3 in 4 Fundraisers Say They’ve Been Sexually Harassed at Work, New Report Says
A majority of fundraisers — 76 percent — say they’ve been sexually harassed at work, and 42 percent say they experienced such harassment in the two years before the survey ran. The findings come from a report released today by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and researchers at The Ohio State University. In an online survey that ran during July and August 2020, researchers asked 1,783 fundraisers about whether they’d been treated differently because of their sex or gender, received unwelcome sexual messages, faced pressure for dates, or experienced other inappropriate behaviors on the job.
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A majority of fundraisers — 76 percent — say they’ve been sexually harassed at work, and 42 percent say they experienced such harassment from July 2018 through August 2020, according to a new report released Monday by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and researchers at Ohio State University. In an online survey that ran during July and August 2020, researchers asked 1,783 fundraisers whether they’d been treated differently because of their gender, received unwelcome sexual messages, faced pressure for dates, or experienced other inappropriate behaviors on the job.
The survey found a considerably higher rate of sexual harassment among fundraisers than previous polls, including a Harris Poll conducted for AFP and the Chronicle in 2018. That survey found one in four female fundraisers and only 7 percent of male fundraisers had been sexually harassed on the job. The new survey found that in the two years before August 2020, those rates were 44 percent for female fundraisers and 30 percent for male fundraisers.
The new survey likely found a higher incidence because its questions asked professionals about concrete actions, such as unwelcome sexual teasing or invasion of personal space, that fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment, says Megan LePere-Schloop, assistant professor at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State and an author of the report.
“When you ask about specific behaviors, all of a sudden the rate goes up because some behaviors that people might dismiss as being not serious enough to constitute sexual harassment are on their radar,” she says.
Researchers also asked fundraisers about their racial and ethnic identities and sexuality. Slicing the data by respondents’ different social identities, they found that fundraisers of color and fundraisers who were lesbian, bisexual, or gay said they were sexually coerced at work at higher rates than white and heterosexual fundraisers.
Nearly 10 percent of BIPOC fundraisers said that in the last two years they’d endured behavior including pressure for sexual favors and stalking. Among white fundraisers, the rate was 6 percent. Similarly, almost 12 percent of lesbian, gay, or bisexual fundraisers said they’d been sexually coerced in the last two years compared with 6 percent of heterosexual fundraisers.
“All of these issues are about power,” says Erynn Beaton, assistant professor at the college and an author of the report. In interviews, she says, fundraisers of color told her that their race played into their experiences of sexual harassment — not just their gender. She notes that past research has found that groups with less diverse staff typically have the most problems with sexual harassment.
Leaders need to consider how their employees’ interconnected identities may put them more at risk of abuses of power, such as sexual harassment, says LePere-Schloop. They’ll have a blind spot if they don’t — and fundraisers will notice it, she says.
Among fundraisers who experienced sexual harassment in the two years before the 2020 survey, 32 percent identified their harasser as a coworker while 24 percent said they were harassed by a board member, donor, or other stakeholder. Fundraisers tended to adjust their response to harassment depending on who perpetrated the behavior. Roughly a fourth of fundraisers said they would confront a coworker who harassed them, and the same share of fundraisers said they would avoid a coworker who harassed them. The numbers changed when the harasser was not a coworker. Forty-five percent of fundraisers said they’d confront a harasser who was a board member or donor, and 35 percent said they’d avoid that person.
It makes sense that fundraisers would be more inclined to confront a stakeholder than a coworker, LePere-Schloop says. “Fundraising is framed as relationship-building,” she says. “That response is kind of in line with that, that you’re trying to reaffirm the boundaries of that relationship.”
LePere-Schloop adds that it’s notable that fundraisers often choose to simply avoid their harasser rather than report their behavior. Reporting, in fact, is infrequent. Just 15 percent reported harassment by a coworker and 27 percent reported harassment by a board member, donor, or other stakeholder, according to the report.
The report includes resources such as scenarios and questions that fundraisers and leaders can use in staff trainings. Each scenario is based on experiences of harassment that fundraisers shared with researchers in one-on-one interviews. The questions encourage training participants to imagine how they would respond if they experienced such behavior and how bystanders can support the fundraiser after the harassment has stopped, among other scenarios.
There is also a questionnaire readers can use to assess how prepared their organization is to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. The assessment asks about the diversity of leadership and whether the organization’s leaders show they’re committed to a safe workplace. “A lot of times you go to trainings and if the executive director isn’t there at the training, it doesn’t seem as if it’s very important to the organization,” Beaton says.
The authors hope nonprofits with small or one-person fundraising teams will find the resources especially useful. The scenarios and assessments can help fundraisers explain the unique challenges of their role to colleagues and demonstrate how they can be better supported, LaPere-Schloop says.
Among the other findings:
- 67 percent of fundraisers are confident their employer would respond appropriately to a complaint. Still, just 15 percent of fundraisers said they’d reported their harassment experience.
- 88 percent said their organization had a sexual-harassment policy in place, while 74 percent said their employer barred workplace bullying.
- Among respondents whose employer had a sexual-harassment policy, 61 percent said it applied to the board of directors, 57 percent said it applied to the nonprofit’s volunteers, and 34 percent said it applied to donors or clients.