Eliminating Sexual Harassment in the Nonprofit Workplace: 3 Initial Steps Nonprofit Organizations Can Proactively Take

Believe it or not, the month of March is already upon us! March signifies an important time for reflection at Giving Tree – a woman-owned firm in the female-dominated nonprofit sector – as it marks the commemoration of Women’s History Month, which honors women’s contributions to history, culture and society. The 2018 theme for National Women’s History Month is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” This theme could not be any timelier. Out of the recent firestorm of highly-publicized revelations of systemic workplace sexual harassment – across industries, in the U.S. and beyond – we have seen women-led movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp come to the forefront, not only bringing awareness to the cause, but also offering actionable solutions to address these issues.

The nonprofit industry is certainly no exception to this epidemic, as many organizations suffer from power imbalance, whether between donors and fundraisers, board members and staffers, or superiors and employees. You may have read in the news just recently that the Humane Society’s CEO resigned after an investigation into workplace misconduct, Save the Children placed a senior executive on leave due to allegations of harassment and assault of female colleagues in a previous position at the American Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders announced that it had dismissed 19 people over the past year as a result of abuse or sexual harassment incidents. This type of behavior is toxic in the nonprofit workplace, creating an unsafe environment for employees and running counter to the mission of organizations that work to improve lives, bring about positive change and generally do good in the world.

As nonprofit advocates and advisors, Giving Tree Associates believes that now is the time for nonprofit leaders to bring this admittedly challenging topic out of the shadows, to openly examine the issues, and take proactive steps to protect our employees and organizations from unsafe behavior. Accordingly, Giving Tree has decided to dedicate not only this blog post, but also a Speaker Series program on Thursday, March 22nd to a discussion based in policy-oriented steps nonprofit leaders can take to contribute to a healthy, safe, productive and equitable workplace.

So, without further ado, we urge you to consider these 3 key takeaways as you work to prevent sexual harassment within your work environment:

1 – Take it Seriously

We can’t stress this point enough. The first step in creating a safe workplace is to make it clear that your office culture is one in which employees are heard and respected when they come to you with concerns about harassment. For instance, many of us are guilty of laughing off inappropriate comments or behavior from donors or prospective donors, making light of an uncomfortable situation in hopes of pushing forward with a successful solicitation. But no contribution is worth putting employees’ wellbeing and dignity at risk, so it is important to take these situations seriously, document the behaviors, and take steps to avoid similar interactions in the future.

2 – Communicate, Often and Openly, a Zero-Tolerance Policy for Sexual Harassment

In addition to creating and circulating a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, nonprofit managers should train their teams on the policy, offer opportunities, both public and private, for discussion and questions, and regularly remind staff of the importance of these policies and a safe workplace. These practices create an environment of openness and trust, which will make it easier for employees to share incidents of abuse or discomfort.

3 – Remove Staff from Uncomfortable Situations

Even though best practice – and common sense – dictate that an employee should not continue working with an inappropriate superior or donor, nonprofits, often operating with limited human resources, sometimes neglect to proactively intervene in these situations. Your organization should make clear that it is prepared to end relationships with lay leaders, managers, and donors who are abusive, and have clear procedures in place for removing or reassigning employees from projects or working relationships that have put them in an uncomfortable position.

We will be delving in deeper on these topics and sharing additional best practices with you during our Speaker Series program next week, but we encourage you to start thinking about ways to improve your work environment today by taking issues of sexual harassment seriously, communicating openly, and creating clear, written policies and procedures to protect employees. All of us in the nonprofit world should make it a priority to build and contribute to a culture of safety and respect in our workplaces – it’s not only the right thing to do, but it will ultimately help your nonprofit more conscientiously and effectively carry out the vital work that you do day in and day out in our communities.

We hope you will RSVP and join us as we continue this discussion on March 22, led by an esteemed panel of experts on this urgent topic of “Eliminating Sexual Harassment in the Nonprofit Workplace.”

To get you started creating clear, written policies to protect employees, we have a Sample Sexual Harassment Policy as the ‘freebie’ this week that you can use in your nonprofit workplace. Please feel free to share thoughts and questions about eliminating sexual harassment in the nonprofit workplace below, and please contact us with any questions about your campaign. 


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