#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune

The nonprofit and philanthropic communities are not immune. We must face a sad truth: Sexual harassment and assault do not exist exclusively in Hollywood or even just the broader for-profit sector. The problems also fester in the nonprofit and philanthropic sphere. The issue is so serious for the nonprofit sector that the Association of Fundraising Professionals has recently issued a clear statement and planned steps to address the situation.

The victims of Harvey Weinstein made the world aware, in 2017, of the Hollywood movie mogul’s alleged despicable acts of sexual harassment and assault. The revelations led to the #MeToo social media movement that put the spotlight on other alleged perpetrators in the film and other industries.

As the year ended, the #MeToo movement evolved into the #TimesUp initiative. Megan Garber, writing in The Atlantic, described the transition this way:

The simple shift in hashtag, #MeToo to #TimesUp, is telling: While the former has, thus far, largely emphasized the personal and the anecdotal, #TimesUp — objective in subject, inclusive of verb, suggestive of action — embraces the political. It attempts to expand the fight against sexual harassment, and the workplace inequality that has allowed it to flourish for so long, beyond the realm of the individual story, the individual reality.”

The #TimesUp Legal Defense Fund, part of the new movement, set an initial $15 million goal, now $22 million. As of this writing, over $21 million has been raised from nearly 20,000 donors through GoFundMe.

Within the nonprofit sector, it’s easy for us to have a false sense of comfort. Some may believe others are addressing the problem adequately. Others may believe the problem is not that widespread among nonprofits because they are inherently good because they do good.

Unfortunately, there is ample anecdotal and statistical evidence demonstrating that the nonprofit sector faces the same situation as the rest of society when it comes to sexual exploitation, harassment, and assault. Wherever some people hold power over others, the door is open to sexual harassment and assault.

Consider just a few examples:

The Presidents Club. Over the years, this organization has raised over 20 million British pounds for various children’s charities in the UK. The cornerstone fundraising activity of this UK-based charity has been an annual gala for over 300 figures from British business, finance, and politics. On January 18, the group gathered at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London where they were joined by 130 hostesses.

A Financial Times investigative report found:

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.”

I can’t do this story justice. Please take a few moments to read the full Financial Times article. It’s stunning. Since the report was published, The Presidents Club has ceased operations.

Oxfam. Large international charities are not immune to scandal either. Oxfam officials this month released the findings of an internal investigation that found its country director for Haiti hired “prostitutes” during a relief mission in 2011. Furthermore, in 2016 and 2017, Oxfam dealt with 87 sexual exploitation cases as well as sexual harassment or assault of staff, according to a report in Devex. While the Haiti country director has resigned and Oxfam has taken steps to avoid exploitation and harassment in the future, the negative public relations and philanthropic fallout have been significant.

Humane Society of the United States. Wayne Pacelle, Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society, resigned following sexual harassment charges filed against him, according to The New York Times. While Pacelle maintains his innocence, he also faced allegations of sexual relationships with subordinates, donors, and volunteers going back years.

While the anecdotes are alarming, they don’t really help us understand how vast the problem is. So, let’s look at the numbers. In the USA, nearly 1200 sexual-harassment claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against nonprofit organizations between 1995 and 2016, according to a report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. While a significant number, it likely only reflects a modest percentage of actual cases, most of which go unreported or are only reported internally.

To better understand the scope of the issue within the nonprofit sector, AFP and The Chronicle of Philanthropy have partnered to conduct a comprehensive survey about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the profession. AFP will then use that data to develop anti-sexual harassment education as part of its library of educational offerings for members and non-members.

AFP has issued an official statement regarding sexual harassment. You can read the statement from Ann Hale, CFRE, Board Chair, and Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, President and CEO, by clicking here.

Advancing Philanthropy, the AFP magazine, published the article “Talking about Sexual Harassment in the Profession: What Can You Do?” by Beth Ann Locke and Chris Griffin. You can read the article if you click here.

The key things you should keep in mind are to 1) make sure you’re behaving appropriately, and 2) make sure your organization has a solid sexual harassment policy and follows it.

The #TimesUp website offers eight tips for every individual to deal with sexual harassment:

1. Don’t be part of the problem. For starters, don’t harass anyone.

2. If a person who has been harassed tells you about it, believe them. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to talk about these things.

3. If you know someone who has been harassed, connect them to resources that can help, such as the ones found here.

4. If you are a witness or bystander and see a harassing situation, you can help the person being harassed. You could actually intervene. You could confront the harasser. You could also help the person get out of the harassing situation. If you cannot do any of these things, you can still support the harassed person by corroborating and confirming the account of what happened.

5. You can support those affected by sexual harassment by donating to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

6. If you are part of an organization, look at the workforce and the leadership (management, officers, board of directors). Does it reflect the market where you operate and the world we live in? If not, ask why not and do something to move it closer to that goal.

7. Acknowledge that talent is equally distributed, but work and career opportunities are not. Mentor someone from an underrepresented group in your industry. If you are in a position to do so, hire someone who can diversify the perspectives included in your organization; your team will be better and stronger for it.

8. You can vote with your wallet: in your purchasing, in your investing, and in your charitable giving. Spend or give to companies and organizations who have more equitable leadership and opportunities for all.

Women are not the only victims of sexual harassment though that is most often the case. Men and others can also be victims. Just as people of any gender can be victims, they can also be perpetrators. Again, this is an issue involving how those in power treat the powerless. For a more justice society, we all must work harder to protect those without power. We need to recognize there is a problem, understand the problem, take steps to address the problem, and re-evaluate to determine if those actions have worked and are sufficient.

Does your organization have a written sexual harassment policy? What, if anything, has your organization done in recent weeks to reduce the risk of sexual harassment?

Together, we can do better.

I encourage my fellow bloggers to also shine a light on this issue with their unique perspectives. If you’ve written about sexual harassment in the nonprofit sector, or when you do, please share a link to your post in the comments section below.

Solutions will come with open discussion. Incrementally, we can build more just workplaces.

Finally, I’d like to get a sense of what percentage of my readers have been directly affected by sexual harassment. Toward that end, please answer the following anonymous poll question:

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

UPDATE (February 28, 2018): Gallup, the polling organization, has released information about its recent polling on the issue compared a similar poll taken 20 years ago. Here is what Gallup reports: “A November 3, 2017, article titled ‘Concerns about Sexual Harassment Higher Than in 1998’ states that 69% in the US say sexual harassment is a significant problem, up from 50% in 1998. Four in 10 women [42% of U.S. women, along with 11% of men] say they’ve been a victim of sexual harassment, and a majority of all adults now say that people are not sensitive enough to the issue. Currently, 63% of women and 54% of men say people are not sensitive enough to the problem of workplace harassment. Although there is a difference between women’s and men’s opinions, both numbers are up by more than 20 points since 1998.”

6 Responses to “#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune”

  1. I like everything about your post except where you refer to transgender people as “transgenders” and non-binary folks as “non-binaries.” This isn’t okay. Please issue an edit. Thank you.

    • Abigail, thank you for taking the time to comment. However, it is not enough to simply complain. You should also suggest a better way. Simply nitpicking language is a great way to shutdown important conversations. So, if women is the plural of woman, men the plural of man, females the plural of female, males the plural of male, what are the appropriate, according to you, plural and singular forms for those who are transgender or non-binary? Until I learn of a solution I like better, I’ve edited the post to remove the words that you objected to.

      • This is a really easy thing to figure out, and asking people who raise concerns about language to do the additional labor of educating you on this issue is not a reasonable request. But since you want suggestions about a better way:

        Transgender and non-binary are adjectives, not nouns, so comparing it to the way other nouns are pluralized is not the analysis you should be following.

        My favorite resource, because I like the way it’s written is The Radical Copyeditor (who isn’t really that radical after all):


        But there’s also GLAAD, who compiles AP, NY Times and Reuters styles (https://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender), and here’s the NY Times article on pronoun usage which also uses transgender correctly without further discussion:

        Simply put, it’s not Abigail’s idiosyncrasy, so referring to “according to you” is unnecessarily combative. Nor should you decide it based on which “solution you like better,” since as the Radical Copyeditor points out, “Trans people must be understood as the authorities on ourselves and the language used to describe us,” and the community has developed conventions which even the major news outlets have respected enough to incorporate.

      • Paula, thank you for the useful links. However, I could have done without the condescending attitude you exhibited. Rather than treating me like the ignorant ally I clearly am, you chose to treat me like the enemy. This is an example of a big problem we have in our culture. Another problem is going out of one’s way to find offense when none was intended.

        Now, I’d like to address some of the specific points you made.

        You stated, “This is a really easy thing to figure out…” Well, obviously it’s not. One of the complicating factors is that there is not unanimity in the LBGTQ+ community regarding terms and language, though you seem to be suggesting otherwise. For example, I’ve employed two transgender people (that I know of). One of those folks insists on being referred to as a woman along with female pronouns. The other person prefers gender-neutral pronouns. However, there’s not even agreement regarding gender-neutral pronouns. For example, the former employee I just mentioned prefers the word “ze” while a close, personal non-bianary friend prefers “they.” I suspect that part of the reason for the difference in preference might be generational. My point is that this is a more complicated and fluid issue than you suggest. My comment to Abigail asking for her preference was based on my knowledge that there is not unanimity of preference when it comes to language.

        You also stated, “…and asking people who raise concerns about language to do the additional labor of educating you on this issue is not a reasonable request.” I have to say that that is just nonsense. First, I use my entire blog to provide free education for my readers. I do not think it unreasonable to periodically ask my readers to educate me in return. The fact that you are suggesting a one-way relationship is greedy and selfish. Second, we should all be willing to share our knowledge with others in an effort to foster dialogue and better understanding.

        Finally, I hope that people in our society will expend less energy on looking for offense and, instead, expend more energy on building understanding and respectful relationships. I also hope that people will do a better job of recognizing the allies right in front of them.


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