How to Get a Fundraising Conference Cancelled in Two Easy Steps

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February 11, 2013; Source: Third Sector

This month, a British conference that was planned to address the future of fundraising—“The Summit: Raising the Extra Billions”—drew a protest that Third Sector notes started on Twitter as well as on the Charity Chicks blog. The protest concerned the nine-to-one ratio of male-to female-speakers, which critics said was not representative of the charitable sector.

There might have been a number of ways of dealing with the issue correctly, such as reconsidering the composition of the lineup of speakers, but no such idea seems to have crossed the mind—or lips, anyhow—of one of the conference organizers, at least initially. Giles Pegram, a fundraising consultant, defended the program, tweeting that the choice of speakers wasn’t about gender, but “more about wisdom, rock-solid experience and years of practice – sorry, but I don’t believe in quotas.” Having demonstrated something of a tin ear or worse, Pegram then added that while many women are in the fundraising business, he believes that fewer are in “thinking” roles. Nice touch there, Giles!

Adrian Sargeant, Pegram’s partner in organizing the conference, issued apologies for Pegram’s comments soon after and then cancelled the conference. Pegram also issued what Sargeant described as “a full and heartfelt apology.” Sargeant’s cancellation statement thanked a couple of women fundraisers for their “kindness and sensitivity” in dealing with the gender imbalance problem exacerbated by Pegram’s stunning remarks. One of the women, Denisa Casement, told Third Sector, “Not having the summit is a loss, but not having the conversation would be a loss as well…I think it is a conversation that is good to have and I was happy to be a part of it. But it should not get personal and have things taken out of context.”

It’s interesting that, in the U.K., charities would call a conference into question for a lack of gender diversity among panelists. How often are there U.S. nonprofit conferences where the speaker mix isn’t quite reflective of the composition of the sector? —Rick Cohen

  • Simone Joyaux

    The concept of sexism, racism, etc. – is that of socialization. We individuals (and our institutions) are socialized to believe and act in certain ways. I’m the founder of women’s social justice organization, the Women’s Fund of RI. But here’s an example of my “socialized” state: I see a man alone in an airport with kids. My quick reaction is, “Wow, it’s about time that the dad is handling this without the mom.” Within seconds I am aware of my bad socialized response. First, lots of dads do lots of stuff with their kids. Lots of dads stay home with their kids because they want to do so. Second, who says this is a mom and dad family? Maybe this is a single parent family. Maybe this is a two-dad family. Socialized reaction. I catch it quickly because I’ve learned to be more aware. I recognize socialization. I know that we are all susceptible.

    For the U.K. Summit, a group of women called the question about gender. They were not silent, thank heavens. Apologies were made. Hopefully, people learned. That is what life is. Gracious criticism. Gracious apology. Learning and change.

    And then the shit hit the fan. Unnecessarily insulting comments made. Bullying in social media. Criticisms about these old consultants. Excuse me? Because someone is a consultant, that means they have nothing of value to add? Because someone is older, that means their thinking is out-of-date or irrelevant?

    For example – just to name two – Ken Burnett and Adrian Sargeant are heroes in the field of fundraising. I don’t care how old or young they are. I don’t care about their race or ethnicity or geographic location. I don’t care that Ken Burnett works in an agency. I don’t care that Adrian Sargeant is, oh my gosh, an academic! Their work changed the field. I can learn from them. I am honored to learn from them.

    Can we please – as human beings – criticize without being nasty? Can we – as professionals – respect (maybe even be familiar with!) some of the leading experts of our field and welcome the opportunity to learn from them? Can we – as human beings and as professionals – be more aware of and sensitive to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.