Software Freedom Conservancy

Software Freedom Conservancy Travel and Reimbursable Expense Policy

COVID-19 Travel Policy Amendment, 2020-03-27

In this difficult time, Conservancy is committed to reimbursing both employee and volunteer travelers who canceled program-related travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please keep in mind that Conservancy is a small charity, and we ask travelers to help us save the most money for Conservancy’s projects. You can do this by maximizing the value for cancellations and by avoiding or reducing reimbursements when the vendor of the travel service offers credit and refunds.

This Policy will remain in effect indefinitely. We will officially rescind this Policy after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. Check back to our travel policy page for the rescinded date before you submit canceled travel reimbursement or book any new travel.

New Travel Hiatus

No new travel may be booked for reimbursement for Conservancy without explicit preapproval directly from Conservancy’s Executive Director. Any travel booked without such preapproval during the hiatus period will not be reimbursed. If you need such preapproval, please write to the approvals queue and describe why the travel warrants an exception to this Policy. Ask your PLC for the contact information if you don’t have it.

Canceled trips due to COVID-19 pandemic will be reimbursed as follows.

Trivial Amounts Exception

If the entire cost of any specific item is less than or equal to US$150, you need not provide additional documentation for cancellation. Simply submit the expense with the documentation as required under the main travel policy, and include a statement that asserts you did not travel (e.g., “I am submitting a request for reimbursement for Conservancy-related travel for PROJECT which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”)

Note that the US$150 limit is for five different items: US$150 for airfare, US$150 for hotel/accommodations, US$150 for ground transportation, US$150 for visa fees, and US$150 for conference registration fees.

This limit may be further reduced by any overall budget set by your project. For example, Outreachy interns, whose travel budget is typically $500 total, may not exceed a $500 reimbursement in any event.

Airfare

Most airlines are offering flight credit for canceled flights, although some are offering full refunds. Typically, you cannot receive this credit or refund unless you phone the airline.

If your airline’s online system does not offer a refund or flight credit, please phone your airline and request a refund. If the airline refuses a refund, ask for flight credit. Many airlines have written policies on their website, such as Delta’s.

Please take notes during your call, including the name of the agent, any confirmation number they give you, the date by which your credit must be used, and the amount of the credit. Most airlines are offering credit for use within one year of the purchase and/or travel date.

Submit to Conservancy for reimbursement the following four things:

These items must be submitted in full no less than 90 days after your original first date of travel. We will not reimburse if submissions are not timely.

If all documentation is in order and the submission is timely, Conservancy will reimburse on usual NET-30 terms the amount you paid out-of-pocket to the airline. If you received flight credit, you may not use the credit for personal travel unless you return that amount to Conservancy. We encourage you to use this credit for Conservancy travel. We will track the flight credit on our books, and expire it on the date of expiration. You will be given a new accounts-payable (A/P) ticket to use with an expiration set to the date of your credit expiration. Please be sure to use that ticket for any reimbursement that includes your flight credit. If you ultimately do not travel for Conservancy and/or your member project before the expiration, the ticket will expire and we’ll move the funds off our books.

In the unlikely event that your airline has a written policy that they are offering no future flight credit nor refunds for COVID-19 cancellations, you can submit that as documentation for reimbursement in lieu of documentation of your phone call.

Hotels

Most hotels are offering full refunds, even for advance purchase, non-refundable rates. For example, here is Hilton’s policy.

In our experience, even smaller non-chain hotels are offering refunds if you phone to request them.

For prepurchase hotels, where your original receipt shows that the fare was a prepurchased and non-refundable rate, please follow the procedures above for flights to seek a refund and/or credit.

For nonprepurchased hotels, for example, those that have a cancellation period before arrival, it is your responsibility to cancel these in a timely manner. Conservancy will not reimburse for hotel costs where you failed to take advantage the free cancellation period.

In the unlikely event that you were scheduled to travel immediately before COVID-19 cancellations began (e.g., if you were scheduled to travel the first week of March), and you had to cancel too quickly and were charged by the hotel, please follow the non-refundable fare procedures.

Ground Transportation

Cancellation policies vary for ground transportation (such as trains). Please follow the rules for airfare in this case.

Visa Fees

Visa fees are generally non-refundable in any event, and our research has shown that most countries are not refunding visa fees for canceled travel due to COVID-19. Accordingly, you may submit your full visa fee receipt for reimbursement pursuant to the main travel policy.

Conference Fees

We have yet to hear of a conference that is not refunding conference registration fees for individuals. However, in the unlikely event that the conference you sought to attend is not refunding, please follow the airfare refund/credit documentation procedures above.

M&IE Per Diem

All other items of reimbursement are typically covered by M&IE Per Diem. No items that are typically covered by M&IE Per Diem are reimbursable if you do not travel, and therefore only the items listed in this document are currently covered for COVID-19 cancellations. If you incurred other expenses not explained here, please write back to your A/P ticket and explain the situation.

Other Difficulties

Please contact us via your reimbursement ticket if for some reason it is impossible or very difficult for you to follow this Policy.

Overview

This Travel and Reimbursable Expense Policy (“Policy”) applies to all Conservancy Member Projects (“Projects”) of Software Freedom Conservancy (“Conservancy”) and has been created to memorialize Conservancy’s reimbursement policies relating to travel and other business expenses incurred by Conservancy staff, Project Leadership Committee (“PLC”) members, and project volunteers while engaged in business on behalf of, or at the behest of Conservancy and/or a Project (“Travelers”).

This Policy includes an Easy Reference Guide that can be used as a template for most of the travel covered under this Policy. When in doubt, refer to the more detailed sections below.

Purpose

Conservancy must maintain effective control of business-related expenses in order to maintain its financial viability and tax exempt status. Conservancy and each Project is also accountable to our donors to ensure that we manage their contributions wisely and maximize our ability to pursue our charitable mission. As such, Conservancy expects Travelers to use good judgment and to claim reimbursement for only those expenses that are necessary and reasonable. Excessive expenses, including but not limited to luxury accommodations and services unnecessary for, or unrelated to the furtherance of Conservancy’s charitable mission are not eligible for reimbursement.

Any travel expense that adheres to this Policy is considered In-Policy and does not require special approval, so long as the trip itself has been approved in writing by Conservancy’s Executive Director or by a Project’s Leadership Committee (“PLC”) in a regular and documented PLC vote. Conservancy and/or a PLC can limit allowable travel expenses to an amount less than what would otherwise be considered acceptable according to this Policy. If so, the smaller budget is the maximum allowed expense.

PLC’s may, in fact, have their own travel policy that is more restrictive than this one. Please consult the PLC for your Conservancy project before incurring an expenses to ensure you understand what expenses can be reimbursed.

Easy Reference Guide

Travelers should adhere to the following guidelines to stay In-Policy.

Flights

Hotels

Receipts

Keep and submit PDFs of the following, as applicable:

Per Diem

Reimbursement

Rates

Throughout this document, we refer to rates reported by other parties.

For travel in the United States, we follow the maximum rates for lodging and M&IE per diem set by the US General Services Administration.

For travel outside the United States, we follow the maximum rates for lodging and M&IE per diem set by the US Department of State.

We calculate the total per diem allowance for a trip using the same method as the GSA. Travelers may request up to 100% of the listed rate for each full day of travel, plus 75% of the listed rate for each partial day of travel. For example, if you fly to a conference on Monday, spend Tuesday through Thursday at the conference, and return home on Friday, and the per diem rate for the conference city is $80, you may request up to $360: $80 for each day Tuesday through Thursday, plus $60 for each day you flew.

When we convert currencies (e.g., to determine whether a hotel paid in Euros was within the maximum lodging rate), we use the final rate published by Open Exchange Rates on the date we received the reimbursement request. Please do not do your own currency conversions in your reimbursement requests. Simply report expenses in their original currency/ies, and we will convert appropriately. If you have questions or concerns about our rates, just ask, and we’ll be happy to provide details before we send you final payment.

Reimbursement Procedure

Conservancy handles reimbursements on a NET-30 basis, starting from the date that complete materials are received. If this is an issue, Conservancy is available to prepurchase expensive items like airline tickets on your behalf, so that you don’t need to be reimbursed.

If you seek to be reimbursed for Conservancy Project expenses, please send the following, in a self contained email (with attachments as necessary), cc’ing your Project Leadership Committee address (PROJECT@sfconservancy.org) for Project approval:

Please verify that the receipts that you submit are within the attached travel policy requirements. Note, however, that your Project Leadership Committee may have set a stricter budget than what the general Conservancy policy allows.

Project Leadership Committees: when you see emails of this nature, please be sure to have your designated Representative review the materials and send an approval message to Conservancy.

Project Leadership Committee Review

Conservancy foresees the need for periodic reasonable exceptions to this Policy. Persons working on behalf of a specific Project seeking an exception to this Policy must petition their PLC to obtain written approval from Conservancy authorizing the exception. Persons working directly on behalf of Conservancy seeking an exception to the Policy must obtain written approval from Conservancy authorizing the exception.

PLCs are responsible for creating procedures for requesting exceptions, and submitting to Conservancy reimbursement requests associated with their respective Projects. PLCs are also responsible for making available a list of required response times for inquiries, including but not limited to, the following two cases

PLCs are also responsible for monitoring the available balance in their Project Fund, and for granting or refusing approval for travel expense requests based on an assessment of the funds available and of any outstanding contracts payable. PLCs are not to approve travel expense requests when their Project does not have sufficient funds to cover the expense. If a PLC has any questions regarding whether their Project has sufficient funds to cover a Traveler’s expense request, the PLC should contact Conservancy.

Transportation

Overall transportation Cost

Domestic transportation costs greater than US$750 requires Conservancy approval prior to booking, even if all other Policy conditions have been met. International transportation costs greater than US$1,800 requires Conservancy approval prior to booking, even if all other Policy conditions have been met.

Advance Purchase

Tickets for travel by air or rail (excluding commuter train and subway) should be booked at least 14 days in advance; any travel booked less than 14 days in advance requires written pre-authorization by Conservancy. Tickets for travel by air or rail beyond 365 days in advance also require written pre-authorization by Conservancy.

Air Travel

Class of Service

Coach and/or Economy Airfare is the only acceptable class for all flights (domestic and international) unless a PLC provides a special exception and a valid reason (such as a need for business class due to a documented medical reason) to Conservancy for written approval. Travelers may select their airline of choice (e.g., for the purpose of collecting airline miles and rewards), provided that the resulting fare otherwise meets the requirements of this Policy. Travelers should not book out-of-Policy trips (and thus pay a higher fare) in order to qualify for a mileage upgrade.

Advance Purchase

Air travel should be booked at least 14 days in advance; any travel booked less than 14 days in advance requires written pre-authorization by Conservancy. Flights beyond 365 days in advance also require written pre-authorization by Conservancy.

Low Fare

Conservancy aims to balance cost savings with time savings and convenience. Budgets for flights are set based on their travel time compared to the flight with the lowest available fare. Flights with fares that are within budget are in-Policy.

To find the lowest available fare, run a flight search that meets these criteria, and save the results:

Save the results of this search. A PDF printout of the first page of results from your browser is ideal. A screenshot can work too. Just make sure the output shows the search criteria and the lowest available fare. When you send your reimbursement request, attach these results.

The budget for a flight is set depending on how its cost and travel time compares to the flight with the lowest available fare. Travel time is measured from the scheduled departure time of the first flight in the itinerary to the scheduled landing time of the final flight. We use the following table to determine the budget:

If the travel time for a flight is… the budget for that flight is…
the same or longer than the flight with the lowest available fare the lowest available fare + US$100
less than three hours shorter the lowest available fare + US$100
between three and six hours shorter the lowest available fare + US$200
between six and ten hours shorter the lowest available fare + US$350
at least ten hours shorter the lowest available fare + US$600

Any flight with a total cost that is within its corresponding budget is within Policy. Any flight with a cost over its budget requires written pre-authorization by Conservancy.

Travelers may book their tickets on different dates or a different site as long as they used a qualifying fare search site to determine that the booked flights are within Policy.

Reasonable Flights

Conservancy asks that Travelers allow for flexibility with respect to departure times during a desired day of travel, as well as longer trips in order to reduce cost. However, Conservancy does consider flights with two or more connections as unreasonable and does not expect Travelers to consider those flight options to be reasonable.

Excess Baggage

Should a team member travel on an airline that charges for a single piece of checked baggage, such a baggage expense is eligible for reimbursement with a receipt. Team members are responsible for charges on any baggage beyond a single piece, unless that additional baggage is materials specifically related to the Project’s and Conservancy’s mission (i.e., bringing t-shirts and other promotional materials to an event).

Out-of-Policy Bookings

All air travel not adhering to the above Policies are considered Out-of-Policy and require written pre-authorization by an officer of Conservancy.

Cancellation Fees

Cancellation fees and other penalties incurred result of a change of plans are reimbursable at Conservancy’s discretion. In general, Conservancy shall reimburse such fees if the Traveler can submit a valid reason for the change of plans. Acceptable reasons include Conservancy and/or the PLC canceling or altering the trip or unexpected delays in flight connections. In instances where these fees are incurred without adequate explanation, Conservancy reserves the right to refuse to reimburse the cost of the fees.

Other Transportation

Ground Transportation

Ground transportation necessary as part of authorized Project trips is considered to be a reasonable expense. Public ground transportation, such as taxis, shuttles, buses and municipal transit, are generally the most cost-effective options and are the standard for eligible ground transportation reimbursements. All car rentals require pre-authorization by the PLC or by an officer of Conservancy. When car rentals have been pre-approved, the rental of compact cars is encouraged; mid-size vehicles are authorized when necessary (e.g., when compact-sized vehicles are not available or the number of passengers or volume of baggage makes a compact vehicle impractical).

Rail Transportation

Rail transportation as a means of travel for an authorized Project trip is considered to be a reasonable expense. All rail transportation must be in economy and/or coach class.

Use of Personal Vehicles

When circumstances require Travelers to utilize their personal vehicles for Project purposes, they can be reimbursed at the current USA IRS Standard Mileage Rate, plus any related parking expenses and toll fees. Drivers are encouraged to find the lowest cost parking area reasonably near their destination.

Additional Days of Travel

Travelers often seek to add extra days before or after an approved trip (e.g., the weekend before a conference). A Traveler may seek approval for the expenses associated with an extended stay prior to booking the trip, provided that the additional days are solely to enable a Traveler to conduct work within the PLC’s objectives and Conservancy’s charitable mission, or to get a particular airfare that reduces the overall cost of the trip. Travelers may seek approval to book travel itineraries that include extra days for personal reasons, so long as the cost of the flight meets the other requirements of this Policy. Other expenses incurred during extra personal days beyond transportation costs are not reimbursable.

Lodging

Travelers are expected to be cost-conscious and prudent when booking lodging for approved trips, and to verify that rates are within the maximum lodging rates for the hotel’s location. See the “Rates” section above for details.

If the lodging chosen by the Traveler and/or the PLC exceeds the maximum lodging rate for the given location (per Traveler), the Traveler and/or the PLC must obtain written pre-approval from Conservancy and the PLC before booking the hotel. If written pre-approval is not sought or is not granted, Conservancy will only reimburse up to the maximum lodging rate.

Lodging documentation submitted as part of a reimbursement request must include a copy of the hotel invoice detailing all charges (credit card receipts alone are unacceptable). In particular, since Conservancy only reimburses for room charges (plus relevant taxes and fees) for the necessary travel dates, the receipt from the hotel must clearly show the dates of stay, and separately list room charges and any food or service charges. Conservancy will not reimburse Travelers for any costs associated with an upgrade of room accommodations.

In some cases, Conservancy, upon consultation with the PLC, may decide to book lodging on behalf of Travelers. In this case, Conservancy-booked lodging is always considered In-Policy.

Other Reimbursable Expenses

Conservancy will reimburse persons for Project-related expenses that are incurred while traveling on approved Project business and/or approved Conservancy business. Only necessary, ordinary and reasonable expenses are eligible for reimbursement, and only those categories of expenses listed in this document qualify.

Meals and Incidental Expenses

Overview

Travelers can submit for a per diem for meals and incidental expenses for every day of a trip devoted to Project- and/or Conservancy-related mission work, including the day(s) of travel itself, up to the maximum rate for the destination of the trip. See the “Rates” section above for details.

These per diem rates are the maximum daily rate Travelers can claim. If a conference has provided food, or food is provided in some other form, or the costs the Traveler incurs are lower than this rate, then the Traveler should reasonably reduce their per diem claim.

PLCs and/or Conservancy have the authority to set lower per diem rates than those generated by the calculators above. In those instances, Travelers will only be able to submit for the lower per diem rates.

Group Meals

For groups of Travelers on an In-Policy trip, each Traveler should pay for his/her own meals, seeing as all participants will have an opportunity to submit for separate per diem reimbursements after the trip.

For clarification purposes, this Policy does not relate to planned group events that include meals and/or refreshments (e.g., a PLC-organized conference that includes lunch for all attendees). Further, PLCs and/or Conservancy retain the right to allocate a separate budget for anticipated large group meals beyond the individual per diem limits of each Traveler, provided that they are within the PLC’s technical objectives and/or Conservancy’s mission. Travelers anticipating a need to cover such a large group meal should seek pre-approval from his/her PLC and/or Conservancy for such expenses before the trip.

For any such group meal, Conservancy will require a written paragraph summary of the meeting, indicating what was accomplished for the Project’s and Conservancy’s mission.

Meals For Organizational Development

Travelers may occasionally have the need to invite third parties (e.g., prospective donors, contributors, community members, etc.) to meals in order to further a PLC’s technical direction and/or Conservancy’s mission. Conservancy recommends that Travelers seek pre-approval from their PLC and/or Conservancy for such meals.

For any such organizational development meal, Conservancy will require a written paragraph summary of the meeting, indicating what was accomplished for the Project’s and Conservancy’s mission.

Phone Call Charges Part of Per Diem

Charges for personal phone calls (e.g., made from a hotel, or via a mobile phone in international travel) are not reimbursable as an expense separate from the allocated per diem.

Currency Conversion Charges Part of Per Diem

Any fees associated with currency conversion are not reimbursable as an expense separate from the allocated per diem.

Conference Registration Fees

Conservancy will reimburse conference registration fees up to $100 per day for Travelers on approved Project business and/or approved Conservancy business. For example, a $250 registration fee for a 3-day conference is In-Policy; however, a $225 registration fee for a 2-day conference is not.

Travelers seeking reimbursement for registration fees that exceed $100 per day must obtain prior approval from an officer of Conservancy.

Internet Access

Internet access/wi-fi fees charged by a hotel are reimbursable, provided that they are listed on the hotel/lodging invoice submitted for reimbursement. Other internet access fees (e.g., airport internet services, personal wi-fi hotspots, internet cafes) are not reimbursable except as incidental expenses to be covered by a Traveler’s per diem.

Visa Fees

Conservancy will reimburse fees charged by an embassy (or any government agency) that are mandatory for receiving a visa (or other permission) to enter the final destination country of travel, provided proper documentation of cost (such as a receipt, or a copy of the visa along with government published rates).

Conservancy may reimburse other ancillary costs, such as use of a travel expert agency for obtaining a visa, or additional domestic travel costs necessary to obtain a visa, but all such other costs require prior approval from Conservancy.

Non-reimbursable Expenses

Non-reimbursable expenses are identified throughout this policy. The following items are typically non-reimbursable expenses:

Travelers are permitted to pay for their own upgrades, or use bonus programs to upgrade Conservancy-reimbursed expenses. However, Travelers must ensure that Conservancy does not receive nor reimburse any charges for any such transaction.

Satisfaction of IRS Requirements

Reimbursed travel expenses are subject to examination by the USA Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Travelers are responsible for retaining documentary evidence that all expenses are strictly for Project- and/or Conservancy-related purposes, not personal in nature, and therefore not includable as taxable income to the Traveler. Receipts are required for all expenses, no matter the amount.

Approvals

Travelers traveling on behalf of a Project must seek approvals and submit expense reports to their PLC. PLCs are to review those expense reports and pass them along to Conservancy’s accounting office for final approval and reimbursement.

Travelers traveling on behalf of Conservancy must seek approvals from Conservancy’s Executive Director, and submit expense reports to Conservancy’s accounting office for reimbursement.

Expense Reporting

Travelers seeking reimbursement must submit an expense report to the appropriate channel with the following information:

In the event that it is impractical to obtain a required receipt and/or if such receipt has been inadvertently destroyed or lost, the Traveler should furnish a written statement to that effect, as well as an explanation of the expenditure involved. When possible, secondary documentation (such as a redacted credit card bill) should be provided instead of the lost/destroyed receipt.

Any expense without a substantiated receipt and/or a supporting written statement will not be reimbursed.

Conservancy requests that all expense reports be submitted within two weeks of travel. Expense reports filed more than 90 days after the last day of travel (or for other reimbursable expenses, the day expenses are incurred) will not be reimbursed.

Reimbursements are paid by Conservancy on a NET-30 basis, from the date of receipt by Conservancy of the fully complete report and supporting documentation for the travel.

Consequences of Policy Violations

Failure to comply with this policy may result in the denial of, or delay in payment for, reimbursement requests.

Policy Changes

The Conservancy reserves the right to change any terms of this Policy from time to time. The Policy of record shall be the Policy most recently distributed by the Conservancy.

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