Sexual harassment happens at nonprofits too


Phone:  412-496-9542

Awareness of sexual harassment may be at an all-time high these days, but I still encounter people in the nonprofit sector who don’t think these issues apply to them, or who think that they have everything under control at their organization.  When I ask about coming in to do a sexual harassment training or suggest that we begin drafting a policy or response plan, I often hear the following objections :

“We don’t even have any employees.”

OK, but do you have volunteers?  Courts have granted volunteers standing to sue for sexual harassment, even though they receive no payment for their efforts.  Some may be surprised to learn that some lawsuits have been based on sexual harassment of board members.

“No one here would do anything like that.”

If we’ve learned anything as a society through the many revelations of the #MeToo era, it’s that these things can happen anywhere.

“We had a training a few years ago, so we’re all set.”

You have most likely experienced some staff turnover since then.  Even if you haven’t, it’s important to keep these issues top of mind, so a refresher is always valuable.

“We have a policy about that somewhere.”

The world’s best policy is useless if you don’t implement it and regularly revisit it.

“Oh, if that ever happened here, the person would just report it and we would deal with it internally.”

Would they report it?  Are you sure?  Many people do not report sexual harassment, whether out of shame, fear of retaliation, or many other reasons.

If they do decide to report the behavior, have you designated someone to receive those reports?  What if that designated person is the one doing the harassing?  Is there another way to report things?

You want to deal with it internally to keep it quiet, I’d imagine.  These things do not remain quiet forever, as we have all seen.  Covering up misconduct often creates even greater problems for your organization.  Also, some situations may involve mandatory reporting requirements.

“We have insurance for that.”

Really?  That’s it?  This is a terrible plan.   You can do better.

“If we write down a policy, it can be held against us later.”

Maybe, maybe not, but you can also use it to discourage the conduct and to dismiss people for violation of that policy.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

I’ll see your cliche and raise you one more: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

“People make too much out of that kind of stuff nowadays.”

When your organization is in the news or getting sued (or both), you’ll wish you made a little bit more out of it yourself.

“We can’t afford a sexual harassment training or policy.”

You can’t afford not to do them.  A few hundred dollars spent on a training or policy is a lot less than the cost of a lawsuit.

If you would like to implement a sexual harassment training, policy, or response plan at your organization, contact me at

Please note:  This blog is intended as general educational information only, and should not be considered legal advice or a substitute for consulting a lawyer.