Advancing Philanthropy

Beyond Fundraising: Plain Talk on Sexual Harassment of Development Officers

woman with her finger to her lips symbolizing to be quiet

As a 6-foot-2-inch man, I am the last person you’d think of as someone who has experienced sexual harassment on the job. Some folks have even told me I look “intimidating.” Anyone who knows me knows I am about intimidating as Don Knotts. (If you don’t remember Don Knotts you can look him up on the internet. He wasn’t very intimidating.)

I have been a development officer for 33 years. In that time, even I have experienced sexual harassment—three times, in fact. Once it was by a fellow female staffer, another by a female major donor, and the third by a male who was my committee chair.  

In each instance I was told by a supervisor to ignore it or “work around it.” I was outraged—to be put in that position because my institution needed their money. There was also disbelief because I was a man; that as a male I should enjoy the advances, despite being married at the time.

Even though that is my experience, the vast majority of cases involve the harassment of women by men. More than half of women working today claim to have been sexually harassed on the job, according to last year’s survey conducted by AFP and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Personally, I have to believe it’s higher in the nonprofit world since about 70% of nonprofit staff are women.

But it also has to do with the nature of our work. In many cases we are asking wealthy, powerful people to give money. Very few donors would abuse this position, but some do.

What’s the Solution?

There are several clear-cut solutions to this problem. First, we need to stop wringing our hands and talking about the problem; we need to take real action and implement solutions.

I vowed that I would never allow anyone on my team to be harassed once I was in a position to lead development staff. Holding true to that, I have always tried to create a safe place for my staff when a situation arose. I listened and believed; I offered my support and took them away from the alleged harasser; I met with the accused and explained the change in staffing when needed; and I made it very clear to all staff that I would never tolerate or excuse a donor for sexual harassment, regardless of who the donor was.

As supervisors, we have to let staff who have experienced sexual harassment know that if they come to us, we will listen to them, that they will be supported, and that they will not be forced to work with the accused.

Ethics in development goes both ways. We have written policies that govern the use of donor information, but there should also be ethics policies in place when it comes to interactions with donors that govern the behavior of all parties involved.

What’s the price of a development officer’s dignity? Historically, we seem to have come to “allow” the sexual harassment of these people, which demeans our high and honorable profession. We are not “arm twisters” or “beggars” as some might suggest. We are called to help make a better world by raising the money to do just that. We shouldn’t be evaluated by people who know nothing about our job. Fundraising shouldn’t be treated as an odious task, we shouldn’t be the brunt of jokes, and we sure as heck shouldn’t be sexually harassed while trying to do good.

There is a need for openly stated policies about sexual harassment, whether it’s presented to groups of donors, at events, or posted on websites, that we do not, as a profession, tolerate the sexual harassment of our development officers. It is critical for our loyal donors and supporters to understand our position on this issue. Doing so would make it clear that we will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind and would also help unify them in rejecting such behavior. Let’s empower them.

No more talk, let’s take action, put it in writing, and bring this issue into the light of day where it belongs.

Armando E. ZumayaArmando E. Zumaya is the vice president of development at Goodwill of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin Counties in California. He is a 33-year veteran in the world of development and nonprofits. Armando is a nationally known advocate for the power of Prospect Research in fundraising and he speaks and lectures nationally on many unique topics. He has been a guest speaker at AFP ICON, APRA PD, The Foundation Center, GIFT, SAWA, AFP chapters, APRA chapters, and more. Armando has been widely published in outlets such as Currents, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Times, Grassroots Fundraising Journal, among others. For more information visit

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01 Jun 2020 President's Perspective Blog
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