Us Too: Building Cultures of Consent and Safety in Social Justice Organizations

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Us Too: Building Cultures of Consent and Safety in Social Justice Organizations
By cori schmanke parrish, Deputy Director, North Star Fund

A few days before the site visit, we received news that the director of a new applicant organization had allegations of sexual harassment in his past. We considered how to address it in the upcoming site visit. 

We were clear that it was not our role to investigate the allegations, and as a funder, we’d never know the whole story. We also know that incidents involving harm can have long-standing effects for an organization’s culture and reputation.

We struggled to craft site visit questions that would support the organization to deal with its past and create a safe organization for women and gender nonconforming people moving forward.

Social justice organizations have not been exempt from the painful revelations of the #MeToo movement. While a number of high profile allegations and resignations of prominent nonprofit leaders have made headlines in recent years, we know there are more experiences and stories of harassment that haven’t been brought to light.  

In October, the New York City Capacity Building Collaborative (NYC CBC) hosted a gathering of 20 staff members of social justice funders at Philanthropy New York. Together, we discussed not only how funders can respond to incidents of harassment in a supportive and appropriate manner, but more importantly, how to proactively support a culture of consent in our grantee organizations. 

The group raised a number of important questions we were grappling with:

  • When an incident happens, most of us felt that it was not our role as funders to investigate directly, but to support the grantee to conduct an appropriate investigation and response. But for smaller social justice organizations that may not have adequate human resources capacity, how do we best provide support?
  • How do we support grantees to proactively take on these issues without imposing our agenda on them? Are we best placed to be a resource for our grantees on these issues? If not, who should we refer them to?
  • How do we balance holding an organizational leader accountable for causing harm, while not tearing down or harming the organization as a whole?
  • How do we encourage our own board members and institutions to champion these issues?

Many funders have already put some systems in place and were happy to share with the group. Here are some of the ideas and suggestions:

  • Clean up our own house: Institute policies and conversations in our own foundations about creating safer workplaces, so that we can share tested methods with our grantees.
  • Ask open-ended questions: One funder is asking all their grantees how they are living their values around gender justice and creating community safety.
  • Fund the work: Make long-term commitments to grantees, and resource the practitioners developing restorative or justice-oriented approaches  and grantee-led solutions.

After a series of conversations with the director, the board and members, and a key partner organization that could support them as they instituted new practices and organization-wide conversations, we ended up funding the organization that we site visited. 

We continue to check in with them occasionally as they make progress. And we want to continue to improve our ability to support them effectively.

What’s next? In our initial meeting at Philanthropy NY, funders expressed a strong desire to continue sharing resources and working collectively as a sector to support a culture of consent. We are planning to meet again in early 2020 to start to create a resource list to share with each other. Join us! Contact cori schmanke parrish at to get involved.

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