The #MeToo Movement, which is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault, has spread across nearly every major industry like wildfire. People might assume that this problem would be rare at organizations that are dedicated to social good, but nonprofits are not immune to the impact of this powerful campaign. There have been several high profile cases in the news lately – CEO Wayne Pacell of the Humane Society of the United States and executives Gerald Anderson and David Meltzer of the Red Cross – resulting in several large donors withdrawing their support.
What are the consequences for my organization?
- The employer has liability if it knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to act.
- There is a financial cost associated with an investigation.
- The reputation of the organization may be damaged. This can result in bad publicity, lost donations and grants, and increased difficulty in hiring women. Currently, 3 out of 4 Americans employed by nonprofits are women.
- Every nonprofit leader should be aware that volunteers, including board members, have the right to sue a nonprofit if they have experienced harassment while working with the organization.
What should my organization do to address this topic in a meaningful way?
- Start by understanding what constitutes “harassment”. Workplace harassment covers more than sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” State laws may broaden that definition. Therefore, it is very important to check your own state’s law before drafting policies or deciding how to approach sexual harassment awareness education programs for your nonprofit.
- Focus on strengthening a culture of community where people want to support, uplift and empower each other for the betterment of the organization. Stressing a culture of both respect and accountability is one of the best preventative measures.
- Set clear policies, expectations, and consequences. The nonprofit’s policy should hold all individual workers and volunteers accountable.
- Implement regular, mandatory training sessions for all levels. Do not forget to include volunteers and board members in the training opportunities.
- Create harassment reporting processes for staff, volunteers, and board members, and decide how you will handle reports of harassment.
- Take a strong “zero tolerance” stance. To fully embrace “zero tolerance” and protect the nonprofit from legal liability, remember that no one gets a pass: Not donors, not vendors, not the CEO, and not the board chair.
Whatever your personal views on the matter are, this movement is not going away. It is something that can cost an individual their livelihood and cause an organization to lose its hard-earned reputation and supporters. Victims are empowered like never before to speak up.
“Beth Ann Locke, a fundraiser at Simon Fraser University who’s written about sexual abuse at nonprofits, says, ‘It’s critical that organizations take seriously reports of misconduct and send a message to their employees: We don’t value donor dollars more than we value your personal safety or personal dignity.'” 1
If you have questions about how this movement impacts your organization, please contact Nancy Kirchner.