#metoo and the nonprofit sector

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Hi everyone. I haven’t talked about the #metoo movement, even though it’s been on my mind. This is mainly because as I identify as a man, I should be listening and not mansplaining. Also, others have discussed this intersection of #metoo and nonprofit a lot more authoritatively, and I’m afraid to screw up in whatever I might have to say, if I had anything worth saying at all.

However, this movement is a discussion all of us need to have in the sector, and making mistakes and learning is a part of it, especially those of us who have positional authority due to our titles.

In the past few months, I’ve been reading up on others’ stories and thoughts. This blog post is a reflection on a few things our sector must do, prompted by various articles written by other professionals in the field. As such, it might not be very eloquent or comprehensive. But I hope one or more of these points might help to facilitate some discussions and actions.

We must examine power dynamics in the perpetuation of sexual harassment: The vast majority of abusers are men who have a degree of power over others. A colleague wrote me recently: “I’ve experienced first-hand the power dynamics between an ‘untouchable’ board member and the ‘lowly’ events manager, aka me. Though my trauma was minuscule compared to what others have endured, it was not at all appropriate and reinforced a dangerous narrative I assume many women have encountered: the rules do not apply to big donors, the ED, and the Board Members.” We cannot address this issue without acknowledging the power imbalance in our sector, between board and staff, between donors and fundraisers, between staff and clients, etc.

We must create an environment that is safe for our staff, volunteers, and community members: This includes having strong policies. All of us need to review our anti-harassment policies to ensure that they include gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, detail a clear process for reporting abuse, and mention protection from retaliation when people report. Here are some tips and an example if you don’t currently have a policy in place. We also need to review and train regularly. Unfortunately, many of us have these policies as a matter of legal compliance, but we don’t talk much about them besides maybe during a new-employee on-boarding process. Add it to your next team meeting agenda to review yours if you haven’t done so in a while.

Board members must understand their roles: Org cultures start at the top, with boards of directors creating values that are embedded in organizations. Sadly, though, I’ve heard many stories of board members who harass or behave in sexist or misogynistic ways toward staff, volunteers, or clients. And even worse, other board members not doing anything about it. This is a terrible betrayal of trust and a negligence of duty. Boards: Have a discussion on steps you need to take to ensure that everyone feels safe at your organization, including how to handle when it is a board member who is an abuser.  

We must be willing to lose donors, even major ones, who are abusers: There are countless stories of fundraisers, the majority of whom are women, being sexually harassed or assaulted by donors. Here and here and here are some articles discuss the horrifying situations that women fundraisers have to go through. There is advice on how to avoid getting harassed (don’t meet alone with donors you don’t know well at their home, for instance). But the burden must be on the nonprofit to protect its staff, and this must include reassuring our fundraisers that no amount of existing or potential donation is worth their safety and well-being. Bring this up at your next development, staff, and board meetings. 

We must consider the intersectionality of race, disability, transgender, and other identities: As Tarana Burke, who founded and has been championing the Me Too movement ten years ago before we had hashtags, encourages centering the movement in women of color and other marginalized identities. It defeats the purpose to not have those folks centered—I’m talking black and brown girls, queer folks. There’s no conversation in this whole thing about transgender folks and sexual violence. There’s no conversation in this about people with disabilities and sexual violence. We need to talk about Native Americans, who have the highest rate of sexual violence in this country.” The conversations we have must include these intersectional identities.

Funders must provide resources to combat sexual abuse and gender-based violence: Here’s a list of a few major funders who are funding nonprofits working to end sexual violence. Unfortunately, according to this 2008 study by the Ms. Foundation for Women, only 2% of philanthropic dollars are going to combatting gender-based violence. Foundations need to increase funding in this area, including direct work and advocacy efforts, as well as support for nonprofits and capacity builders to provide trainings around these areas. Use your power and influence to get the sector to pay more attention to this issue.

Capacity builders must provide more trainings and convenings on these areas: Many nonprofit leaders are understandably at a loss on what to do, and this often leads to inaction. This is where capacity-building organizations such as state nonprofit associations can play a role. Provide trainings and spaces for nonprofit professionals and board members to reflect and develop their skills to combat sexual harassment and gender-based violence.


We men must do our own work, including examining how we may be unintentionally harming women: Men make up a smaller percentage in the sector but on average and in aggregate get paid more and hold more power. We cannot avoid thinking and acting to counter sexual harassment and gender discrimination and still claim to fight for social justice. It is easy to think “That’s not me. I don’t harass anyone.” But I can think of a few times when I’ve said nothing in the face of a sexist joke or comment, or I made them myself. So many harmful philosophies and practices have been socialized into us that we may not even know the stuff we’re doing is contributing to a misogynistic culture, and just because we are nice men who work in nonprofit does not mean we are exempt. We must examine our implicit and explicit biases. We need confront one another and point out jokes and actions that are sexist. And we need to do our own research and read up on all these issues and not burden our women colleagues with the emotional and other labor to enlighten us. 

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