The impact of the ‘she-session’ on the non-profit industry

publication date: Aug 31, 2020
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author/source: Mariya Yurukova, MBA, CFRE

Over the last couple of decades, women have undeniably advanced professionally more so than any other time in history. While there is still lots of work to be done to truly achieve an equal representation in the workforce, this progress was undeniable up until about six months ago. The current pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in any number of ways: medically, economically, and mentally. This has led to economists coining the term “she-session” - a recession affecting primarily women.The non-profit industry is one of the most female dominated professions, with nearly 75% of its workforce identifying as female. Additionally, women are also more likely to support social justice, community services and environmental charities. Predicting the future is risky business these days. Perhaps some questions need to be explored to ensure the long-term success of the non-profit sector, both as an employer of choice for many women and also as a conduit of social good through women’s philanthropy.

The impact of the she-session on the sector can be examined in three main areas: fundraising, current staff, and the talent pipeline.

Fundraising and the she-session

As with any other economic downturn many charities are bracing themselves for decreased fundraising results in the short-term. A potential she-session is likely to limit the capacity of women to give, impacting causes favored by women. The short-term recovery and gradual reopening of the economy has benefited male-dominated professions like manufacturing more so than the female-dominated service industry, for example. Compounding these issues is of course the lack of child-care and the potential for many families to become single-income households. This will impact fundraising results across the sector as households will have less disposable income. One potential silver-lining for many organizations is the fact that there is greater understanding and awareness of community services, poverty-reduction and education causes which have traditionally been supported by more women than men.

The she-session and non-profit employees

While women dominate the non-profit sector, this comes with some major caveats: they are underrepresented in senior leadership positions, they are on average 5 years younger than their male counterparts and predominately white, and they report higher desire to leave due to internal factors like lack of promotion opportunities. Additionally, as many organizations experience fundraising shortfalls, they have laid off large proportions of staff. Most of the eliminated positions have been in support roles, events, and community programming – all areas dominated by women. Moreover, remaining female staff are struggling to balance child-care and working from home. This issue is compounded by the fact that women in all industries have struggled with bias and discrimination due to pregnancy or childcare responsibilities, even without a pandemic. This crisis has also created great opportunities for organizations to take advantage of offering more flexibility to their employees. Should this continue to be the case post-pandemic, the industry will have an opportunity to become even more desirable to employees. When it comes to front-line fundraisers, most of whom are women, perhaps a potential solution could be to allow fundraisers to create tag teams of two or more. Sharing the responsibility of maintaining relationships between two fundraisers allows for more continuity with donors and flexibility for one team member to step in when another is not available. This concept was deployed with great success in the car industry during the 2008-2009 financial crisis to make sales commissions more predictable and retain newcomers to the industry. Perhaps, this is an opportunity for fundraising teams to adapt the concept and thus create a more flexible environment for all staff.

The she-session and the long-term talent pipeline

While the war for fundraising talent experienced a temporary cease-fire earlier this year, organizations have regrouped and started to hire again. Many are focusing their hiring on senior roles and front-line fundraisers. It is safe to say that there’s still great competition for talented non-profit leaders. However, with many women’s careers interrupted by layoffs or many women forced to leave the workforce short-term, the long-term leadership talent pipeline can be significantly compromised. Even more so when we consider the intersectionality with race, ethnicity, or disability. Diversity and inclusivity programs like AFP Toronto’s Fellowship in Inclusivity and Diversity are great vehicles to support emerging nonprofit professionals and perhaps there is an opportunity to create such initiatives for emerging nonprofit leaders as well?

The she-session could have a lasting impact on a generation of women in the workforce, impacting not only the pipelines of future female leaders but also fundraising results for most organizations. The current pandemic has made every aspect of our lives harder, but it has also shone a light on many of the issues that our sector has been trying to address for years: poverty, inequity, racism and access to health care. We have a real opportunity to take advantage of the fact that these issues are top of mind now more than ever. To do so, we need to create an environment where those most impacted by the pandemic can thrive.

Mariya Yurukova, MBA, CFRE is a Talent Manager at Gerard Search. You can reach her at mariya@gerardsearch.com. Mariya is a fundraising professional with over 15 years of experience fundraising for some of Canada’s best universities. As a Talent Manager, Mariya works with organizations looking to recruit fundraising professionals for a variety of roles. She is a member of AFP, CASE, CCAE and a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE).

Cover image by RF._.studio via Pexels



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