Advancing Philanthropy

Women’s Impact Initiative: Raising Awareness of Equity, Leadership, and Harassment in the Profession

On International Women’s Day on March 8, AFP launched a bold new campaign to tackle some of the toughest issues faced by women in our profession. Known as the Women’s Impact Initiative, or WII, the campaign is prioritizing solutions to gender inequity, sexual harassment, and implicit bias. After 18 months, WII will culminate in a Women’s Impact Summit as a stand-alone event in 2019.

WII is the first campaign under AFP’s new IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) Impact Program. Planned in 2017, the goal of IDEA is to erase the leadership gap in the fundraising profession by engaging, training, and supporting different diverse communities as they not only move into the profession but grow to sustain it. IDEA and its initiatives will work to establish a fundraising profession that is not only diverse but also inclusive and equitable.

Tycely Williams, CFRE, vice president of development for the YWCA USA in Washington, D.C., is leading the Women’s Impact Initiative as chair of a task force appointed by AFP Chair Ann Hale, CFRE. The task force is addressing the following issues:

  • Demographics: What is the makeup of women in the profession, and what do we know about them?
  • Gender Equity: How do we close the gender gap in fundraising, tackle implicit bias, and develop leadership skills to move women into leadership positions—as fundraisers and donors?
  • Barriers to Leadership: How do we understand and overcome additional obstacles women face on the road to leadership?
  • Collaborating with leaders in other sectors to help fuel and support this initiative, as well as create a more inclusive culture of philanthropy.
  • Sexual Harassment: Building on our recent partnership with The Chronicle of Philanthropy1 to disseminate a sexual harassment survey, suggest ways to spot harassment, provide advice for taking action, create best practice standards for organizations, etc.

While the Women’s Impact Initiative is addressing some very challenging and personal issues, “The goal of the initiative is meant to empower,” says Williams. “There are so many great things we can do for the profession by coming together under WII, and I encourage everyone—regardless of gender—to get involved.”

Results from the comprehensive survey about sexual harassment in the profession2 were released in the spring of 2018 and mark the first major action under WII. The study shows the extent of the issue of sexual harassment in the philanthropy world, with more than a quarter of female fundraisers reporting that they have experienced sexual harassment on the job and nearly half reporting that they had either been sexually harassed or heard about incidents secondhand. The survey was conducted independently online by The Harris Poll in February 2018. More than 1,000 people who work in nonprofit fundraising participated.

WII Workgroups

The WII task force has created several workgroups to help focus on the above issues, though many of the key goals are interwoven between the groups, which will work together collaboratively. “A common thread among all of the WII workgroups is our enthusiasm about equity, gender equality, and breaking down unconscious bias,” says Helen Choi, chair of the Support and Guidance Workgroup and co-chair of the Education Workgroup.

The Support and Guidance Workgroup will work to create a mentoring program that will help develop female fundraisers’ leadership skills and encourage career growth. The group will also establish processes to share resources that help combat gender inequity. The Education Workgroup, co-chaired by Choi and Kerry Watterson, will be focusing on building a glossary of terms for the initiative; partnering with other organizations on education programming related to gender equity; and developing a male “allyship” program.

“For me, this is a human rights issue. It’s about basic human dignity,” says Watterson, senior director of philanthropy at Year Up in New York City. “We should not be treating each other differently based on the way we look, the gender we are, or how we identify. We all deserve equal treatment and equitable access to opportunities in our lives.”

The Research Workgroup is being led by Janice Gow Pettey, Ed.D., of J.G. Pettey & Associates in San Francisco. She notes that one of the key challenges is simply understanding what kind of research is already out there and where research spearheaded by WII can make the most impact: “This is an opportunity for AFP to work with other organizations in the nonprofit field to find out what types of research they’re conducting on salary equity and workplace environment issues. There’s a lot of work already being done, but we need to work on gathering it and making it easily available to members and others.”

The Awareness Workgroup, chaired by Löki Gale Tobin, annual giving manager at the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage, Alaska, will be working on internal and external awareness guidelines; metrics that measure the success of WII; and guidelines for sponsorship and partnership.

“Sexual harassment, harassment, pay disparities, and other barriers continue to prevent gender equity, and, although there has been increased awareness of the barriers and challenges women in the fundraising profession face, there is still much work to do,” says Tobin. “We need to continue to elevate the conversation and increase access to the tools and resources available that address and combat gender inequity. We may never achieve true gender equity across all sectors—private, public, and social—but we can eliminate it in ours.”

The final workgroup is focused on the Women’s Impact Summit, which will be held in conjunction with AFP’s 2019 Leadership Academy in Phoenix, Arizona. The summit will serve as the culmination of the initiative and feature the results of each workgroup and a plan for continuing the efforts of WII into the future.

“Our charge is to create the vision for [the summit], plan, and host the summit,” says Rachel Hutchisson, vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud in Charleston, South Carolina. “The summit is designed for anyone that is interested to come and learn, and we encourage everyone to participate.”

The research findings, educational offerings, and partnerships developed through the work of WII will inform the creation of future resources. WII will also serve as the foundation of the IDEA Impact Program as AFP moves to focus on other diverse communities. Other communities AFP will seek to engage include African-Americans, youths, and members of the LGBTQ community.

“Through each of the IDEA workgroups, we have committed to focus on important issues and needs of members in their own workplaces,” says Birgit Burton, CFRE, chair of the IDEA Committee, which is working closely with the WII task force. “In order to accomplish this, we are providing the education and tools necessary to help them create environments where they are respected and appreciated—preparing them to become champions and leaders for diversity so that they may help others better understand the importance of having a diverse workforce. While we have more work ahead of us, the IDEA Committee, through programs like WII, continues to embrace the challenge of making the profession more equitable and inclusive while growing and sustaining our membership.”

The challenges addressed by WII will, of course, not be overcome in 18 months. Rather, the goal of the initiative is to increase awareness and create a foundation of data, research, programs, and partnerships that will become part of AFP’s overall regular operations well into the future after WII.

“WII is going to be in the DNA of AFP,” says Darius Maze, resource development and communications manager for The Bloom Group in Vancouver and a member of the Awareness Workgroup. “Diversity, inclusion, equity, access—it’s how we operate, practice fundraising, and support our members now.”

Here’s How You Can Get Involved

Visit the website at, or contact Heba Mahmoud, director of chapter engagement for AFP, at 703-519-8486 or by email at Share examples of what organizations are doing to excel at improving gender equity through our call to action.

The Women’s Impact Initiative is also looking for ambassadors, volunteers to help with specific projects within some of the WII workgroups:

  • You are encouraged to use the online discussion groups we have set up for WII. It’s an opportunity to ask questions or share your thoughts and perspectives.
  • The mentoring program will launch in August with an official “Call for Applications.”
  • The summit will be held in conjunction with the Leadership Academy in 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona.
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