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Andrea McManus, ViTreo Group Inc
October 9th 2018

Back when I was a young fundraiser, I was invited to speak at a monthly dinner held by a men’s service club. When I got up on stage, ready to begin my carefully prepared and practiced talk, staring up at me from the podium was a 9.5 x 11” glossy photo of a naked woman that had been ripped from a men’s magazine. Some of the men began to laugh. I didn’t know what else to do, so I picked it up and placed it on a nearby chair, commented that someone left something behind and somehow got through my talk.


Today I wouldn’t tolerate that behaviour in any situation, but I’ve always wished I had the confidence back then to stand up to this group and call their behaviour what it was. Sexual harassment. The results of power and gender dynamics within organizations are still rampant everywhere. Including the nonprofit sector where many senior positions in organizations and foundations, and on boards are still male-dominated.


Women main targets of sexual misconduct

In April 2018, the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals released results of a survey…. “About one in four female fundraisers has experienced sexual harassment in their careers, according to the poll, while only 7 percent of male fundraisers have. Almost all the harassers — 96 percent — are men…. 65 percent have been harassed by a donor and 35 percent by a board member” (source: Fundraisers Poll)


#MeToo one year later

We have recently been witnesses to the spectacle of a Supreme Court nominee being accused by multiple women of sexual assault. Bill Cosby has just been sentenced to a prison term. We know the reasons that contribute to women being reluctant to report their harassment.

During a vigorous debate at a 1991 dinner party (4 couples, 4 lawyers, 2 business owners, 2 PR professionals and 1 judge) I had an exchange with the judge whose response to my allegation of harassment in a legal office was a sputtering, ‘Yeah, but you are a good looking woman’. Telling and illuminating. The ground has shifted enormously over the past year because of #MeToo. But has there been enough of an upheaval to create lasting and positive change? And has our sector altered the way it responds to workplace or donor harassment claims at the same pace, or are we lagging?


Disrupting how we do business in the nonprofit sector

I think the elephant in the room is the issue of harassment by donors and board members. Yes, the definition of harassment is the same but the nuances in the power dynamics when donors and board members are involved can be particularly challenging. How do we, in our work, combat this difficult issue?

The nonprofit world faces increasing chaos — changes in legislation, a struggling economy, decreased government funding and increased competition for donor dollars.  Any fundraiser already battling those barriers to success, and being aware of the potential for little or no action if she or he experiences an incident, faces a difficult choice. Report it — or stay silent and get the donor dollars, make your metrics and keep the job? And possibly leave the organization or the industry sooner or later.


As a young fundraiser 30+ years ago, what would I have liked to know from my employer that would have given me the complete confidence I needed in that situation?


That mission is truly more important than money. That my employer would always have my back. That everyone– employees, leadership, volunteers and donors – were given an opportunity to contribute to our important mission but that this did not come with any exceptions in the areas of respect, professionalism and dignity.

It’s time to arm your fundraisers with the knowledge that all claims and concerns will be heard and handled effectively. It’s time to conduct training for management on appropriate action after an allegation. It’s time to provide witnesses with a way to respond when they see harassment. It’s time to run through possible scenarios as a team and practice mitigating strategies. And it’s time to let your fundraisers and employees know from day one they have a voice, and they will be heard regardless of the source — their safety, dignity and well-being are your top priority.

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Andrea McManus, Chair, Board of Directors, Partner
ViTreo Group Inc

Andrea McManus is a Partner with ViTreo with over 30 years’ experience in fund development, marketing, sponsorship and nonprofit management. A highly strategic thinker and change maker, Andrea has worked with organizations that span the nonprofit sector with particular focus on building long-term and sustainable capacity. 

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