Advancing Philanthropy

From the Chair / Building a Level Playing Field for Our Profession

It just so happens that the 25th anniversary of Advancing Philanthropy is also my 25th year in the fundraising profession. It has been a truly rewarding career—I can’t imagine doing anything else—but it has not been without its challenges. While this anniversary causes me to look back on those years and reflect, it also makes me think about the future, and what I would wish for a woman entering the career now.

There is no shortage of challenges that women must face personally in the fundraising and philanthropic workplaces. But what is often missing, and needed most, is the opportunity to succeed, advance, be compensated, and be rewarded on a level playing field.

By now, we probably know the numbers very well.

For example, AFP’s latest Compensation and Benefits Report, with data from 2016, shows a gender gap of $12,000 in the U.S. and $14,000 in Canada. While the gap differs in size a little every year, it’s been a consistent issue for a while.
The social impact sector workforce is 75 percent female, but just 45 percent of top positions in nonprofits are held by women. The same holds true of nonprofit boards, especially for bigger, wealthier organizations, according to research by The Washington Post.

And, most critically, there are the cases of harassment that continue to come to light across all sectors of society in countries around the world. An article by Beth Ann Locke and Chris Griffin in the last issue of Advancing Philanthropy showed that the fundraising profession has its own harassment problem. It is a must-read if you haven’t seen it already: 95 percent of respondents who noted sexual harassment are women, while 40 percent of sexual harassers are executives/C-suite or vice president-level staff.

But as we look at these topics, we have to realize that these are not just women’s issues. These are issues that are fundamental to the principles of the charitable sector, a sector that is based on equality, justice, diversity, and equity. To call them “women’s issues” is to ignore what each of us, man or woman, works to build every day: connections, understanding, empathy, generosity, and compassion. How can we so passionately work on these issues for our own organizations yet miss the problems that are right in front of us in our workplaces?

Everyone’s Issue to Address

We will never be able to adequately address these issues if we keep them relegated to the concerns of just one gender. These are not women’s or men’s issues. They are our issues, society’s issues. Our function as fundraisers and charities is to highlight important topics and educate the public about them. Equity, leadership, harassment—these issues are as important as any we will ever raise funds for in our careers. They affect every one of us, man and woman alike.

After all, there are no principles in AFP’s Code of Ethical Standards that are based on gender, nor are there any fundraising best practices that are gender-specific. What sort of advice for negotiating your salary or succeeding in the profession is appropriate for a man but not a woman?

“There’s not really any difference at all,” says Nivisha Mehta, philanthropy officer for the South Asian Heart Center at the El Camino Hospital Foundation in San Jose, California. “When you are new to the profession, take classes and workshops in fundraising. Join your local AFP chapter. Sign up for the mentorship program, and network, network, network. That’s true for men or women.”

What we need to do is create cultures and standards—as well as advice and guidance—that are not biased toward any gender or another group but are universal and uphold the principles and morals that we, our organizations, and our sector hold most dear. Women’s rights are human rights. Even more importantly, those cultures and standards need to be developed with input from everyone, because even these can create invisible biases within organizations if they are not created (and reviewed consistently) with openness and transparency.

Understanding Different Experiences

These changes need to start with understanding. We all need to start in the same space, and that’s where the difficulty arises, because our experiences are not the same, especially when it comes to gender.

“A long time ago, I remember being in a group of women standing in a female colleague’s office on a Monday morning talking about our weekends, and a male leader of the organization walked by and said, ‘Oh, look at the chatty sewing circle,’” says Martha Schumacher, CFRE, ACFRE, MInstF, president and founder of Hazen Inc. and the Hazen Institute for Leadership Training in Washington, D.C. “We were all quite taken aback, and because none of us were senior in our careers, all we could do was sit in stunned silence for a moment.”

In my own career, I’m not sure I can count the many times in my early career that a board member or donor called me “kiddo” while my male counterparts were called by their actual names!

It’s the simplest, everyday sort of changes to language that can often make the biggest difference. We all know that harassment is bad. What isn’t so understood or appreciated is that even the most basic of behaviors and perceptions contain biases.

“When a woman is stern and definitive, she is often labeled ‘aggressive’ or ‘forceful,’ while similar qualities in a man often lead to labels of ‘strong’ and ‘charismatic,’” says Tycely Williams, CFRE, vice president of development for the YWCA USA in Washington, D.C. “On the other hand, when a woman is polite and relinquishes power, she is often labeled ‘soft’ or ‘reluctant.’”
In a Columbia Business School study, different groups of students read a case study about a venture capitalist with one single difference: gender. Students respected both “Howard” and “Heidi,” but Howard was described as likeable, while Heidi was seen as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.”

Unconscious Bias

These are the sorts of attitudes and double standards that need to be done away with if we are ever to reach true gender equity.

I strongly recommend that everyone take an Implicit Association Test (IAT), which offers a way to probe your unconscious biases. By associating words and images together, these tests can demonstrate your hidden unconscious biases on different issues. The IAT is run by Project Implicit (, a nonprofit organization and international collaboration between researchers that is based at Harvard University, and there are tests related to age, race, weight, sexuality, disability, and other issues, in addition to gender.

How problematic are unconscious biases related to gender? Gender-blind studies consistently show that removing gender from decisions improves women’s chances of success, according to Lean In, a nonprofit dedicated to offering women support to help them achieve their goals. One study found that replacing a woman’s name with a man’s name on a résumé improved the odds of getting hired by 61 percent.

“All of us grow up within an environment that shapes our opinions and actions, but we can move beyond those inherited biases that have become outdated,” says David Whitehead, senior vice president and chief development officer for the AARP Foundation in Washington, D.C. “Consciously or unconsciously, we can strive to build greater awareness of our own responses to a variety of behaviors. If you strive to recognize them, you can work to improve and have a better chance of nurturing the leaders you want.”

It can be difficult to come face-to-face with the test’s interpretations and your own unconscious biases. I was quite surprised by one of the biases that I hold, but it’s how we must start. Once we understand our biases, we can begin to address them and think about why we’ve just acted in a certain way and what we need to do differently in the future.

Standards, Practices, and Culture

Even if we know our unconscious biases, how does this help ourselves and others in everyday situations in the workplace? What do we do if we see a problem in the office or are affected by a situation ourselves?

“Adopting and establishing organization-wide norms and values is paramount,” says Williams. “When team members make a collective commitment to principles and practices, you have something other than your feelings to interject, highlight, and discuss. When you witness or are a victim of harassment, it is much easier to pivot to principles in attempting to hold someone accountable and call out poor judgment.”

Those documents are one step in creating an organizational culture that encompasses these values. We talk a lot in fundraising about creating cultures of philanthropy—where everyone on staff understands and takes part in fundraising to some degree, and where donors are valued, respected, and viewed as partners. We need to extend that idea of culture and make it broader to include the values that are the foundation of philanthropy: justice, equity, diversity, and equality.

“We need to demand that organizations build a culture that welcomes and engages everyone,” says Simone Joyaux, of Joyaux Associates in Foster, Rhode Island. “We need organizations where it is encouraged to ask questions and engage in difficult conversations to help everyone’s capacity to learn and change. And it’s not as if there aren’t resources out there to help organizations do this.”

Joyaux mentions The Loudest Duck by Laura Liswood and The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam as books to start conversations about these issues. Organizations can also create task forces that facilitate the learning process and encourage feedback about challenging situations and/or staff who act inappropriately. “There’s a lot we can do, but we must decide to do it,” she adds.


At our Fall 2017 board meetings, AFP approved a series of recommendations related to equality, openness, and respect from our newly renamed Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access (IDEA) Committee, including a Statement of IDEA Principles. These include:

  • Recognizing others as different but equal.
  • Exercising respect and empathy for all.
  • Practicing trust and integrity that encourages and embraces the different and multiple voices in organizational dialogues.
  • Demonstrating genuine appreciation for different viewpoints and opinions while encouraging and facilitating dialogues among these diverse groups.
  • Practicing and encouraging transparent communication in all interactions.
  • Developing participative decision-making, problem-solving, and team capabilities.
  • Exploring potential underlying, unquestioned assumptions that interfere with inclusiveness.

These principles will be the starting points for AFP as we work to strengthen our own culture of philanthropy, equity, and justice while also providing a set of principles that we can refer to in specific situations. We’re also planning on reviewing, editing, and promoting our Member Fair Behavior Policy, which was first introduced years ago and commits AFP and its chapters to providing an environment that is free of discrimination and/or harassment.

We need to make more progress, and you’ll be hearing about some new efforts in the coming months. But I’m excited about these principles and encourage you and your organization to review AFP’s IDEA document in full and consider how to incorporate these ideas into your own culture.

I’m also proud to announce that AFP has now partnered with Lean In and will be able to provide some of that organization’s tools and resources to help chapters and members to address gender equity issues. I also encourage all members—men and women alike—to check out our Lean In Resources page (, as it contains advice, ideas, and resources for working better together in the workplace.

Act Now

These are all just first steps we can take, and we know that the challenge of achieving equity, justice, and equality will not happen overnight. But the time for waiting is over. The time of saying we’ll address this in the near future is done. There are things as individuals and organizations that we can do—in fact, we must do them.

“Learning and being more aware of your strengths and weaknesses is the first step to becoming a better leader,” says Whitehead. “Developing a plan for improvement is an important part of the process. Committing to it will help you and perhaps nurture the fundraising leaders of tomorrow—women and men alike.”

Even as we do these things—face our biases, explicitly identify our values, and create documents to uphold and live by them—we have to be prepared to act in the face of situations that challenge us. We may hear conversations or see incidents that challenge us to act and to defend and support others. We must be ready.

“If you have norms and values, hold people accountable,” says Williams. “And, if you’ve yet to experience or witness harassment, prepare yourself. Prepare yourself to advocate for yourself. Prepare yourself to advocate for others.”

That’s what we do for our cause and our constituents. It’s time to start doing it for our colleagues and co-workers as well.

Ann Hale, CFRE, Board Chair

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