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Why The Nonprofit Sector Needs to Talk About Sexual Harassment

national day of conversation

On November 26, 2020, the second annual National Day of Conversation (NDOC) took place in Canada. This virtual day of conversation was founded in 2019 by me and my co-founder Wanda Deschamps to raise awareness about sexual harassment of fundraisers in the charitable sector. 

In 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Chronicle of Philanthropy did a survey and found that:

  • One in four (25%) of women have experienced sexual harassment in their work 
  • 7% of men also reported being sexually harassed on the job.
  • In 65% of the cases reported in the survey, the perpetrator of the harassment was a donor
  • In nearly all cases (96%), the perpetrator was a male.

I Am the One-in-Four.

For years I was sexually harassed by a wealthy and very powerful donor. It started simply enough, with the odd comment at meetings about my physical appearance. This was nothing new to me, and I assumed it would eventually dissipate.  

Over the next five years, this sexual harassment grew to include emails full of sexual innuendos, and eventually a proposition for me to sleep with him on a road trip. The power dynamic that existed between me and this donor was not unique – I was a young, ambitious, and passionate fundraiser; he was a powerful, wealthy, and well-connected philanthropist ready to take advantage of me. A recipe for disaster.

Heather Hill, CFRE and the team at Rogare refer to this imbalanced power dynamic as donor dominance:

“a serious form of undue or inappropriate influence that a donor or group of donors exerts over a nonprofit organization or its staff.”

I never reported out of fear of reprisal from the donor, and fear of being accused of “asking for it,” and most importantly, I didn’t want to do damage to the cause I loved. It wasn’t until the #MeToo Movement of 2018 that I finally felt safe to come forward and tell my story.

But my story is not at all unusual. My story is the story of many individuals in our profession, and we can no longer ignore them.  

Where to Start?

Combating the pervasive and insidious nature of sexual harassment in our sector is daunting. When I first began to speak on this subject I wasn’t sure what was next, or how I could affect change. And that is where the idea of the NDOC came from.   

NDOC was founded on the idea that an on-going conversation around these issues are required to shine a light on them. As the famous saying goes, “often the best disinfectant is sunshine.” 

As small-to-medium sized shops, it is sometimes hard to provide the resources necessary to support your front-line fundraisers. I know, I have worked at many small-to-medium size shops my entire career. 

Perhaps you are asking yourself where do I start? How can I help? And where do I go to find resources on how to prevent and respond to this issue?

Join the Conversation

While NDOC is primarily focused on the Canadian landscape, the resources and conversations available on our website are universal. This year’s event was hosted by the team at Fundraising Everywhere and a catalogue of sessions remain available for viewing at this link.

What you will find there are videos on a wide variety of topics including, what it is like to report sexual harassment, how to create a safe workplace culture, by-stander intervention, and restorative justice. There are interviews with sector leaders and fundraisers, activists, and journalists, all working to end harassment in the charitable sector.  

These videos are available for your use in team meetings, with your board of directors, and with volunteers. They are there to help you engage your teams in meaningful dialogue around this issue and help you build the kind of culture where reporting inappropriate behaviour is not just mandated, but welcomed and supported.  

Sara Forte, a lawyer and member of the NDOC Leader’s Circle wrote an op-ed in 2019 titled “Having a system in place to handle sexual-harassment complaints is better for business.” In this piece she explains to the reader that the more times staff report harassment the better. And why? Because research tells us it is happening and if you’re not hearing about it that means your staff do not trust your organization to deal with it effectively.  

I’ll be bringing updates and information to the Bloomerang community in 2021, so please check out our site, and join the conversation. 

Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE

Liz LeClair is proud to call herself a fundraiser and a feminist. She brings more than 15 years of experience to her role as the Director of Major Gifts at the QE2 Foundation in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Born in Toronto, she has lived and worked on both coasts, working with a variety of non-profits, in a variety of sectors. Liz is a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals; sits on the board of Certified Fundraising Executive International, volunteers on numerous national boards and committees, and is the current Chair of the AFP Women’s Impact Initiative, an initiative started in response to the #MeToo Movement in the non-profit sector. In January 2019, Liz published an op-ed with CBC on issue of sexual harassment in the non-profit sector followed by numerous industry articles on this issue. She is also a founder of the National Day of Conversation, a one-day digital dialogue on the issue of sexualized violence in the charitable sector. Liz is committed to speaking up about the challenges facing women and marginalized individuals in all sectors.

Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE
Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE
Liz LeClair, M.A., CFRE

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