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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Let’s be clear on #IL Philosophy and #ConsumerControl

This last couple of months I have been stunned by how many people have asked me to give them the actual citations that require more than 50% of the board, management and staff of a center be people with disabilities. In a few cases a board is questioning whether they really must hire an executive director who has a disability, or recruit board members from among people eligible for services — at least more than 50% MUST have a significant disability. I have had 4 such requests in the past two weeks. This part isn’t up for discussion, folks. This is the foundation of who we are in independent living. And “more than 50%” of one manager is one. More than 50% of two managers is two. Until a center is large enough to fill three management positions, the executive director must be a person with a disability.

The Rehabilitation Act itself addresses this area, and you will also find layers of information throughout the regulations that apply as well.

The Rehab Act itself, in Section 725 (c) Assurances (2) states that “the center will be designed and operated within local communities by individuals with disabilities, including an assurance that the center will have a Board that is the principal governing body of the center and a majority of which shall be composed of individuals with significant disabilities” and in (6) of the same section, states “the applicant will ensure that the majority of the staff, and individuals in decisionmaking positions, of the applicant are individuals with disabilities”. You can download a copy of the Rehab Act from this site: If that is not enough, here are some references, all from 45 CFR 1329, the regulations related to Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act.

The first piece of information is found in the purpose at 1329.2 where it states: The purpose of title VII of the Act is to promote a philosophy of independent living (IL), including a philosophy of consumer control...

This lets you know that consumer control is the very foundation of IL.  The next references is in 1329.4, the definitions of consumer control: Consumer control means, with respect to a Center or eligible agency, that the Center or eligible agency vests power and authority in individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are or have been recipients of IL services, in terms of the management, staffing, decision making, operation, and provision of services. Consumer control, with respect to an individual, means that the individual with a disability asserts control over his or her personal life choices, and in addition, has control over his or her independent living plan (ILP), making informed choices about content, goals and implementation.

We do not currently have any further language, because the indicators have not been updated, but in their past reviews the staff of the Independent Living Administration, ACL, HHS has deemed that “management” and “operation” refer to the Board of Directors , that “decision making” refers to the executive director and a management team and that “staffing” and “provision of services” refer to the rest of the staff. Therefore they have consistently required that the board of directors be made up of more than 50% persons with significant disabilities. This term “significant disabilities” mirrors the language regarding who is served by a CIL.

The very definition of a Center, also from 1329.2, is:

Center for independent living (“Center”) means a consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, nonresidential, private nonprofit agency for individuals with significant disabilities (regardless of age or income) that—

(1) Is designed and operated within a local community by individuals with disabilities;

(2) Provides an array of IL services as defined in section 7(18) of the Act, including, at a minimum, independent living core services as defined in this section; and

(3) Complies with the standards set out in Section 725(b) and provides and complies with the assurances in section 725(c) of the Act and §1329.5.

In addition, they define Eligible Agency (for CIL funds) as: Eligible agency means a consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, nonresidential, private, nonprofit agency.

As soon as we receive the updated indicators for CILs, which are still in process, we can confirm any additional consumer control specifics, but as you can see, consumer control is expected throughout your operations including who has oversight of the programs of the CIL.

Regarding SILCs, Section 705 of the Rehabilitation Act states:

(4) Qualifications.

(A) In general. – The Council shall be composed of members–

(i)  who provide statewide representation;

(ii) who represent a broad range of individuals with disabilities from diverse backgrounds;

(iii) who are knowledgeable about centers for independent living and independent living services; and

(iv) a majority of whom are persons who are-

(I)  individuals with disabilities described in section 7(20)(B); and

(II) not employed by any State agency or center for independent living.

I hear that “reverse discrimination” argument now and then. It is not discrimination to have consumer control on your board in that you can still have non-disabled members on the board. They must not be in the majority, however, for the organization to remain in consumer control.

The law and the regulations are very clear on this. I am distressed to think that people in our movement continue to believe that consumer control is not important. This is truly the foundation of all that we are and do in Independent Living.

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Advocacy Skill Building Toolkit – Teaching Advocacy to Youth

You may have heard that, when Ed Roberts (the father of Independent Living) was asked to name the core services for Centers, he replied, “Advocacy, Advocacy, Advocacy”. While we know there are other core services, advocacy is the foundation. At both the individual and systems levels, advocacy is essential to our survival. People with disabilities continue to be devalued by our society. The most important skill we can learn is advocacy.

If you want to see a unique approach to teaching advocacy, you have to look at this material. How clever, engaging and effective to use games and improv to advocate. Check out this concept at

The Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities (RTC) at the University of Montana in Missoula is a partner with Independent Living Centers in providing curriculum. Many of you have used their Living Well with a Disability, Working Well with a Disability, and Self-Employment publications and materials. They have released their newest — a toolkit to teach advocacy skills. While it is targeted to emerging leaders and youth, all advocates will benefit from the solid information and the unique approach. As they say on their website, “An important part of advocacy, no matter if the goal is to help one person or many, is establishing a confident voice, developed and supported by a community of peer support. This workshop and accompanying toolkit materials give participants the opportunity to explore their voices, build confidence, and display their skills both verbally as well as in written form. The intent is to provide a safe space among peers and trusted facilitators to introduce the concept of both group and self-advocacy.”

The toolkit is available at

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Changes in leadership — Succession Planning

Whether a transition is known and immediate, or totally unknown,  a transition is coming. It isn’t a matter of if — it is a matter of when.  The Executive Director and Board of your center need to take up this matter and decide — what will you do when it is time to pass the baton?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Develop a policy and procedure for how the board will seek a new Executive Director, should that become necessary. Get board approval before they actually have to search. Address key questions, like what to do if a board member wants to apply, (We suggest that a board member would need to resign from the board to apply for any position.) where you will advertise, (We suggest a national search including posting to IL websites like NCIL, APRIL, and ILRU.) and how applications will be reviewed, screened or otherwise addressed.

2. Address interim leadership. Often there is a period of time between when you know the position is becoming vacant and when the position is filled. Will the board appoint an interim from among current staff? Is that person to be considered for the position? Will you keep the prior exec on (if possible) for a period of time to train his/her replacement?

3. The current leader should make a list of the important tasks, those that are so specific they probably aren’t included in the job description. For example, as current executive director you are probably the person who goes into Grant Solutions and draws grant money down to be direct deposited in your account and keep your center running.

4. Have redundant systems for important access.  The new person won’t have much time after starting to figure out how to draw funds, sign checks or have other access. You want to determine who else can do this whether you are incapacitated for a week or forever. This may be a board member, or another staff member, but never have only one person who can access. Tip: Don’t just share your user name and password. Set them up with their own access so it is clear who is actually access things.

5. Through any significant change, keep your Project Officer, your SILC and your DSE informed. They will need to know if there is a change in leadership.

For more answers to this question — one that impacts all kinds of not-for-profits — I often look to more generic resources. You might look at Blue Avocado, for example, which operates a “board cafe” to address many issues.

Although I haven’t used it, I noticed this template and article that might be useful. And check out this week’s New Century CIL Blog for even more links.

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Satellites, branches and the number of centers…

WA tall tree with seven branches, each with a man in a colorful suit, each a different color.. e had a recent inquiry about the difference between at “satellite” and a “branch” center. Back in 2002 the Rehabilitation Services Administration produced a policy direction around the term “Satellite” for Centers for Independent Living.

The principle point of the directive from the former department overseeing IL grants, RSA, was that each center funded is a separate center. The centers with one board can refer to the second center as a branch of the first one but it is still a separate center from the funder’s perspective. They do not recognize “satellites”. Individual states may treat this differently with their SPIL and Part B funds, but at the federal level each Part C grant is its own center. The old directive states, in part, that:

There are two circumstances under which an existing CIL can expand by opening another office. First, a CIL can open an additional office located in and serving the center’s geographical service area, which is defined in the CIL’s application for funding. However, if an existing center opens an additional office in the geographical service area, the level of funding that the CIL receives cannot be increased in order to support the additional office because the service area is the same. Second, an existing CIL also can open an office that provides services outside the defined geographical service area specified in its grants. However, it may receive additional funds to do so only if the center successfully competes for the new funds through the procedures for establishing a new center under part C of title VII.1 According to section 366.2(b)(2), an applicant is eligible to apply as a new CIL if it proposes the expansion of an existing center through the establishment of a separate and complete center (except that the governing board of the existing center may serve as the governing board of the new center) at a different geographical location. . .

Section 366.22(a)(1) clearly states that this type of “satellite office” of an existing center is a new center rather than an existing center. Any funds received by an existing center to establish a new center at a different geographical location . . . are not included in determining the level of funding to the existing center . . .

Thus, an existing center may establish a “satellite office” that serves a different geographical area. However, the “satellite office” can use part C funds only if it applies for and receives the funds as a separate center. This is true even if the same recipient operates both centers.

If your center is able to have sufficient fund development to add offices or satellites, you need to make sure that you are following the rules for program income. If you raise the money with Part C resources — staff, office space, equipment, etc. — then the money raised has to follow the same requirements as the federal grant that paid for it. In other words, your Part C grant area and and other specifications will apply to the funds developed with those resources.

And if ACL informs us of a change in this interpretation, we will let you know!

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