As a nonprofit governance consultant, networking is a significant part of my business. I had the pleasure of attending an event with numerous nonprofit leaders where we informally discussed the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. I was pleased to learn that all organizations had anti-harassment policies in place for their staff, however, I was surprised to learn only a handful extended these policies to their boards.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission defines harassment as a form of discrimination that involves any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates an individual. Imagine a scenario where inappropriate behaviour occurs by one of your board members. Do you have policies and procedures in place to safeguard your organization? Here is some information to get you headed in the right direction.
Expand Your Organization’s Anti-harassment Framework
The following are some things to consider in order to strengthen your organization’s anti-harassment framework.
Legal Liability: Not having an anti-harassment board policy puts an organization at risk. Just ask your legal counsel!
Include Anti-Harassment Statement in Core Values: Most nonprofits have a public interest mandate. Adding an anti-harassment statement to your organization’s core values will be more impactful, and will send a stronger message that harassment of any kind, by any person, at any level, will not be tolerated.
Protect your Organization’s Reputation: Nonprofits are financially challenged more and more these days, and sometimes struggle to recruit the best of the best. A bad reputation will make it even more difficult to recruit top volunteers and staff. Donations, sponsorships and memberships will also be negatively impacted.
Foster a Stronger Anti-harassment Culture
Organizations can create a stronger anti-harassment culture by doing the following:
Make it Part of Board Policy: Anti-harassment clauses can easily be added to your board’s code of conduct/ethics. Make sure it is consistent with your staff policy. A good practice is to have board members sign a declaration annually, committing to abide by the code. Consider doing the same for all your volunteers so that your organization is even more protected.
Be Accountable: Make it known at all levels of the organization that there is ZERO TOLERANCE and everyone is accountable - even board members. The board should be leading by example. If a member behaves inappropriately, don’t turn away. Act on it in accordance with policies and procedures.
Promote Training: Hold a session with the board to review anti-harassment policy and procedures. Make it part of your onboarding orientation for new members and encourage all directors to attend as a refresh.
Seek Legal Review: Have your legal counsel review your anti-harassment policies and procedures to ensure they are appropriate for your organization.
What If It Happens to Your Organization?
Make sure there is a fair and reasonable process that can be followed should a harassment complaint be received about a board member, or anyone else in your organization. Some nonprofits use a third party for intake of complaints, and legal counsel or a professional firm to conduct investigations.
Contact your Directors & Officers liability insurance provider to confirm coverage, and the process for providing notification to them should you feel there is a legitimate harassment complaint.
Many organizations ensure the board is made aware of any harassment complaints - regardless of who is involved - as there may be implications to the organization, particularly if a pattern occurs.
Putting strong anti-harassment policies and procedures in place will help to deter such unwanted behaviour and make a difficult situation much easier to manage.
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About the Author
Heather Terrence is President of Pinpoint Governance Group and is a governance specialist and Certified Association Executive (CAE) with over 20 years of experience in nonprofit organizations. Heather has worked with numerous boards and committees to develop and implement frameworks and policies in all pillars of a nonprofit. She has been a member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives since 2002.
Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.