By Liz LeClair, CFRE. Chair, Women’s Impact Initiative (Association of Fundraising Professionals)
I am a fundraising practitioner with more than 15 years of experience in the charitable sector in Canada. I am also a survivor of workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault by donors. I have been a vocal advocate for safe workplace training as women in the fundraising sector are routinely placed in extremely vulnerable situations to do their jobs. Sexual harassment, bullying, and other inappropriate behaviours against front-line fundraising staff is a serious issue that must be addressed.
I first wrote about my personal experience being sexually assaulted and harassed by donors in January 2019 for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). Over the last two years I fought my former employers, and a major corporation, to hold an individual accountable for sexually harassing me over a period of four-and-a-half years. In a follow up piece in May 2021, the CBC did an extensive report on how my former employers, and the human rights system, failed.
As a vocal advocate and activist on this issue in the fundraising sector , I know first-hand that the majority of organizations are not doing an adequate job of protecting their staff. Since January 2021 I have given a series of sexual harassment presentations and workshops using the data from Dr. Beaton and Dr. LePere-Schloop’s research. In each session we polled the participants about whether they personally experienced sexual harassment, or if they witnessed sexual harassment of a colleague in the workplace. Every time we do, the poll results match the survey results done by LePere-Schloop and Beaton. Every time we ask them if they feel their employers or professional associations provide them with adequate sexual harassment training, the answer is no.
When I work with these organizations, I focus on what it takes to build a culture of safety at work and in particular, on four key factors that I believe need to be in place for employees to feel safe at work: invested and engaged leadership; strong policies and procedures; a strong and secure third-party reporting system; and finally, teams that are empowered to report and react (also known as by-stander intervention training).
The biggest barriers for most nonprofits or charities is capacity. Larger institutions (like universities or colleges) have policies and procedures in place, but smaller organizations need support to develop these templates. And while policies and procedures are a critical first step, I have found that board and leadership training around this topic is often missing. Without invested and properly trained leaders, policies and procedures cannot be properly implemented.
Another significant barrier for small organizations is the resources for independent third-party reporting tools. In the UK there are national programs like Tell Jane, but they come with a cost. In Canada, some new programs like #AfterMeToo’s We Are Rosa and Vest SIT are available, or if the organization can afford, the Grant Thornton reporting hotline can be used.
Most small organizations are not equipped or properly resourced to handle sexual harassment complaints well. Creating a psychologically safe workplace requires investment and discipline from the organization’s leadership and board, including regular training (ideally annually). It also requires by-stander intervention training for all team members. And most importantly it requires a workplace culture that is committed to open, honest, and compassionate communications.
Without continued research on this topic we will not be able to fully grasp the impact that sexual harassment of fundraisers on our sector. We know that the sector is highly feminized (80% of fundraisers identify as female). We have research on how donor-dominance negatively impacts organizations and decision-making. We know that fundraisers are highly vulnerable when working with donors, board members, and volunteers. We know that when we put a list of inappropriate behaviours in front of fundraisers, the number of people who self-identify as experiencing sexual harassment triples.
If we want to fund the resources and supports needed to make this sector safer, we need the continued work of researchers like LePere-Schloop and Beaton. I am grateful they are providing concrete numbers and data to validate the anecdotes we have heard for years. Sexual harassment of our staff is the worst kept secret in the sector. Now we have the data to prove it and some of the practices known to quell it.
By Erynn E. Beaton and Megan LePere-Schloop,Ohio State University.
We might not expect nonprofit organizations to be sites of sexual harassment – after all, they exist to do good. However, several high profile examples surfaced during the #MeToo movement, and surveys and polls suggest sexual harassment is widespread. For instance, our own research suggests that 75.8% of fundraisers have experienced sexual harassment ever in their career and 42.1% have experienced it in the past two years. Another survey suggests 55% of female humanitarian workers endure persistent sexual advances by a male colleague. The question is: What can nonprofits do to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in their midst?
To answer this question, you might run a quick Google search and spend hours reading about what the best practices are. Well, we’ve done that for you – and we compare the recommendations you would find to the research so that only validated practices are included. What we found is a set of seven overarching best practices, which we summarise below. Each of these best practices are undergirded by several specific measures that can be taken (see fullarticle).
Demonstrate a commitment to equality and inclusion
This is the most ambiguous recommendation, but it’s also the most important. It doesn’t matter what other practices an organization implements to prevent sexual harassment if the organizational culture treats harassment as acceptable. There is a strong relationship between organizational diversity and sexual harassment prevention. Thus, a diverse leadership team is needed, and that team must send a clear message (in word and deed) of zero tolerance for uninclusive behavior by stakeholders in (and around) the organization.
Follow or exceed federal and state laws
In many countries there are national and regional laws to prevent sexual harassment. Know those laws and try to exceed their expectations. For instance, did you know that in the state of California nonprofits are required to protect staff and volunteers from sexual harassment?
Write a clear anti-harassment policy
This one seems obvious, but too few nonprofits have sexual harassment policies – only about 50% of the nonprofits in the state of Ohio. There are many important pieces of information to include in an anti-harassment policy. The other thing we’ve noticed is that many policies do not cover sexual harassment by or of external stakeholders like donors and volunteers.
Educate stakeholders on sexual harassment
Again, training is an obvious best practice that has been occurring for some time. However, many nonprofits still do not provide training, especially if it is not required by law. Further, trainings that are provided may be ineffective. Good sexual harassment training is customized to the audience (type of organization and role) and requires active participation.
Encourage stakeholders to report sexual harassment
Nonprofit leaders should want stakeholders to report sexual harassment when it occurs, otherwise it cannot be addressed, and a culture of exclusion will ensue. Though a policy and training are a good starting point, they are not enough. It must be easy and feel safe to submit a sexual harassment complaint. This means thinking deeply about the process through which stakeholders are asked to report their complaints. For instance, it can be helpful to give people some choices about how their complaint will be addressed so that they have more control over a situation that might leave them feeling powerless. It is also important to designate multiple people to whom harassment can be reported (e.g., boss or HR) in case the harasser is in one of those roles. You might also consider an anonymous reporting system.
Properly investigate complaints
We hear of far too many organizations that do not take complaints seriously – either by shrugging off the incident or not investigating it thoroughly. As stakeholders share and hear these stories, they are disincentivized from reporting in the future. A thorough investigation requires that the organization develop an investigative plan and follow it by collecting information from all involved. Each investigation should have a determination that is appropriately communicated.
Take appropriate action on sexual harassment complaints
Again, many organizations do not properly follow up on their complaints and investigations. Nonprofits should be prepared to terminate their relationship with a stakeholder who broke the law and to take disciplinary action for anyone that may not have broken the law, but whose behavior was inappropriate. Allowing harassers to remain without discipline or allowing them to resign silently (and maybe even providinga reference to a future employer) should be unacceptable in the field. Remember that when appropriate action is not taken (or seen being taken) then stakeholders are less likely to report experiences in the future and it will normalize an organizational culture of exclusion.
We do not suggest that these practices are easy to comply with, but we hope it is helpful to have them in one place. Our paper makes calls for additional research that will support practitioners in living up to the altruistic expectations of the nonprofit sector by preventing sexual harassment. We know that there are many practitioners out there whose experience – with sexual harassment itself and with implementing prevention policies – would add greatly to this discussion. We also know there are many working hard to change the organizational practices and national policies surrounding sexual harassment. We have asked one such practitioner to comment. Liz LeClair has prepared a response to this research, sharing her own experiences. Liz is an experienced fundraiser in Canada and serves as the Association for Fundraising Professional’s Women’s Impact Initiative Chair. Drawing from her experiences with sexual harassment, organizational training, and national activism, Liz reinforces the case for action, including more research. We would love to hear from you too.
Click here to access the full NVSQ research article: Beaton, E.E., LePere-Schloop, M. & Smith, R. (2021). A Review of Sexual Harassment Prevention Practices: Toward a Nonprofit Research Agenda, Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Quarterly, https://doi.org/10.1177/08997640211008979.
An open letter from women of public affairs education
The #MeToo movement is descending upon the walls of the ivory tower. The day of reckoning has come for academia to end teaching staff sexual misconduct. As women educators in public administration and third sector studies, we demand to be heard.
The issue of teaching staff perpetrating sexual misconduct is prevalent within academia, and more specifically, in graduate education programmes. In the United States (U.S.), 24.2% of women and 15.6% of men report being sexually victimized as undergraduates on a college campus in just the last two months (Jouriles et al., 2020); and, one out of every ten female graduate students report being sexually harassed by a member of the teaching staff (Cantor et al., 2020). This problem is not just isolated to the U.S. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s (2017) National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian universities found relatively similar numbers with 21% of students reporting being sexually harassed in a university setting, with about 7% being victimized by teaching staff (p. 48).
Public and third sector education programmes are not immune. According to the grassroots, U.S.-based Academic Sexual Misconduct Database, public and third sector education programmes had 20 publicly documented, substantiated cases of teaching staff sexual misconduct since 2016 (Libarkin, 2020). While that’s only about 2% of all cases across all disciplines, that number is shocking given our field differentiates itself on the qualities of “publicness” (Bozeman, 1987) and our programmes are relatively smaller and newer than most.
Many associations and societies focused on promoting the practice and study of public and third sectors, for example the International City/County Manager Association and the Social Research Association, have ethical codes with explicit statements that require the highest personal and professional integrity. Yet, our education programmes are plagued by the same pass-the-harasser mentality as other disciplines. For example, in early 2020, a university investigation substantiated findings of sexual misconduct by a previous editor of a top ranked public affairs journal. As often happens (Cantalupo & Kidder, 2018), the professor filed for early retirement before sanctions were applied. They subsequently applied for multiple other positions in academia and were even initially hired at another top university. Like most cases of teaching staff sexual misconduct, that case received no press, was not publicly documented, and thus (to-date) is not listed in the Academic Sexual Misconduct Database (Libarkin, 2020). Yes, this is only one example, but there are others. Just ask your female colleagues.
Programmes designed to educate future public and third sector employees need to be even more concerned than most higher education programmes about erasing teaching staff sexual misconduct. In many countries these sectors tend to have higher than average female representation (Andrews & Ashworth, 2013), which equates to more female students studying public and third sector management. For example, in the U.S., sixty-three percent of the students in graduate public affairs programmes are female, more than almost any other educational field (NASPAA, 2019). Graduate students face a high “administrative burden” (Moynihan, et al., 2015) in that they are learners seeking access to an institution rife with cumbersome rules and practices while at the same time entering into unbalanced power dynamic relationships with advising professors (Young & Wiley, 2021). In many cases, they must bear these costs in order to achieve their goal to graduate. Given that sexual assaults often go unreported (Jouriles et al., 2020), students shouldering such administrative burden are even less likely to report sexual misconduct by teaching staff.
Further, the relative smallness and newness of public and third sector graduate education programmes may make teaching staff sexual misconduct more prolific. The newness of the fields translates to fewer big-name scholars (as compared to hard science fields). The smallness of the fields means the titans are more recognisable. These factors combined may make a student fear retaliation even more, and negatively influence the likelihood they report misconduct.
Lastly, in many countries victims have few legal protections and means of recourse. For example, in the United Kingdom more than a third of universities used nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) or threats of expulsion as a means to gag students from going public (Croxford, 2020). In the U.S., recent policy changes to Title IX weakened protections for victims, which may unequally impact victims of sexual misconduct by teaching staff (Anderson, 2020). In India, universities have Internal Complaint Committees, which have the right to try to force conciliation between the victim and their attacker prior to an investigation even occurring (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), 2013, Act §1(1)(1)). If an investigation occurs there are very few requirements on what it must include (Sakhrani, 2017). The committee must provide recommendations to the university and complainants, but the university does not have to notify the victim about what, if any, outcomes were had. Finally, if the victim was unable to prove their complaint and the committee comes up with an adverse finding against them, they can be penalised and punished (Sakhrani, 2017). Other universities across the world fail to have any real policy protections in place, leaving female students incredibly vulnerable to enduring sexual misconduct (Gray & Pin, 2017).
How do we stop a cycle of sexual misconduct in public affairs education programmes?
As a field, we have acquiesced into complicity and complacency about misconduct instead of living by our tenets of accountability and transparency. How can we forge a new path? As policy scholars, we come back to policy solutions within the framework of the socioecological model.
Individual level solutions:Build upon mentoring relationships as a protective factor. A relationship with a senior teaching staff member may help improve the chances that a student will disclose. Another strategy is to teach and practice effective bystander intervention approaches.
Programme or department level solutions:Develop department culture and policies that actively prohibit and punish sexual misconduct. Programmes can also develop meaningful check points and easy-access, anonymous disclosure methods to help identify issues. Then make sure everyone, especially the students, knows about them.
University levelsolutions: Strengthen university policies to improve reporting and sanctioning. Background check incoming teaching staff specifically for sexual misconduct. Mandate reference requests disclose sexual misconduct findings for previous teaching staff. Close loopholes that allow teaching staff facing sanctions to retire early. Commit to stronger sanction practices; terminate when called for and due process has been completed. Universities must ensure teaching staff uphold their ethical responsibilities, instead of simply letting them walk away.
Association level solutions:Take a no tolerance stance. All professional associations need a code of ethics; one that clearly states that sexual misconduct will result in both membership termination and cessation of all publication, conference, and award privileges. Accrediting associations should require schools to report findings of misconduct. Associations also need to be proactive about safeguarding graduate students by protecting them at events where they are most vulnerable.
Government policy solutions:Develop policies and procedures that break the cycle of misconduct. The European Union is currently being petitioned to create the European Office and Ombudsmen for Academic and Research Matters to “supervise, provide information to victims of harassment through the provision of resources, raise awareness of harassment and the ways it can be tackled, and provide training for institutions about good practices”. We strongly support this petition and urge other countries to do the same. Other legislation should also be considered, such as the U.S.’s State of New Jersey Statute § 18A:6-18, which creates easier avenues to terminate teaching staff for egregious moral violations. Policy should be enacted prohibiting the use of NDAs that take away the victim’s future right to name their attacker. Other policies can be put in place to provide protection for victims, mandate sanctions, and develop national databases of teaching staff reports that have substantiated findings that HR can use for background checks.
Societal level solutions:Change the culture. Sexual misconduct is rooted in all facets of academia. Most resources are dedicated towards eradicating sexual assaults committed by students. We must take responsibility for the role teaching staff play in this epidemic and collectively normalise the conversation about university sexual misconduct.
Sexism is systemically embedded in academia. Public and third sector education programmes must work together to break down the complicity and complacency that have pervaded the discipline since its inception. For too long, we relied upon an underground whisper network of individuals who work behind the scenes to protect our students (Ahmad, 2020). These women deserve credit and respect for carrying our collective burden. Now we demand real solutions. We demand institutional collective action across all levels to eliminate the dangers of these sexual predators.
 This editorial is a shortened adaptation of the full article by Drs. Sarah Young & Kimberly Wiley, which provides a much more in-depth conversation regarding an overview of the problem and the recommended solutions. Please see the forthcoming Journal of Public Affairs Education volume 27 doi:10.1080/15236803.2021.1877983 for more.
 We use the term “teaching staff” as it is the most universally generalisable. We use the term to refer to all professors, lecturers, tutors, and all others that teach within higher education.
 While the boundaries of what is “public” varies by on country, we use the term to refer to government and publicly controlled organisations.
 The nonprofit, or voluntary sector, is referred to by several terms throughout the world. For the purpose of consistency and neutrality, and aligned with the International Society for Third-Sector Research, we refer to this as the “third sector”.
 We recognise that for some universities these recommendations may involve a government-level policy change. We include the recommendation within this section as the administrative body responsible varies widely, but it applies most closely to the university-level.
 In some legal systems such as the U.S.’s, qualified privileges legally protect negative references provided in good faith.
 Finalised reports should be redacted to protect the victim and the complainant, but still readily identify the perpetrator.
We greatly appreciate the significant contributions of trailblazer Dr. Frances S. Berry in supporting and amplifying this message
Gray, M. & Pin, L. (2017). “I would like it if some of our tuition went to providing pepper spray for students”: University branding, securitization, and campus sexual assault at a Canadian university. The Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research. 6(1), p. 86-110.
Jouriles, E.N., Nguyen, J., Krauss, A., Stokes, S.L., & McDonald, R. (2020). Prevalence of sexual victimization among female and male college students: A methodological note with data. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520978198
Moynihan, D., Herd, P., & Harvey, H. (2015). Administrative burden: Learning, psychological, and compliance costs in citizen-state interactions. Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory, 25(1), 43–69. https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/muu009