Sexual Harassment Issues Ensnaring Nonprofits

This story has been updated to reflect the Humane Society of the United States’ decision to keep CEO Wayne Pacelle and his subsequent resignation.

#MeToo, #WhenIWas, and #YesAllWomen. Gender equality and allegations of sexual harassment and assault, particularly in the workplace, have flooded the national discourse in recent months. Nonprofits have often been depicted on the side of women’s advocacy, though recent reports out of the Humane Society of the U.S. and Presidents Club in the UK have showed that nonprofits are not above such behaviors.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is seeking to address such behavior in the nonprofit fundraising space through an industry survey on sexual harassment. The project is an effort to discover the prevalence of the problem. Additional measures are expected to include educational resources and initiatives aimed at combating both sexual harassment and discrepancies in leadership roles and salary within the fundraising space.

Survey questions have just been finalized and will go out to a sample of AFP members next week, according to Heba Mahmoud, director of chapter services. Results are expected back by mid to late February with results shared by the end of March or early April. Harris Poll will administer the survey and a projected participant amount is not yet known.

The survey comes on the heels of a scandal in the UK involving the Presidents Club, an organization which hosted a charity event that required hostesses to sign non-disclosure agreements. The hostesses were reportedly sexually harassed by male attendees during the event. In an earlier organizational statement penned by Ann Hale, chair, and Mike Geiger, president and CEO, the UK incident was recognized as extreme, but the two noted that the fundraising profession is not above harassment.

Geiger, speaking on Wednesday, called the Presidents Club incident “grotesque,” but noted that stories involving all different levels of organizational boards and staff have long circulated within the industry.

“You name it, I’ve probably heard about it . . . what we’re trying to do is quantify it and do something with that once we know the results we get from [the survey],” he said. Geiger hopes for the survey to be part of an ongoing initiative and that results will be tracked over time. The association head added that AFP plans to develop resources, available to member organization and non-member organizations alike, to promote female empowerment and male support based off of the data received from the survey.

The timing of the Presidents Club incident provided AFP with an opening in terms of circulating a public statement, but the association’s initiative to address gender equity, access, and diversity has been in the works for several months, according to Geiger. The association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee looked at expanding definitions in terms of equity and access in October of 2017, according to Mahmoud. One persistent area of concern within equity has been a gender wage gap that association leaders have noted over the years in AFP’s salary survey. Women’s salaries generally trail men’s by between $12,000 and $20,000, Mahmoud said. Association leaders have also noted that women occupy just 30 percent of leadership roles within the fundraising profession despite representing 70 percent of the workforce.

Geiger identified another AFP focus, severe and immediate consequences for sexual harassment, as tied to the survey. Leadership and pay inequity will likely feature separate initiatives to be rolled out later this year, though Geiger noted that leadership and pay discrepancies might have the tendency to make workplaces more susceptible to harassment. End goals for AFP’s harassment and equity initiatives will also include examples of best practices and procedures and assistance in lifting barriers to career furtherance, so as helping female fundraising professionals better negotiate on their own behalves, said Mahmoud.

Not a New Problem

Inappropriate sexual behavior with staff has felled several well-known charity executives over the years, two of the high profile cases being Millard Fuller, founder and CEO of Habitat for Humanity, and Mark Everson, CEO of the American Red Cross. During the 1980s there were several incidents at the American Red Cross where executives quietly left the organization under a cloud.

Everson was the former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and lasted roughly six months at the American Red Cross. A relationship with a chapter president led to the birth of a son. Both Everson and the chapter president were married to other people at the time. The board fired Everson in November 2007 and conducted a forensic audit to ensure money had not been spent on the relationship. The audit came back clean, according to ARC. Everson now resides in Mississippi near the now former chapter president and their son.

Fuller’s case was more complicated. He was involved in a dispute during 204 with the Habitat For Humanity board regarding the organization’s direction. There was then an accusation by a female employee of unwanted sexual advances. There had been reports several years earlier of complaints of Habitat female staff regarding Fuller. “Christianity Today” reported in 2005 that five women had complained about Fuller during the 1990s and that he was moved from headquarters in Americus, Ga., to Atlanta for a year.

While the board found “insufficient proof of inappropriate conduct,” Fuller was forced out in January 2005. He died in February 2009.

More recently, the board of the Humane Society of the United States opened an investigation into alleged inappropriate behavior of CEO Wayne Pacelle and the circumstances behind the demotion of a key executives who left the organization in January. Settlements were offered to three workers who were reportedly demoted or terminated for making complaints, according to the Washington Post. Three separate complaints of sexual harassment against Pacelle have reportedly been identified during the investigation.

The board decided there wasn’t enough evidence to terminate Pacelle but less than 24 hours later he tendered his resignation.

The one with a lingering effect on the sector was that of William Aramony, the chief executive of United Way of America (now United Way Worldwide). There were rumors of inappropriate relationship between Aramony and staff members but there were no official complaints and no board action on the issue. There was also evidence of a relationship with young women not connected to the United Way.

Then in 1995, he was convicted on 23 counts including conspiracy to defraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, transportation of fraudulently acquired property, engaging in monetary transactions in unlawful activity, filing false tax returns and aiding in the filing of false tax returns. He spent six years in prison.

During the trial, Aramony’s former secretary testified that she had had an affair with Aramony for three years. There also was testimony from other women at United Way who claimed sexual relationships with him. Aramony died in November 2001.

(NPT  Editor-in-Chief Paul Clolery contributed to this report.)