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Shedding Light on Sexual Harassment in the Fundraising Profession

I’ve been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) for nearly 30 years and I’ve never been more proud of their work than I am right now. Heads up — this post is about sexual harassment which may be a difficult subject for some readers.

AFP is tackling women’s issues in the fundraising profession head on.

The Women’s Impact Initiative is an 18-month effort to assess, address, and highlight the specific issues and challenges that women in the fundraising profession face.

I’ve been in this profession since 1989 and it gets more than a little depressing to see the pay gap continue, the crème de la crème leadership positions and salaries go to men, and routine harassment in the workplace go on and on…ad nauseam. That this continues in a profession that seeks primarily to put positive values into action is particularly galling.

The first big move of AFP’s women’s initiative is the release of the 2018 Sexual Harassment Survey, in collaboration with the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The results of this survey are shocking, but not surprising. 

Forty-eight percent of the survey respondents have been sexually harassed, witnessed harassment, and/or been told about a harassment experience. In 65 percent of the cases reported in the survey, the perpetrator of the harassment was a donor, and in nearly all cases, the perpetrator was a male.

I was a major gifts officer for years. And, as a consultant doing feasibility studies and working with fundraising committees, I still spent a lot of time meeting one-on-one with donors.

Nearly all of my experiences with donors have been positive, wonderful in fact. But in a few rare instances I have been made to feel uncomfortable and, in one instance, truly frightened for my safety.

It turns out my experience is not unusual. A full 74 percent of those respondents who said they’d experienced harassment had done so at least twice, and more half said they’d had three or more experiences of sexual harassment. We cannot allow this to go on. The first step is bringing the facts to light. The next step is, of course, to take action.

Cindy Grubenhoff of In the Know Consulting offers a set of practical steps your nonprofit can take right away to address the issue of sexual harassment of fundraisers.

Her first suggestion is to read and share the survey. Please do so! Your voice is an incredibly important part of this conversation.

We fundraisers are in a vulnerable position. When big donor money is on the table, the scales are not tipped in our favor.

It is up to each of our organizations to back us up and protect the integrity of their work by taking the high road on this issue every single time.

FYI, three additional AFP impact initiatives are following closely on the Women’s Impact Initiative’s heels: Young Professionals, African American Professionals, and LGBTQ Professionals.

Clearly, it’s time to shed some light on our profession.


  1. I agree. I had lunch with a male donor and at the end of lunch he took it upon himself to kiss me. I was extremely uncomfortable. He was a major donor who had given the university a $250,000 gift. I made sure I never was in a situation where I was alone with him again.

    • Ann Goldman says:

      Thanks for sharing, Linda. It seems that way too many of us have a story to tell. I’m glad more light is being shed on this subject.

  2. Armando Zumaya says:

    Thanks for this piece! I have been in development 33 years. And have myself been harassed twice. More importantly, I have been a supervisor of female staff that have been harassed on a regular basis. We have to stand up and put this out in the light and remove the stigma from reporting this. We need to put our development staff before revenue and big gifts. I would rather lose a large donor than have my staff treated this way. VP’s of Development need to say this out loud and back it up with guts and action.

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