Current Events


Opportunity Spotlight: World Peace Day edition

Photo credit: live w mcs, Creative Commons/Flickr

Happy International Day of Peace, everyone! In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly declared the third Tuesday of each September the International Day of Peace. This day is dedicated to “strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples” and is observed by temporary ceasefire in combat zones by many states, political groups, military groups, and individuals. During these times of ceasefire, humanitarian aid is granted access into these zones.

The focus of this year’s observance is “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future.” Conflicts often arise around control of natural resources, and sustainable peace often relies on sustainable development and good management of natural resources. In this week’s Opportunity Spotlight, we’ll take a look at ways to get involved in peace and sustainable development.

  • The Peace Corps was established by executive order in 1961 and authorized by Congress in an act that defines its purpose as: ”To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.“ Since then, over 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries. Skilled volunteers work with governments, schools, NGOs, and entrepreneurs in positions related to social and economic impact. They need thousands of volunteers every year, and this year’s application deadline is September 30th, so get started today!
  • The Hunt Alternatives foundation has donated over $100 million toward sustainable development initiatives worldwide. They focus on advocacy for inclusive peace processes, fighting the illegal sex trade, inspiring women to political leadership, and supporting leaders of social movements among other more local initiatives. They’re currently seeking interns in Massachusetts and DC to work on event planning, post-conflict peace training, and coalition building.
  • In response to Kofi Annan’s 2003 call for an international conference of organizations working on conflict prevention, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict was formed  to “strengthen civil society networks for peace and security by linking local, national, regional, and global levels of action; to establish effective engagement with governments, the UN system and regional organisations.” By connecting stakeholders at every level with policymakers and those often left out of policymaking, the organization seeks to gather input and build consensus and inclusion into conflict-prevention process. They’re looking for an intern in The Hague to assist with public outreach.

Across the world, organizations and individuals are looking at world peace not as a dream, but as an achievable goal. They’re organizing volunteers, funding and compiling research, influencing policymakers, and training stakeholders. World peace is a tall order, and there’s lots of work to be done.

How are you observing today’s International Day of Peace?

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Opportunity Spotlight: Labor Day Edition

How can we work together to create strong workplaces? (Photo credit: kathera, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Labor Day’s not just the day we stop wearing white pants. Since 1894, it’s been the official day that we take a load off to celebrate the contributions of all workers. And in today’s spotlight, we celebrate organizations that support workers as well as job and internship opportunities within these organizations.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United works on behalf of restaurant employees nationwide. Through advocacy, organization, research, and policy work, they aim to improve the wages and working conditions of over 10 million people in the restaurant industry. They’re currently seeking a part time Office Manager in New York, NY, so if you’ve got some administrative chops and you’re passionate about community and labor organizing, check out this great opportunity to get involved.

If direct organizing is more your style, sign on as Lead Organizer for Warehouse Workers for Justice in Joliet, IL. United Electrical Workers is seeking someone to develop and lead workplace justice campaigns for warehouse workers in Chicago’s logistics hub. You’ll be leading a team of organizers, providing education on workplace rights, training long-term community leaders, and developing innovative tactics to tackle workplace justice issues.

Just getting your feet wet in workplace organizing? Get a Union Organizer internship with UNITE HERE! in Boston, MA. You’ll be working locally on national campaigns to motivate service workers to stand up for their rights.

And take a look at some other workforce development organizations that joined the site this week, like the Newark Workforce Investment Board, New York’s Workforce Opportunity Services, and Philadelphia’s Opportunities Industrialization Center. These organizations build up employee skills and connect them with employers who need these skills to build healthy communities that benefit everyone.

Hats off to you all workers of America! And a special high five to all the organizations working on their behalf.

What are you doing to celebrate workers this Labor Day?

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Can we create one million new jobs by expanding national service?

City Year is an example of a national service program (Photo Credit: City Year, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Recently, I stumbled across the One Million Jobs petition, launched by Our Time and ServeNext, to tackle high rates of unemployment among young people (which is currently at 46%, the highest since World War II). They are asking the presidential candidates to, “Pledge to create one million new national service positions by expanding programs such as AmeriCorps, VISTA, City Year, Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, and others so we can serve and rebuild our country now.” The thinking is that by increase these opportunities, we can provide employment, develop important skills among young people, while improving our communities.

This made me wonder: Can we create one million new jobs by expanding national service?

I asked this question in the Opportunity: What’s Working Group on LinkedIn, a special partnership between the Huffington Post and LinkedIn to spotlight how people across the country are tackling what they call a dual crisis: that 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed and that 3.5 million jobs are currently unfilled due to talent shortage. Here are a few of the responses:

“I am currently serving at a position through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS), a faith-based volunteer program similar to AmeriCorps. I have found the experience helpful in defining and uncovering transferable skills, developing a list of accomplishments, and building a network.

I will also note that for 15 years up until June 2011 some BVS placements were eligible for a $5,350 education award AmeriCorps through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Federal budget cuts passed at that time meant CNCS could not pay the award to all affiliated community service programs. These awards often helped pay student loans or continue education once the volunteer completed their term…”

“Creating a national service would create jobs in the short term. Everyone can agree there’s a lot to do. But these would be paid for by the gov’t (read: taxes). If creating a national service would help stimulate the economy and create job IN THE LONG TERM, then it might be worth it. But I don’t see how that would happen. We need a long-term, structural change.”

“When I first saw this discussion the first thing that came to my mind was, where does the funding come from? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought given a clear, detailed plan, this could be a viable option. If this was to be a true “National Service” program, then everyone would need to buy in. That would mean major corporations sponsoring the program, (a program like this would provide them with a higher quality employee candidate pool in the future) as well as local, state and federal government buy in, (they would have the same benefit). Scholarships for outstanding service would also be a possible part of this program…”

So what do you think? An important step to reducing unemployment or do we need something else?

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Why I left the corporate world in Canada to start an NGO in India

Each day over 100,000 people visit Idealist.org looking for the opportunities, resources, and community they need to create a better world. To date over 400,000 people and 70,000 organizations have joined Idealist.org contributing to a vibrant and generous community.

But behind these numbers are powerful stories of people who have committed to taking one step to change the world. In the interview below, we chat with Rajendra Ka Vesana, Chairman and Founder of Touchwood Ecological and Social Foundation in India.

Students at a Touchwood school (Photo credit: Touchwood)

Founded in 2006, Touchwood’s mission is to create new initiatives and opportunities for indigenous populations within the jungles of the Nilgiris in the areas of health, education, agriculture, economic development, environment and social welfare through close cooperation between indigenous people, local NGOs, government agencies and private corporations. To date, Touchwood has treated more than 18,000 people in its free medical clinics, has staffed schools in remote locations with trained teachers, and offers a variety of classes in computers, English, and vocational skills.  Read more about their programs and opportunities.

Raj uses Idealist to recruit volunteers and interns; thus far he has recruited close to 40 volunteers who help put his organization’s mission into action. Below, he shares his experiences starting and running an NGO, the power of volunteers, and the key lessons he’s learned.

What made you decide to quit your job in Canada and move to India to start an NGO?

Right from childhood I had a huge interest in wildlife. However, my family wanted me to pursue a degree in engineering in Electronics and Communication. I went on to a life in the IT industry, which took me across the globe. However, back in September 1993, I accompanied my friends to the Jungles of Sathyamangalam (a town in the Erode district in the Indian state Tamil Nadu, more known for the notorious bandit Veerappan – and now known as the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve) and that rekindled my passion for wildlife. From then on, I made sure that whichever part of the world I was in, I took a week off every two months and headed off to those jungles to learn and understand more about wildlife and ecology. In order to be more consistent in my efforts, I realised I would need a banner for my work and hence Touchwood was born in February 2006 as an NGO. My passion kept growing until I finally realized that this was my calling. I decided to quit the corporate world in the year 2010 and head to the jungles to do my bit.

When you realized you wanted to start an NGO, what was the first step you took?

In 2006 when I started the NGO I had taken a sabbatical from my job and worked in the jungles. It was a huge learning curve for me and I made so many mistakes. The place where I started my NGO, The Nilgiris, has almost 750+ registered NGO’s and almost 200 of them have been around for more than a decade. What would I do that someone hasn’t already done? What value would I deliver? What can make me different?

But I learnt from them and Touchwood grew in the hearts of the people(s) in the jungles. I did a complete reality check and decided that to help in conservation and protection, we must first take care of the humans (indigenous populations) in these jungles, for they are the true conservationists and protectors of the jungles. We must empower them with the knowledge and awareness that they are the most important link in conservation. If they are denied basic essentials in life such as access to healthcare, education, sanitation, clean drinking water etc, how can we expect them to handle such a huge task of conservation and protection? Keeping this in mind we started off with a Tribal Healthcare Center at Vazhaithotam in February 2007 within a year after we started the NGO.

What role do volunteers play in your organization? How do you support them?

Volunteers have and will continue to play a vital role in our efforts. They bring with them valuable international experience, knowledge and skills needed to design, develop and implement various programs that bring numerous advantages to the marginalized communities. Volunteers come with a passion and dedication to give back to society and to take with them what they learn. Hence there is more understanding of the existing ground reality and their willingness to put in the extra hours needed to see things through. Though we have local staff at ground level their capabilities to perceive the big picture and work towards a futuristic goal is limited and hence the need for the international volunteers and interns.

While the volunteers / interns are expected to pay for their time here with us, we provide them with in-country orientation, travel on behalf of Touchwood, boarding and lodging and free WiFi. There is a manager who supervises them and whom they report to.

Can you tell us about a success you’ve had recently?

After the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary was declared a Tiger Reserve (Mudumalai Tiger Reserve – MTR), we met with the top officials of MTR and decided to shift our clinic to a place they had given us so that it would be easily accessible to more people. I must mention the names of Dr. Rajeev Srivastava, I.F.S., Field Director and Mr. Ameer Haja, Deputy Director, of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve who have been of enormous support to us. Once with the MTR, we were approached by another NGO who wanted to work with us on healthcare projects. We started off with Free Medical Camps (75 to date) for all who live within the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and its buffer zone areas. We also provided teachers to schools deep within the rural areas where normally appointed governmental teachers refuse to travel to. These activities quickly won the confidence of the people and managed the bridge the gap that was there traditionally between the Forest Department and the people within the reserve.

Receiving care at a Touchwood Free Medical Clinic (Photo Credit: Touchwood)

We went on to form Eco-development Committees on behalf of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to enable vocational training, skills development and sustainable livelihood options for those within these reserves. The programs were so well received by the indigenous populations that the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India conferred the Award of Excellence for the year 2010-2011 in the category of “Involvement of Local Communities and Eco-development” to Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. We are proud to be a part of this achievement and we continue to support the people within the MTR with various programs.

What advice do you have for others who want to start an NGO?

Be prepared for brick-bats [blunt criticism/ disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings] and sacrifice, not only from self but from your near and dear ones too. It takes a lot of patience and you will see the various faces of mankind. So many will come and go; it’s hard to have someone stay with you all the way.

If you weren’t part of Touchwood, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?

A typical story: get an education, move overseas, make lots of money and create wealth and live life like what we think is King Size.  Maybe I would’ve liked it…maybe I wouldn’t have. I really don’t know. But for me now this is life – King Size!

Want to learn more about Touchwood? Visit their website or connect with them on Facebook

Please feel free to write to them at info@touchwoodfoundation.org

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Nonprofits have tax deadlines too

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Photo by Alan Cleaver (Flickr/Creative Commons)

If you hurried to the Post Office today to pay your taxes or claim your refund, you’re in good company. Estimates are that 25% of U.S. taxpayers file on the last day each year. But don’t expect long lines at the post office; the IRS is hoping 80% of returns will be filed online, up from 77% last year. The deadline (technically tomorrow this year because of a holiday in Washington, DC) is critical for individual taxpayers – filing late results in penalties and interest for everyone.

Nonprofits get a break on their filing deadline in two ways: First, the due date for organizations with a December 31 fiscal year end is not until May 15th. And second, larger organizations can get an automatic six-months extension to pull their records together just by filing Form 4868.

But the risks for nonprofits of not filing at all are pretty dire. More than 400,000 entries have been removed from the roster of tax-exempt organizations since a 2006 law took effect. The IRS is now required to cull out of the list recognized organizations that don’t file the required reports for three consecutive years. When that happens, donors can’t take deductions from their personal taxes (and may have to file amended personal tax returns – a double whammy) and the organization will probably have to start all over again—filing a new application for recognition and paying the fees—if it wants to continue to operate. Not a good thing.

The “information return” that nonprofits file is called IRS Form 990. It comes in several versions. Time and trouble can be saved by picking the right one.

  • Use Form 990-N (the “e-postcard”) if total revenue from all sources is normally less than $50,000 per year. Note that Form 990-N is only available online (there is no paper verson) and, though there’s no penalty for filing late, there’s also no way to get an extension. So that three-times-you’re-out rule applies to an organization that missed the last couple of years and then files late this year.
  • Use Form 990-EZ if total revenues (the IRS calls it “gross receipts”) are less than $200,000 and total assets are less than $500,000.
  • Bigger organizations use the full Form 990. And private foundations have their own different version called Form 990-PF.

The Urban Institute offers an electronic filing service for groups that need to do a 990-EZ or a full 990 and don’t have anyone else to do it. Information about how that works is online at efile.form990.org. The service is free for organizations with less than $100,000 in revenue and carries a small fee for groups with larger annual budgets.

Larger organizations will usually have staff or outside help with accounting and bookkeeping to keep them on track with these requirements and deadline. Smaller organizations need to be sure they have clear answers to a short, but important, list of questions:

  • When is our filing deadline? It’s always four months and fifteen days after the end of the last fiscal year.
  • What do we need to know to be sure we stay current with all these rules and regs? The IRS website is a good place to start – a list of frequently asked questions is here.
  • Who is going to file our Form 990-N? It takes a few minutes, access to a computer, and knowing the answers to a few simple questions. But somebody has to do it.

If you’re not sure all three questions have been answered for an organization you care about, then tomorrow—after your personal tax return is safely on its way—would be a good time to start getting things sorted out to be sure everything goes smoothly this year.

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How to make the most of a conference

It’s conference season! Next week I’m heading to San Francisco for the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which boasts thousands of attendees and countless opportunities for networking, skill-building, and…sheer exhaustion. To prepare, I asked a bunch of nonprofit leaders how they make the most of big events like this. Here’s part 1: what to do before you leave.

Do you really want to do this?

Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director, Idealist:
Think twice—or three times—before signing up. It’s tempting and easy to sign up for a conference that’s happening a few months from now, but pretend for a moment that the conference is happening tomorrow or next week. Would you still want to attend? If so, go for it!

Make a plan.

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Does this make you want to run for cover? (Photo: Enterprise 2.0 Conference via Flickr)

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:

Create a schedule for yourself ahead of time. Don’t budget every minute of every day, but do outline any sessions you know you want to see, and add in a block or two of time that’s free time so you reserve flexible time to meet up with new friends or explore the city.

Allison Jones, Fundraising and communications professional:
While I may blog and have an online presence, I am at my core an introvert. Large group settings make me uneasy so I always feel incredibly nervous before a conference…But I build a ton of relationships online, and conferences offer an opportunity to strengthen those relationships face-to-face. [Arranging ahead of time to] connect in a small group or one-on-one feels less random and less “networky”; these interactions invigorate me and allow me to connect with people in a more meaningful way. Plus, by planning time to meet others, it makes it harder for me to run into a corner and hide!

Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
If the conference posts a participant list beforehand, go through the list and make note of who you want to catch up with or meet. Once you decide on those folks, PICK AN ACTUAL DATE, TIME, AND PLACE TO MEET. The best way to not actually meet up with someone at a conference is to just plan to “grab each other” when you’re there.

Creature comforts, AKA “Your body and soul”

This one’s mine:
On my packing list for this trip are comfortable shoes, workout clothes, healthy snacks to help me avoid a conference pastry overdose or overpriced airplane snack pack, and a travel mug or water bottle.

One thing I didn’t do that required advance planning: Sign up to volunteer. If your conference includes optional service opportunities like the NTC does, why not take them up on it?

Think (way) ahead.

Farra Trompeter, Vice President, Big Duck:
Block out time on your calendar now for AFTER the conference to process all that you learned and actually implement some of the bright ideas you’re certain to pick up in the sessions and in your conversations.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2: What to do while you’re there. In the meantime, have you tried these strategies? Do you have other “know before you go” tips for conference-goers?

Ed. note: Read Part 2, which covers ways to survive and thrive at big events like this!

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Morning links: Pinterest for nonprofits, tech for good

Eye candy and food for thought from our Facebook feed this morning:

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Screen capture of the pinboard "Nonprofit Organizations" curated by NonprofitOrgs

  • Nonprofit Organizations on Pinterest: Thinking about Pinterest for your organization? Take a look at the boards Heather Mansfield (aka the human behind Twitter feed @nonprofitorgs and facebook.com/nonprofitorgs) has created: Inspiring Social Good & Causes, Shop for Good, Technology & Fundraising, and more.
  • Ten technology-for-good ideas via The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “…accomplishments of the 10 people who will be honored next month for their social-change work by organizers of the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Tex. Meet the advocate who is using mobile technology to promote gay marriage, a volunteer who is restoring tsunami-damaged photographs in Japan, people who are improving health care in poor countries, and many others.”

What headlines, tweets, or tools caught your eye today?

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Know the rules: Nonprofits in an election year

2012: A leap year. The year the world might end. And of course, an election year, with something on the ballot in every city and state in the U.S. I’ve found that folks who work for social change tend to pay close attention to politics and elections – which makes it extra important that nonprofit professionals know what the rules are about how agencies, staffs, and volunteers can be engaged in politics.

How do the rules apply to you?

First of all, it matters what kind of a nonprofit you work or volunteer with.

  • For 501(c)(3)s in the U.S., the election rules are pretty simple: such organizations must not do anything that furthers, or hinders, the chances of election of any candidate for any public office. Charitable resources must not be used for political contributions of any sort.
  • Other sorts of organizations have many more opportunities to get involved in the political process than c3s, but even they must be careful not to step over the lines in federal, state and local rules. Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code is the reference point for foundations and other public charities. State and local laws may make further, different distinctions, so any organization which might get involved in politics in any way will need to check those too.

What makes this complicated?

Nothing about that flat prohibition on “electioneering” says that nonprofits cannot work to improve democracy. They can encourage people to vote, help to clarify issues, and make known their own views on policy goals. They just have to do these things in a way that is impartial among the candidates who are running for office.

What you can and can’t do

NonprofitVOTE.org published Nonprofits, Voting & Elections: An online guide to nonpartisan voter participation activities for 501(c)(3) organizations, which can help your nonprofit’s board and executives understand the ins and outs of doing business in an election year.

But what about volunteers and staff members? Does any of this apply to them as they go about their daily routines? Yes and no:

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    Photo: Sonya Green, Flickr/Creative Commons

    Whenever people are representing a nonprofit in any official capacity, they have to make sure that they steer clear of that prohibition on electioneering. That certainly means avoiding doing anything that might be seen as the nonprofit itself endorsing one candidate, or dissing another…

  • But employees and volunteers don’t give up their rights as citizens. They can do things—on the job and off—that indicate their personal support for a candidate, like having a campaign sign in the window of their own car in the front yard of their house. They can sign petitions, contribute money, and go door-knocking. It’s just that they have to mute their connections to the nonprofit where they work while doing those things.

To learn more, check out these resources from NonprofitVOTE and the Alliance for Justice: What Staff Can Do and Election Activities of Individuals Associated with 501(c)(3) Organizations (PDF).

P.S. Idealist can help!

Want to promote election year events? Recruit Get Out the Vote (GOTV) volunteers? Announce a nonpartisan voter guide? You can use your organization page on Idealist to do all of these things. Get started here.

And comment below to tell us, and others, about your organization’s plans to participate in the democratic process this year.

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Hiring? Here's why veterans can be your greatest asset

“There are support services for vets, but a lot of vets don’t want to be helped,” says Joanne Dennis, Director of Program Development at Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans in disaster response, and also helps aid the transition back to civilian life. “Vets don’t want your pity, they don’t want your sorrow. They want to help others.” A recent Civic Enterprises report revealed that 92% of veterans want to continue serving their communities after their military service.

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Veterans dedicate their skills to disaster relief efforts. Could they also be a good fit for your organization? (Photo: Team Rubicon Flickr stream)

That desire to serve has drawn more than 500 veterans to apply to volunteer with Team Rubicon in disaster relief missions in places like Burma, Haiti, and Joplin, MO since it was founded in January 2010. But while Team Rubicon’s volunteer base is growing fast, it can’t help with job placement. “We have some firemen who volunteer with us on their days off, and a lot of college students. But a lot of the volunteers are in transition,” explains Joanne. “They’ve come home to an economic climate where they just can’t find jobs. And especially jobs that have meaning or purpose.”

In an uncertain economic climate, many nonprofit leaders and business owners are understandably unwilling to take risks – especially when hiring. When faced with a stack of resumes, why choose the person whose background you are uncertain of and whose experience on paper doesn’t directly translate to your organization’s needs?

That’s the reality most veterans are facing when applying for jobs today. They come home with countless “soft” skills, including management and supervision, team-building, and the ability to successfully lead diverse groups of people while staying calm under pressure. These skills often don’t translate to traditional workplaces where recruiters are looking for resumes with years of conventional experience. But they are often the trademarks of an irreplaceable colleague, especially in a mission-driven organization.

In August, President Obama challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by 2013. This Veteran’s Day, we’re curious whether nonprofits and other agencies and organizations are heeding that call as well.

Have you hired folks with military experience? Are you a veteran currently looking for work? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

This post was written by Bernadette Matthews, a volunteer with Team Rubicon, and Idealist bloggers Celeste Hamilton and Julia Smith. (Full disclosure: Celeste Hamilton and Joanne Dennis are in-laws.)

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Could you benefit from Obama’s student loan programs?

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Got debt? New initiatives from the White House might help you out. (Photo: Serge Melki, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Student loan expert Heather Jarvis writes:

On October 25, the Obama administration announced executive orders designed to assist struggling student loan borrowers. The President announced two new student loan initiatives:

  • Pay As You Earn, making the Income-Based Repayment plan more generous for certain borrowers by fast-tracking improvements to the way payments are calculated and reducing the time it takes to earn forgiveness, and
  • “Special” Consolidation Loans providing a modest interest rate reduction for student loan borrowers who have a specific combination of student loans.

If you’re wondering how these new initiatives might apply to you, read all the nitty-gritty details on Heather’s blog.

p.s. Want to meet Heather Jarvis and ask her your questions in person? She’ll be at our Idealist Grad Fair in Chapel Hill, NC this Saturday. Please spread the word if you’re in the Triangle!

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