NoVo in the Media

Changing Men: How a Nonprofit and Its Funders Are Looking Upstream to Fight Sexual Abuse

18 December 2017
BY Caitlin Reilly
PUBLISHED IN Inside Philanthropy

Since the revelations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, it feels like hardly a day goes by without a story surfacing about another powerful man exploiting his position to abuse the women around him. Even the nonprofit world has its share of problems. As Inside Philanthropy recently reported, fundraisers often experience sexual harassment that goes unpunished.

Culture is a big part of that equation. Even as individual men are forced out, without a broader discussion about the culture turning a blind eye to sexual violence and harassment, we cannot expect long-term change.

Ana Oliveira, the president and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation, sums it up: “We are being exposed to individual behaviors, but we know the culture of those institutions and the culture at large have condoned those individual behaviors. Not only condoned, but enabled.”

That philosophy is behind the foundation’s support of A Call to Men, an organization taking on sexual harassment, abuse and violence by confronting the culture that nurtures those behaviors. The organization runs trainings around the country—in schools, businesses, community organizations and on college campuses—intended to counteract how men have been taught to think about women, said Ted Bunch, the nonprofit’s chief development officer and one of its co-founders.

“While the overwhelming majority of violence against women and girls is men’s violence, the overwhelming majority of men are not [violent], but we’re silent about the violence other men perpetrate,” Bunch said. “Men want the respect of other men, so we need to help men to find the language to hold each other accountable.”

Looking Upstream

The organization has found a small, but loyal funder following. The nonprofit counts the NoVo and Verizon foundations among its longtime supporters. Since 2008, NoVo, founded by Jennifer and Peter Buffett, has given A Call to Men more than $3.5 million in funding. The support fits into NoVo’s larger commitment to ending violence against girls and women. The foundation gave $60 million this year to the cause.

The New York Women’s Foundation, the Pinpoint Foundation and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota also fund the organization, along with Uber, through its corporate giving.

Bunch and Porter’s work draws on their experience in the domestic violence field, working with abusers. Through this work, Bunch found that abuse wasn’t rooted in mental illness or anger management issues; it was more grounded in how men are taught to think about women.

Men are taught that “women have less value than men, and that girls have less value than boys, that women are the property of men, and that women are objects, particularly sexual objects,” said Bunch. It’s not only abusers that are socialized with these beliefs, he said, all men are.

Abusive men are written off as “bad men,” and are seen as fundamentally different from men who aren’t violent or abusive, but that’s a mistake, according to Bunch. “While what they’re doing is very bad and wrong, they’re not much different from other men. We just haven’t crossed the line,” he said. “In other words, we’ve all been taught those three principles, unfortunately, of unhealthy manhood, which are women are less valuable than men, women are property, and women are objects.”

Bunch believes that by dismantling that belief system, violence against women can be stopped before it starts.

The strategy struck a chord with the NoVo Foundation, said Joe Voeller, the foundation’s communications director. “Truly ending men’s violence against girls and women means preventing it before it begins,” he said. “And that requires engaging men to create fundamental cultural change—promoting healthy masculinity, embracing respect, humanity and dignity, and working together to ensure all women and girls are valued and safe.”

The approach is not all that different from the upstream approach many public health funders take to tackle complex health issues like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. To stop diabetes, public health funders support campaigns that increase access to fresh, healthy foods, or encourage kids to get more exercise. When A Call to Men looks upstream, it sees the need to challenge a toxic patriarchy.

It was exactly that focus on the deeper systemic causes of abuse that attracted the attention of the New York Women’s Foundation three years ago, said Oliveira.

“If you look at public health approaches, they have been very effective at dealing with perceived entrenched issues. They have changed human behavior in an exceptional manner,” Oliveira said. “They have changed smoking. They have changed seatbelts.”

The foundation had funded traditional domestic violence interventions, which typically work with women after an incident occurs, but there was a feeling that such grantmaking wasn’t doing enough to prevent domestic abuse before it happened, Oliveira said. “We wanted to extinguish that behavior, and that meant funding not only the transformation of women, but also the transformation of men,” she said.

Oliveira is careful to note that the foundation has continued to fund women-centered interventions and organizations. “It was a very intentional thing for us to add men to the equation. We did that without taking away from women,” she said.

The foundation has provided $300,000 to A Call to Men over the last three years to support its work in New York City. With the money, the nonprofit has held trainings, days of action and is working to implement a curriculum for middle and high schools.

As part of the agreement, A Call to Men also trains the foundation’s other partner organizations in its methods. This year the foundation offered additional grants to partners looking to incorporate A Call to Men’s training into their work. “They capacitate other men and other organizations to continue this work of decoupling maleness from disrespect and violence,” Oliveira said of the nonprofit. “There’s a multiplying effect.”

Funders Wanted

While the upstream approach has appealed to foundations like NoVo and the New York Women’s Foundation, it can also make it difficult to attract funding, Bunch said. It’s easier to make the case for funding intervention, he said. If you run a shelter for domestic violence and you have 20 beds, but 30 women who need your services, you can easily quantify and justify the cost of 10 more beds. “With prevention, it’s harder to measure your needs and impact,” he said.

The nonprofit’s next big push is to implement a nine-week curriculum in middle and high schools to address how boys are taught to think about women. Bunch thinks that research they’ve done around implementation will make a strong case for funders.

“That’s put us in the position where we can go to funders, for instance, and say that we really need this curriculum in our schools, because 81 percent of boys don’t know what consent is,” Bunch said. “That means they think ‘no,’ means ‘try harder.’ That explains sexual assault in the military. That explains sexual assault on our campuses. And we have to interrupt this lack of concern for women and girls that our boys are being taught.”

High-profile incidents of sexual assault or harassment, like those driving the #MeToo movement, also tend to pique donor interest in the organization, Bunch said. However, that mentality isn’t the best way to think about the behavior, which isn’t new and often goes on undetected by the media.

“Men have always had the latitude to do what they want to do and get away with it,” Bunch said. “This is the first generation of men who are being held accountable for what every other generation of men has gotten away with. That’s why you see, it seems like every hour, men are being accused, because women are comfortable coming forward.”

In fact, the crux of A Call to Men’s philosophy is that the Weinsteins of the world aren’t outliers. “We’re not separating them from the collective socialization of men,” Bunch said. “Those men can only behave that way because we allow them to.”