Thursday, January 28, 2010

Giving Tip #5 - Look For Financially Strong Charities

Continuing our series of tips from Charity Navigator:“Giving Tip #5 - Look for financially strong charities: Use Charity Navigator’s free charity ratings to learn about the financial health of charities that want your support.”

This past year has been a tough one for many Americans. With unemployment rates soaring and investments falling, everyone is feeling the pain. Non-profits have not escaped the turmoil. Every appeal during this past holiday giving season has emphasized that those in need are suffering the most and asking their donors to give as generously as they can. Some non-profits, providing very valuable services, have unfortunately gone out of business. Others have had to drastically cut back services in order to stay afloat and continue their critical work.

AtWork! survived the year in reasonable shape given the economy. Our most recent audit, just posted to our website, shows AtWork! finishing the year in the black. Although we experienced decreased funding from government sources and our donors were not able to be as generous as in the past, we were able to remain on the positive side of the ledger through careful management of the resources we had, a testament to the quality of our Leadership Team and Board Finance Committee’s over site.

We did experience a decrease in donations because our donors and supporters were just not able to give as generously as they would have liked. However they told their friends about the valuable work we do serving those with disabilities and as a result AtWork! experienced a 17% increase in the number of individuals who identified AtWork! as a good place to invest their charitable dollars. We were fortunate that businesses like Costco Wholesale, Langly Properties, Coinstar, Washington Federal Savings Bank and Columbia Bank chose to support AtWork!’s programs and services. Organizations such as the Scan Design Foundation, The Seattle Foundation, Kiwanis Club of Issaquah and the Employees Community Fund of The Boeing Company saw merit in an AtWork! as an investment. AtWork! is grateful to all of our donors and supporters who believe in the work we do, who care about and for people with disabilities and who give as generously as they can.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Giving Tip #4 - Consider Gifts to Human Services Charities

Continuing our series of tips from Charity Navigator:“Giving Tip #4 - Consider gifts to human services charities: Charities that provide direct services to people in need experienced the largest drop in donations last year. Yet these are the very charities that experience the largest increase in the demand for their services during a recession. If you are passionate about helping the less fortunate in your own community, consider supporting these groups so that they are not forced to cut programs and services.”

For AtWork! there are two groups of individuals we serve who are most directly impacted by the poor economy and most at risk of losing services: students in transition from school to work and individuals whose employment support has historically be provided by the state.

Employment transition services for high school students with developmental disabilities help support young adults gain and maintain employment after graduation from high school. Job support needs are determined individually, and can vary significantly from person to person. The amount, duration, and intensity fluctuate depending on the needs of the person, the job tasks, and the work environment. Once employed, persons with developmental disabilities typically need support from trained job coaches for a number of reasons that may include a change in the workplace or business, a change in supervisors or co-workers, the addition of new tasks, communicating with the employer.

Long term follow-along support is essential for successful employment – for the individual, as well as the employer. This very important transition program will not be funded by the State of Washington and yet statistics tell us that individuals who do not have a job by the time they graduate from high school are must less likely to ever be employed. AtWork! is committed to finding the resources to continue this very valuable program and your help is critically needed.

Washington State has one of the most successful and cost-effective supported employment programs in the nation. As an example, King County delivers on average almost $2 in wages for every $1 spent on individual employment programs. People with developmental and other disabilities rely on supported employment services for the training, guidance and follow-along support they need to stay employed. Employers have been promised the sustained delivery of these services as a critical component of hiring decisions. Many people with disabilities have been employed at long-term jobs because of the supports they receive funded by State only dollars. These people have done everything right—followed the school to work transition model and become successful working adults through supported employment.

Now, because they are not on the Federal waiver and its guarantee of funding, they are in jeopardy of losing the very supports that have led to their long-term successful employment. AtWork! is committed to doing everything it can to keep those supports in place, but we can’t do it without your help.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Giving Tip #3 - Check for evidence of questionable ethical practices

Continuing our series of tips from Charity Navigator: “Giving Tip #3 - Check for evidence of questionable ethical practices: The best charities are transparent and accountable to the public. You should be able to see evidence of this in the information they provide on their web site. The media can also be a good watchdog in this area - providing reports on charities that have been found guilty of a crime or are under investigation. Remember that, even if the finances and results look sound, questionable ethical practices can be a warning sign of disaster on the horizon.”

Let’s begin with the AtWork! website. Although you can find our IRS 990 form on other websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator we post the most current one on our own website. Our fiscal year ends on September 30 each year so the form we are required to file for that year appears to be a year behind. For example, the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008 is documented in the 2007 IRS 990 form.

We also post our audit. The 2008 audit is posted now and in just a few days (once reviewed and approved by our Board of Directors) our 2009 audit will also be posted. And just so there is no doubt that we are a charitable organization exempt from taxes and able to receive donations that may be tax deductable for our contributors, we post our IRS exemption letter as well.

AtWork!’s board has adopted and approved a clear set of ethical policies adhered to by all board members and staff. When you provide services, as we do, to a vulnerable population, we must adhere to the strictest standards of conduct. Our policies cover such issues as illegal and unethical acts; conflict of interest; proprietary and other confidential information; non-competition provisions; restraint of trade and unfair competition; and pricing and accountability with a clear process for reporting of abuse or ethics violations.

We do all this because our funders require it and organizations that accredit AtWork! demand it. But mostly because it is the only way we know to operate, ethically and transparently. The people we serve deserve nothing less.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Giving Tip #2 - Investigate the Charity’s Outcomes

Continuing our series of tips from Charity Navigator:“Giving Tip #2 - Investigate the charity’s outcomes: Learn about a charity’s accomplishments, goals and challenges by reviewing its website and/or talking with staff. They should be able to tell you about the quality and depth of their results as well as their capacity to continue to get these results, not just the number of activities or people served. This is critical step, after all, the charity’s ability to bring about long lasting and meaningful change in the lives of people and communities should be the key reason for your financial investment.”

On a monthly basis AtWork! Board and staff measure outcomes against yearly targets. We go beyond just counting the number of people served to analyzing and documenting the impact on the lives of people with disabilities who have a job or who are on a pathway to that perfect fit.

In Fiscal Year 2009 (October 2008 thru September 2009) AtWork! placed 20 people in community jobs…the same number placed in 2008; great results given that the unemployment rate was 9+% in 2009. In total 67 AtWork! clients had paying jobs in community businesses. People supported by AtWork! working in community jobs earned over $351,000 at an average hourly wage of $9.58.

In Fiscal Year 2009, 90 people with complex support needs discovered new talents and learned new skills by volunteering in their community. AtWork! staff conducted 367 tours of businesses and potential job sites; the people we serve encountered new environments, discovered their interests, and built experiences that promote true choice.

In Fiscal Year 2009 people with disabilities working in AtWork!’s social enterprises earned over $250,000. AtWork! finished the year with a general fund operating profit of $12,720, a testimony to quality service, strong supporters, and solid management.

Teamwork, perseverance, dedication, going the extra-mile for the cause… these are just words that don’t do enough to describe the contributions of our supporters…a catalyst for changing the face of employment in 2009. Thank you to all of you for caring about equality in employment for people with disabilities. Whether you see it in our numbers or in the happy faces of the people we serve…2009 was a very good year.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

6 Tips for Giving Responsibly

During the giving season, Charity Navigator, an online charity watchdog site, suggested six tips for careful giving. Over the course of six blog posts we will help you to understand why AtWork! is a wise investment of your charitable dollars and why AtWork! provides you, the donor or the prospective donor, with a satisfying and valuable giving experience. Hopefully you will see how giving a gift to AtWork! can be joyful.

"Giving Tip #1 - Seek out charities with capable leaders that are reasonably paid
: Look for a charity with a passionate, visionary leader who has been in the job for a while. Make sure that leader is reasonably compensated and that the organization has a Compensation Committee that reviews the CEO’s performance and pay."

Chris Brandt has been CEO of AtWork! since August of 2006. She is leading the organization through an evolutionary transformation to change the way people with significant disabilities get and retain real jobs. Her career includes 30 years of experience working on behalf of people with disabilities, low income families, and people experiencing homelessness.

If you have ever had a face to face conversation with Chris or listened to her make an impassioned presentation, then you know she is a “passionate, visionary leader.” She absolutely believes in her core that the right of persons with disabilities to have jobs and to be a part of our communities is not only a just cause but it is their civil right.

When the State of Washington instituted the Working Age Adult Policy which supports every person’s right to have a community job, Chris and the Board of Directors did not say AtWork! was going to follow the policy because it was required to. They said AtWork! would follow the policy because it is the right thing to do. Chris has led the organization through a three year transformation that embraced the core concept of the rights of individuals with disabilities to have jobs in the community and at the same time made sure that everyone has had opportunity, leaving no one behind. During that time AtWork! closed three sheltered workshops, retained one production workshop for training, navigated new funding policies from County and State funding sources, made each of AtWork!’s enterprises of landscaping, recycling and production viable, and developed new strategies that cultivate job skills in those individuals with the most complex and challenging lives. She has been tireless in discovering and accessing new funding sources as traditional sources, such as United Way, have declined.

Chris Brandt serves on several State and County level ad hoc committees to help implement the Working Age Adult Policy as well as in leadership positions within state associations devoted to supporting persons with disabilities. The Executive Committee of the AtWork! Board of Directors serves as the organization’s Compensation Committee which reviews the CEO’s performance and pay yearly.

The staff and board of AtWork! are leaders committed to the idea that people with disabilities want to contribute and that community inclusion brings respect and self-esteem. Read more about the experience and commitment of both board and staff at AtWork!’s website.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New York State looks at alternative to IEP diplomas for students with disabilities.

According to Legislative Gazette.com the state Board of Regents, which sets educational policy for the State of New York, is discussing the creation of an alternative to the Individual Educational Program diplomas (IEP). The IEP diplomas, which some believe hinder students with the disabilities who receive them, from furthering their education and securing employment, are granted to those thought incapable of meeting the requirements of a traditional high school diploma.

Assemblyman Joel M. Miller,R-Poughkeepsie, applauded the Regents for “looking at alternative diplomas that cover a broad range of student capability and student interest and in no way reflects the differences that one student has compared to another in the area of academics or even vocational skills.” He said the state needs a diploma that clearly spells out to an employer or institution of learning what a given student's capabilities are, "and the IEP diploma does not do that. So it's time to get rid of it."

Decisions to place students on a track toward an IEP diploma often are made earlier than necessary in a student's educational career, which sometimes results in lowered expectations for that student. Also, once this decision is made, a student cannot take classes for credit in order to graduate with a regular high school diploma. IEP diplomas often limit post-secondary opportunities, such as a college education or employment.

"By scraping the IEP diploma and replacing it with a new credential system we have a unique opportunity to create an umbrella diploma that doesn't lower a students' expectations or limit their post-graduate opportunities," Miller said.

To read more click here.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Government Must Pay the Actual Cost of Services

Excerpts from “Government Must Pay the Actual Cost of Services,” by Peter Goldberg, Pres. & CEO of Families International in Milwaukee, Wisc., The Non Profit Times, 12/1/09.

"The notion that government believes it can pay less and less each year than it costs human service organizations to provide a contracted service, and that these services will simply be subsidized and supplemented with private giving, is upside down, inside out, and insensitive to the virtues of private philanthropy.

There is an urgent need to address the capacities of nonprofit human service providers to continue making up for their shortchanging at the hand of government. Human service providers serve children and families. Their history and values compel them to serve – even when they are financially abused. But that doesn’t mean that it is right.

Can we count on the administration of President Barack Obama to lead us to the promised land of more sensitive contractual pricing and other reforms? I am not certain. Its initial approach to nonprofits seems to be more framed around “social innovation” and less on so-called legacy organizations whose incredible work sustains year in and year out despite enormous challenges.

I would remind our public sector leaders that innovation is not consigned only to new organizations. Many organizations have long histories, and they have not survived that long by turning their back to innovation. The reason they have withstood every challenge thrown their way is due to their innovation, adaptation, and resilience."

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wayne Harris, Gig Harbor Costco

In many states I’ve worked in, I’ve been able to work with agencies such as Vadis in order to find employees who can fit niches within my business. All of the jobs we create for these employees have to be positions that are equally as productive as non challenged employees. The trick is to take elements from different jobs and blend them into a new position which they are capable of doing, and doing it at a productive level. I end up with another productive employee for my business – that’s the payback. We find that these individuals are tremendously reliable, they are always available for work, and very rarely are they ever sick. They come in and are very focused on the job at hand, and overall it’s a win. First off, with a little bit of work, the hardest position is the first position because it is something new for you to do - to create a new position for an employee with a challenge. But once you get over that hump, it’s easy after that.

Once you get some people into your business, and you see how much value they offer to the business, and how much your employees become attached to those individuals, you’ll find yourself looking for other ways to add to your workforce. As far as questions I’ve been asked in the past by businesspeople like, “What if the person doesn’t work out and we have to let them go, I mean I am worried about a lawsuit?” It’s never happened. I’ve let numerous individuals go. You know, it’s like if you don’t take a chance and you don’t give somebody a try, how will we ever know. So there’s no reason to be fearful of that. You will end up with an excellent employee if you give it just a little bit of time. And we have great support from the agencies. So my challenge for all businesses is this: find a way to employ one or two individuals in your location. I guarantee you’ll be happy you did, it’ll be good for your organization, and it will have the largest impact on reducing the rolls of unemployed in that group of people.

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