Info You Can Use: Internship Guide For Arts Organisations

The subject of paying interns has been in the news fairly frequently. This summer I noted that while non-profits are currently exempt from some of the rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act, this may not be true for long. Classifying employees as interns or independent contractors may not be valid, even for non-profits depending on their work situations.

In the England, arts organisations (yes, I am intentionally using British spelling) have a legal responsibility to pay interns according to minimum wage standards. The Arts Council of England just published a guide to these rules. While these wage laws don’t apply the entities in the U.S., the criteria for what constitutes an intern are very close to those applicable to for profits in the U.S.

The guide also provides suggestions for designing a meaningful internship experience and for writing appropriate ads for these positions. Therefore the guide can be a good resource for those looking to get ahead of possible changes in the labor laws and seeking to provide a positive working environment.

Info You Can Use: So You Think You Want To Merge

It seems discussion of non-profit mergers is becoming more prevalent of late. I recently became aware of a research document created by Wilder Research and MAP for Non Profits looking at what factors contribute to or inhibit the successful merger of non profits in the pre-merger, merger and post-merger phases.

There were actually some parts of the document, What do we know about nonprofit mergers? Findings from a literature review, focus group, and key informant interviews, that were very familiar. So much so I thought perhaps I had already written a blog post on it already. It doesn’t seem that is the case. However, since their report includes a literature review in addition to surveying they conducted themselves, it is likely I read some of this before.

They raise some good questions and provide some interesting advice on many aspects of a merger on issues like the name of the new organization, getting a third party involved to shepherd the process, doing due diligence on each other, issues about conflicting organizational cultures, creating a clear time line for the process.

One suggestion they had was to involve your top five funders in the process in order to gain their investment. That may be very sound advice as at least one case they mentioned found that most funders treated the merged organization with its newly expanded capacity as if it were one of the constituent entities effectively cutting their support in half.

Many organizations chose to merge as a result of some sort of crisis, either the loss of leadership, financial problems, change in the operating environment, etc. According to the research, one of the worst times/reasons to merge is if one organization is at the brink of financial ruin. Other than the fact that the new organization will inherit the problems of the troubled organization and that it is not prudent to negotiate anything from a position of weakness, research shows that even mergers between relatively sound organizations don’t necessarily result in a financially stronger combined organization.

The following are areas that they identify as needing to be addressed during the merger phase. There is a similar list for the pre- and post- phases.

2A. Key stakeholder involvement
2A1. Executive staff champion
2A2. Board commitment to the merger process
2A3. Client, consumer, and funder involvement in planning

2B. Role of staff in merger process
2B1. Staff involvement in planning
2B2. Communications with staff throughout process
2B3. Staff’s perception of the effect of the merger

2C. Integrating formal and informal structures
2C1. Attention to cultural integration
2C2. Attention to board and mission integration

2D. Providing due diligence to the process
2D1. Clear decision making process
2D2. Clear and realistic time frame

They provided the following factors which contribute to a merger’s failure:

-Lack of capacity, sophistication, or skill in the board or executive leadership
-Leadership’s inability to communicate well or to effectively influence others
-A weak or declining balance sheet or imminent financial collapse of one organization
-Programs or services that are not particularly unique or of distinctive value to the community
-Organization’s fear of losing autonomy or change
-Differences in governance, culture, or mission
-Board and staff opposition to the idea of merger
Engagement purely for survival, not from strength
-People involved do not see the real work involved in a merger
-Loss of key leader during the process

Info You Can Use: Board Action In The Age of Technology

Hat tip to the Non-Profit Law Blog for providing a link to a piece on the Charity Lawyer blog about board votes by unanimous written consent.

An organization upon whose board I sit was recently revising its bylaws and the subject of voting on courses of action between meetings arose. We were especially interested in the legality of voting by email.

I can’t imagine we are the only ones having this conversation and fortunately, Ellis M. Carter at Charity Lawyer provides some answers.

“Unlike directors voting at a meeting which may require only a majority of the directors to approve any board action, most states that permit action by written consent require unanimous approval. Once an action by written consent is signed by all of the directors, the written consent resolution will have the same effect as a unanimous vote of the Board.

In such cases, a consent resolution will be sent to each individual director by mail, email or fax for his or her signature. To streamline the signature gathering process, the written consent document can permit counterpart signatures. This means that each director can sign the signature page of his or her copy and the signed signature pages, when taken together, are considered a validly executed document.


Generally, the action is considered to be taken on the date the last director signs the consent. For recordkeeping purposes, the signed consents must be kept by the secretary in the corporate minute book. Additionally, the resolution should be entered into the minutes of the next board meeting and made part of the official record of the corporation.”

In respect to emails, in order to remove any question of legality or whether an emailed response may have been made by an unauthorized person who gained access to an unattended computer, it is best to use a password protected electronic signature such as is available in Adobe documents. If that is too difficult, Carter suggests just printing the email, physically signing it and send it back by fax, regular mail or a scanned attachment to an email.

Info You Can Use: You Tweeted What About Me?!

So after my post a couple weeks ago about why it is bad in a legal sense to have a restrictive social media policy, I am sure some of you have been wondering under what circumstances you can actually discipline someone for what they post online.

Well thanks to a piece on Forbes website, we have an answer (and hat tip to Gene Takagi)

As I had mentioned in my earlier entry, you can’t forbid, and therefore punish, any attempt to organize employees in a discussion about employment conditions. Under labor law, this is termed “protected concerted activity.” If a person is speaking for a group of employees or attempting to organize a discussion among employees, it is protected.

However, there are some tricky nuances to this and a link on the Forbes article to a National Labor Relations Board report, “Report Concerning Social Media Cases,” delves into the matter and presents specific cases to explain why the employee was or was not protected by the law. As Kashmir Hill, the author of the Forbes article notes, it is actually pretty easy and interesting to read for a government document.

My read is that with the current state of social media it may be fairly difficult to fire someone for complaining about work conditions. Essentially, if other employees chime in either on or off line to agree that an employer is a jerk for making employees work under certain conditions, the speech is protected as representing a group complaint. If other employees just comment that they are sorry to hear a situation upset the poster, then the poster may not be speaking on behalf of other employees.

It is only when a comment passes a certain threshold where a person is wishing violence upon people or making statements which are maliciously false that protection of representing a group complaint may not apply. However, being called a power-hungry, martinet jackass does not meet the standard for maliciously false. Suggesting a restaurant buys rat dropping to make their ground beef go further probably would.

Complaints that are clearly representative of an individual’s opinion aren’t protected, especially if they do not invite or receive the agreement of other employees. The same with complaints about the job which are not terms and conditions of employment like saying your store gets the ugliest customers in town.

One interesting fact that came up in a number of the NLRB case studies is that you can not have a blanket policy prohibiting people from posting pictures of themselves in company uniform or in connection with the company logo. ”

“…Employer’s logos or photographs of the Employer’s stores would restrain an employee from engaging in protected activity. For example, an employee could not post pictures of employees carrying a picket sign depicting the Employer’s name, peacefully handbill in front of a store, or wear a t-shirt portraying the Employer’s logo in connection with a protest involving terms and conditions of employment.”

The NLRB documents didn’t say it outright, but presumably you could fire someone if they posted a picture of themselves drunk in uniform at a strip club or urinating on your corporate logo. Though I have no idea if a number of employees urinating would be considered a group cause or not.

Another part of the NRLB document I found useful was two case studies starting on page 19 that first discussed a company’s social media policy that they considered to be too broad. In the second case, they found the policy was lawful but the other prohibitions were too broad. Finally, there was a case where a company’s policy restricting employees’ contact with the media was deemed lawful.

I felt all three were very useful because they all contained rules that any of us might include in our policies. In the first two cases, it is good to know what types of language one should keep out of policies. The last case included restrictions on media contact out of a desire to have one voice speak for the organization. Again, a situation for which many organizations strive.

“…we determined that a policy that stated that “the company will respond to the news media in a timely and professional manner only through the designated spokespersons” could not be read as “a blanket prohibition” against all employee contact with the media. Additional language in the rule referring to “crisis situations” and ensuring “timely and professional” response to media inquiries further clarified that the rule was not meant to apply to Section 7 activities.

Similarly, we concluded here that the Employer’s media policy repeatedly stated that the purpose of the policy was to ensure that only one person spoke for the company. Although employees were instructed to answer all media/reporter questions in a particular way, the required responses did not convey the impression that employees could not speak out on their terms and conditions of employment.”