Category Archives: Crisis Management

My experience with “locker room banter”…and how I’ve learned to shut it down.

This is not intended as a political post.  This is about my experience as a woman and how I have learned to deal with — and shut down — sexual harassment.  It so happens that the media provides some ample examples recently.  I have purposely left out the names of candidates so as to avoid alienating any reader.

Every once in a while, examples of sexual harassment make the national media.  It is interesting to see people respond to them.  Sometimes the examples caught on tape or relayed in court are so shocking that they impact our collective consciousness.  These are the times when a sea change can occur.   I think news like this is a good thing.  Why?  Because when bad behavior becomes so public, sometimes it makes real change.  We can only hope.

Anita Hill, 1991
Anita Hill, 1991

There was Anita Hill. When Clarence Thomas was a candidate for the Supreme Court, a brave woman named Anita Hill came forward to testify about how Thomas had treated her in the workplace.  It was troubling to hear her relay how Thomas had treated her. It was tame by comparison to some of the recent news caught on tape, but it was equally disgusting.  Anita Hill was very brave and told her story.  She took enormous criticism.  I can’t imagine how much courage it took for her to  take action. This was before the days of sexual harassment protections or workplace training.  I remember many people condemning her. Clarence Thomas still made it to the Supreme Court, but I think men everywhere realized that their “workplace banter” could cause offense and could be considered wrong and harassing.  Some reading this post might not have been born yet, so you should read more about her story if you have a moment.

Photo credit: Daily Beast
Photo credit: Daily Beast

High profile examples of bad behavior sometimes can teach larger lessons. Let’s hope this is one of them. I’ve had my own experiences which I’ve endured over many years, but for the first time a few years ago, I took action.

 

Like many women, this is part of life in the workforce.  A high profile person came out this week saying, “If women can’t handle sexual harassment in the workplace, they should get another job… they should go teach kindergarten”.  Sadly, it even happens in elementary schools, so there really is no relief.

Mid-1980s.  In College, I was fortunate to attend a woman’s college.  There I could focus on my academics during the day and had plenty of fun outside of class.  There were male colleges near us where we had friends and went for social occasions.  I had few bad situations; however, surrounded by a rather polite group of men,  there were usually a few “big brother” like friends who immediately set the person straight.  We (my friends and I) also traveled in packs.  We didn’t leave anyone alone anywhere and made sure when we left that all were accounted for.  We looked out for each other. I was lucky, it seems there is a worse culture in some colleges now exposing women to very harassing behavior.

Late-1980s:  When I was first out of college in the late 80s, I had frequent challenges in the workplace and just living my life.  This was before the days of legal protections and there was (and is) a culture of harassment.  I remember typing and having someone’s hands slide from my shoulders to down the front of my blouse.  Not just once, many times (even after trying to lean forward, turn myself around, ask the person to stop).  I positioned a mirror on my desk so that I could see if someone could come up behind me and I would snap to attention facing anyone who arrived.  I remember being called to an office only to find no one there and all of the windows covered (I’ll spare you what happened after that).  I remember being asked to sit a particular way while taking notes in an office so that the supervisor could “get a better view of my legs”.  And so on and so on….

Photo credit: HRMpractice.com
Photo credit: HRMpractice.com

I remember speaking to my parents about it and they made suggestions about dressing differently, not being the last one in the office, and everything they could think of to help. This was the Laura Ashley fashion period where high-neck lace blouses were actually in fashion, so there wasn’t much more I could do to dress conservatively.   Some people said to me to “not take it personally” or “this is what happens working in a ‘man’s world'” or “boys will be boys” and so on.   It wasn’t what I was wearing, I now realize, it was the mindset of the person who thought he could treat me that way.

1990s Laura Ashley fashion.
1990s Laura Ashley fashion.

At that time, there were no avenues (at least that I knew about) to make it stop.  There were no workplace trainings (as is now customary) to let me know what I did not have to tolerate and to put harassers on notice.   In some cases, I did change jobs.

1990s:  When I had my first fundraising job, I stayed with a woman in New England at a charming home on the coast.  Somewhere in the middle of the night, I realized someone was in my room.  Then, the person actually leapt onto my bed (it was pitch black) and began groping me.  I grabbed whatever I could find (an alarm clock) and started hitting him with it which made him stop.  Shaking violently to the point that I could hardly zip my suitcase or hold my keys, I left in the middle of the night and left a note for the person.  I got a note later saying, “I want to apologize to my son.  He was drunk and went into the wrong bedroom.”  Funny thing about that, he didn’t live there and knew I was staying there as he had stopped by earlier during our visit.

I began to see that some men just assumed that their attentions would be received — or didn’t care what the recipient thought.

Mid-1990s:  Working for a large association in Washington, DC as a meeting planner, I traveled often.  On one trip to Colorado, the Broadmoor, I had just returned from a work reception late and heard the sound of a key.  In walked a bank president who had attended the meeting with a big grin on his face and holding a bottle of wine and two glasses.  “I got the key from the front desk,” he exclaimed.  The assumption that I would be open to such an intrusion bothered me as much as having to deal with the situation to begin with.  I had experienced countless incidents of groping, fondling, comments over the course of that job, but never this far of an extreme.  I managed to get him out of the room (I led the way) and back to the lobby where I confided in a colleague who helped me.  I changed rooms (and now I travel with a small rubber wedge which I stick under the door in addition to closing as many latches available).

As many women faced in this situation, I worried that I would actually have some negative job repercussion for not being responsive to the harassment.  At that time, as with most women, I went about my work and remained silent.  There was no ear to listen.

The Girls Choir at the National Cathedral (I am honored to have raised the gift that created the girls choir); and grateful that they protected me in a time of need.
The Girls Choir at the National Cathedral (I am honored to have raised the gift that created the girls choir); and grateful that they protected me in a time of need.

Late-1990s:  When I was six months pregnant with my second child working at the National Cathedral, I had a particularly egregious situation with a supervisor who had scheduled my performance review (conveniently late in the day after most people had left).  After shutting the door and placing himself between me and the exit, he physically approached me and pushed me down onto a sofa – and then onto the floor – and started kissing me.   I was so horrified that I couldn’t even move initially, but managed to push him onto the ground and bolt for the door.  He tried coming after me and actually grabbed a hold of a cardigan sweater I was wearing that I recall stretched so much that it never regained its shape.   In that case, I confided in one of the priests who was a friend of mine. Within hours the leader of the Cathedral, Dean Nathan Baxter, had phoned me at home and assured me the matter would be dealt with (it turns out, this wasn’t the perpetrator’s first infraction).  The (former) supervisor never returned to work.  I didn’t know such protection was possible, but I was grateful.

 I began to find my voice.  I realized I did not have to take it.

1998:  The year America firmed up its definition of power dynamic.
1998: The year America firmed up its definition of power dynamic.

1998 was the year of the Monica Lewinsky scandal when the intern in the White House had a relationship with the then President Bill Clinton.  We heard about her blue dress, her underwear, and heard things on the national news for many weeks that most had never heard discussed in workplaces, much less on national television.  What this situation really emphasized is that even if a relationship is consensual, when one person has authority over the other, it is inappropriate.  This wasn’t something discussed at the time. This power dynamic became something more workplaces discussed and it began to make its way into workplace policies.  It is inappropriate for someone in a position of authority to exert his or her control over another — even if consensual: A boss over a subordinate, a teacher over a student, a coach over a player, a president over an intern….

What this situation taught America is that even if a relationship is consensual, when one person has authority over the other, it is inappropriate.

Eventually, in the 1990s and early 2000s, sexual harassment suits started being filed and men finally started realizing that this “locker room banter” and “joking around” wasn’t something they could do without consequence.  Anita Hill’s testimony at the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings suddenly thrust workplace harassment into the spotlight.  Unfortunately, in my observation, those who most needed this training – the executive level staff – lead attorneys in law firms – the ones who thought they didn’t have to attend such things – were the ones who needed it the most and then continued to behave as they had before. My theory is that some people, particularly senior, high-level people have not ever had formal sexual harassment training – or diversity training – etc. and so they truly don’t realize how offensive they are being. It just seems “normal” to speak about a woman sexually.   You can read a post I wrote on this here.

What I learned from these trainings is that I DON’T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH IT.  And, most importantly, supervisors now had a DUTY to report such behavior or they faced consequence.

Current time.  Once it happened in front of my children, I had to act.  I took legal and professional action seeking relief from sexual harassment. I was successful.

Tailgating
Tailgating

The harassment took place over many weekends.  High above the playing field and the locker rooms of the university where I work, tailgating is its own sport.  Most people go to have fun with their families and share the collegial college spirit that accompanies games.  Most people don’t go to these events and expect to be harassed.  Unfortunately, that was my experience. It began with suggestive comments (which I always brushed off and tried to ignore), it progressed to making lewd comments in front of this person’s friends and in front of my husband (we both asked him to stop numerous times), it progressed to commenting about my outfits, my body parts, etc. (which I again asked him to stop and that neither my husband nor I appreciated it). Then, one weekend, with my children with me, the harassment resumed. This time, he actually came up behind me blocking me from moving between him and my car and he made a disgusting comment about what he would like to see me do — while my younger son sat in the back seat overhearing this. My husband and I both reached out limit.

This time, I decided to do something.

sexualharassment4

I asked the University (athletics) that this person be moved from where he parked for tailgating and they said they couldn’t do anything “without proof”.  It was a classic case of “your word against his” (even though I had my husband as a witness with dates and times of the incidents).  They said I would need to obtain a police report for them to do anything (in retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t assist right away as I probably wouldn’t have followed through with a legal solution).  So, I went to the University police who directed me to go to the nearby courthouse to obtain a peace order (which was granted). At the hearing, the individual admitted to his behavior, wanted to apologize, said “he’d been drinking” (as if this excused the behavior), and said that he was just “kidding around” (a.k.a. “locker room banter”).  It was obvious he didn’t find much wrong with what he had been doing. He agreed to the terms of the peace order.  Then, the criminal charges were served (you don’t get a peace order without a criminal justification, so simultaneous criminal charges are filed, but that is between the State and the individual).  I got calls from someone representing him imploring me to drop the issue because “he is a senior executive at a bank” and “can’t afford to have this on his record”. I told them he should have thought about that before he spent his weekends harassing me – and that the call the person was making violated the terms of the peace order (I filed another peace order in the county in which I lived so that the breech was on record).  The call emboldened me to continue, knowing that his behavior was probably not isolated to the weekends.  The whole process wasn’t easy and it was time consuming.  Upon investigating the incidents, my University workplace deemed that this was harassment and responded in a professional manner which I appreciated.

At this point in my life, I believe I have a duty to speak out when harassment occurs and make sure that I set the person straight.  If I don’t, I know there is a woman after me who will suffer as a result.

 

My husband, Lyn, and me. Lyn has taught me many things, one of which is standing up to harassment.
My husband, Lyn, and me. Lyn has taught me many things, one of which is standing up to harassment.

Thankfully, I have a respectful husband who defends me.  I’ve learned a lot from him.  He doesn’t tolerate men joking around him about women.  I’ve watched him shut down “locker room banter” many times.  He doesn’t even like hearing it in a movie or on television (he’ll change the channel).  He has empowered me to draw a firmer line in what I will tolerate and has helped me take action when I decided I had reached my limit.

Fortunately, there are laws to not only protect women from such behavior, but also show them the path forward to obtain relief (particularly if their attempts have failed).  Sometimes you have to take action in order to stop someone.  Hopefully the threat of such actions can keep other people in line (who behave as if they can speak or act any way they wish).

Harassment is common. Image courtesy of Mamathefeminist.com
Harassment is common. Image courtesy of Mamathefeminist.com

I don’t buy the “boys will be boys” comment.  I don’t buy “locker room banter”.  I’ve shared stories about these things with my sons so that they know how women feel — and so that they can shut down this type of discussion when they hear it.  It isn’t just women who are insulted by hearing sexist comments….

Insisting that it is normal to joke about sexual assault and harassment is also insulting to men.

Watching the recent news that has become public this week doesn’t surprise me at all. It just was one of millions of conversations that go on day in and day out.  However, this time it was caught on tape — and America was horrified. Hopefully, the women subjected to this will speak out and take action. The legal system, it seems, is about the only thing that gets the attention of people set in their ways. There are some good things that could come out from this week — one of them is a sea change in how men speak about and behave around women.

Thanks for reading.

Stacey

P.S. To dismiss sensitivity about sexual harassment as “political correctness” is to perpetuate behavior that is offensive and illegal.

Resources:

Stop harassing behavior (scripts and behavior suggestions).

Your rights if sexually harassed.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

Stacey brings over twenty-five years of fundraising and nonprofit management with organizations in higher education, independent schools, faith-based organizations, social services, and the arts.   She currently serves as Senior Director of Development for the University of Maryland.  Enthusiasm, innovation, and passion are hallmarks of her work resulting in over $100 million raised for annual operations, capital campaigns, comprehensive campaigns, endowments, planned gifts, and special events. Responsible for raising the largest gift in the history of the University of Maryland to establish the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.  Stacey graduated from Sweet Briar College and has completed graduate work at University of Maryland University College.

 

 

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Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen: Examining the attempted closure of Wilson College and Sweet Briar College

Fox in flames (credit: Fur Nation)

I am currently in graduate school pursuing a Masters in Business with Nonprofit Management concentration.  This semester, I am taking Organizational Theory and Nonprofit Management.  Each course required me to prepare an annotated bibliography and an individual paper.  With my instructor’s permission, I chose Sweet Briar College, my alma mater, as my focus (normally, you cannot pursue the same research subject in different courses).

My first assignment came in the Organizational Theory course.  We were to take a case study covered in an academic journal and use it as a basis for our individual paper.   This seemed daunting at first.  However, as I began my research, I found many case studies with similarities to Sweet Briar College.  The attempted closure of Wilson College has startling similarities to the attempted closure of Sweet Briar College.  The annotated bibliography provides a “deep dive” in issues facing higher education and the lessons available to learn from Wilson College.  You may find a link below.

Annotated Bibliography:  Phoenix rose emerges from the briar fire (annotated bibliography comparing Wilson College’s attempted closure to Sweet Briar College).

Research Paper:  Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen.

fox and flames

As the paper came together, the title changed and some sources fell away in favor of others.  The lessons learned from the attempted closure of Wilson College are relevant for many colleges.  The abstract follows:

Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, whose mascot is the phoenix, survived a closure attempt in the 1980s. Sweet Briar College, in Amherst, Virginia, whose mascot is a vixen (fox), faced attempted closure in 2015 and was saved by its stakeholders six months later. This paper explores case studies and articles reporting on Wilson College and Sweet Briar College.  Other articles elaborate on trends faced by the Colleges and the broader sector of higher education.  Reviewing these colleges provides valuable lessons on challenges facing higher education, particularly for private, single-sex institutions.  The case for this research is Wilson College with comparisons to Sweet Briar College. Both colleges are small women’s colleges with enrollment under 1,000.

Keywords: Sweet Briar College, Wilson College, stakeholders, shared governance, students, faculty, staff, exempt staff, non-exempt staff, alumni, alumnae, minority, president, board.

 

 

 

 

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Governance – Best & Worst Practices (with Sweet Briar College as a case study)

The President and Board of Sweet Briar College announced on March 3, 2015 its intention to close.  Since that time, the actions and culture of this Board have revealed themselves shedding troubling light into the dark shadows of the Board’s governance (or lack thereof).  It is important for all who care about their schools, colleges, universities and nonprofits to understand how their Board operates and governs.

Types of Boards — Definitions

Governing Board.  A governing board leads the organization from the top.  They are responsible for articulating the organizational mission and executing plans as well as monitoring the effectiveness of programs.  The also have the authority to recruit, hire, evaluate and terminate the President or Executive Director of an organization. Finally, they serve as a fiduciary of the fiscal health of the organization.

Who serves on a governing board is determined by the type of board it is:

Shared Governance Institutions that have a shared governance model include the voices and leadership of stakeholder groups on the Board.  A leader from each constituency group has a “seat” on the Board and participates in decision making.  In a College or University, this means that the head of the official student, faculty, staff, parent and other key groups would sit on the board.  In addition, “at large” members may be recruited from those groups or the wider community.

Self Replicating A self replicating Board replenishes itself by a nominating group within the Board.  Usually, this is a Nominating Committee.  If there is an Executive Committee, that group sometimes has a role in nominating.  Ideally, the entire board is canvassed for suggestions for new members.  Board members meet with potential candidates and their names are put forward for nominating committee review.  The up-side of this model is that the Board has a pipeline of candidates.  The down-side is that the board can become insular as people tend to reach out to people they know and who share a similar point of view.  Diversity of all types becomes threatened in this model (not to mention solid decision making)

Advisory Boards.  Advisory Boards provide industry expertise to academic programs.  In many institutions, they review curriculum to make sure that what is being taught is in line with what job requirements are after graduation for jobs hiring in the field. John McElroy, PhD, CFLE and Linda Dove, MS, ZA, Western Michigan University in an excellent paper on Advisory Boards describe them as follows, 

“..Their main function is to offer support to institution administrators and faculty….comprised of accomplished experts offering innovative advice and dynamic perspectives….can provide strategic direction, guide quality improvement, and assess program effectiveness.”

Sweet Briar College Board of Directors 

In the case of Sweet Briar College, they have a self replicating Board which does not consist of constituency group leaders officially.  The majority of the Board are alumnae.  As the Board does not share its Minutes or documents, the only glimpses we get into their operations are their own statements as well as statements by former members.  The President’s own words describe the decision-making process as a small group of people:

“The board, some key alumnae and I have worked diligently to find a solution to the challenges Sweet Briar faces….”

One member of the Board, Richard E. Leslie, who felt pressure to resign because his ideas and opinions seems to run counter to the “Executive Leadership” gives us a frightening glimpse into the current culture of the Board.  He contrasts the current operating of the Board to his past experience prior to Rice, the current board chair:

During my early years of my seven year tenure the board had vital and rigorous discussions on most issues before reaching consensus.

Fiscal restraint and enrollment increase ideas were monitored and discussed at every meeting.  Times have changed.  Now I must add my name to the list of directors departing before the end of their terms.

Most disturbing is that he states that differences of opinion were not tolerated by the Executive Leadership of the Board.

Each time I tried to argue for fiscal prudence, I was denigrated or ignored.

This is not a sign of healthy board deliberations.  Mr. Leslie was trying to raise some warning calls.  This also gives some idea as to the remaining members of the Board.  If they saw board members who disagreed or raised a contrary opinion being forced to resign and leaving before their terms – and a lack of tolerance for any opinions differing from the Executive Committee – those who chose to remain were likely silent if they held any concerns.

In the past year, Committees met less and less…. We discuss less and less and the presentation of the budget is a foregone conclusion.  Is this good governance?

No, Mr. Leslie, you are exactly right, this is NOT good governance and it is appalling to hear that this is how the current board operates.  Your comments are echoed by others who have left the board, some of whom who have stepped forward to create Saving Sweet Briar.

The most troubling of his comments is important to emphasize:

Why do we even need Committees?  Why do we even need a Board? All decisions are not even made by the Executive Committee but rather a small sub-group of the Executive Committee and passed along to the board for rubber stamp approval.  … the interim President selection was passed along to the Board and it wasn’t even felt necessary to take a vote!

My distrust for Mr. James Jones aside, the Board not having a proper vetting and vote for his appointment as President casts serious doubt as to this Board’s ability to govern.  Furthermore, it gives credence to the call for Mr. Jones to resign or be removed if he was not ever properly voted upon by the Board.

A lingering question I would have related to the changes Mr. Leslie cites are whether the by-laws were amended to change the decision making to a small group.  I cannot imagine a full Board voting to allow a small group to make decisions for them, but let transparency provide the answers in this case.  My understanding is that  there were two votes evidently to change the number of board members required for a quorum:  Once before the February vote from 24 to 23 and then again down to 20 after the announcement.

No outside directors have been appointed to the Board since you (Rice, the current Board Chair) and I (Richard Leslie) were appointed to the Board seven years ago.  All new members have been alums. This is not healthy and fosters a very insular focus that does not encourage the diversity of views necessary for any institution to thrive.

Indeed, the lack of diversity not only in type of stakeholder on the board and the lack of diversity in the alumnae appointed to the Board is cause for concern.  Combined with the fact that the full Board may not have had access to important information or deliberations by the smaller group within the Executive Committee casts doubt upon this particular Board being capable of proper governance.  I would add the lack of representation by stakeholders is also of serious concern including the voices of faculty, staff and the wider community.

There is no plan or even discussion of a plan for Presidential accountability. In my view one of the reasons for the many sad failures in admissions, retention and fiscal restraint is the absence of any performance goals for the President.

This is a shocking.  One of the important fiscal roles a Board plays is the hiring, goal-setting,  evaluation and removal of a President or Executive Director of a nonprofit.  They are the only entity that holds a President accountable.  If this is true, combined with not having a fair vote for the President’s appointment, this would be further grounds for a lack of confidence in and removal of the current President.

I was the lone vote for voting against $1M of our endowment money being spent for yet another strategic plan…. As a member of the “working group” I have repeatedly asked for and not received any information about the actual survey protocols. I have received no information about who at the College is in charge of this massive effort. … Really!!? An outside consultant supervising the work of an outside consultant she hired?

Hats off to Mr. Leslie for being willing to be a lone vote on a Board that seems to take a “rubber stamp” approach to its decision making.  He raises incredibly important points.  Whenever an outside consultant is hired, there should be strong controls put in place for deliverables.  Surveys are only as good as the questions asked and results are only as good as sound methodologies of analysis.  If the protocols were not reviewed by the very working group charged with reviewing and implementing the results, any conclusions those surveys suggest would be in question.  We know now what some of their recommendations were and there are thousands of alumnae who join Mr. Leslie in his concern.

Request for Board Transparency (and best practices)

In the interest of transparency, I would like to see the Sweet Briar Board of directors provide the following (which incidentally is normally available to constituents of non-profits, schools, colleges and universities either upon request or even more readily such as via a website):

  1. Copies of its by-laws.
  2. Copies of its Minutes.
  3. The Committees of the Board and the staff members who staffed those Committees.
  4. Committee Minutes and Reports.  I would like to see reports provided to the Committees of the Board would also like to know whether staff members were included in those Committees whose work focused on important areas such as Admissions, Development and Finances.
  5. Documentation of historic by-law amendments over the past five years if the Committee structure were changed and proof (through Minutes) of a vote taken to approve those changes.  The rationale for having to change the numbers on the board twice in a year.
  6. Documentation of the vote of the Board to approve the hiring of the President and the change from Interim to full President.
  7. An accounting for fees paid to outside consultants and a release of those reports — particularly since endowment funds were used to pay for the study.
  8. How members of the board are found, vetted and nominated and the role of staff when extending invitations (reference Teresa Pike Tomlinson being asked about serving on the Board by a staff member).
  9. How the Alumnae Board and the Board of Directors sees its role (if the by-laws are not clear on this)
  10. How other entities of Sweet Briar with their own Boards relate to the Board of Directors
  11. Are there Advisory Boards for any of the academic areas for Sweet Briar?

Resources:

Legal documents including Mr. Richard Leslie’s letter quoted herin

Association of Governing Boards:  Consequential Boards

Saving Sweet Briar

Personal Feedback & Observation

As an employee of Sweet Briar College in the 1990s, I participated in the Development Committee of the Board and was invited to attend Board Meetings.  Granted, I sat on the side of the room, but I was present for board deliberations, votes and reports from all Committees, not just Development.   While there were some deliberations that occurred in closed session, my recollection was that it was only pertaining to the evaluation of the President.   I do not recall a board member ever leaving before their term was out.  The fact that the current board has had several members leave before their terms expired is not a good sign.  Mr. Leslie gives us a clue as to why he resigned – he felt he was forced out.  We do not know about the other members, but one could reasonably guess that they had concerns.  Having to amend the by-laws for the number of members twice in a year is also troubling.

At the University of Maryland, I have been elected to sit on the University Senate.  A shared governance model is a strong model for higher education and one that I think a future Sweet Briar should employ.  By having shared governance, all key stakeholders can deliberate their unique issues and present a unified voice to a larger Board or Trustees.

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned in managing boards came when I served as Executive Director for the Foundation for Anne Arundel Community College, voted the top Community College in the country and with an enrollment of over 50,000 students.  The Board Chair, F. Carter Heim, abolished the Executive Committee of the Board as one of his first actions when he took office.  As a staff member, I liked the Executive Committee, it allowed me to write reports and handle business within a small group.  However, I quickly saw the merits of Mr. Heim’s philosophy.  Board participation in meeting attendance, committee attendance and giving increased dramatically.  Mr. Heim’s philosophy was that there should not be anything outside the purvue of the entire Board.

Finally, I would suggest that a strong network of Advisory Boards be employed in each major on campus for Sweet Briar to maintain its connection to graduate-level education progression and hiring opportunities.

Sweet Briar College offers some important lessons for nonprofits, schools, colleges and those who love those institutions.  I will continue to share those I find most pertinent.  Please comment below if there are issues you would like to see discussed.

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

 

 

 

 

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The Donor Bill of Rights – did you know you had one? — What to do when those rights are violated or threatened.

Donor Bill of Rights - all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.
Donor Bill of Rights – all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.

The Donor Bill of Rights is a document adopted by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Giving Institute, an association of consultants for nonprofits.

The Donor Bill of Rights was developed so that donors — and the staff and volunteers who work with them — are aware of their rights.

Philanthropy

PHILANTHROPY is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To assure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the not-for-profit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights:

I

To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

II
To be informed of the identity of those serving
on the organization’s governing board,
and to expect the board to exercise prudent
judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III
To have access to the organization’s
most recent financial statements.

IV
To be assured their gifts will be used for
the purposes for which they were given.

V
To receive appropriate acknowledgement
and recognition.

VI
To be assured that information about their
donations is handled with respect and with
confidentiality to the extent provided by law.

VII
To expect that all relationships with
individuals representing organizations of interest
to the donor will be professional in nature.

VIII
To be informed whether those seeking
donations are volunteers, employees of the
organization or hired solicitors.

IX
To have the opportunity for their
names to be deleted from mailing lists that
an organization may intend to share.

X
To feel free to ask questions when making
a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and
forthright answers.

I believe in these rights.  As a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, AFP, I sign a code of ethics to support them.   I operated under this code when I worked for Sweet Briar College in the 1990s, and helped raise a number of leadership gifts which make up the current endowment.  I believe that the actions of the Sweet Briar Board of Directors to close the College and attempt to utilize the endowment for purposes other than that which the donor’s intended, is unethical.   Shortly before this post, Ellen Brower, Amherst County Attorney, filed suit asserting that this breaks Virginia State Law.

So what is the issue at Sweet Briar?  It comes down to a plan on the part of the President and Board of Directors to tap into the endowment.   Why is this a problem?  Read on….

Endowment 

Webster defines endowment as:

: a large amount of money that has been given to a school, hospital, etc., and that is used to pay for its creation and continuing support

: the act of providing money to create or support a school, organization, etc.

: a person’s natural ability or talent

Endowment:  Unrestricted and Restricted Gifts

As a donor, I have left Sweet Briar College in my will as a beneficiary of funds (this is currently being revised).  I have not left any particular purpose for those funds (this is currently being revised).  When someone makes a gift to an endowment and does not have a specific purpose for the funds, that is called “unrestricted”.  Unrestricted funds, pooled together, generate income used by Colleges, Universities and nonprofits for operating costs.

Restricted gifts to endowment are made to achieve specific goals.  Endowed scholarships (usually have a minimum) are created and the interest provides scholarships for students.  Endowed funds for specific purposes generate income for those programs annually.  Endowed professorships support a portion of a professor’s income or fund research projects.

As a former employee of Sweet Briar College, I worked with many donors who made contributions to the College’s endowment.  In fact, nearly ALL of the $13 million raised from Regional Campaigns around the country was to build endowment.  The agreements people signed at the time talked about funds being used for student scholarship, program enhancement and a few other priorities.    I feel a sense of duty to those donors with whom I sat thoughtfully and provided written agreements assuring them of the endowment’s strength and legacy.

Endowment Spending

Boards of Directors – fiscal agents for an institution – have spending policies that determine the amount that can be spent from the endowment.  A healthy spending rate is thought to be between 3-5%, even in good years.  The idea is that some years investments will be up, sometimes down, and a smoothing effect of taking a smaller amount ensures for the long-term success of the funds.

At Sweet Briar, the Board’s spending rate has been a higher 8% as the operating budget needed more income.  This is not healthy or sustainable, but there is nothing wrong with it.

Endowment Raiding

I never thought I would write on the topic of “endowment raiding”, but the intentions of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors forces me to do so.

The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors voted to close the College and “wind down operations” including seeking legal intervention in order to tap into its endowment to provide severance packages, debt payments and other things unrelated to what donors intended.  This action is also inconsistent with the mission of the College.

Apart from my being horrified at such a sudden move by the Board (I have written about this topic on another thread), I am personally and professionally sickened by this action.  It is unethical and unnecessary.  I picture the donors with whom I worked.  Many of them are no longer living.  Others are contacting me by phone and on Facebook imploring me to do something (one of the reasons I have written this post).   Many of those donors no longer trust the people they worked with in the Development Office.  Who would?

Donors who give to endowment give with the idea that they are creating a legacy and are making a gift in perpetuity.  The memory of many dear people will be violated if the Board of Directors is successful.

Pledge Forms, Memorandum of Understanding, Gift Contracts

There are legal agreements which back up major gifts to any institution.  That is also the case for Sweet Briar.  Campaign Pledge Forms are legal documents with donor’s intent captured and co-signatures by campus officials.  Memorandum of Understanding are draw up for more complex gift agreements.  Letters of Agreement are drawn up for many five and six figure contributions.  In short, to try to “unrestrict” an endowment, these legal agreements will need to be properly revisited.  It is also not the case that a College or University can go to the heirs of someone and ask that funds be revisited.  There are many examples of courts upholding an original donor’s intent and rejecting even signed agreements made with decendents (unless the original donors outlines those who can make decisions for them later).  Trying to get children or family members to sign something should not be grounds to use funds in a way contrary to a donor’s intent.  Yet, as I write, the staff of the College are doing just this.

Donor Bill of Rights Violated

Of all of the rights of donors (a full copy of the rights are above), those I think are most important are the following:

II
To be informed of the identity of those serving
on the organization’s governing board,
and to expect the board to exercise prudent
judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

III

To have access to the organization’s
most recent financial statements.

IV
To be assured their gifts will be used for
the purposes for which they were given

To make any attempts to unrestrict endowment is violating not only Section II of the Donor Bill of Rights, but also Section IV.  Furthermore, the behavior by staff or administrators to take these action is a violation of the professional code of conduct.

Board of Directors and administrators taking these actions shakes the very foundation of philanthropy.   Donors and prospective donors should have full confidence in the not-for-profit organizations and causes they are asked to support.   I feel my own professional reputation is harmed by the stated plans of Sweet Briar College.

The only way to protect donor intent in this case is legal action on behalf of those donors.  I am grateful that SavingSweetBriar.com is taking on the important stewardship of these gifts.  It is sad that the Alumnae Association has not made more public statements condemning the plan.

On the heels of this, it also seems appropriate to advocate for stronger State and Federal law to protect donors.  But that is for another chapter of Being UnLocked….

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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To the Alumnnae Board of Sweet Briar College: Hello? Is anybody home?! (Open Letter & 10 Suggestions for the Alumnae Board)

silence

Anyone part of a College, University or nonprofit would like to feel that their Board of Directors has the institution’s best interests at heart.  It is hard to think this is true when a Board of Directors takes the shocking and extreme action of closing an institution.  This is the case at Sweet Briar College.

When this happens, the natural thing to do is to turn to your constituency group leaders.  In the case of students, to the Student Government.  In the case of faculty, to the Faculty Senate.   The faculty of Sweet Briar College voted unanimously to oppose the closing of Sweet Briar College.   In my case, I turn to my Alumnae Board. In the case of Sweet Briar College, the Alumnae Board has issued no response.  The President of the Alumnae Board, Sandra Taylor, is a member of the Board which voted to close the College and she sat on the call with alumnae shortly after the closure reiterating the President’s talking points.

I wrote the following  letter to the Alumnae Board (via a staff member in the office who promised to forward it) and have, to date, not had a response.  While I have addresses for individuals on the Board, I felt going through the office was the most respectful approach.  I am posting it here in an effort to invite a response from any of them individually or collectively:

Thank you for taking your valuable time to speak to me about the status of the Alumnae Association and the Alumnae Board.  As promised, I am summarizing the points (and questions) I’d like to make below:
  • Alumnae Association independence.  To what degree is the Alumnae Association independent of the College?  I recall when I worked at the College in the 1990s, the dues were eliminated (in order to strengthen annual giving). At that time, some staff were paid for by the Alumnae Association themselves and not funded by the College.  The VP at the time brought all the staff under the College.  
  • Ongoing funding for Alumnae Association.  I would like to see a return of an independent Alumnae Association funded by dues and, should the efforts to save the College not succeed, have equal consideration for funding along with other staff-related positions.  
  • Staff & Board.  I understand the STAFF are employees of the College, but the Alumnae Board are dedicated volunteers.  Shouldn’t the Alumnae Board have some leadership and messaging regarding the closure?  The absence of any statement is extremely disappointing.  An Alumnae Association Board should – even if it does not agree with all stakeholders — listen and respond to the feelings of their stakeholders.  I have heard that the Alumnae Association Board has been told they cannot speak due to the College’s legal counsel.  Surely this cannot be true.  
  • President’s statements and Alumnae Board President’s Role.  I would like to implore the Alumnae Board to speak out against the President’s comments that he has made verbally and in national media that strike many as sexist and racist (not just Sweet Briar alumnae either).  Current students and their families are reeling by the negative comments he has made about current students and the “changing demographics”.  I find myself continually apologizing for the President’s comments to my colleagues in higher education and national media — praying that there are people like the Alumnae Board who realize his comments are at a minimum insensitive and out of touch.  I would rather have Sandra Taylor as spokesperson – or some other woman who is not likely to make such comments. For a review of the comments people have cited, you can read my blog at:  http://beingunlocked.com/2015/03/how-not-to-speak-about-higher-education-or-women-or-diversity-in-2015/
  • Alumnae Board’s role in stewardship.  Given that the majority of the endowment has been donated by alumnae.  I feel the Alumnae Board has an important role to play in advocating on behalf of donors — that donor’s donations are used as intended.  I worked for the College and brought in some of the leadership gifts that make up the endowment.  I feel a strong responsibility that those gifts I help broker not be used against the donor intent.  I realize this may mean that the Alumnae Board would have to step away from the College’s position, but it I feel it has a duty to advocate for alumnae.
I realize everyone is very busy, but I would appreciate very much the courtesy of a reply.
 
Kind regards,
 
Stacey Sickels Locke `88
I have not received any response to my letter and I suspect I will not.
There is a post on social media of an Alumnae Association Facebook group (below).  Their letter is here, but I would assert is NOT the kind of action we need.  Shedding tears, listing and digesting news is not enough when you are a leadership group representing stakeholders.  Planning a Reunion is certainly admirable, but now is a time for ADVOCACY.

As your Alumnae Board, we learned an hour before everyone else about the Board of Directors’ decision to close the College this summer. We have spent the past weeks digesting that news, talking with classmates, engaging board members and shedding more than a few tears. We have been impressed by the passion and energy that alumnae are bringing to this moment, whether they are backing the legal strategy behind the Save Sweet Briar movement or supporting the Board of Directors’ efforts to bring an orderly closure to the campus.

Through meetings, phone calls and emails, we sense that all alumnae agree on a few points: Everyone wants to support current students, provide for faculty and staff, and preserve Sweet Briar’s legacy. The Alumnae Board hopes to provide a space where the entire Sweet Briar community finds common ground and works collaboratively.

We are also working to evolve the Sweet Briar Alumnae Association into an independent entity that can serve everyone with an enduring commitment to the ideals of Sweet Briar and the vision of educating young women.

Actually, we do NOT agree on much.  The fact that the Alumnae Board says they learned only an hour prior to the Board of Director’s decision means that the members of the Alumnae Board who serve on the Board of Directors must not have thought the Alumnae Board should have a voice or a role.   We do not all agree that the role of the Alumnae Board is to support current students, provide for faculty and staff and to preserve Sweet Briar’s legacy.    The role of an Alumnae Board should be bolder than all of that and focused on alumnae needs.
Here are a few suggestions for the Alumnae Board. PLEASE, be a leader and not a passive audience of the attempted dissolution of our College.  Consider the fact that if the #saveSweetBriar movement is successful, there may still be a College and alumnae to serve.  Which side of history would the alumnae board like to sit?
1.  Acknowledge there is a difference in opinion and strategy between the alumnae behind the #saveSweetBriar movement and the alumnae on the Board of Directors who supported the closure.   Even if you cannot condemn the decision (which I personally would appreciate), acknowledging the large number and passion of the women would be appreciated.  Recognize the amazing dedication of the alumnae being expressed.  Note the fundraising commitment.  Be part of this historic wave of alumnae connection and advocacy.
2.  Call publicly on the President to use more respectful language when speaking of the large movement of alumnae.  Using terms like “small” and “irrational” and “overwrought” is sexist and disrespectful.  “Well-intentioned” isn’t in the family of appropriate language either.   It would show leadership for alumnae, students and women everywhere to call out disrespectful language where it exists, even if that language is not intentionally sexist (many in the majority do not realize when they are being offensive).
3.  Acknowledge the pain expressed by current students and alumnae of color at the way the President has described the “changing demographics” of Sweet Briar  as negative.   Acknowledged that diversity is a strength of Sweet Briar and that some of his comments have been interpreted as racist by students, parents, alumnae and leaders in higher education outside of Sweet Briar.   It would show leadership for students, alumnae  and people  everywhere to call out disrespectful language where it exists, even if that language is not intentionally racist  (many in the majority do not realize when they are being offensive).
4.  Call on the President and Board to comply with the mandates by outside parties to preserve records and to respond swiftly to any possible legal action.
5.  Advocate for donor intent.  The majority of the contributions in the current endowment were made by alumnae.  Realize that the Alumnae Association has an important role to protect and defend the rights of alumnae donors.
6.  Call for better and more thorough research by independent parties rather than support the decisions of the Board of Directors which has relied on what may be questionable “research”.    Be public about what information the Alumnae Board has – or has not received – with respect to the Board of Director’s decision.  If a lack of information does not allow you to support their decision or make an official comment, state that.
7.  Exercise indepence.  Request a briefing by the Forensic Accountant when those financial findings become available.  Request a briefing by Professor Dan Gottlieb who has dug into the “data” submitted by the Board and raises grave and essential questions.   If the Alumnae Board has questions regarding the financial statements and conclusions used by the Board of Directors to close Sweet Briar, say it and request additional review.  Take back the Alumnae Board’s financial holdings within Sweet Briar and reestablish your financial independence.
8.  Recommit yourself to your charter and mission.  Re assert your independence of the College.   I would remind the Alumnae Board that you should represent the wishes and voice of the alumnae, not employees or any other stakeholders of the College, even if that is difficult given that the Alumnae Board is staffed by College employees.   You may have an independent role to play in the future, even if that future is only to gather alumnae.
9.  Review the mission of Sweet Briar College.  Consider the role alumnae leadership should play.  Articulate that role.   I would urge advocacy.  Current students and parents have a short-term need for their daughters to finish their education.   Faculty and staff are incredibly dedicated, but they also have a financial relationship as employees of the College. Alumnae have an important role to care about the long-term of an institution – they receive no “benefit” from their affiliation.  Alumnae have a critical role in saving the College now.
10.  Allow individual members of the Alumnae Board to speak.  Do not allow silence to be your message.  If you cannot speak as a unified Board, allow people to resign and speak individually.  Alternatively, issue a statement that you cannot agree and that there is a difference of opinion.  If necessary, disband yourself and acknowledge who IS speaking on behalf of alumnae (I would assert that the only alumnae leadership right now is Saving Sweet Briar and those stepping forward through social media).
Alumnae Board, your alumnae NEED you, your leadership and your independence right now.  Why the silence?  Let’s hope this quote is true for you:
“Silence is the most powerful scream” — Anonymous

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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