#MeToo: Coming to a Nonprofit Near You
Most of the readers of our blog not only work in the nonprofit sector, but are also personal supporters of various charitable missions. Speaking for myself (Otis), I consider myself to be an “animal rights advocate” and make monthly donations to a variety of animal welfare organizations.
Among these are a farm sanctuary, the ASPCA and the Humane Society. Katrina introduced a note of dissonance last Thanksgiving, as I support an organization that saves turkeys, while at the same time preparing a turkey for our holiday meal.
Because I am tuned in to these organizations, I was surprised to learn last year that Wayne Parcelle was ousted from his job as the head of the Humane Society, bowing to pressure from his board of directors and major donors. The reason for his departure was the allegation that he was guilty of sexual misconduct regarding employees, including an intern.
#MeToo movement, welcome to the nonprofit world.
To me, this news came as a shock. For some reason, the idea that people who work for organizations that do good—like the ones that I support—would do bad came out of nowhere.
It shouldn’t have. As a 2017 article in Inside Philanthropy points out, sexual harassment is common in the fundraising world and often goes unpunished.
Soon after the news about Parcelle dropped, it was learned that Gerald Anderson, a senior executive at the American Red Cross who led the organization’s response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, had been forced to resign amid accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault of subordinates, including rape.
Anderson was subsequently hired in 2013 as the senior director for humanitarian response with Save the Children. Particularly damning was the revelation that the American Red Cross furnished Anderson with glowing references upon his departure. The then general counsel at Red Cross, David Meltzer, praised Anderson for his “leadership” and “dedication.”
In the aftermath of the coverage of this episode, Anderson is no longer employed by Save the Children, and Meltzer is no longer with the American Red Cross.
Red Cross said it has since apologized for recommending Anderson to Save the Children. But the interaction between the nonprofits raises the question of what responsibility organizations have to disclose accusations of sexual misconduct, confirmed or otherwise.
And this is a case study in what most of us who work for and with nonprofits already know: nonprofit organizations often are lax with regards to training employees and volunteers in how to respond to and report sexual harassment and misconduct.
Why is this the case? The federal government provides corporate entities with clear guidelines for recognizing and dealing with sexual misconduct in the workplace.
My own experience in the for-profit world may provide a clue. Whenever the for-profits I worked for had to cut costs via a “reduction in force” (read: layoffs), the first department with a bunch of empty desks was human resources. The line at the water cooler in sales was still long, but HR was pretty much crickets.
Nonprofits are in a perpetual state of cost-cutting in order to keep their overhead expenses low. Overhead, the amount of money spent on management, fundraising, and administration, is a benchmark by which the efficiency of a nonprofit is scored (taken by itself, this is an outdated measure, which results in the loss of opportunity in many cases).
So, for the same reason that for-profits cut HR at the first sign of trouble, nonprofits often understaff this department. It’s not just the little guys who are affected—the Humane Society and the American Red Cross apparently fell prey to this mindset as well. The result is a lack of training for and policing of proper sexual conduct.
How widespread is the problem? Expect to read more stories like that of Parcelle and Anderson. According to a survey conducted by Inside Philanthropy in 2017, the majority of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment personally. And these were not isolated incidents, 43 percent reported being sexually harassed multiple times. The majority of the female respondents who reported not personally experiencing sexual harassment said they know a colleague who had.
Nonprofit Demographics Play a Role
Around 75 percent of the U.S. nonprofit workforce are women, compared with just less than half of the workforce in general. Women make up 72 percent of nonprofit CEOs and hold nearly half of nonprofit board seats. One might think that with this concentration of females in the nonprofit workforce, sexual harassment would be less pervasive than in the for-profit corporate world.
However, it turns out that the perpetrators of sexual harassment in the nonprofit world aren’t just senior executives or managers. Donors can wield tremendous power over nonprofit management, and the biggest donors are white men. Specifically, they are often older white men. This leads to situations where women in nonprofit management experience sexual harassment not only from colleagues but from the organization’s financial supporters.
For example, Paul Shapiro, a well-known advocate at the Humane Society until his departure a year ago, told a female employee to "take one for the team" by having sex with a donor.
And when sexual harassment does occur, it is often ignored or actively suppressed. Inside Philanthropy reported the case of a 29-year-old female fundraiser for services to developing countries who presented an award to a supporter at a banquet. The recipient, a 64-year old male donor, came onto the stage, grabbed the woman and kissed her on the mouth in front of the audience. The audience laughed, and no action was taken concerning the offender.
We need give no further examples, although there are scores. If the readers of this blog are representative of nonprofit employees and executives, you likely have personal experiences.
What to Do?
There’s a lot that even a modest-sized nonprofit can do at minimal cost. The Society for Human Resource Management offers free toolkits with a wealth of resources, including policies, forms and training guidelines. They are also a source for training programs.
Clearly defining the organization’s policy and investing in training all employees in those policies and procedures is a must. And, there must be a clear point of contact to report incidents. And a secondary, and tertiary point of contact if the victim feels that their situation was not addressed appropriately, or worse, was actively suppressed.
Policing nonprofits against sexual harassment is important to the overall health of the organization. To put it in language that a board member can relate to, healthy organizations raise more money for their missions. The investment made will have a tangible return. Plus, it’s long overdue.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.