Update: Is the Nonprofit Sector Ignoring the #TimesUp Movement?

I’m surprised. You might be, too.

At the end of last month, I published the post “#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune.” The post is one of my least read articles so far this year. By comparison, several old posts that I have not promoted for a long time have attracted far more readers during the past week. Given the seriousness of workplace sexual harassment and assault, I am disappointed that my post on the subject has not received more attention.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not whining. I’m simply concerned that an important, timely issue facing the nonprofit sector is apparently of little interest to fundraising professionals and nonprofit managers.

Why do you think my previous #TimesUp post has attracted so few readers?

It could be that folks do not believe it’s really a significant issue for the nonprofit sector; after all, we do good so we must be good. Or, it could be that nonprofit professionals don’t believe they have the power to bring change to their organizations, so they don’t bother thinking about it. Or, it could be something else. What do you think?

Interestingly, the percentage of post readers who responded to my one-question anonymous survey was above average. While the broader universe of potential readers might not have been interested in the article, those who did read the piece were highly engaged.

The poll was admittedly unscientific. Nevertheless, I owe it to those who responded to share the results:

To put those numbers in some context, I’d like to share what Gallup, the polling organization, has learned recently about sexual harassment in workplaces in general. Gallup has released information about its recent polling on the issue compared with 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 US 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.”

The Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Chronicle of Philanthropy have announced a partnership to conduct a comprehensive survey about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the nonprofit sector. 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.

Meantime, what do you think we can do to create or maintain safe workplaces?

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

10 Comments to “Update: Is the Nonprofit Sector Ignoring the #TimesUp Movement?”

  1. Michael, I have been a victim of harassment in corporate and government jobs, but not in the nonprofit sector. I do believe it happens and that it is as difficult to change culture in the nonprofit sector as any other. Speaking truth to power is difficult–whether it is about sexual harassment or other workplace injustices.

    • Madeline, thank you for your comment and for bravely sharing your experience. As you’ve stated, changing culture and speaking truth to power are indeed very difficult. Just one of the positive contributions made by the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement is that it has brought people together to speak-up with a loud voice. There is power in numbers. By continuing the conversation, we just might be able to change the culture for the better. It won’t be easy. And it won’t be quick. And it won’t be complete. But, if we remain engaged, we can see positive change.

  2. Michael,
    I doubt anyone would not count this a serious issue. However, it is not a new issue and most organizations have had sexual harassment policies in place for a long time. Now, if employers do not enforce the policies that is a different issue. A separate topic might address how to reconcile the acceptance of promiscuity in popular culture with a more traditional value system in the workplace.

    • Lee, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Sadly, sexual harassment in the workplace is an old problem that remains. We need to resist the temptation to that sexual harassment will always exist in the workplace. Great improvements have been made in workplace safety over the past few decades. I believe we can continue to make progress.

      You made a provocative point when you raised the issue of cultural paradox in society. We see a highly sexualized mainstream culture, yet want a non-sexualized workplace culture. Interestingly, cultural paradox plagues other issues as well. For example, virtually every television commercial break features at least one drug advertisement. Then, we wonder why the nation has a drug abuse problem. Another example is that we embrace violence as entertainment. Then, we wonder why we have a problem with violence in our nation. I don’t know how we go about reconciling the various cultural paradoxes that exist. Nevertheless, they certainly seem to be part of the problems we face.

  3. One of the biggest challenges for fundraisers is that the harassment might come from donors and/or board members. I’ve discovered that very few organizations have effective ways to deal with this. Even those that choose to protect the employee and decide that there is no gift that is worth harassment do not seem to have any procedures in place for sharing information about harassing donors with other organizations. So a donor can move from one organization to another, harassing staff with impunity and frequently the only one who will suffer consequences is the low-level staff member who was harassed and not the perpetrator.

    • Miriam, thank you for raising an important issue related to the broader subject. While it’s easier for management to control the behavior of employees and, to some extent, even board members, there is very little that can be done to control the behavior of prospects and donors. The issue of sexual harassment really is an issue of power. Unfortunately, concerning the issue of sexual harassment, the power dynamic favors prospects and donors. The key to minimizing risk is for organizations to have appropriate policies in place and to effectively train and empower staff. Organizations must make it crystal clear that no gift is worth endangering one of its employees.

  4. I appreciate your feelings about this topic and the sector’s willingness to remain mum on the subject. I have experienced harassment in the nonprofit sector by men and women, (superiors, coworkers, clients) and I witnessed it as well. I am confident that it is a societal problem and part of all sectors, private, public, and nonprofit.

    I wrote a piece about discrimination in the nonprofit sector before starting my blog, and for as many who wrote to acknowledge the discrimination, I got emails from those that defended their organization’s actions. Sadly, there will always be those who are quick to judge others, yet deny their own actions.

    • Richard, thank you for commenting and bravely sharing your own experience to demonstrate that this is not a women-only problem. Sexual harassment is about those in power abusing that power, regardless of gender though women are the most common victims. Sexual harassment and assault are societal problems, as you’ve stated. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that society’s problems are also the nonprofit sector’s problems. However, rather than be discouraged by the enormity of the problem, we should be inspired to take action in our little corner. By doing so, we can create better workplaces within the nonprofit sector and, perhaps, serve as an example to the rest of society.

  5. Michael, I might surmise lack of reading the post to be more of general issue fatigue than any indication that this issue isn’t meaningful and very much worth our attention. Unfortunately, political issues have now inundated every aspect of life, and have become inescapable. Folks probably saw a hashtag in the title and just kept scrolling. But that is also why, as you noted, those who did read it were highly engaged…probably because that particular issue was relevant to them for whatever reason.

    • Robert, thank you for your thoughts. I tend to agree with you on this. The public has a limited attention span especially now that we are bombarded by so many issues everyday. That’s why people need to develop strong filtration skills that help them separate important issues from the merely entertaining or salacious. As a society, we need to get better at focusing on the things that are most important, particularly if change is necessary and possible.

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