Last month, I wrote about the need for leaders to spend more time creating a culture of trust, openness and inclusivity in the wake of #metoo and the CASE Zero Tolerance Pledge. Advancement offices around the country are revisiting their harassment and discrimination policies and documents crafted by Human Resources and legal professionals. But this is the easy part. The true challenge – and the opportunity for greatest impact – is how advancement leaders rise to the occasion by implementing policies specific to fundraising, and by demonstrating their commitment to a safe work environment.

There is not a single right answer for every institution, region, or workforce, but the debate about policies and perception is critical. Consider the following potential guidelines; while they may not be incorporated wholesale into your institution’s policies, they serve as a foundation for thoughtful deliberation:

  • Staff members are empowered to decline an invitation from a donor. For example, a team member can decline a dinner request from a prospect whom they suspect is seeking more than a professional visit. Or they can say they’re only available to meet during business hours.
  • Safety considerations for travel (e.g. valet, car service, etc.) are respected.
  • A team member may remove themselves from a donor strategy without retribution, and will be credited for a gift that results from the strategy.

What about internal interactions; should your team agree to these standards?

  • Open conversations are encouraged but raising one’s voice is not acceptable.
  • Supervisors should not request to connect with employees on social media.
  • Contacting colleagues on personal phone or email is strictly for professional purposes, unless given permission otherwise.

The Gray Areas

No policy in the world can address the gray between “this behavior is illegal and obviously should be reported,” and “nothing is wrong here and everyone agrees.”

This is why leaders must demonstrate they take these issues seriously and have an open door. Encouraging dialogue on any topic that will improve trust, communication and strengthen culture will provide the foundation needed so employees feel safe to bring difficult topics forward. When a safe culture is not in place, leaders will not be trusted, nor asked to intervene before scenarios escalate, reduce incidences of exposure to inappropriate behavior, or limit institutional liability. This is where language can be powerful:

  • “I understand that people will have different comfort levels with various donor behaviors. I would rather you come to your supervisor or me to discuss any irregular behavior than assume you shouldn’t be concerned.”
  • “You may have an experience that isn’t illegal and doesn’t feel ‘concrete,’ but that still leaves you uncomfortable. We want to hear about those and support you in deciding how to navigate.”

Ultimately, no policy or nuance can overcome a lack of communication. Discuss your commitment to a safe culture early and often. Include it in hiring materials, discuss during new employee onboarding, and incorporate the topic into team discussions.

Navigating these issues is not easy for anyone. But when managers shy away from these difficult topics, they contribute to unhealthy cultures. Strong leaders must lean into this issue with transparency, openness and a commitment to creating a positive and productive workplace. These are the leaders who build teams who feel empowered to do their best work. And these are teams that are most impactful in service of our institutions’ missions.

KDD Philanthropy provides customized training and coaching to support teams in creating productive, respectful cultures. Contact me to learn more about Tools for Crucial Conversations, Navigating Difficult Situations and more.

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