Monday, February 19, 2018

Nonprofits, Governance, and #MeToo

MeTooThe #MeToo movement has reached several major nonprofit organizations, raising serious accountability and governance questions. For example:

  • According to NPR, the General Counsel and Chief International Officer of the American Red Cross resigned in the wake of a report from ProPublica that several years ago ARC had forced a senior official to resign amid sexual harassment and assault allegations but still provided a positive review of his performance to another nonprofit interested in hiring him. 
  • Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) announced that in 2017 it had dealt with 24 cases of alleged sexual harassment, resulting in the dismissal of 19 people, in an attempt to distinguish itself from the Oxfam and the scandal enveloping that organization (see below), according to Reuters.
  • The CEO of the Humane Society of the United States resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, after fighting the allegations for weeks and even though a majority of the organization's board voted to immediately end an investigation into his behavior, according to the N.Y. Times. Additional coverage: NPR.
  • The Times of London reported that in 2011 Oxfam International covered up the use of prostitutes by senior aid workers in Haiti. Trying to get ahead of the growing scandal, Oxfam has promised to appoint an independent commission to investigate claims of sexual exploitation, according to The Guardian
  • The Presidents Club, a prominent United Kingdom charity that raised money from the British elite to fund grants to other charitable organizations, closed after The Guardian conducted an undercover investigation that revealed alleged groping and sexual harassment at the charity's most recent men-only fundraising dinner. Additional coverage: CNN.

In a Monkey Cage column in today's Washington Post, Nives Dolsak, Sirindah (Christianna) Parr, and Aseem Prakash, all at the University of Washington at Seattle, argue the presumption of virtue for nonprofits often leads to regulators and stakeholders neglecting issues of accountability and governance. (UPDATE: For a contrary perspective, see this Nonprofit Quarterly column by Ruth McCambridge and Steve Dubb.)  At the same time, even the above examples illustrate everything from an apparently robust response to allegations of sexual harassment in the case of Doctors Without Borders to the alleged creation of an environment that encouraged such harassment in the case of the Presidents Club. What appears inescapable, however, is that nonprofits, like for-profits, have to invest in developing procedures to properly handle such complaints and deal with alleged harassers.

Lloyd Mayer

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