I am an advocate of surfacing some of the difficult topics occurring in the nonprofit sector.

As a fundraiser and a woman, I believe that those of us working in the nonprofit space should work to uplift the downtrodden, advocate for those with no voice, fight for change and generally disrupt the status quo. I whole-heartedly believe we must bravely step into honest assessments of our profession.

I first wrote of my own experience with sexual harassment as a fundraiser in 2014 during the #YesAllWomen movement.

Then in June 2017 Chris Griffin, Product Development Coordinator at AFP, emailed me and four other fundraisers. “The next issue of Advancing Philanthropy is on Ethics and we’d like to do something on sexual harassment in the field… ” I jumped at the chance to surface this issue and begin a sector-wide opening of a window into a taboo topic. Chris and I shared our stories, which you can read here, beginning on page 78. Our article was published right before the Harvey Weinstein news broke and the #metoo movement had its earliest stirrings.

While working on the article with Chris, I knew I wasn’t alone. He had his shocking story, as I had mine. I had experienced sexual harassment over the years as a fundraiser – overt and covert – but only once had it been at the hands of a colleague. Every other time it had been from a donor, prospect or board member.

Here’s the thing – I already knew it happened to other women because we had spoken about it. In hushed voices behind closed office doors. Whispered in the restrooms while trying to hold it together at fundraising events. In twos or threes over glasses of wine (or something stronger) late into the night at conferences. I had reported my manager-related incident to the “higher ups” but had never once mentioned comments and touches by donors. I had never found the strength nor believed I had to right to confront the donor during or after the act.

I feared being labeled with the stereotype of “female as seductress.” Maybe I would be accused of being too friendly, too eager, too caring, too collaborative, too extroverted, too womanly (in my role in annual giving and events) and he would be powerless to help himself. He wanted/ needed/ deserved to put his hand on my knee, reach out and stroke my arm and tell me my skin was creamy and smooth, ask if I’d like to be his mistress. Men who were board members, committee members or donors.

Even though sexual harassment may not have happened to you, even though no colleague has confided in you, harassment and bullying are cancers in our profession. An insidious use of power and/or privilege over those with less and who may feel that the need for donations outstrips the need for protection from sexual harassment.

Feeling compelled to give others a voice and opportunity to share their stories, in July 2017 I posted a short survey soliciting experiences of others in the nonprofit arena. The survey asked about sexual harassment, harassment and bullying, because I believe where one flourishes, so does the other. I am publishing my findings in a separate post.

I was so pleased to hear that this month the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) teamed up with the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Harris Poll to conduct a more rigorous survey reaching every member of AFP to hear more widely about what is and has happened in the fundraising sector. The findings were recently published and you can read about it here. Thanks to Tim Sandoval for working on this story related to the survey, which notes:

  • 25% of women fundraisers have experienced sexual harassment on the job, and 7% of men.
  • 96% of the harassers are male.
  • 35% of the harassers are board members, 32% are major donors, 29% are prospective donors and 18% are managers/ supervisors.

If you find this information shocking, then you really need to dig into the article and understand that it cannot continue. If any industry should and can eradicate sexual harassment and bullying, it should be nonprofits. The nonprofit sector needs to be clear: We don’t value donor dollars more than we value a fundraiser’s personal safety or personal dignity.

I’ll be presenting on a panel at the 2018 AFP Fundraising Conference in New Orleans: Sexual Harassment and Bullying – Is the Nonprofit Sector Safe for All? If you are in town, please join the critical conversation. And please stop me and say hello!

If you aren’t at the AFP conference, please read the articles and think about how you can be part of the change in our industry.

I’m happy to hear your thoughts on this subject, privately or in the comments below.

Here are some of the incidents that were shared during my survey, which I am keeping anonymous:

  • On a business trip, the Executive Director begin rubbing up against me, talking about how much I was valued.
  • A board member stayed late after a board meeting, waited for everyone to leave and proceeded to try to bully me into a sexual relationship with him.
  • My male coworker suggested we should stay the night together on a business trip.
  • The Executive Director stopped me as I was leaving his office, stepped close behind me and told me to push back with my bottom.
  • My female coworker repeatedly made sexual comments about me in the workplace, at one point saying (in the presence of a male coworker) “Oh you have such a sexy voice, what is that like in a bedroom situation? You know he’s wondering!” She also repeatedly bullied me about dating and telling her about my personal life, and once invited me out for drinks only to (without telling me) also invite a man she thought I should date, and then leaving us alone together.
  • After bidding on an auction item (5 figures) I went to the board member to arrange payment. He placed his hand on my butt while giving me the answer and “how awesome it was that he had helped with the overall total for the night, right?”
  • It was a large membership meeting, and I was standing with an informational sign (shaped like a large paddle). A member passed and asked me if the sign was for spankings. I said no. A few minutes later a different member asked me the same question.
  • My female manager found out I am a gay man and I became subjected to relentless harassment, including daily jokes, puns, illustrations.
  • In a meeting on collecting pledges, a male staff member made a comment about wearing a short skirt to collect and pay pledges. When I indicated that this was not an appropriate course of action, the CEO made a comment that he “appreciated it when people gave their all for the organization.” Shortly after reporting this conversation to HR, the scope of my job was diminished and I was told that I was not capable of speaking to donors.
  • I had lunch with donor, quarterly, in public places. At the last one, where incident occurred, he had talked more graphically about various communities’ past sexual industries (prostitution etc). This didn’t alarm me because I worked for a women’s health care provider who dealt with sexual heath issues. In the parking lot, after writing me a check in the restaurant, he pulled me in a bear hug and didn’t let me out of it even as I tried to pull away. He said something about if we had an affair, he would be amused by that and I would be delighted, or something equally offensive. He was 80 and I was in my 40s. I called a friend on my way back to the office and recounted it. I felt all the typical sex harassment feelings: reviewing what I wore, said, did to see if I had “caused” it or misled him rather than assigning the blame to him. I reported it to my supervisor when I returned – a member of senior management. We agreed I would only write in the donor record not to meet with him alone. HR was not involved. I learned later other female employees in other departments had been touched inappropriately by him as well.


Yes! I want joy sailing through my inbox!

Open a package of smarts and joy! Every fortnight, find strategies, tips + inspiration to:

  • Accomplish anything with grit, grace + gratitude.
  • Navigate a successful career + balance your personal life.
  • Create deeper relationships between supporters + your nonprofit.
  • Understand how to work with high net-worth supporters.

I'll never send you spam, cross my heart! I hate spam too. And you can unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Pin It on Pinterest