The SILC Indicators are here…let’s talk SILC policies and procedures

Whether or not your SILC is a 501(c)(3) entity, you need written policies and procedures to guide how you do business.

Let’s take a moment to highlight the first of the Statewide Independent Living Council Indicators*, which is all about policies. (We will review the rest of the indicators, along with SILC and DSE Assurances, in later posts.)

These are indicators of minimum compliance for SILCs, and are an expansion of the content of Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act and regulations. Indicator #1 is that the SILC have written policies and procedures in a number of areas. Here is a list:

a. A method for recruiting members, reviewing applications, and regularly providing recommendations for eligible appointments to the appointing authority.

b. A method for identifying and resolving actual or potential disputes and conflicts of interest that are in compliance with State and federal law;

c. A process to hold public meetings and meet regularly as prescribed in 45 CFR 1329.15(a)(3)

d. A process and timelines for advance notice to the public of SILC meetings in compliance with State and federal law and 45 CFR 1329.15(3);

e. A process and timeline for advance notice to the public for SILC “Executive Session” meetings, that are closed to the public, that follow applicable federal and State laws;

i. “Executive Session” meetings should be rare and only take place to discuss confidential SILC issues such as but not limited to staffing.

ii. Agendas for “Executive Session” meetings must be made available to the public, although personal identifiable information regarding SILC staff shall not be included;

f. A process and timelines for the public to request reasonable accommodations to participate during a public Council meeting;

g. A method for developing, seeking and incorporating public input into, monitoring, reviewing and evaluating implementation of the State Plan as required in 45 CFR 1329.17; and

h. A process to verify centers for independent living are eligible to sign the State Plan in compliance with 45 CFR 1329.17(d)(2)(iii).

If you don’t have all these policies, you need to develop them or borrow them from a SILC that has them. Typically the Council approves all the policies and procedures. These areas are in addition to our recommended financial policies and procedures.

Join us next week for a discussion of the open meetings portion of this specifically.

*Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) indicators of minimum compliance, required by WIOA, and assurances — for both the SILCs and the Designated State Entities (DSEs) — were sent from the Independent Living Administration to SILCs and DSEs. While the effective date has not yet been determined, ILA will be consulting with the network to develop a plan on setting effective dates for both the indicators and assurances.  You can download the full text at, and click on “SILC Indicators and Assurances for the Designated State Entities” to open the document.

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More links to Training Bites

Here are some more short (under 30 minutes) training segments for orientation for SILC and Center board orientation:

Suggested links for orientation for SILC Council members:

These seven (7) links — a total of about 10 hours of on demand training in several formats — will be helpful to new SILC members as they begin to understand the principles and responsibilities around  serving on a SILC.

Suggested orientation for CIL Board members:

Suggested links for on-going Center Board training:

The following are topics that could be viewed at a CIL board meeting. Some CILs build a short training into every meeting so that the SILC members receive on-going training as required.

Functions of a Non-profit board. This multi day training was a train the trainer model for assisting in board and council training. It has several sections that you will find useful. You can easily divide this section into 20 to 30 minute segments by noting where the part you want to do begins and ends. You will want to watch the captioned videos first and decide if they are helpful to your board and what you want to do regarding dividing the section, or use my suggestions here:

  • Module 3: Board Responsibilities, 2:50 through 25:34 — Board legal and ethical responsibilities and conflicts of interest.
  • Module 5: Corporation — establishing, types of corporations, other corporate responsibilities. 9:07 through 29:30.
  • Module 5: How Boards Operate — 29:35 through 44:09 regarding officers.  44:10 through 1:20:59 Parliamentary Procedures.

Even more topics are available on this training page, but the handouts are proprietary and not available on our website. You can find contact information for these at

Internal controls are discussed at  and click on “View the Training”.  For a streamlined view, show 5:29 through 33:44. Remember that all training on our site either includes captioning or, as is the case with this training, have a transcript available as an accommodation.

On-going training for boards and councils

One challenge we all face is that of keeping our boards and councils well trained and up to date. There are several approaches to this.

Probably the most common is to prepare a notebook or manual and give it to the new member as they come on board. Typically this has dividers and includes things like the bylaws, articles of incorporation, staff names and titles, a board contact list, policies and procedures, and maybe some history about your organization or independent living. Most include the most recent brochures and annual report, and maybe any recent news articles. This notebook absolutely has value. It gives the new member a reference point. (It is even more effective if an experienced board member goes over it with them, or sits next to them during meetings to assist with finding references.)

It is also a useful practice to make sure that you give background when you ask the board or council for action. By providing a one-page brief or subject page in the board or council meeting information packet for every anticipated motion, you can address the obvious questions and provide some of the information needed for sound decision making. You can also give the various options and the pros and cons of each for consideration. If you board packet is provided to the members in advance, this gives them an opportunity to be better prepared for the motion, discussion and vote.

Having a board or council retreat or training day (often combining training with planning), can provide another opportunity to provide training support outside the tighter time constraints of a regular meeting.

There is one more training option that I’d like to suggest. If you take a short period of time at each meeting — not more than 30 minutes, and often 15 or 20 minutes — you can cover a number of topics through the year. While it takes a little time to sort out the topics you want, you can find many resources on our website. If you board meets monthly, that is the equivalent of a full day of training, but is much more easily digested and applied. Here is a sample for SILCs of the kinds of things you can use from our website.  In future posts I will give a similar list of links for board and council member orientation and CIL Board training in a future post.

Suggested links  SILC Council member trainings:

The following are topics that could be viewed at a SILC meeting. Some SILCs build a short training into every meeting so that the SILC members receive on-going training as required.


Rebranding – Transforming your Image

  1. Know why you want to change your name, image and logo. What is the new image you want to portray? Youth? Movement? Freedom? Are there any negative perceptions that you want to  overcome? How do you dispel the perceptions that your CIL is a caregiver  or residential program? Take time to thoroughly explore your reasons so that you can know if you are successful.
  2. Take time to be curious, to image new possibilities. Beth Comstock, on her blog “How I Unlearn”, said this: “Sometimes, setting aside your emotions and direct impressions is a crucial skill. When we have a tight deadline, we can’t indulge every stray thought. But selectively listening to stray thoughts can be productive. If you find yourself dreading a project or consistently annoyed by it, it’s worth taking ten or fifteen minutes to think back to the moments when you felt that way and why. It might help you see the outlines of a problem that’s just below the surface. The same goes for sudden bursts of curiosity. At first blush, curiosity can actually look like distraction. But if something about your project is causing you and your team to ask a series of questions or go off on tangents, take a moment and ask yourselves why. Is there a potential opportunity lurking behind this curiosity, an assumption that could turn your work on its head? When curiosity crops up, don’t always ignore it. It might point out where your assumptions are holding you back.”
  3. As a non-profit you have a public that is interested in what you do. In an article on rebranding, in Non-Profit Quarterly, Carlo Cuesto said “In order to tell our own story, we need to listen to and embrace the stories of those we wish to reach. A story is a gift, not a donor-acquisition strategy. Stories bind us together by allowing us to glimpse the other. And when we glimpse the other, we seek to understand it in all its nuanced glory. It overtakes and ripples across our consciousness, forcing us to reconcile what we are experiencing with what we think we already know.” If your center is effective, your consumers have stories that will connect with what you do in ways that mere descriptions cannot.
  4. Engage your whole community in the discussion. We are community controlled entities, and our consumers should be involved in the exploration of a your center’s role and identity. When you step into your new “skin” it should be a good fit for your best moments.
  5. Make sure the image you want to portray is what you project. What is the story about disability that you want to tell to the community? Some organizations focus on ability — so you see the new brand of Ability 360 in Phoenix (formerly called Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL). “Ability360 puts the focus on the word ‘ability’ and not ‘disability’,” said Ability360 President and CEO Phil Pangrazio. “The all-encompassing 360-concept demonstrates more inclusiveness of people with all types of disabilities and the new name helps clear up confusion that has existed for many years about who we are and what we do.”The new logo, designed by Phoenix-based graphic design firm P.S. Studios depicts the word “Ability” in gray, sans-serif capital letters and “360” in light blue with the “0” designed as an arrow pointing upward. “The new logo with the upward-pointing arrow, is more modern than our previous logo, promotes positive and forward-moving energy in a very simple design that, most importantly, replaces the previous logo that conveyed a stereotypical image of disability with a wheelchair at its core,” Pangrazio said. “We’re thrilled to be moving forward under a new, streamlined and highly effective name and brand.”
  6. Don’t get caught between your past and your future. Make a plan and roll out your new brand with fun and fanfare. At that point all the old signage, logos, brochures and business cards should be gone and the new ones in their place. Don’t drag your transformation out over time. Don’t allow drawers of old stuff filed away because someone likes it. Other than a copy or two for your archives, the old will inform but cannot speak for the new image/brand. You will use the power of “new” to connect even more people to your center and your work.
  7. You have some “unlearning” to do as part of this change. If you and your stakeholders — board, staff, consumers — hold on to the old name or other old thinking, how do you expect the community at large to perceive you differently.

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Sharing expenses in another tight year…

Most centers are only seeing an increase in funding next year if they have developed funding from another (usually new) source. Of course, as we know, the new money brings additional work with it, and the need to track staff time across to this new fund objective, as well as allocate other costs. The new source must also bear its share of indirect costs. New projects don’t always break even the first few months.

Which could leave you with a need to reduce some of your fixed costs. The biggest of these fixed costs, typically, is rent.

Through the years you may have seen examples of nonprofits sharing space in order to reduce cost. Maybe your center has two or three empty offices that have ended up being catchall storage. Clean the space out, find a home for everything or if it has been long enough, get rid of it. And think about who would be good to have in that space.

I have seen arrangements like this that are strictly partnerships of convenience. In our Center’s first office there was a local attorney who wanted space in Stockton, KS. We rented him space, reduced the space charged to our grant, and had a little profit left over to keep as discretionary dollars. We didn’t really work with him, since his area of law was unrelated to our work, but it was a good partnership all the same.

Probably the most note-worthy and the most entrepreneurial of shared spaces is the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, CA, which is one of the partners in the Ed Roberts Campus( ERC) design, construction and use. The ERC commemorates the life and work of Edward V. Roberts, an early leader in the independent living movement of persons with disabilities. Ed believed in the strength of collaborative efforts: He called it “working toward our preferred future.” The website for the ERC further states, “The ERC is a universally designed, transit–oriented campus located at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley, California. The 80,000 sq. ft. project incorporates exhibition space, community meeting rooms, a child development center, fitness center, offices for non–profit organizations and vocational training facilities. The building integrates sophisticated design responses to the issues of universal design and environmentally sustainable development.”

This is exemplary, first, because of the vision and planning of the partners, including CIL, the World Institute on Disability, the Disability Rights and Education Fund, Through the Looking Glass, Computer Technologies Program, Bay Area Outreach and Recreation and the Center for Accessible Technology. Second, the scope of sharing a building this size is immense. A number of the tenants in the building, while they don’t co-own the building, benefit greatly from co-location with these entities. Coordination on this scale is not simple. The partners of the ERC developed a separate board for the oversight of the project, and thought about both shared and individual support (like a receptionist, security, maintenance and housekeeping).

While your situation is most likely a smaller setting than what is found in Berkeley, you still may have a lot to gain from considering and planning for colocation. Sometimes the city or county will work with you to bring resources together for their community. They might build a community building that houses key resources for community access, making it convenient for you to work with partners, and for the community members to access everything they are looking for in one stop. Sharing bathrooms, conference rooms and waiting rooms can reduce everyone’s cost for those aspects of the space.

In other communities, multiple nonprofits have come together to share not just building resources, but some of their management costs, like sharing the contract time of an accountant who is well-versed in federal funding requirements and practices.

In a recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Larry Levin said: “Once a marriage of convenience among nonprofits in a similar sector, the growing trend of colocation shows it can be based on any number of factors, including a shared desire for geographic proximity to a community resource or the goal of serving as a catalyst for community change. There’s even a push to see nonprofit facilities and nodes play a significant role in urban and regional planning.”

Whatever your reason or your process, whether in your building or the building of one of your partners, sharing space means sharing costs, and that may save you money. If you use shared space, tell us who you share with, and the advantages and disadvantages of your arrangement.

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Students with mental health disabilities — youth in transition?

The research team of the National Council on Disability (NCD) – a U.S. federal agency that provides advice to the President, Congress, and other federal agencies – has released the results of a national study on the experiences of students with mental health disabilities on U.S. college campuses during a session at the national conference of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD).

To understand challenges, best practices, and emerging trends of supporting students with mental health disabilities, NCD’s report, Mental Health on College Campuses: Investments, Accommodations Needed to Address Student Needs, relied upon interviews with students, social science researchers, mental health service providers, college administrators, college legal counsel, and advocates. It also targeted critical student subpopulations, including veterans, Greek life, athletes, graduate and international students, amongst others.

The Mental Health on College Campuses report is available on NCD’s website at Key findings include:

* Colleges are struggling to provide adequate mental health services and supports for students with mental health disabilities due largely to increased numbers of students with mental health challenges attending colleges and a lack of financial resources by the colleges.

* Students with mental health disabilities are often placed on lengthy waiting lists for mental health services – sometimes waiting over a month. Many schools do not screen for emergencies when students seek help.

* Community colleges are the least equipped to deal with student mental health issues when compared with state colleges and universities, even though they statistically serve the most at-risk student populations.

* The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has not provided guidance to colleges on how to respond to students that pose a threat to themselves.

* Multiple restrictions in the provision of federal and college financial aid negatively impact the ability of students with mental health disabilities to complete their postsecondary education.

About the National Council on Disability: First established as an advisory council within the Department of Education in 1978, NCD became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since enactment of the ADA in 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting disability policy, and advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy.

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(Taken in large part from the July 21, 2017 press release.)

Clarify and agree — in writing!

Back in the 1980s, when I was a very young manager of a new Center in Kansas, the Rehabilitation Services Administration’s regional office brought in a speaker named John Conway to talk to centers and other RSA funded entities about how to evaluate staff. Conway was a fan the phrase, “Clarify and agree!”  In respect to employment evaluations, this meant breaking the job down in outline form — sometimes a very extensive outline — and going through with the employee to clarify several things.

First, we clarified what all the job tasks were — that was the outline. These were called Functions (for the Roman numerals out of the job description) and Responsibilities (for all the detail added into the outline.)

Then the genius of his system — we clarified the amount of Authority the staff person had to accomplish those items. If it was a routine task that they did without permission, that was a A item for Act without checking. If it was a task that the person did without permission, but needed to report on, that was a B item for Both Act and Check. If it was an item that needed prior approval it was a C item — Check First.

The conversation that took place made an excellent employee evaluation — one that usually took a couple of hitches to complete because it was an extensive conversation about the job. Let me give you an example of my first evaluation with the board. One of the responsibilities was to give news releases to the local papers in the many counties where our center was located. I marked that an A — Act without checking. The board marked it a C – Check first. One member explained that she got the morning paper, but sometimes before she could open it she got a phone call asking about an article we’d placed there. She did not like to be surprised. We ended up agreeing that I would let the board members know in advance when an article was going to be in the paper, and if desired, would give them a copy of the news release at the same time as it was given to the paper.

“Clarify and agree” became  an important management concept for me. Do you see what I mean? There I was doing something that irritated my board vice president (soon to be president) just when I most needed to cultivate a positive working relationship. By clarifying and agreeing together we resolved a potential conflict before it blew up in my face.

I think this same approach is important as a planning tool. Your mission only guides you forward if it is absolutely clear. Those grandiose goals are only meaningful if you break them down into small enough pieces to clarify exactly who is going to do what. And in planning especially, but in all these conversations, the deadline for getting it done.

This also works as a partnership tool. As you work with other entities in the community, it is good to take time to be clear on who is doing what. Get specific. Walk through a task in your mind and jot down enough detail to have the conversation. Here is an excellent article about clarifying before you commit. As author Randy Taussig states, “As a leader of your business, you’re responsible for developing and articulating a vision that everyone understands and can follow. The key is to gain clarity first, commitment second. This will foster the alignment and enthusiasm that will get you there faster!

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Disability Rights — Have we achieved equal access and protection?

When I teach about the history and philosophy of Independent Living, I go back to the 1960s and describe the times. I lived in the St. Louis area then, and I remember the race riots in East St. Louis on the news, and taking the bus from my little town to East St. Louis to visit a friend over Spring Break. We were a little uneasy, even in the middle of the day, there at the bus stop. I went from knowing only one black family in my small town to being one of only two white faces on the street in East St. Louis.

This was a time when rights — all kinds of rights — were being discussed. Women were seeking equal pay. Consumers wanted disclosure of risk when they made a purchase. And people with disabilities stopped being grateful for crumbs and began to understand that fair and equal treatment was a right in this country. “All men are created equal…” took on new meaning across the land in many different arenas.

After the Civil Rights Act passed in 1965, the protests did not stop. Passing a law to provide rights does not necessarily translate into equal rights in day to day life. Do you think the Civil Rights Act has been fully actualized in our society? Are all people truly seen as equal? Do people of color have equal rights, equal status, equal pay, equal treatment today? More than 50 years later, the law is still sometimes ignored and equal rights are still not universal.

The Civil Rights Act became law in the mid sixties. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed twenty-five years later, in 1990. Has the ADA been fully actualized?

The answer, of course, is no, the promise of the ADA has not been fully realized in our country. In a recent article, the American Bar Association Journal addressed this as a 14th Amendment issue — as equal protection, not just equal rights. Linda Klein said, “When it comes to employment opportunities, educational equality and access to fair benefits, people with disabilities can lack essential constitutional protections.”

We all need to be vigilant in knowing, promoting and protecting our own rights and those of our brothers and sisters and all whose equal rights are denied.

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Tips for Boards — Evaluating the Executive Director

There are several elements to a good evaluation. Let me mention those first.

I like to see evaluations which:

  • Make sure that the evaluation is a good match for the job description. You may even want to go through job description first, as a group with the executive director, to make sure it is complete and reflects the board’s expectations for the director. This will help you capture the routine performance issues.
  • Take a look at the goals set for your organization. If you don’t have a formal strategic planning process (which you are required to have, by the way) then you can look at grant applications to find the goals and objectives you’ve promised funders or other stakeholders that the organization will accomplish. This may include the State Plan for Independent Living, as well, because usually that plan includes goals for the centers.  You can ask your director to gather these and to report to the board on the progress on these goals over the past year. This will help you capture progress made over the past year.
  • Invite the director to comment on all the areas prior to the board assessment, since often there are elements of the job that the board will not have detailed knowledge of.

There are many different ways to score these elements. Some centers use a numerical score, usually 0 through 5 or 7 and translate to a numerical score. Others us language like, “failed to meet expectations” “met some of the expectations”, “expectations met”, “expectations exceeded”.

You can find some additional advice and a sample form tailored to non-profit directors at

One place that is a little tricky sometimes is how to get input from the entire board without complicating the process unnecessarily. I see several approaches to this, but the least effective is an attempt to write the evaluation with the entire board in an executive session. It is cumbersome at best.

Some streamlined approaches might include:

  • The board chair asks the members to provide her/him with their comments, then the chair creates a draft and reviews it with the Executive Director and includes that individual’s input into the form before going back to the board.
  • An evaluation committee or the executive committee completes the first draft of the evaluation and then that is reviewed in executive session with the board to be finalized before inviting the executive director to join them and provide feedback. (This is awkward because the ED is providing feedback after the board members have already made comments. If you choose this, make sure there is time for the ED to be heard before you finalize that section.)
  • Have the executive director complete the self-evaluation first, then the board chair or committee completes their draft with that information at hand.

The most important thing is that the evaluation takes place at least annually and provides an opportunity for the board and the executive director to discuss the past year’s performance and what support the board is willing to provide to the ED in the coming year to assist with meeting expectations and challenges that are discussed.

New Executive Director? Do you really want to change that?

Every new executive director wants to make their mark. Take the time, though, to make sure that the change is what is really needed at this time. Here are some radical changes that Executive Directors sometimes make, and my comments and cautions regarding them.

  • A change of building. It is true that, as the new person in the space, you can see how the space is or is not serving your vision. Study this out, though. Take time to read and understand your lease, which is often for several years. See if there leasehold improvements that you are paying for through that lease. Often the landlord agrees to add an automatic door or remodel bathrooms, but your lease adds these costs to your rent and you agree to pay for them over the period of your lease. If you know when the lease is up you can plan how you will respond and when.  If it is soon — ask for a month to month extension while you work with the board on the reasons change is needed. If it is several years away, turn your attention to other things. Getting a new office is energizing — but often takes you away from the real work that needs done.
  • Re-doing your office. When you first come into a job, no matter how you have prepared, you don’t really know the financial situation. Spending money on yourself doesn’t endear you to staff who have been doing without some things. Instead of jumping into the purchase of a new desk, start a list of improvements you’d like to make for everyone. Then begin the process of planning and budgeting for those changes.
  • Changing the name, logo, colors and image of your center. Rebranding is a very popular idea for new executive directors, and maybe it is needed — but it doesn’t need to be done in your first weeks, or even year. Take time to know what the consumers like and don’t like about your center and you will figure out how to improve not just cosmetically, but concretely. A good satisfaction survey will give you areas to work in.
  • Blaming your predecessor before you really understand the lay of the land. There is no value in trashing the person who came before you, even if that ED was fired by the board. That kind of situation is never black and white. Get to know the staff, the board, the policies and systems. Make sure you really understand what happened under your predecessor before you assume they were bad and you are better.
  • Changing staff job descriptions, redoing the organizational chart, or firing staff. You may indeed want to do these things, but again, talk to the staff and get to know them and what they see their jobs to be. Don’t act just to show that you are in charge. Include the stakeholders — staff, board, and consumers — as you decide how to move forward.

You are the new leader of an existing organization. Get to know that organization inside and out, through its people, then work out a plan with its stakeholders to change it.

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