By now everyone is aware of the viral campaign dubbed #MeToo that encouraged millions of posts on Facebook and Twitter in response to the rapid unfolding of a wide range of sexual abuse accusations that flooded the media in 2017.  The “Me Too” concept was actually launched in 2006 but it gained unbelievable momentum when it exploded on the scene last year as a way for women to share their experiences. 

What has generally gone unnoticed is that #MeToo is not limited to corporate business women.

In fact, this important message is taking hold and causing responses in the nonprofit community as well.  In a study co-hosted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals using the Harris Poll platform to gather replies from 1.040 nonprofit fundraisers, some interesting facts emerged for nonprofit leaders to note:

  • One in four fundraisers has been sexually harassed on the job
  • Common behaviors cited were: inappropriate comments of a sexual nature, unwelcome advances such as unwanted touching or physical contact, requests for sexual favors and verbal abuse
  • Only 7% of the male respondents reported being harassed
  • Donors were responsible for at least one incident of harassment for 65% of the fundraisers
  • Fundraisers were harassed 39% of the time by a colleague
  • Along with their own personal experiences, 16% of fundraisers said they witnessed sexual harassment of others and another 26% had been told about sexual harassing experienced by someone else
  • Sadly, 27% of those who acknowledge being harassed admitted they had taken no action, many of them fearing that a negative career consequence would result
  • Nearly one-half were somewhat or extremely disappointed with how their organization handled their complaints; 45% said their organizations took no action; 13% said their organizations down-played their accusations
  • Overall, 82% of the fundraisers polled said they believe the #MeToo movement is having a positive effect on nonprofit workplace cultures and policies

What is there about fundraising in the nonprofit sector that could cause these results?

One reasonable explanation for the existence of sexual harassment in fundraising situations is that there may be a ‘power play’ dynamic taking place between the donor and the fundraiser.  It is important to realize that 70% of fundraisers are female and the majority of CEOs at elite organizations are male. So, in a scenario where the donor is male and the fundraiser is female, the female can find herself in a deferential or submissive role – leading to more of an opportunity for the donor to engage in harassing behavior.   When the fundraiser joins a donor at dinners, cocktail parties and at galas, the stage may be inadvertently set for harassment to occur. “Soliciting” donations while “cultivating” and “nurturing” relationships are often key words shaping the responsibilities of nonprofit professionals but they can be completely abused by misbehaving donors who think they are not bound by the rules of civility.   

There is good news though!

As the number of women leaders and wealthy women grows, the number of on the job harassments is declining.

What’s the impact of #MeToo on the nonprofit professional?

Beth Ann Locke, a fundraiser at Simon Fraser University, has written extensively about sexual abuse in the nonprofit community. She suggests that nonprofit leaders make their stand clear to their fundraisers by saying that, “We don’t value donor dollars more than we value your personal safety or dignity.”

To accomplish a cultural shift requires hard work, determination, perseverance and consistency. Deeply imbedded behavioral change will not come easily. But, that said, Linda Seabrook, who is General Counsel of Futures Without Violence (a nonprofit that works to prevent harm against women), has ideas to facilitate the evolution of a newer, more equitable and safer nonprofit environment:


Show everyone respect


Be a role model for good behavior


Hire and promote more women


Do not tolerate people causing problems; fire them


Understand which jobs are more at risk (such as fundraising) for creating harassing situations


Encourage people to report all issues – small and large


Gather critical data regarding the scope of the problems facing your team so that you truly understand what is happening within your organization


Build and enforce a code of conduct for everyone in the organization

Sincerely believing in these concepts and consistently reinforcing these basic steps can help create an attitude where kindness, thoughtfulness, and appreciation for all are supported throughout the entire nonprofit organization.