Independent Contractor V. Employee Guidance yet Again

by John Heveron

The US Department of Labor has proposed changing how workers get classified as employees or independent contractors again. 

Changes under the Trump administration made it easier for businesses and nonprofits to classify workers as independent contractors by focusing on just 2 key factors.  The DOL is proposing that several factors be analyzed to determine whether the worker is economically dependent upon the employer for work rather than being in business for themselves. 

Individual factors would not be given special weight, they would be considered as a whole.  Factors would include:

* the nature and degree of the workers control over their work,

* the relative investment of the worker and of the employer,

* the workers opportunity for profit or loss,

* the permanence of the working relationship between the worker and the employer,

* the degree of skill necessary to perform the work, and

* the extent to which a worker’s duties are an integral part of the employer’s business.

Recent tax legislation by John Heveron

In addition to the student loan forgiveness enacted by President Biden, and estimated to be worth between $390- $500 billion by The Tax Foundation, Congress recently passed, and the president signed, the Inflation Reduction Act. Student loan forgiveness for nonprofit employees expires on October 31, 2022.  This is not the same as the recently enacted student loan forgiveness program.  Some of the limitations in that new forgive this program to not apply to nonprofit employees.

Employees can go to to check their eligibility for forgiveness.

The National Council of Nonprofits put together a concise outline of how this legislation impacts nonprofit organizations. Highlights are below.

The new law provides enhanced and extended tax breaks for energy efficient construction in the form of tax credits.  Nonprofit organizations can transfer these credits to contractors and reduce the contract cost for these energy efficient systems.

Healthcare premium tax credits under the Affordable Care Act are extended for three years. Credits are increased for participants who are between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level.

Visit the National Council of Nonprofits website for a summary of the inflation reduction act.

Penalty Relief for Late Filed Tax Returns

IRS recently issued Notice 2022-36 which provides penalty relief for 2019 and 2020 tax returns that were filed late. This penalty relief means that unpaid penalties will be forgiven and penalties that have been paid will be automatically refunded-no application is required. Delinquent returns must be filed on or before September 30, 2022 to qualify for this penalty forgiveness. Penalty relief will be for the following returns:

  • Form 1040 personal income tax returns,
  • Form 1041 trust and estate income tax returns,
  • Form 1120 corporation income tax returns,
  • Informational return such as form 1099,
  • Form 990-PF-private foundation annual filing, and
  • Form 990-T-unrelated business income tax return

Forms 990 and 990-EZ are not listed in this notice, but they are still eligible for the normal abatement request process.

More details can be found in Internal Revenue Service Notice 2022-36.

Disclosure of disability for board and staff…

Question: A board member has asked about knowing who/how many on the board have a disability.  The want to poll the board members and find out. I have always been told that it is “optional” to disclose this information.  I have often wondered how we know we are 51% compliant (many people in he world have “hidden” disabilities) but again, I was told from the beginning that one applying for the board or to be an employee did not have to  disclose.  We let all know we are to be 51%  disabled in our applications but are not supposed to come out and “ask”. Can you clarify for me please?

Reply: This is not a simple policy matter but a deeply philosophical matter as well.

Literally the center must be able to show that 51% of board members have a significant disability. Note the term “significant”. It can’t be “you wear glasses so you count”. But while having that question on the application and counting up the yeses technically meets the requirement it misses the point.Fifty-one percent of staff must state that they have a disability.

And I can’t tell you how it saddens me when centers have a non-disclosure piece in their policies. Note this is an individual decision. Nothing in federal law mentions that the disability doesn’t have to be disclosed or must be disclosed to the public, either way.

The point is that people who are loud and proud to be part of the disability community are the ones who started and run centers. When you have a lot of invisible disability (sometimes because someone doesn’t want to say) among staff and board, the impact of consumer control can be and too often has been lost.

I know that some folks are not ready to publicly disclose, for example, a mental health disability, and may ask you not to publish their disability because of the impact on their work or business life. They have that right-but the fact that they have that fear means we have much work to do in order to have full inclusion in our world.

Does that answer your board question?

The staff question is more complicated but the law allows you to ask if they will disclose when hired so you can take affirmative action. After hire I truly hope they will speak up and represent their disability to the community.

Be respectful of disability – wear your mask and don’t look down on those who do.

I recently attended a national conference of professionals in the field of Independent Living. I showed up in my mask and wore it most of the time, but I still felt the unspoken peer pressure of, hey, most are NOT wearing masks, and I don’t want to be the dork. So I was ambivalent, sometimes putting it on, most of the time not after that. Maybe it didn’t really matter.

I came home and read this powerful post from Disability Visibility and I am reposting it here. It made me change my mind. I WILL be masking at future national conferences, out of respect for my peers whose immune systems need my support.

Why I Won’t Be Organizing Any In-Person Fundraising Events For the Foreseeable Future

Ingrid Tischer

Informational graphic from the CDC. The text message is “Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.” The stylized image is of a woman wearing a mask and walking two dogs outside on leashes. She is alone with the dogs.
Informational graphic from the CDC. The text message is “Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.” The stylized image is of a woman wearing a mask and walking two dogs outside on leashes. She is alone with the dogs.

Reasons, I’ve got a few. But this still-current guidance from the CDC for high-risk people is the one that matters for any organization claiming inclusion as a core value.

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month and what better time could there be for me, a high-risk Development Director at a nonprofit, to deal with my depression flare’s connection to fundraising-event season, both of which are now in full swing, just like the newest Covid surge. Why, you ask?

Because I don’t want to organize a fundraising event I can’t attend.

Because I’m going with scientific reality versus magical thinking about a deadly virus that could make me disappear.

Because my professional judgment based on 30 years in this field is that an in-person event where people have to be on their guard about a highly-contagious, life-threatening disease doesn’t sound festive or like a feasible option that merits extended discussion. 

Because “caveat donator” (let the donor beware) is an irresponsible standard for a non-profit.

Because the choice you make as an individual about going to an in-person gathering is different from an organization’s choice to host an in-person fundraising event during a pandemic that, yes, is still going on. This is not disability justice. This is not solidarity.

Because I’m a crip who wants to go on being part of the resistance and resisting is really hard if I’m no longer existing.

Because you may be just fine if you test positive for Covid after having had your mask off for a few minutes while you noshed at a fundraising event but the high-risk people you inevitably interact with afterwards may not be. The same goes for the attendees’ high-risk loved ones.

Because what you see as a negligible risk for a few outliers is the still-blood-chilling risk for the group of people I’m in, whose deaths and severe illness we don’t even have detailed reporting on. Even with vaccines and treatments available now, that doesn’t mean everyone has access to them. Mind you, there are still people who cannot be vaccinated or are not eligible for existing treatments.

Because, to paraphrase what I said as an HIV/AIDS test counselor in the 90s, we should all be practicing harm reduction and safer eventing.

Because harm reduction + your mental health needs = prioritizing the in-person togetherness that brings you maximum joy with the least risk. I value all of the fundraising events I’ve ever worked on but I’m pretty sure you have more meaningful options for gatherings that get your mental health needs met.

Because a commitment to racial equity includes centering the people who those “outliers” are likely to be, given the rates of disability and chronic illness in BIPOC communities. In addition to poor, older, and/or higher-weight people.

Because choosing to host an in-person fundraising event is encouraging the implicit message that the pandemic is over and things are back to “normal”  whether you intend to or not.

Because fundraising event planners take a sacred oath that starts with: First, do no harm to your attendees.

Because hybrid fundraising events end up creating two tiers where non-high-risk people get to talk and hang out and socialize, and a lesser event where high-risk people are passively watching stuff on-screen that they cannot be part of. 

Because if passively watching stuff on screen is enough for me then it should be enough for everyone else.

Because, yes, I am okay with non-high-risk people losing the sense of relief that everything is going back to normal because their false-positive is going to keep high-risk people in danger that much longer.

Because your relief in going back to “normal” is my grief in being sent back to the margins where attending in-person fundraising events is tiring, stressful, and expensive, and makes me afraid that the ease that was the saving grace of the last 2 years is going to inexorably dwindle away.

Because I’ve accommodated other people’s preference for in-person fundraising events for all of my worklife and had only 2 years of not having to do things like pee-math as part of my job. 

Because it bummed me out to be pitted against people with different types of disabilities who can’t access virtual fundraisers instead of being in solidarity that we can use what we’ve learned to look at such events differently.

Because high-risk people are in every donor population and intentionally planning a fundraising event where people like us can’t be present conflicts with the idea of No Funding About Us Without Us

Because fundraising events are supposed to showcase our values, like equal access and inclusion, not conflict with them by excluding an entire class of people.

Because an in-person fundraising event is not necessary unless your mission and services are inseparable from gathering together outdoors safely, as with non-contact sport programs.

Because if there’s an organizational commitment to a principle like #NoBodyIsDisposable then fundraising cannot undermine that or the organization loses credibility and trust.

Because it matters if high-risk people aren’t at the fundraising event with you. 

Because I’d be a hypocrite the size of a Republican’s ego if I organized or was associated with an in-person fundraiser before the pandemic is under control after taking other organizations to task for their lack of access and inclusion. 

Because I’m a zombie-killer when it comes to the ableist, won’t-die insistence that “real” community-building can only happen face-to-face.

Because holding firm to “better safe than sorry” is what my crip-leadership looks like right now.

Because, in fundraising terms, your promised solidarity with high-risk people isn’t a pledge you can write off.

Because I can’t believe I have to actually explain this but planning a fundraiser that you know isn’t really safe isn’t the good kind of “disaster-planning.”

Because still being alive after the last two years is a privilege and I’m not going to misuse it by creating a potential superspreader hazard for other people, even if they don’t see a danger.


Photo of Ingrid, a middle-aged White woman with a long gray/brown ponytail who is wearing a bright blue dress and a colorful cloth face-mask. She's sitting in her wheelchair outdoors, next to a fuschia orchid. Photo credit: Christopher Egusa
Photo of Ingrid, a middle-aged White woman with a long gray/brown ponytail who is wearing a bright blue dress and a colorful cloth face-mask. She’s sitting in her wheelchair outdoors, next to a fuschia orchid. Photo credit: Christopher Egusa

Ingrid Tischer (white, she/her) has been a Bay Area–based “accidental” fundraiser and non–profit manager for 30 years, going from a women’s free clinic on Haight Street to a national cross-disability rights center. She is currently setting up a coaching-for-liberation practice focused on the emotional landscape of disability, chronic illness, and aging, to better cope with the ableism that pops up to block progress in your life, work, and creative projects. Her practice will also work with allies and organizations on how to grow a culture of access that addresses work-disability balance, disability-related implicit bias, and succession-without-stigma planning. Her blogs are and This post is found at

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Have Your Internal Controls Survived Covid? 

by John Heveron

Your staff may have shrunk, and work may be both remote and on-site.  So, how have your internal controls survived these changes?

See how you match up against this list of best practices. Make sure that your policies and practices are addressing these important items.

Brown-skinned young man in a suit and using a wheelchair operates a calculator while the computer screen shows an Invoice.
  1. Be sure that every employee gets a copy of the organization’s up-to-date personnel manual. Most lawsuits come from employees and former employees.
  2. Have a written code of conduct that describes proper ethical practices and be sure that everyone knows that they must abide by that code.
  3. Show no tolerance for improper practices. Even minor violations should be addressed as a serious matter.
  4. Question unusual activities. Don’t be hasty to accuse someone of wrongdoing, but be sure you understand the activity.
  5. Develop a good budget and look at variances from that budget. Update the budget throughout the year as appropriate. When you do this, variances are red flags that deserve your attention.
  6. Someone who is not involved with billing or accounting should initially receive incoming payments and record them on a deposit ticket or in a separate place.
  7. Incoming checks should be stamped “for deposit only” as soon as they are received.
  8. The monthly bank statement (checks, electronic payments, etc.) should be reviewed by someone who does not prepare checks. If you do not get check images, request them or change your banking relationship.
  9. Mark invoices to show that they have been reviewed and paid.
  10. Credit card statements should be received and reviewed by an independent person. There should be proper documentation for all charges.
  11. After checks are prepared, they should be submitted to the check signer with original invoices. Invoices should then be marked paid to prevent reuse.
  12. Someone who is not involved in preparing payroll (entering payroll information or calling it into a service bureau) should review payroll reports to be sure that hours and rates are proper.
  13. Accounting and other important data should be backed up, verified and stored off-site.
  14. Log off or shut down computers at night.
  15. Anti-virus, anti-spam, and Internet firewalls should all be implemented and kept up-to-date.
  16. Surge protectors or battery backups should be in place.
  17. Any laptops or mobile devices with access to your server should be password-protected, and possibly encrypted.
  18. Have someone review error logs and run software updates regularly.
  19. Computer access should be limited with passwords and physical controls.

System Advocacy or System Change?

Advocacy is defined in our regulations, in 45 CFR 1329.4:

Advocacy means pleading an individual’s cause or speaking or writing in support of an individual. To the extent permitted by State law or the rules of the agency before which an individual is appearing, a non-lawyer may engage in advocacy on behalf of another individual. Advocacy may –

(1) Involve representing an individual –

(i) Before private entities or organizations, government agencies (whether State, local, or Federal), or in a court of law (whether State or Federal); or

(ii) In negotiations or mediation, in formal or informal administrative proceedings before government agencies (whether State, local, or Federal), or in legal proceedings in a court of law; and

(2) Be on behalf of –

(i) A single individual, in which case it is individual advocacy;

(ii) A group or class of individuals, in which case it is systems advocacy; or

(iii) Oneself, in which case it is self advocacy.

Anna Birney defines System Change as “the emergence of a new pattern of organization or system structure. It is an outcome.”

Let me suggest that, every time we engage in advocacy our hope is to see change. System change, then, can be — should be! — the result of our advocacy work.

I’d like to suggest that our advocacy will be most effective if we know what it is that needs to change, how that structure or policy or pattern or environment can be changed and what the new emerging system should look like. Holding signs and shouting slogans or singing songs can certainly draw attention to the system that needs changing, but if we are doing these things in front of the wrong office and are missing the people or groups that can impact the change we want, we have planned poorly and may be wasting energy and resources.

You’ve heard the maxim, “Begin with the end in mind.” That applies to advocacy. It is important for the people impacted by the system that needs to change to define what the replacement or modified system needs to look like to meet their needs. What new pattern or policy or structure or organization needs to change, and what does the new system need to look like?

Donella Meadows suggests these leverage points (interpreted by Anna Birney) to accomplish system change. As you go down the list the greater leverage and therefore impact you might have on changing the system. System change is unlikely to happen in just one of these ways but a combination of them all.

Structures –changes in the physical structures of a system for example the way a transport, energy system or place is organized

Flows — changes in how flows of information, finance or how value might be distributed, are configured and relate to each other

Rules — the rules dictate how the system is organized, so if they change they will have an impact on the flows, patterns and structures of the system

Power to evolve — this is the one I find the hardest to get my head around. The power to add, change, evolve or self-organize system structure. So can we put in place the ability for the system to change, adapting to different responses to maintain the goal of the system? If a system is self-organizing it has the power to keep evolving itself.

Goal — If the goal of the system, it purpose and function, change, it will ultimately determine how the rest of the system operates.

Paradigm — A paradigm is a set of assumptions or a view about how the world works, it is a pattern of organizing our thoughts, which informs how we act and how structures, flows, rules, goals arise.

As you engage in system advocacy, take the time to figure out which approach or combination of approaches get to the crux of the issue. Exactly what do you want to change? You will be a chance to express what you need at some point. Be ready with a thoughtful analysis of what in the targeted system needs to change and how.

What advocacy IS allowed with federal funds?

White board, "Advocacy" in red, with three numnered, blank lines underneath.

Let’s be clear right up front. The core service of individual and systems advocacy is a driving force at the heart of the Independent Living Movement. Advocacy has the power to change lives, communities, states, and nations. Major disability legislation and societal changes would not have occurred without the efforts of strong advocates. While individual advocacy is important, it has a narrow impact. Systems advocacy has a broader scope that influences laws, practices, patterns, and problems that affect many people.

The mission of a CIL is to identify, advocate for, and enact social change related to people with disabilities. Equal access is a key element of Independent Living philosophy, and noted in the first paragraph of Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act. If we want our society to extend equal access, to change for the better, we must speak out about injustice. Advocacy must be a key component of your CIL. Although much has changed in the last few decades, the battle for equal access and/or treatment in housing, education, employment, transportation, healthcare, criminal justice, and other areas continues. Advocacy is needed with local, state, and federal systems when they do not adequately address many of these complex issues.

Advocacy is not only allowed with federal funds. CILs are required to advocate as a core service. SILCs are allowed to advocate if they have included advocacy in their State Plan for Independent Living. ACL’s FAQ defines advocacy as: Advocacy is the act of engaging with government officials to educate and provide technical, factual, and non-partisan information about relevant issues. For example, a grantee could meet with an elected official to provide information about grant activities and educate them about the beneficiaries of those activities. They may also respond to written requests from government officials for testimony. Advocacy is a permissible use of federal funding, and certain ACL grantees, including CILs, are required to engage in advocacy. (See 45 C.F.R § 1329.4 for the regulatory definition of “systems advocacy.”

Notice this language — technical, factual, and non-partisan information about relevant issues. Collecting and communicating important information that makes a difference to people with disabilities is allowed with federal funds — which means staff time and center or SILC resources can be used to collect and disseminate key information. We can initiate factual studies or surveys around issues of concern. We can present that information to lawmakers and others of influence. We can study and present fact-based information on a shortage of personal care workers, for example. We can then interview workers or former workers to learn the “whys” of the shortage. Consumers can describe the impact of these shortages on their lives. We are not lobbying for a salary increase when we are providing this non-partisan information. We are presenting facts. We can do this in open testimony, in email, in face-to-face meetings — on time paid for by federal grants — as long as we don’t cross over into support or advice on the vote we want to see on a specific bill. This strategy can be used to address almost any issue that may later become a bill. How has medicaid expansion impacted other states? Share with your state, which isn’t participating. What are the savings to tax payers when individuals are able to stay independent at home rather than served in long-term care? How have the centers in your state diverted individuals from long term care, allowing them to stay at home in the first place? These are important issues for our people, and the IL network in your state should know the answers to these questions and more. Presenting them to key decision-makers — or assisting consumers in telling their stories — will further the cause of Independent Living and the positive reputation of effective Centers in your state.

Some of these guidelines apply to making comments on proposed rules. If we know the impact — factual and non-partisan impact — then comments fall into the advocacy side of things. It isn’t lobbying until you say, “So vote for or against….” at which point you taint the entire advocacy conversation as lobbying and it is no longer allowed with federal funds.

But at some point, in a new conversation, you may want and need to say exactly how you hope your legislator will vote on a specific matter. At that point you are lobbying. Don’t panic – you can lobby, just not with federal funds. It is up to you to keep track of the actual costs related to lobbying — including your time, the costs of any materials developed/copied/distributed, and the related indirect costs. Assure that these costs are paid through non-federal sources. These might be private donations, or proceeds from a free-standing fee-for-service project that doesn’t use any federal funds.

So can a SILC promote a survey of constituents on a matter which is contained within the state plan — and present the results of that survey to an agency or department or Governor or Legislative Committee? If advocacy is included in the SPIL, and this is a SPIL goal area, yes.

Can SILCs or CILs have an advocacy fund where contributions are made for the purpose of supporting advocacy with government officials to further the cause(s) established in the state plan or the CIL’s work plan?  Yes. Such a fund can pay for any advocacy, including lobbying.

Can a SILC or CIL hire or employ attorneys with private funds — or else rely on other legal counsel such as P&As with private funds  — or upon pro bono advocacy by private law firms . . . to further their Independent Living MISSION? Typically the budget is a barrier to hiring an attorney on staff, although some CILs have done so. Using pro bono legal advice and assistance in advocacy would be allowed, and even paying the attorney is allowed if the budget is sufficient.

Can advocacy include actions other than written or spoken testimony? Things like media interviews, op-ed pieces, mobilizing consumers with signs, or filing complaints can be effective advocacy efforts.

You should be advocating — with the disability community — for equal access and justice for people with disabilities throughout your community, your state, and your country.

(Special thanks to Daisy Feidt, Access Living, Chicago for some of the wording describing advocacy.)

Advocacy and Lobbying – a review of the FAQ from ACL

Capital dome with an American flag.

Below is the FAQ from ACL on Lobbying and Advocacy. Next week we will dig deeper into what we CAN do with federal funds, or how to find other funds to pursue lobbying when it is essential to our mission.

Allowable Advocacy Activities for Federal Grantees

Introductory Note: The 1973 Rehabilitation Act as Amended (“the Rehab Act as Amended”), requires Centers of Independent Living (CILs) to perform Core Services, including systems advocacy (29 U.S.C §§ 705(17)(D) & 796f-4(b)(5); defined at 45 C.F.R § 1329.4). ACL and ILA have received several requests for guidance describing allowable advocacy activities to help ensure that ACL grantees, including CILs, can best serve their target populations and meet their grant obligations without violating federal law.

Federal laws and regulations prohibit federal grantees, which includes recipients of funding related to the Rehab Act as Amended, from using federal funds to lobby government officials (18 U.S.C. § 1913; 31 U.S.C. § 1352; 2 C.F.R § 200.450).

The following frequently asked questions (FAQs) are to help clarify how these laws function for ACL grantees. This guidance is intended to help ACL grantees better understand their rights and obligations. It is not a comprehensive guide to every circumstance that could be a violation of the regulations cited above. ACL grantees are responsible for understanding the full scope of their legal responsibilities as federal grantees, and are strongly encouraged to reach out to ACL program officers with any questions about the appropriate use of federal funds.

For the purposes of these FAQs, a “grantee” includes employees; board members; and council members acting on behalf of the grantee, and not in their individual capacity. Grantees should note that they may not act in their individual capacity while they are also operating in an official capacity. (For example, a grantee could not attend a meeting in an official capacity and avoid anti-lobbying regulations by claiming to speak briefly “in their individual capacity” or “in their personal opinion.”)

Q1: What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying?

A1: Advocacy is the act of engaging with government officials to educate and provide technical, factual, and non-partisan information about relevant issues. For example, a grantee could meet with an elected official to provide information about grant activities and educate them about the beneficiaries of those activities. They may also respond to written requests from government officials for testimony. Advocacy is a permissible use of federal funding, and certain ACL grantees, including CILs, are required to engage in advocacy. (See 45 C.F.R § 1329.4 for the regulatory definition of “systems advocacy.”)

Lobbying is the act of engaging with local, state, or federal government officials (including elected officials, their staff, and other government employees) with the intent to influence funding, support for, or opposition to a particular issue or piece of legislation or potential appointment. The Anti-Lobbying Act prohibits the direct or indirect use of appropriated funds to pay for “any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation, whether before or after the introduction of any bill, measure, or resolution proposing such legislation, law ratification, policy or appropriation.” 18 U.S.C. § 1913. While advocacy may inform an official on an issue, lobbying is meant to influence an official’s opinion in a specific way and for a specific purpose. Lobbying is not an allowable use of federal funding, and ACL grantees should be able to provide documentation to show that non-federal funds were used for any lobbying activities.

Example: It would be lobbying if a CIL grantee asked their representative to support or introduce legislation or a specific issue, or allocate more funding to a program such as Money Follows the Person. Since lobbying is an impermissible use of federal funds, any money used to support a meeting discussing support for or opposition to a specific bill or funding stream, including funds used to pay the salaries of individuals engaged in such work, would need to come from a non-federal funding source that permits lobbying activities. In this example, the grantee could instead advocate in a non-partisan, fact-based way by presenting research and data to their federal representative about the impact of Money Follow the Person programs. It would also be advocacy to explain, in a non-partisan and fact-based way, the resources that were (or were not) available to people with disabilities. If both advocacy and lobbying take place during a meeting, the entire meeting is considered a lobbying meeting.

Grantees should carefully document the funding source for any lobbying activity. Upon request, grantees should be able to provide documentation to ACL demonstrating that no federal funding was used to engage in lobbying activities.  

Q2: What is the difference between “direct lobbying” and “grassroots lobbying”?

A2: Direct lobbying is an attempt to influence deliberations or actions by Federal, state, or local legislative or executive branches. Lobbying government officials, as in the example above, is considered “direct lobbying.” Grassroots lobbying, or indirect lobbying, includes efforts that encourage members of the public to contact their local, state, or federal elected officials urging their support or opposition of a specific issue or piece of legislation. In effect, grassroots lobbying involves a federal grantee encouraging stakeholders to lobby. Direct lobbying and grassroots lobbying are both unallowable uses of federal funds. (2 C.F.R § 200.450).


Direct Lobbying: An ACL grantee meets with their state legislators to ask for their support for a law that would expand protections for people with disabilities. The grantee did not support the meeting using federal funding. Although this is direct lobbying, it is permissible because the grantee can provide documentation that shows the meeting was not supported by federal funding.

Grassroots Lobbying: An ACL grantee sends out an action alert urging supporters to contact Congress. The alert asks people to tell their representatives to vote “yes” or “no” on pending legislation. The grantee used office equipment and staff time funded by a federal grant to send out the action alert. This is an impermissible use of federal funds because it is lobbying.

Q3: If I travel to Washington, D.C., for a conference using federal grant funding, can I also visit Capitol Hill to meet with my elected officials? What can we talk about?

A3: Yes, although whether you can use grant funds to pay for the visit depends on whether you lobby your elected officials. There are no restrictions on a grantee’s ability to meet with their federal representatives or attend meetings that are open to the general public, regardless of where you are meeting with them. However, if any part of a meeting involves lobbying, federal funding may not be used to support the costs associated with the meeting, including travel, lodging, or meals.

Example A: A grantee travels to Washington, D.C., for an annual two-day conference, and stays for an extra day to set up meetings with their federal representatives to persuade them to vote a particular way on an upcoming piece of legislation. Because this is lobbying, federal funds may not be used to support this third day of travel, and one third of all costs associated with the trip should be paid for using non-federal funds. The cost of the conference registration may be paid for using federal grant funding only if the grantee does not participate in lobbying as part of the conference.

Example B: A grantee travels to Washington, D.C. for an annual conference, and participates in a “Hill Day” and protest organized by the conference. The grantee meets with federal representatives to encourage support for pending legislation. They also attend a committee hearing and hold up a sign asking representatives not to confirm a candidate for a position. The grantee may not use federal funds to support travel or participation in this conference. If there are other days of grant-related travel that do not involve lobbying, federal funding can support that part of the trip.

Example C: A grantee travels to Washington, D.C. for an annual conference and to meet with their federal representatives to educate them about grantee programs. They arrange to share the meeting with a lobbyist colleague and intend to split time in the meeting; the grantee will advocate about issues related to their grant, and the lobbyist will encourage the federal representatives to allocate more funding to the grant programs. This is considered an impermissible use of funds because the grantee is being used to influence legislation even though they are not actively discussing legislation with their representatives. A grantee would have to give a factual presentation in a way that was sufficiently distinct from the lobbying activity (such as at a different time or location) in order to use federal funds to support this portion of the trip.

Q4: Can federal funding support participation in or preparation for a march, demonstration, or rally? What if the event takes place during an annual conference?

A4: Regardless of when or where the event is taking place, whether or not this is permissible depends on the intent of the event and its scheduled participants. If the march, demonstration, or rally intends to specifically encourage or discourage a Congressional decision, it cannot be supported by federal funding. Federal regulations prohibit grantees from using federal funding to support these types of activities (2 C.F.R § 200.450) where they are intended to influence the “enactment or modification of any pending Federal or state legislation.” Individuals may exercise their right to free speech by participating in such activities in their individual capacity, and federal funding cannot support this portion of the trip. (Refer to Q3, Example A for additional details on which portion of the trip must be supported by non-federal funds.)

If the march, demonstration, or rally will not endorse or condemn a particular piece of legislation, a grantee may participate. Because the grantee may not be able to anticipate whether the event will involve lobbying, grantees are strongly encouraged to review their Annual Notice of Award and consult with their project officer before participating in such activities.

Example: A grantee organization prints flyers and posters announcing a march during their annual meeting, and encouraging members to join them in calling on Congress to take up legislation to improve community living outcomes for people with disabilities. This is not an allowable use of federal grant funding, even if the grantee ultimately does not actually take part in the march.

Q5: Can my organization or I use grant funds at the federal or state level to develop or distribute materials, do phone campaigns, letter writing campaigns, issue actions alerts, urge members of Congress to support legislation, or urge elected or appointed officials to support positions?

A5: No. As discussed above, these are all examples of grassroots lobbying.

Q6: Can my organization inform the public of proposed changes that would impact the populations we work with?

A6: Yes, grantees can and should share this kind of relevant information with stakeholders. The communication should be factual, technical, non-partisan, and related to the specific topic. The materials cannot suggest specific actions or positions, which would be lobbying.

Q7: Can I comment on proposed legislation or regulations?

A7: Yes, at the request of a Member of Congress or federal official, grantees may submit factual, non-partisan comments through official channels related to the proposed legislation or regulation and its potential impact on the populations with which the grantee organization works.

Q8: What are the consequences for using federal funds for lobbying?

A8: If a grantee organization uses federal funds to lobby, ACL may take enforcement actions that include, but are not limited to, withholding cash payments, disallowance, including interest, of unallowable expenses that include the total direct and indirect costs, and/or termination of the award.

Example: An ACL grantee was found to have misused their office equipment by using it to print fliers for a lobbying event. The grantee had to return the costs associated with preparing and printing those fliers to ACL.

Additional Resources:

For More Information:  Please contact your Independent Living Project Officer.

Strategic planning: own your process, own your future

A branding iron stamped the words “Own It” on a surface.

Your center is required to have a three year financial and program plan*, and you report on that in your annual Program Performance Report. It isn’t called a strategic plan in the requirements, and you have a lot of flexibility in how you develop and implement your plan. Let’s talk about some key aspects of YOUR organizational plan.

Your plan should be realistic. Your stakeholders — the board, staff, consumers, funders — want to know what you WILL do, not just what you think you might want to do someday. Decide on concrete actions you can take. Write them down, committing to a time line and who is responsible for the work. Then report at board and staff meetings what is actually happening, flowing from the plan.

Your planning process should fit the size and scope of the plan itself. There was a time when non-profits put big money into hiring a facilitator to help develop a written plan. Anyone remember retreats, at fancy conference hotels or rustic camps? These are seldom done any more, for reasons of cost, time, and the pandemic. You may plan over several ZOOM sessions, but they don’t all have to be over a weekend. You may want committees to start the work. There isn’t just one format for putting your ideas into a written plan. Do the work you need to do to focus on each goal.

The board’s role in planning may be different than you think. Sometimes the board of a non-profit is called a “planning board” or a “policy board” or is otherwise defined. The true bottom line, though, is that it is made up of individuals and each comes to the table with their own ideas, especially when it comes to planning. Give those individuals a chance to work on the goal that most resonates with them, especially if you are producing drafts by small groups before the whole thing come together.

Independent Living Philosophy must be prominent and dominant. Many written strategic plans start with a vision statement and a mission before the goals are identified. These are good — but you don’t have to re-write them year after year. The purpose of a center is clear in the Rehabilitation Act, and Independent Philosophy is woven into the very fabric of a center for independent living. This focus should not change, so your mission and vision may not change that much year to year.**

Planning and problem solving are two different processes. If problems become apparent while you are planning, the problem solving will need to happen in a different context. If the area of concern is a key one the planning may have to be suspended while the problem is solved, but you don’t necessarily want the planning team to “fix” the issue, especially if it involves personnel performance or financial support for the issue. The usual management structures should address those issues.

Remember this is a financial and program plan. Is financial sustainability a key part of your planning? A budget that “puts your money where you mouth is” must be in place for the program plan to be successful.

Focus on consumers — who are your consumers and what do they need your organization to do right now? Focus on the people and their real lives will keep your plan real.

*Title VII, Section 725 of the Rehabilitation Act, Assurances, states: 4) the applicant will establish clear priorities through an­ nual and 3-year program and financial planning objectives for the center, including overall goals or a mission for the center, a work plan for achieving the goals or mission, specific objec­tives, service priorities, and types of services to be provided, and a description that shall demonstrate how the proposed ac­tivities of the applicant are consistent with the most recent 3-year State plan…

**Sec. 725 REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973 184
(1) PHILOSOPHY.—The center shall promote and practice the independent living philosophy of—
(A) consumer control of the center regarding decision-making, service delivery, management, and establishment of the policy and direction of the center;
(B) self-help and self-advocacy;
(C) development of peer relationships and peer role models; and
(D) equal access for individuals with significant dis­abilities, within their communities, to all services, pro­grams, activities, resources, and facilities, whether public
or private and regardless of the funding source.

Tools for board self-assessment

The Maine Association of Nonprofits has perfectly summed up the critical importance of regular self-assessments for boards:

A strong, vibrant board of directors is a clear indicator of a healthy organization. Yet even the best organizations need a periodic check-up to ensure that they cannot just survive but will really thrive in today’s environment. To check your board’s vital signs, or to put in place practices and strategies for a healthy and energized board, the best place to start is with a board self-assessment.

Self-assessment and evaluation are worthwhile and critical components to ensure your board is functioning at its highest level and working to accomplish its mission. It may result in board training (an overlooked area) or some focus or action (review by-laws, create fundraising committee, research executive compensation etc.).

Sample Board Evaluation Questions

Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree (scale of 1-5 five being agree strongly) with the following statements.

  1. The board did well during the pandemic.
  2. The board monitors and evaluates the performance of the executive director on a regular basis (at least every other year).
  3. All members participate on some level in the evaluation.
  4. Annual performance goals are set by the board and CEO.
  5. The board reviews the compensation package of top executives for reasonableness.
  6. The process of review and compensation is documented in writing.
  7. There is a succession plan in place.
  8. Board members discuss organization-wide policy issues, rather than managing the day-to-day affairs of the organization (i.e., not micromanaging the staff).
  9. The board reviews personnel policies periodically.
  10. The board ensures a whistle blower policy exists.
  11. The board ensures a document destruction policy exists.
  12. Board members regularly read and prepare for board meetings ahead of time.
  13. There is a diversity of board members.
  14. The diversity mirrors the client base.
  15. There is sufficient diversity training of the board.
  16. All members participate in fundraising for the organization.
  17. There is a strategic plan in the last few years and board meetings use the strategic plan to measure progress.
  18. The board reviews and understands financial statements regularly.
  19. Financials controls are in place.
  20. (Open-ended) Do you have suggestions for improvement?

You can develop your own grid or questionnaire, adapt one found on web, or hire a consultant to help with the process.

Here are some additional resources you might find useful: