#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.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.