Unlocking the Code: Sexual Harassment in the Charitable Workplace

A recent on-line Harris survey by Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy and the Chronicle of Philanthropy found almost half of all fundraisers have personally experienced sexual harassment, with one quarter of all female fundraisers and 7 percent of male fundraisers reporting sexual harassment during their careers.

If that’s not bad enough, here’s the kicker: in 65 percent of all cases reported, the perpetrator of the harassment was a donor.

“The number of cases involving donors is eye-opening and points to a unique and very troubling situation within the profession,” said Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, president and CEO of AFP. “As we look at how to proceed with the data from the survey and begin developing anti-harassment education and training for fundraisers and others in the charitable sector, we will have a special focus on the all-important donor-fundraiser relationship. We know most donors have only the best interest of the cause at heart, but our message will be clear: no donation and no donor is worth taking away an individual’s respect and self-worth and turning a blind eye to harassment.”

It appears that working in the charitable sector doesn’t provide the protection we might have expected.  But are we doing enough in our own organizations to change?

Compounding this unfortunate reality, the survey shows that while many fundraisers believe their organizations will support them if harassment occurs, the data shows that once harassment is reported, too often very little was done:

  • 81 percent have at least somewhat favorable views of the organization for which they work and 94 percent are at least somewhat satisfied with their organization’s culture towards sexual harassment. 91 percent are optimistic that their organization would support them if they personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • However, according to respondents who have experienced sexual harassment and told their organization, 71 percent said no action was taken against the perpetrator after the incident was reported. 53 percent were not satisfied with how their manager, supervisor or organization responded to their allegation of sexual harassment. Even more critically, 35 percent felt a negative impact on their career through raising their harassment incident.

Are you creating an environment where action will be taken when harassment is reported?    How well do your colleagues know the protocols and processes to initiate action?  And will this action be supported in your organization?

In the charitable sector, we work to improve communities around the world, but it’s clear our fundraising profession is not immune to the problems of sexual harassment.  It’s time for this to stop.  It’s time for action. 

I applaud the leadership shown in undertaking this survey, and I welcome and encourage AFP’s leadership in providing tools, resources, education and awareness around this issue.  We must work together to stop harassment in the workplace.

In the meantime, it’s important for industry and charitable organizations to initiate our own change in culture around this issue.  At Global Philanthropic Canada, we have adopted a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for mandatory adherence by all consultants and employees. We believe everyone in industry must take the lead to champion change.

I believe a good code of ethics and professional conduct policy includes the following components:

  1. A duty to know, understand and comply. It must be the duty of all in your organization to know, understand and comply with a code.
  2. A duty to report. An effective code educates and fosters an atmosphere where open communication of ethics and compliance inquiries and issues is encouraged. Further, all personnel are trained to identify and report potential violations. Everyone should understand they are responsible for appropriately addressing — through reporting, consultation, or other means — potentially harassing, fraudulent, illegal, or unethical behaviour.   If personnel become aware of a violation, whether committed by a colleague, client, supplier, contractor, alliance, or others, it is their responsibility to report the circumstances through an appropriate reporting channel and cooperate fully with any investigation.
  3. Reflecting expectations of all. An effective code contains ethics and compliance standards covering responsibilities to the public trust, to clients and to each other. To comply with these standards, personnel should ask themselves the following questions to aid in making the right decision about a possible course of action:
  • Are my actions illegal or unethical?
  • Am I being fair and honest?
  • Would I be unwilling or embarrassed to tell my family, friends or co-workers?
  • Would my charity/firm be harmed if the action were revealed in the media?
  • Am I personally uncomfortable about the course of action?
  • Could someone’s life, health, safety or reputation be endangered by my action?
  • Could the intended action appear inappropriate to a third party?

This is an issue about integrity: that means always trying to do the right thing, the first time, every time. At every level in our organizations, personnel should be expected to be honest, trustworthy, candid and straightforward in both personal and business dealings, and should be encouraged to exceed the expectations of others — and each other — by seeking to do not only what is legal, but also what is right.

It is time we act together to put a stop to harassment in all its forms. The charitable sector deserves nothing less.