Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bullies Within Charities?

The tragedy of Rehtaeh Parsons has me thinking about bullying. The sad fact is that bullying is not just done by kids, nor only on-line or at school. It is also done by adults at the workplace. What’s particularly interesting to me is that bullying happens even in workplaces where you might not expect it – for example within charitable and philanthropic organizations.

An interesting article in the latest issue of Advancing Philanthropy makes some interesting points on this theme of workplace bullying, and how it differs from the private sector to the charitable world.

  1. Bullying not only happens in the philanthropic world, but the impact can actually be more intense: bullying runs counter to the expectation / assumption that people in the sector want to “help others” so when it happens it magnifies the negative / unexpected impact.
  2. Since staff at the charity are there to help others and make a difference in the world, they may be more willing to endure or forgive the bullying, rationalizing that it is an expression of the passion the bully has for the cause and a desire to drive it to success at any cost.
  3. Many charities are small, tight-knit organizations driven by Mission and collaboration, so standing up to a bully may be seen as risking the cohesion of the team and hurting the effectiveness of the team. Charity staff in particular don’t want to hurt impact.

Finally, since bullies are most often higher up on the organization than the victim, there may be relationships with Board members or donors at stake if it’s a senior staff member who is the bully and they get “called out”. This will make charity organization staff all the less likely to complain or raise the issue.

So not only is the charitable world just as much at risk of bullies, but the impact may even be worse than in the for-profit sector. My commitment, as a Board member and as someone who supports the charitable world, is to be more attentive to this risk and make sure that staff and volunteers I work with know where I stand on the issue – and that I’ll stand with them against any bullying.

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