talking to new people.”

Lori Jacobwith and Roxann Mayros
Lori L. Jacobwith shares secrets to her fundraising success

Anna Liotta and Mark Ackermann
Generational expert, Anna Liotta

The conference’s two keynote speakers presented informative sessions on fundraising and generational codes. Lori L. Jacobwith, a fundraiser rated in the top 25 nationally, inspired all attendees with successful techniques from her own experience she used to develop better ways to reach out to donors. Anna Liotta of The Generational Institute, enlightened attendees with fresh ways to understand and work effectively with employees of all ages. “I especially enjoyed and learned from Anna Liotta’s generational presentation as this affects everyone from clients to the board members,” said Denny Moyer, President of Ensight Skills Center in CO.  “Following the conference, I had a conference call which included many of the same people who were in Portland and by the comments and responses to the call I could actually identify (for the most part) the baby boomers and gen Xers.  It was eye opening.”

Other well-received topics included crisis management, board management, Older Individuals who are Blind programs, impact investing, grants management and AFB’s new strategic plans.

dine around group
Getting ready for the Dine Around

The location of Portland did not disappoint, providing ample delicious Dine Around locations within walking distance enjoyed by over 100 attendees. “It’s always such a fun sight to watch folks meeting their Dine Around groups in the hotel lobby, introducing themselves, and becoming fast friends over the course of a meal together,” remarked Roxann Mayros, the outgoing President & CEO of VisionServe Alliance. “The next day we see lots of new friendships were formed just from spending this time together.  We’ve thought about dropping this session because it’s a lot of work to put together, but it’s too popular. If we did, we’d never hear the end of it!”

outgoing board members
Roxann with outgoing board members Steve Pouliot and Mark Ackermann

Speaking of Roxann, after attending and planning upwards of 40 conferences, this was her last conference as the executive in charge of VisionServe Alliance. “Beginning in 1995, I have attended conferences as a member and as an employee of VisionServe Alliance.  In both roles, I have learned from national experts, experienced local customs and cultures in the cities we visited, and most importantly, found life-long friends.  Over the years, we’ve watched each other’s children grow, seen marriages come and go, provided support through sicknesses, and now, the blessing of grandchildren.  This conference had many young strong leaders in attendance.  So even though I was able to lift and affirm my long-time professional and personal friendships, I was most especially, encouraged and pleased to see this next generation of leaders actively participating and learning from one another.”

 

Loretta Harper-Brown with Kimberly Galban-Countryman
1st-time attendee Loretta Harper-Brown with Kimberly Galban-Countryman

Cultivating and supporting this next generation of leaders is one of the main goals of the conference. First-time attending CEO’s are matched up with a “mentor,” another member CEO whose agency might share similar issues/goals. The pair touches base before, during and after the conference. Many members note how helpful that these relationships are to their success at their respective agencies.

 

 

Enjoying past successes and struggles was a sentiment shared by many other attendees, including outgoing board members Mark Ackermann and Steve Pouliot. “In my forty-year not-for-profit career, I have belonged to many professional associations, but I have never been part of an association like VisionServe,” noted Ackermann, outgoing Board Chair.  “The professionalism, comradery, mentorship, richness of learning, are all second to none.”

Other soon-to-be-retired attendees in Portland included Pam Brandin(Vista Center in Palo Alto, CA),

Pam and Roxann
Pam Brandin with Roxann

Lou Tutt (AER in Alexandria, VA), Bob Scheffel (Metrolina Association for the Blind in Charlotte, NC) and Robert Kelly (Conklin Center for the Blind in Daytona Beach, FL). “I felt so nostalgic having it be my last one,” remarked Pam Brandin, who also served as Board Chair of VisionServe Alliance from 2005 – 2008. “It did make me feel proud to have been a part of our growth, looking at all the new leaders and knowing that the membership has expanded greatly in the last decade. It certainly was a lot of fun along with the hard work.”

Laura Park-Leach
Laura Park-Leach

 

 

The weather—which in previous years’ conferences has often presented challenges—included enough sun to give attendees the opportunity to explore the beautiful surroundings nearby including the Chinese Gardens, and the Oregon coastline and the Columbia River Gorge. The final Awards Night took place aboard the Portland Spirit boat, a picturesque setting where one could admire the downtown nightscapes as well as celebrate the award winners: Robert Kelly (Excellence in Leadership Award), Laura Park-Leach (Cathy Holden Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award), and Cathy Holden (Lifetime Achievement Award).

 

We thank everyone who joined us in Portland to network, learn and wish Roxann well in her retirement. Work hard, and we’ll look forward to seeing you at our next conference, our CEO Summit in Nashville, TN, May 5 – 8, 2019.

person writing on a chart

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Roxann Mayros headshot

By Roxann Mayros, President of VisionServe Alliance

For nonprofit agencies serving people with vision loss, there is a need to know the size of the population, characteristics, and needs of people with vision loss at the population level in the nation, state, and community. That knowledge would allow agencies to define “gaps” in the community, so that agencies can compete effectively to respond to consumer needs and compete for scarce resources to provide services.

The model for many rehabilitation agencies is one in which provision of services does not lead to income.  Rather the agency raises funds (in a variety of ways) and provides services to the extent these funds allow.  Invariably, the problem begging for a solution is that an influx of clients does not lead to an influx of income.

The solution lies in gathering better data. With better data, there is the possibility that our field could advocate to increase federal funding for older individuals who are blind, Congress could approve Medicare reimbursement for vision rehabilitation professionals, or large foundations could fund a national service delivery system.

So, how do we find out how many people need vision rehabilitation services?

In the past, there have been multiple paper-based surveys that have asked questions in a variety of inconsistent ways about vision, eye diseases, and function; therefore, estimates differ greatly.  For example, one survey asked, “Can you read the newspaper?”, without defining whether they could read with glasses or without, whether the person is literate, or speaks a different language than the paper is written in.  Because every survey asks questions about vision loss in different ways, there are a variety of numbers to use.  So, when people ask me how many “blind” people there are, I say, “How many do you want there to be, and I’ll find a study to support it.”

Now though, with advanced data base management, researchers can gather data from a variety of sources such as electronic health records and the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Iris Registry, to present data about vision and eye health that is state and county level specific.  The CDC’s Vision Health Initiative (VHI) and NORC at the University of Chicago have taken the lead in developing a new tool called the National Vision and Eye Health Surveillance System (VEHSS)The VEHSS leverages new and existing data sources to help health professionals, researchers, policy makers, and patients understand the scope of vision loss, eye disorders, and eye care services in the United States. VEHSS is intended to grow and improve over time based on input and needs of the vision health community.

I encourage you to visit the Vision & Eye Health data portal at https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/visionhealthdata/index.html  to create your own filtered dataset, customize visualizations, download data, and more.  Here are just some of the things you can do:

  • Identify and collect existing sources of information on vision and eye health.
  • Create case definitions to analyze data consistently.
  • Analyze data to estimate:
  • The prevalence of eye disorders and disabilities.
  • The use of eye-health services.
  • Health disparities in visual health treatment and outcomes.
  • Investigate methods to leverage multiple existing data sources to create new estimates of the prevalence of vision loss and eye disease.
  • Disseminate the information developed by the system to key stakeholders and respond to feedback to continually improve the quality and usefulness of the system.

Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, President of VisionServe Alliance

Ashlie Benson and Kyle Hagge, Trinity Fellows at Marquette University in Milwaukee recently surveyed 78 nonprofits about lobbying activities.  Here’s what they found.  Only 60% did any kind of lobbying.  The survey authors said, “We were anticipating nonprofits facing a lot of barriers to lobbying.  … We hope nonprofits see that they can be political, it’s just that they cannot be partisan.”  Many nonprofit leaders and boards believe the tax-exempt status will be jeopardized if they engage in advocacy, lobbying, or voter registration.

To help nonprofits improve their lobbying/advocacy efforts, BoardSource, in partnership with five other organizations/foundations, created the web-site: www.standforyourmission.org.  It provides resources and tools to create positive change through advocacy.  Stand for Your Mission challenges nonprofit decision-makers to stand up for their organizations by actively representing their mission and values, i.e., the people they serve, by creating public will for positive social change.  Stand for Your Mission provides a guidebook, training videos, templates, how-to’s, and more.  It is easy-to-use and resources are free.

Frank Martinelli of Shepherd Express listed some do’s and don’ts based on the resources from Stand for Your Mission:

These activities are allowed:

  • Educating the public and decision-makers about your work in a nonpartisan way.
  • Sharing information about how public dollars positively impact your work and your community.
  • Communicating how broader issues impact your mission and the people that you serve.

These activities are allowed as long as nonprofits carry them out in compliance within certain reasonable guidelines:

  • Voter education, registration and candidate forums.
  • Naming legislators who support (or oppose) a specific piece of legislation.
  • Limited lobbying on behalf of the organization.
  • Lobbying and campaigning as private citizens.

These activities are not allowed:

  • Organizational support for (or opposition to) a candidate or set of candidates.
  • Spending federal grant funds on lobbying.

With 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, your mission and your message could easily get lost or not heard, effectively impacting current and potential partnerships, stronger policies, and deeper funding. This is why it is important that even the smallest organization create a formal approach to lobbying and advocacy at their local, state and federal levels.  How do you do this with limited staff and limited budgets? Think broadly – think about your board members, constituents, the people you serve, all staff (not just the Executive Director), and volunteers. Use the free resources at Stand for Your Mission, and remember … “It takes a Village.”

Does your nonprofit “lobby?” What activities do you do? Comment below.

 

 

Dear Friends,
In honor of Roxann’s retirement at the end of this year, we are offering members and friends of VisionServe Alliance the opportunity to place an ad in this fall’s 30th Executive Leadership Conference program booklet as a tribute to Roxann’s 13 years of leading VisionServe Alliance.

We know you will think of your favorite “Roxann” moment to remember and share. We look forward to celebrating these moments with Roxann and you in Portland this October.

Options are:
Full Page 7 ¾ x 9 ¾”- $500
Half page ad horizontal 7 ¾ x 4 ¾” – $250
Quarter page ad 3 ¾ x 4 ¾” – $100
1 or 2 Sentence message – $50

Ad Specifications:
Full, half and quarter-page ads may be color, two-color, or black and white. Please submit ads in electronic format (preferably Hi-res PDF files) to Wendy Hymes at wendy@visionservealliance.org. 1 or 2 sentence messages may be emailed directly to Wendy. Please also send a text version of the ad for our readers who are blind and visually impaired.

Ad Deadline:
We must receive your tribute ad order form and payment by:
5:00 pm Friday September 28

Click HERE to download the tribute ad ORDER FORM
Click HERE to view sizes of full, half and quarter-page ads

Diane Nelson headshot

Sincerely,

signature

 

 

Diane Nelson
Power of R Campaign Chair

 

Roxann Mayros headshotby Roxann Mayros, President and CEO, VisionServe Alliance

In partnership with the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind (NAEPB), VisionServe Alliance has sponsored a Compensation and Benefits Survey biennially since 2010.  This is the only survey in the field of blindness and low vision that provides data on executive and vision rehabilitation specific professions.

There are several nonprofit compensation surveys available these days, so why does VisionServe Alliance’s Board of Directors believe this survey is necessary and important?  For a couple of reasons.  First, there is a national shortage of vision rehabilitation professionals that provide rehabilitation training, travel skills, jobs, and educational services to people with vision loss, and no other organization is surveying this class of employees.  In a limited market, it is important that VisionServe members have good salary/benefit information to help attract and retain the talent needed to reach their mission. Sometimes salary alone isn’t enough, and leaders need to know about the benefits other organizations are providing.

Second, because the IRS considers compensation to include the total of all income received by the CEO/Executive Director, including not only salary, but also contributions to retirement accounts, housing and car allowances, insurance premiums paid by the nonprofit to benefit the executive director only, and even club memberships if the membership primarily benefits the individual rather than the nonprofit (www.nonprofitcenter.org). This explains what sets VisionServe Alliance’s survey apart – we inquire about compensation AND benefits.  Attracting top leaders to our member organizations is competitive and can be complicated, especially when the IRS Form 990 requires reporting about the “comparable” data used by an organization to justify salaries paid to an organization’s top compensated employees.

With 5 surveys under our belt – 2018 survey results were recently delivered to members and associates – we have observed a few important trends:

  • Despite political and economic turbulence throughout 2017, survey participants continue to experience and to reflect the strong demand for the services offered by nonprofits in the field of vision rehabilitation, education and employment.
  • Over 5 surveys (2010 – 2018), we continue to see a difference in pay between men and women, as well as a pattern of women relatively more often found as President/CEO/Executive Director of small organizations and men more often at large organizations. This appears to account for much of the overall difference in pay.
  • We were surprised to see that women made gains in 2018. When we grouped similarly sized organizations together, we found no pattern of pay differences between the men and women in each group. In fact, in some groups the average pay for women in the President/CEO/Executive Director is higher than the pay for men.
  • The great majority (83%) of survey participants expect to give regular pay increases over the next twelve months. The median overall annual pay increase reported is 3%. These numbers are almost identical to the results reported in previous surveys.
  • Around two-thirds (66%) of survey participants expect increased competition from other employers to attract and retain qualified employees during the next twelve months. Just over half (54%) plan to increase their regular, full-time workforce in the year ahead.

Our Compensation and Benefits Survey reflects both optimism and the challenges of finding, hiring, and staffing VisionServe Alliance member organizations, especially with shortages of teachers of the visually impaired and vision rehabilitation professionals.

If you did not participate in the survey and are a member of VisionServe Alliance or NAEPB, you may purchase a copy that is calibrated to your community’s local labor statistics for $250 by e-mailing wendy@visionservealliance.org.  If you are not a member, you may purchase a copy for $500.

VSA Blog head

Roxann Mayros headshotby Roxann Mayros, President and CEO, VisionServe Alliance

With most of the news focused on immigration issues, I was interested when a message from Independent Sector appeared in my in-box talking about a new series of articles and a Podcast focused on the Civil Society.  I clicked in expecting to read about how the United States was founded and enhanced by people coming to these shores to participate in a democracy that is the envy of the entire world.  I expected to read about diversity and immigration issues.  What I did not expect to read was a new name to describe the work done by nonprofits.  In my years of study – I have a Master’s and two certificates in Nonprofit Management/Leadership – I have heard the nonprofit world called the third sector, charitable sector, impact sector, voluntary sector, and nonprofit sector, but never the Civil Society, which Independent Sector describes as  “private action in service of the public good—as opposed to public action for public good (which is government), or private action for private good (which is business).”

No matter what we call what we do, Independent Sector says that it all adds up to “1.5 million organizations that employ more than 11 million professionals, mobilize more than 63 million volunteers each year, and take in more than $390 billion in philanthropic donations annually, plus many hundreds of billions in government grants and contracts.”   So, whatever we call ourselves, the nonprofit organizations in America touch every aspect of our daily lives in profound—though often unnoticed—ways.

Even so, we are in an era when, as a sector, we are facing challenges to the way we do business.  Last year’s tax law disincentivizes the everyday donor from making charitable contributions. The tax law also made changes to the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) that could significantly increase nonprofits’ tax burden. And the potential repeal of the Johnson Amendment would open charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, and foundations to the demands for political endorsements, contributions, and other partisan electioneering activities. Dan Cardinelli, CEO of Independent Sector also identifies in his Blog posting about Civil Societies – https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_adaptive_challenge_of_restoring_trust_in_civil_society – other challenges, including the concentration of wealth in the top 1%, how we define community, and sharp increases in political and cultural polarization.

If you are reading this, and you are a nonprofit leader, I encourage you to follow these issues by reading VisionServe’s regular updates, looking at our website for news, and searching Google.  Once you are up-to-date, contact your legislators to tell them NOT to repeal the Johnson Amendment, and then contact the IRS and ask them to clarify how the law should be interpreted because nonprofits are already expected to make payments on things like parking or transit passes and other fringe benefits. And finally, think about how you interact with your donor base – you must give them a reason to want to continue to donate to your organization even though most will no longer be able to itemize it on their income taxes.

an American flag flying in front of the US Dept of Commerce
Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash

Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, President & CEO, VisionServe Alliance

In my blog posted on May 21st, I provided background information to help explain why professional services provided to people with vision loss by vision rehabilitation therapists, orientation and mobility specialists, and low vision therapists are not reimbursed by Medicare or medical insurance (third-party payers).  Even though the effort to see these professionals reimbursed began in 1990, and there was a five-year Demonstration Project to prove the efficacy of these professionals, they still do not qualify for reimbursement in 2018. We learned many lessons during the very expensive and decades long effort.  We hope that the following “lessons learned” will guide future endeavors to see this very important category of nationally certified professionals recognized and reimbursed by third-party payers.

  • University degree programs must move. Medicare is a medical model – it does not recognize, nor does it reimburse professionals with special education degrees.  University programs providing degrees in vision rehabilitation therapies with a focus on adults, must be housed in the Department of Allied Health Professions and provide degrees in Orientation & Mobility, or Vision Rehabilitation Therapy, or Low Vision Therapy, and not special education.
  • The current system for referrals must change. Most referrals currently come from State Agencies for the Blind, and they are not reimbursable by third-party payers.  Referrals from Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, or other medical doctors are reimbursable.  Medicare and other third-party payers require that the patient be under the care of a physician while therapies are being administered.  The physician must certify the patient’s need for services, and sign-off on the plan of care and follow-up that includes evidence-based outcomes that include written progress notes and a summary.
  • Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, and even Occupational Therapists, must “buy-in” and be supportive. Legislators know the organizations representing these medical professions and they will ask if they are in support.  During the early days of our campaign, we did not seek their involvement or understanding, so they literally advocated against reimbursement for vision rehabilitation professionals.  In the last campaign before the Medicare Demonstration Project, we were far more inclusive, asking for advice, bringing representatives on visits with us to legislative offices, and more.  It wasn’t easy – it took a lot of convincing that there would be a benefit to their professions before they came out in support.
  • Medicare recognizes State licensing which they believe assures “quality” of the service providers (medicarenow.org). It took a lot of lobbying and negotiating with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) – and it will again – to recognize ACVREP certification during the Demonstration Project. We are still the only profession that has ever received reimbursement based on national certification instead of State licensing.
  • The legislative process is long, expensive, and arduous. It will take several attempts and several years to find a champion/s to support the bill, bi-partisan support, a good lobbyist to shepherd and advise, traversing the review and hearings process by appropriate (sub)committees of both the House and Senate, and to bring enough advocates together to make an impact.  And you better hope that your champion is re-elected, or you will start all over from the beginning.
  • Cost savings must be proven, so studies are necessary. Experts sanctioned by Congress must be hired to study the impact and cost of reimbursing vision rehabilitation professionals, and to produce recommendations and/or administrative actions to legislative (sub)committees.  These studies have been impacted in the past by the lack of data and evidence-based outcomes in relation to vision rehabilitation.
  • Lobbyists are a necessity. No lay-man, grass-roots advocate, or vision rehabilitation professional has the necessary connections at the Federal level, nor the knowledge required, to “get meetings with the right people,” or to initiate and move a Bill through Congress.  Lobbyists know the system, and they know how to make it work.  They know how to write appropriate language for a Bill, how to get it filed and numbered, who in Congress works with whom, how committees work, and more.  Even though expensive, they are an absolute necessity!
  • It requires “boots on the ground.” Getting a bill passed cannot be done by writing letters, leaving messages, or visiting a legislator once.  It has to be done in person in legislators’ offices in Washington, D.C.  Advocacy must be done frequently, with urgency, and by more than a small cadre of devotees.
  • It takes a dedicated and full-time staff. As explained above, it is necessary and time consuming to find enough money for studies and lobbyists, getting the right people on the bus, using a data base to track progress or next steps, organizing on-site advocacy days/meetings, seeking support from allied health professionals, meeting with legislators and their aids, organizing policy forums and Congressional updates, producing written materials, understanding the legislative process, writing press releases or journal articles, attending (hundreds if not thousands) of meetings, and shepherding a bill through Congress.  None of this can be accomplished without one or more full-time staff positions.

The bottom line is that it is morally and professionally “right” to reimburse Master degreed and nationally certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists who teach people how to live independently, Orientation and Mobility Specialists who teach travel skills using a white cane or guide dog, and Low Vision Therapists who teach how to use remaining vision and specialized tools to remain independent.  I end this by challenging University programs to move degree programs from Education to Allied Health, current leaders to develop national standards and evidence-based outcomes, and to all of you to successfully shepherd a bill through Congress that will order CMS to amend Medicare law to add a new category of services provided by vision rehabilitation professionals!

Capitol building in Washington DC

Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, President & CEO, VisionServe Alliance

Did you know that vision rehabilitation therapists are the only medical/rehabilitative professionals NOT reimbursed by Medicare or insurance companies (third-party payers)?  Here is why this is important.  Think about the person who has a stroke.  They lose their ability to use their right arm to brush their teeth. An occupational therapist is paid by Medicare or insurance to provide needed therapies.  That stroke also caused the person to lose the ability to speak clearly.  Medicare or an insurance company pays for speech therapy.  That stroke also caused a severe balance issue.  You guessed it, Medicare or insurance pays for a physical therapist.  BUT, if that same stroke victim, also loses some or all of their eyesight, no insurance company or Medicare will pay for important therapies provided by a specialized and nationally certified vision rehabilitation therapist, low vision therapist, or orientation and mobility specialist.

There are many reasons for this disparity and no easy solutions.  Due to my long-time tenure in the blindness and low vision field, being involved in and leading previous attempts to seek third-party payment, and my quickly approaching retirement, I have been asked to document why vision rehabilitation professionals are not currently reimbursed by Medicare or medical insurance.

Background

From 1990 through 2012, nonprofit organizations providing vision rehabilitation therapies and services to people with vision loss underwrote the expensive cost of, and spent untold hours leading, a national effort to secure third-party reimbursement for vision rehabilitation therapists to teach independent living skills, low vision therapists to teach the use of remaining vision as aided by magnification devices and techniques, and orientation and mobility specialists who teach safe movement and travel skills using a white cane or guide dog.

Why did it take so long?  Because it literally took an Act of Congress!    Medicare law must be amended by Congress to add a new category of services for which Medicare will provide reimbursement, i.e., establish coverage.  Congress must authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish rules, assign codes, and provide reimbursement.  Once these rules and codes are established and Medicare begins to reimburse for vision rehabilitation therapies, then other third-party payers (medical insurance companies) will begin to reimburse.  Congress doesn’t normally do this out of the goodness of their hearts, but only after intense and protracted advocacy from their constituents.

This decades-long and very expensive process produced four separate bills (none were ever brought to the floor for vote) and the only study at the time about the rate and cost of vision loss (The Lewin Report).  Our biggest champions were Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts (his mother had lost her vision due to macular degeneration and was not referred for vision rehabilitation therapies by her medical doctor) and Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire.

Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts
Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts

Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire
Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire

Senator Sununu was most especially important because his vote was needed to pass legislation that created Part D (prescription drug coverage) under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. When asked by President George W. Bush to enter his deciding vote in favor of establishing prescription drug coverage, Senator Sununu boldly asked the President to support Medicare reimbursement for vision rehabilitation professionals.  Negotiations resulted in a Congressional order to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to create and oversee a Five-Year Demonstration Project in the states of North Carolina, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Washington; and in the five boroughs of New York City and specific zip codes in the city of Atlanta.

US Department of Health & Human Services building
Washington, UNITED STATES: The US Department of Health and Human Services building is shown in Washington, DC, 21 July 2007. The department, which began operations in 1980, has more than 67,000 employees. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

It was in 2005, as the new Executive Director of VisionServe Alliance (a consortium of nonprofits providing vision rehabilitation services) that I was assigned the task of working with CMS to implement and oversee the “Demonstration Project.”  CMS had experience in developing demonstration projects for established and traditional medical providers (Diabetic Educators, for example), but they were inexperienced in establishing a demonstration project for non-medical providers like vision rehabilitation therapists who earn their Master’s degrees through University Departments of Education and not Departments of Allied Health as physical or speech therapists do, and are traditionally employed by nonprofit agencies, the Veterans Administration, or State Agencies for the Blind.

The Demonstration Project was not successful for several reasons, including 1) how CMS designed the project – patients were required to live in the same New York borough or Atlanta zip code as the doctor’s office; 2) CMS assumed that vision rehabilitation professionals worked in physicians’ offices (which they didn’t); 3) that referrals for services came solely from physicians; and 4) by placing demonstration sites in low population or rural states like New Hampshire. The Project was also negatively impacted by the lack of standardized reporting, outcome measurements, and physician referrals within the field of vision rehabilitation.  These issues resulted in only one participant in each Demonstration State – nonprofit agencies already performing vision rehabilitation therapies.  Neither Optometrists nor Ophthalmologists participated because they did not (and would not) employ vision rehabilitation professionals. The lack of participation resulted in very low patient numbers, thereby not creating enough data to determine if the Demonstration Project proved the need for this professional category (vision rehabilitation) to be reimbursed by Medicare.

Those of us who had our “boots on the ground” advocating for reimbursement and the nonprofit agencies who participated in the Demonstration Project learned many lessons that should impact future endeavors seeking third-party reimbursements.  Watch for our next installment of Lessons Learned from the Vision Rehabilitation Demonstration Project 2006-2011. 

Elly du Pres headshot

Guest blog by Elly du Pré, DPA

Just as a diamond is generally cut as an inverted pyramid to create the greatest sparkle, management and workplace culture now is summoning that image when it comes to the organizational chart.  The inverted pyramid flips the broad base into the position of the apex.  Putting customers and employees at the top focuses light on quality of services.  The people living with vision loss, and the direct service providers with whom they come in contact most closely, are at the apex of the organizational chart.  In the business of Vision Rehabilitation, the diamonds among us are the certified professionals – CVRTs, COMS, CLVTs and CATIS – and other licensed highly skilled individuals essential to delivering comprehensive services.

White cane user receiving training
O & M at Center f/t Visually Impaired Atlanta

However, we must be cognizant of an important difference between certified and licensed professionals.  All States require licensure of certain occupations.  They all do not require certification of vision rehabilitation practitioners.   It is time to have a serious conversation about managing quality programs without the external stipulation.

Customers at the top:   VisionServe Alliance members are the unique, expert providers of the specialized and individualized solutions required by blind or visually impaired consumers and their families.  The message we need to convey to our customers is that they can safely take the leap of faith required to walk through our doors.  Our promise is not restored sight, it is restored lives, and that promise has to be convincing.

Employees at the top:   Riding on the shoulders of the people hired to provide services are the reputation of the organization, the success of its fundraising, the testimonials of excellent outcomes and even the relative cost-efficiency of service delivery.  The sustainability of our organizations rests on the effectiveness of the employees.

Certification of direct service practitioners safeguards both the promise we make to our customers and the confidence of management that best practices are ensuring program quality.  Certified Professionals = High Standards, Ethical Service, Commitment to Consumers, Stronger Program Outcomes.

With so much at stake, why are so many agencies not requiring certification as a condition of employment (within a certain time period after hiring), not supporting employees to pursue education to become certified, not requiring supervision by certified professionals?  Is it time for every VisionServe agency to commit to this goal: ACVREP certification agency-wide, nation-wide?

Guest blog by Elly du Pré, DPA.  Full disclosure:  I am the Executive Director of Florida Agencies Serving the Blind, a consortium of the 18 nonprofits providing direct education and rehabilitation services to people who are blind or visually impaired.  The State of Florida requires certification, and supervision by certified professionals in all contracts promulgated by the Division of Blind Services and in K – 12 schools.  I also am the Treasurer of the Board of the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP).

5 arms coming together showing cooperation
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, CEO, VisionServe Alliance

 In today’s environment, nonprofits working in this “blindness biz,” face many challenges, including tight budgets, a new tax law that could impact donations, an aging and scarce workforce, a more culturally diverse citizenry, and an aging population that will need vision rehabilitation services.  All combined, this means that VisionServe members have little choice but to think and act in new ways to attract, motivate, and keep employees to meet the varied expectations of community, clients/patients, funding sources, elected officials, boards of directors, interest groups, and the media.

I truly believe that recruiting and retaining good employees in the nonprofit sector is more difficult than recruiting and retaining good employees in the for-profit sector.  Unlike businesses, many VisionServe Alliance members are too small to provide meaningful career development opportunities, or salaries and benefits that are competitive with for-profit businesses. In many cases, foundations, United Way, and other funding sources, will support programs and services, but not salaries or continuing education.   And because the largest line item on a nonprofit budget is the salary line, it is the easiest place to cut when a budget needs trimming.

Funders and donors should assure that their financial support includes resources for employee development and retention; and boards of directors should resist hiring under-qualified candidates, accept the need to pay qualified candidates well, and to fill key positions even if that means increasing “overhead” costs.  Salaries must reflect the realities of an increasingly competitive marketplace that allows a nonprofit to “get the right people on the bus and in the right seats,” as explained by Jim Collins.

With that said, the reality is that most nonprofits do lack the necessary funding, which is why I encourage you to think like VisionServe Alliance member, Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment (AVRE) in Binghamton, NY.  The NonProfit Times recently named AVRE one of the top 50 Best Places to Work in the United States!  In talking with AVRE’s CEO, Ken Fernald, I asked what got them on this list.  His answer, “We consciously care about the life/work balance.  At AVRE, we believe in trust, family first, freedom to make adult decisions in the workplace, and we are not clock watchers. If there is something going on in an employee’s personal life, they let us know, and we make adjustments to help them balance work and life.  This is where trust comes in.  We provide a generous PTO policy that each employee controls – they don’t have to tell a story about a doctor’s appointment to take time to go to the ballgame.  They know their workload, project deadlines, and their responsibilities on the job.  We trust them to make the right decisions.  It doesn’t mean we don’t monitor or counsel, but we have a culture of trust.

We also do a few other things like Fitness Friday where we invite in a yoga instructor or nutritionist.  We have a Health & Wellness Committee who find ways for employees to do things together.  For example, we have a competitive hoola hoop group that meets each week after work, and we recently had a relay race in our parking lot where blindfolded employees raced with an egg on a spoon.  It was one of the best bonding experiences ever!  I also have a Stand-Up Meeting with each department monthly, where I spend a few minutes updating them before I stand up and listen – to the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Ken told me that these are just a few examples of how they support their employees, and ended our call by saying, “The bottom line is that even though we pay good salaries and provide generous benefits, but most importantly, we truly care about employees by believing in the work/life balance and trusting each employee to be the best they can.”

Another example of providing non-salary benefits is at Wegman’s Supermarkets, a family-owned and managed business, consistently named by Fortune Magazine as a best place to work. Wegman’s embraces a motto, “Employees First, Customers Second.”  At first glance this appears upside down to the more commonly heard motto, “Our Customers (clients/patients) Are #1.”  Wegman’s allows employees to meet family obligations, creates opportunities for employees to participate in company decisions, and provide extensive training to both managers and employees. Wegman’s says, “We believe we can achieve our goal only if we fulfill the needs of our people.”

Nonprofit funders and donors, boards of directors, and nonprofit leaders can learn from both AVRE and Wegman’s.  Pay your employees as well as possible, support them in every way possible, but also create a culture and attitude within the organization that supports and motivates employees without spending a lot of money.  Here are a few more ideas:

  • Provide opportunities for part-time employment, flexible hours, job sharing, work-from-home, and mentoring.
  • Continually ask employees about their work systems and/or environment and whether it is causing satisfaction or not. Ask them how to reduce organizational inefficiencies that drain their time and energy, including useless paperwork or rules that impede creativity.
  • Encourage open communication in both directions – tell employees about the loss of funding or an increase in health insurance costs and include them in the decision process.
  • Encourage employees to apply for open positions before seeking people from the outside.
  • Make employees feel they are part of a team or, in some cases, part of a family! The better nonprofit employees feel about themselves and their role in the organization the better they will feel about the clients/patients/students they serve.
  • And last, but far from least, implement the MBWA Policy – Management by Walking Around. Executive Directors and managers with integrity and concern for employees, regularly wander around assessing the mood of staff and seeking input.

The environment for nonprofits in the twenty-first century has changed how many organizations are structured, the way work is organized and produced, and even how employees and their work are managed.  Nonprofits who realize and embrace the notion that employees are an important asset and critical to the organization’s success, will ensure that the organization remains robust and effectively meeting society’s needs.

What other ways does your company attract and retain its employees? Please respond in the comments below.

mountain climbers

 Photo Credit: Leigh Anderson

Roxann Mayros headshot

by Roxann Mayros, President/CEO of VisionServe Alliance

I remember reading an article in the Harvard Business Review that said that it takes more leadership skills and business acumen to lead a nonprofit organization than a for-profit organization.  I don’t remember the exact date, and even though I have Googled and searched the Internet high and low, I have never been able to find that article.  Most of you do not know that I had a professional life before I got into this “blindness biz.”  I designed Marketing Information Systems before there were desktop computers, databases, and the computer power that an I-phone exceeds today.  My customers were the Fortune 100 in Europe and Fortune 500 in the United States, including Revlon, Herman Miller, Proctor & Gamble, to name just a few.  So, when I tell you that I believe it takes more skill to lead a nonprofit than a Fortune 500 company, I know from where I speak.

The typical day of a nonprofit leader could start with calling upon a six-figure donor, end using a plunger to unplug a clog in the agency’s most frequently used bathroom, and a variety of things in the middle – always centered around sustainability and growth, mission, people (employees and people served), crisis management, and more.

VisionServe Alliance’s members are a nationwide network of nonprofit organizations serving people who are blind or visually impaired.  My job as VisionServe Alliance’s leader is to focus on developing and supporting the leaders of those organizations because we believe strongly here at VisionServe Alliance, that great leaders equate to great services to people who are blind or visually impaired.  In thinking about all of this, I decided to try again to find that article in Harvard Business Review.  I didn’t find it, but I did find a 2007 article in The Nonprofit Quarterly written by Jean Lobell and Paul Connolly entitled, “Peak Performance: Nonprofit Leaders Rate Highest in 360-Degree Reviews” describing a 360-degree study of for-profit and nonprofit leaders conducted by Community Resource Exchange, a nonprofit social-change consulting firm, and Performance Programs, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in leadership and organizational assessment.  The study included 85 questions that measured 12 core leadership skills, allowing judgment of a leader’s impact, power, and influence.

Here is what they found: Nonprofit leaders outscored for-profit leaders in 14 out of 17 dimensions of leadership practices, including (for example) teaming/empowering, perseverance, trustworthiness, persuasiveness, openness to feedback.  For-profit leaders outscored nonprofit leaders in skills related to pushing for results/applying pressure, achieving results quickly, and coping with stress.

I did not need a research report to tell me about the remarkably complex role nonprofit leaders inhabit daily, especially with substantial (and typical) resource and staffing constraints.  As many VisionServe Alliance members contemplate retirement, and if indeed there is a leadership deficit in the general nonprofit arena, then it may be incumbent upon us to invest more deeply in leadership development within our own ranks, than in recruiting from the for-profit world.  This is why VisionServe Alliance’s focus on leadership development, training, and networking is highly regarded and respected.

Roxann Mayros headshotby Roxann Mayros, President/CEO of VisionServe Alliance

Sentry lock box with documentsNonprofit organizations are required by federal or state law, board directive, or good business practices to keep many documents organized, up-to-date, and available to the public.  I thought it might be helpful to provide a list of those documents, organized by Mandatory, Primary Operating, and Secondary Operating documents.  I welcome any contributions of documents I may have forgotten in the comment section below.  If you are a VisionServe Alliance member, samples of many of these documents are (or will be) available in the members only portal on our website.

Mandatory Documents include your organization’s Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, local and state filings, IRS letter of tax status, mission, vision, value statement, and the most recent Form 990.

Primary Operating Documents is a longer list, and include policy manuals, board manual, insurance coverage, software licenses, financials, organization chart(s), emergency continuity plan, disaster plan, strategic plan, chart of accounts/budgets, the most recent audit, committee/task force minutes, and required policies for conflict of interest, whistle-blower, public records, record retention.  The following should be kept safeguarded with access defined:  employee files, performance evaluations, board minutes, audit report, and passwords.

Secondary Operating Documents include leadership development plans, business plan, succession plans, annual report, position descriptions, board job descriptions, board committee charges and goals, rules of order/protocols, fundraising plans and donor/sponsor opportunities, and employee emergency contacts.

In the comments, we’d like to know what documents you consider to be absolutely essential for the success of your nonprofit. Do you want access to samples of the documents mentioned above? Join VisionServe Alliance! Members, log in to find these important resources in the Members Portal under Members/Library of Sample Documents.

by David Ekin, President, St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired

VisionServe Alliance:

  • Is the only organization focused on CEOs/Executive Directors to create learning, networking, and leadership opportunities.
  • Represents the entire range of services in the field of blindness/low vision – babies/parents, pre-school age, school age, transition age, working adults, older adults, through rehabilitation centers, low vision clinics, residential schools, manufacturing/service centers, guide dog schools, braille producers, and national advocacy/support organizations.
  • Promotes a stronger more unfied voice nationally by initiating legislation, coordinating responses to legislation, developing position statements, and promoting advocacy on a variety of issues important in the field.
  • Provides stronger and more regular communication across the blindness/low vision sector, and beyond our immediate sector, to the medical, educational, and research communities
  • Facilitates several professional development opportunities in leadership, management, fundraising, and advocacy
  • Reduces the cost of membership by off-setting dues in cost-savings provided by corporate group purchasing opportunities
  • Coordinates collaborative opportunities between members to share program models, vendor information, policies, resources, and more

I am continually asked to participate and be active in other national organizations, in coalitions, position statements, etc.  As a busy executive, I don’t have time to belong to a number of organizations, nor do we have the money to pay multiple membership dues.  I invest in my membership in VisionServe Alliance, and will continue to do so, because this organization not only focuses on making me a better leader through professional development and networking opportunities, but it focuses on the field of blindness and low vision which is integral to meeting my agency’s mission.

Roxann Mayros headshotby Roxann Mayros, CEO of VisionServe Alliance

  1. The field of blindness and low vision rehabilitation is under tremendous strain and undergoing tremendous change due to the increase in seniors seeking services, changes in demographics, the entry of occupational therapists as service providers, lack of third party reimbursement, changes within the Ability One program, and more. If we do not change our business models and service delivery programs, we will go out of business – sooner rather than later.
  2. The nonprofit service providers (VisionServe Alliance members) will be impacted by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, enacted in late 2017, which contains sweeping changes for individuals, corporations, and for the work of charitable nonprofits. The changes create immediate uncertainty about what nonprofits will need to do (sooner rather than later) to comply and what changes state and local governments will make in response – such as changing their own tax codes and making spending cuts.
  3. Our future clients will have vastly different needs than today’s. We all know the numbers – 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 every single day, leading to upwards of 15.8 million Baby Boomers who will need vision rehabilitation services over the next few years. These folks will look very different from the clients we have been serving.  They are younger acting, healthier, technologically connected, and will need to work in their later years due to the degeneration of the pension system and low rate of savings.  Baby Boomers will not patiently wait, nor will they want to learn how to pour a cup of coffee or make a grilled cheese sandwich.  Instead, they will say, “I’ll figure that stuff out – teach me how to use my I-Pad so I can Facetime with my grandchildren.”  Or, “I need technology first so I can continue to read.”  Or, “I need to see better.”  Traditional vision rehabilitation programs must change and modernize or non-traditional vision rehabilitation providers (Ots, etc.) will be the primary source for services sooner rather than later.
  4. There is less Government (Federal, state, local) funding for vision rehabilitation, employment programs, university education programs, and less government purchasing from our production agencies. This is, and will in the future, impacting the success of our current business models.
  5. This field needs to talk and collaborate. Silos must come down.  Right now, schools for the blind function separate from adult rehabilitation organizations, and they function separate from manufacturing/service organizations, and they function separate from State services, and they function separate from the Veterans Administration, and they all function separate from the medical community … and on and on and on.
  6. We need more trained and educated vision rehabilitation professionals. VisionServe Alliance members together employ more VRTs and O & Mers than the Veteran’s Administration and State governments together.  If we do not create more vision specific professionals, then generalists will take over.  Fact:  There are 200,000+ occupational therapists in the United States.  There are 4,172+ ACVREP certified vision rehabilitation professionals (668 CVRTs, 493 CLVTs, 2,936 COMS, 75 CATIS and 19 who recently passed an exam).  Even though these numbers continue to increase, I think you can see the disparity in potential service providers.
  7. This field must develop evidence based practices that are commonly used, and we must begin to collect and disseminate common data. Every VisionServe Alliance member has anecdotal stories and agency specific data attesting to the success of individual programs (basically comparing ourselves to ourselves), but what we can’t do, is prove to funders and others how successful our individual programs are in comparison to other programs nationally, nor can we prove that specialized services produce better outcomes than generalized services.
  8. We have a lot of “Lone Rangers” out there. Many VisionServe Alliance members are developing protocols for outcomes and assessments, teaching vision courses to OT’s, and participating in research – within their own vacuum. Generally, VisionServe Alliance members are not sharing procedures or data, and they are not forming collaborations within the field.
  9. Networking CEO to CEO is an important benefit of membership, but so are those benefits that put money in our members’ “pockets” – especially now. By participating in the Mutual of America benefit alone, you could save more than you are spending on dues.
  10. VisionServe Alliance needs to continue to grow because what we do together is needed and important. We are the only organization in the field that has representatives from all vision rehabilitation disciplines!  VisionServe Alliance is the closest there is to a “Mother Ship” in this field.  We need to use this network for the betterment of our field and individual services to the people we serve.

 

Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, CEO, VisionServe Alliance

People who choose to work at non-profits are generally touchy/feely people.  I know, because I’m one of them.  I think we’ve chosen to work in a helping profession because of the innate kindness within us. We greet each other at meetings and conferences with a hug instead of a handshake.  It’s not unusual to thank an employee for something special with a squeeze of the shoulder or hug.  We also have a tendency to (appropriately) touch each other while talking, or when we are making a point.  It is not unusual for nonprofit employees to hug a client/patient struggling with vision loss as a way to comfort and guide them to solutions through vision rehabilitation; or to hold a crying mother or father after their pediatrician has told them their baby will never see.

Are comforting hugs or a quick squeeze of the shoulders sexual harassment?  Is telling a naughty joke, sexual harassment?  As professionals in the caregiving profession, we usually mean no harm, but what may appear harmless to one person, could be uncomfortable, or even threatening, to another.  In addition to personal harm, nonprofit organizations could also be harmed as even the rumor of harassment could lead to the loss of major donor dollars, constituent support, valuable employees, or board members.

According to data from an ABC News/Washington Post poll, one in four women and one in 10 men report experiencing sexual harassment in the U.S. workplace. However, only 25 to 33 percent of those harassed at work actually report it. Even if you don’t think your nonprofit has a harassment problem, it is entirely possible that members of your staff have experienced harassment and felt unable or unwilling to speak up.

It should be clear from these statistics, that your organization must not only prepare to handle cases of harassment, if and when they occur, but also proactively work to prevent harassment from happening in the first place. It is important to take action now, not just because the reputation of your organization could be on the line, but because it is simply the right thing to do.

So, what is harassment? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as a form of employment discrimination and as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” State laws may broaden that definition.

Employees aren’t the only parties you need to think about when working to address harassment.  Adults and children receiving services are vulnerable, and may or may not, interpret comfort as harassment.  Volunteers have the right to sue a nonprofit if they’ve experienced harassment while working with your organization, as do board members.

Alicia Schoshinski of the Nonprofit HR Blog offers the following recommendations so that you can begin to create a culture where harassment is not perpetrated, tolerated, or ignored.

  1. Identify your organization’s values and adhere to them

Revisit your organization’s mission and the core values that will attract and retain the talent you need to drive that mission forward. Does your organization value work ethic? Transparency? Equality? Respect? Do your employees and volunteers know that succeeding at your organization means adhering to those values at all times? Or is there a disconnect between the values your organization says it stands for and those exemplified by management and staff?  A cultural needs assessment can help leadership identify whether your workforce understands and is acting on your organization’s core values, especially those that dissuade unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. If gaps between values and behaviors are identified, a cultural needs assessment can also help you identify steps to build a safer and more respectful culture for all.

  1. Create a clear policy about what is and is not accepted in the workplace

Without a clear anti-harassment policy, employees may not fully understand how to report harassment incidents, what they can expect once workplace harassment is reported, or even whether an incident someone experienced was truly harassment.  Your organization’s anti-harassment policy should seek to eliminate confusion and protect those who report what they perceive as harassment. To ensure serious offenses are not written off as mere annoyances, your organization’s official anti-harassment policy should define what constitutes harassment, the individuals and conduct covered by the policy, how to report an incident of harassment, how employees will be protected from retaliation and how perpetrators will be disciplined and/or terminated, should that be the appropriate course of action.  SHRM offers a sample anti-harassment policy your HR team can look to when drafting a policy for your organization, and Nonprofit HR’s Project-Based Consulting practice can also help you develop a policy tailored to the specific needs of your organization.

  1. Put harassment reporting systems in place for staff, volunteers, and board members

Harassment can be just as prevalent among boards and volunteers as it is among staff. Each of these groups must be aware of your anti-harassment policy and of the procedures for reporting instances of harassment.

Reporting processes vary from organization to organization, but most nonprofits ask victims of harassment to discuss complaints with their immediate supervisor, who will then report it to the HR department or to the Executive Director. At most workplaces, victims can also directly report incidences to HR. Then, the HR team, or the designated representative must thoroughly investigate the report and recommend any necessary consequences. The reporting process should involve thorough documentation and record keeping at all phases, as well as communication with the alleged harasser and the harassed about what to expect as the process moves forward.

Often, victims feel nervous or embarrassed about reporting workplace harassment, even to an objective third party like HR. To ensure that all employees––even those who are uncomfortable openly coming forward––are encouraged to speak up, consider implementing a simple, anonymous reporting tool like MySafeWorkplace or AllVoices.

Additionally, as Nonprofit HR CEO Lisa Brown Alexander noted in a recent interview with NPR on the topic of sexual harassment, organizations can consider utilizing an outsourced HR department to handle reports of harassment. Hiring an outside HR or law firm to investigate reports as a neutral third party can often improve staff trust in the process.

  1. Train managers in how to properly deal with reports of harassment

Once reports are made, your managers and leaders must follow up with HR or the Executive director, who must thoroughly investigate and take appropriate action to reprimand perpetrators. Consequences can vary, and they will depend on the results of the investigation following a report of a harassment. If an individual has committed an unprofessional or disrespectful act that does not constitute unlawful harassment, the individual may be counseled, suspended, or given a probationary period. If an individual is found to have committed unlawful harassment, the likeliest outcome is termination or forced resignation. Managers and other senior staff should be trained and counseled on how to manage employees who are facing disciplinary action for harassment but have not yet been terminated.

HR has both a professional and ethical obligation to remain impartial and take an active role in ensuring managers don’t question a victim’s report, make assumptions or punish the victim in any way for speaking up.

  1. Train staff and volunteers in harassment prevention, including bystander intervention

Make it clear that everyone is responsible for preventing harassment in the workplace, and encourage staff to speak up if they recognize a problem, even if the behavior is not directed toward them. To ensure members of your team do not feel discouraged from reporting secondhand instances of harassment, emphasize both confidentiality and the importance of protecting fellow team members.  We recommend providing mandatory workplace harassment training for every single employee. Nonprofit HR offers a course designed to help nonprofits like yours bolster anti-harassment policies and properly address reports of harassment in the workplace. In this course, we discuss what a civil workplace looks like, how to achieve workplace stability and any legal and compliance obligations related to harassment.”

We welcome your comments and input about this important topic.

 

 

 

 

 

Roxann Mayros headshotBy Roxann Mayros, CEO, VisionServe Alliance

VisionServe Alliance is a rich, vibrant network of non-profit leaders from throughout the United States, and now Canada, that provide specialized services to people with vision loss.  Our mission and daily focus is to bring together the full diversity of services provided to people of all ages with vision loss for important conversations and collaborations.  Members include organizations focused on these services:

Services offered by our members

Why is this important?  Because VisionServe Alliance is bringing down traditional service solos where educators only talked to educators or employers only talked to employers, with the ultimate goal of unifying the many issues and organizations operating independently of one another in the field.  Just one example is how those who serve the babies and toddlers learn from those who serve school age or young working adults the skills that need to be developed early on to successfully navigate growing up without sight. Over the last several decades, we have seen collaborative projects, national trends, stronger management and leadership, and advocacy issues born from the many conversations and activities VisionServe Alliance facilitates.

The scope and diversity of services to people with vision loss are keys to our strengths.  Our member organizations are working to improve lives and communities in countless ways all over the country, with specialties and missions that respond to every kind of need at all levels of society. VisionServe Alliance members come from 37 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

The features that distinguish us – our spectrum of talents, missions, and nationwide view – are much of what make the nonprofit service providers an unparalleled force for progress and social cohesion.  Just as important is the characteristic that VisionServe Alliance’s 100+ members share a fundamental, collective commitment to the public good, to generosity and voluntary effort.

Yet, for the things we have in common, for our unifying values and common needs, it’s essential to have an organization that stands for the whole.  This is VisionServe Alliance’s mission!

So, welcome to the first article in what will be an ongoing series about VisionServe Alliance members, what they are doing, how they are working together, and VisionServe Alliance’s role in facilitating these conversations, acting as a collaborative matchmaker, and our continuing pursuit of leadership excellence within our membership by providing high-level learning opportunities, policy updates, networking, and knowledge-sharing.  We welcome your contributions and comments.

Click HERE to read Roxann’s bio.