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50 Meetings in 50 Days: The Annual Meeting from 2007 to 2018


Registration for SECF's 50th Annual Meeting will open later today! We’re so excited that we’re going to finish off our look at the Annual Meeting’s history with a bang by covering the meeting’s last decade (plus two more) all in one post!


2007 Annual Meeting

When: November 14-16, 2007
Where: The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia
Theme: Hope Springs Eternal
Notable Speakers: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Ron Clark (Co-Founder, Ron Clark Academy), Randy Capps (Senior Research Associate, The Urban Institute), Joel Fleishman (Author, The Foundation: A Great American Secret – How Private Wealth Is Changing the World)

Joel Fleishman’s closing keynote was the first instance, though certainly not the last, of SECF bringing in a keynote speaker who forced philanthropy to turn a mirror on itself, for better or worse. His book, heralded as an “instant classic” by Philanthropy News Digest, was directed at the general public and aimed to demystify foundations and the broader philanthropic sector. While the book devotes substantial space to successful philanthropic initiatives, Fleishman also points out failures, shortcomings and blind spots in the field. Yet Fleishman, in the end, wants endowed philanthropy to succeed, writing “I am convinced that the foundation sector as a whole, as great as its social contribution is now and has been for most of its history, seriously underperforms its potential." Foundations can, he writes, “raise the level of their performance by reducing their insulation from beneficial external influences while retaining the independence they need."


2008 Annual Meeting

When: November 12-14, 2008
Where: The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, North Carolina
Theme: Philanthropy Moves Mountains
Notable Speakers: Juan Williams (Political Reporter and Analyst, National Public Radio and Fox News)

The 2008 meeting marked the second major leadership transition for SECF. Earlier that year, Martin Lehfeldt had stepped down as president and CEO, replaced by Mike Howland. Howland received a quick introduction to the full membership, serving as that year’s opening keynote speaker. A reception also served as a chance for members to express their appreciation for Lehfeldt’s leadership.

This meeting is also interesting for its lack of keynote or plenary speakers. Aside from Howland and closing remarks from Juan Williams, there were no other instances of a single session bringing all attendees together. However, a future plenary speaker, Dr. Jim Johnson of the University of North Carolina, would speak at two different sessions on his area of expertise – demographic changes in the South and their economic implications.

Speaking of economics, this Annual Meeting took place while the U.S. economy was practically in freefall as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis, which sparked the Great Recession. In only the three months before the Annual Meeting, the economy shed over 1.25 million jobs. The economic decline meant that many more people were in need of support from philanthropy, yet abysmal market performance also meant that foundations were facing more financial stress than they had seen in years.


2009 Annual Meeting

When: November 11-13, 2009
Where: The Peabody Hotel, Memphis, Tennessee
Theme: Navigating Muddy Waters
Notable Speakers: Dan Pallotta (Author, Uncharitable), David Walker (former U.S. Comptroller General)

The 2009 meeting, maybe in an effort to relieve the stress of working in philanthropy during the Great Recession, provided ample opportunities for attendees to relax, including morning Tai Chi classes. The meeting also featured “healthy choice worry-free” meals – perhaps not coincidentally, the agenda also included a session on the childhood obesity epidemic.

While the lineup covered a number of topics, the economy hovered over everything. Numerous sessions were related directly to the Great Recession – either its impact on communities or on market performance. The downturn even affected many foundations’ decisions on whether to attend, and how many people to send – only 583 people came to the 2009 meeting, the lowest number since 2003 and a 28 percent drop from the prior year.


2010 Annual Meeting

When: November 10-12, 2010
Where: The Battle House Renaissance, Mobile, Alabama
Theme: Reflect. Revive. Renew.
Notable Speakers: Don Yaeger (Author), Dr. Leslie Leskowsky (Professor of Public Affairs and Philanthropic Studies, Indiana University), Rick Cohen (National Correspondent, Nonprofit Quarterly)

For the first time since 1982, Alabama played host to the Annual Meeting -- and for the first time ever, social media made its way onto the agenda, with a rare two-part session, Engaging in Two-Way Community Conversations via Social Media, on how foundations could best take advantage of this emerging tool. Part 1 covered the basics of social media strategy, while Part 2 focused on a collaboration between the Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation of South Alabama.

This meeting also featured a plenary billed as the “Clash of the Titans,” a debate on the state of philanthropy pitting Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky, an Indiana University professor, against Rick Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly.


2011 Annual Meeting

When: November 9-11, 2011
Where: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida
Theme: Celebrating Wisdom, Demonstrating Value, Cultivating Hope
Notable Speakers: Bill Shore (Founder and Executive Director, Share Our Strength), Dr. Jim Johnson (Director, Urban Investment Strategies Center, University of North Carolina), Lynn Huntley (Immediate Past President, Southern Education Foundation)

This year marked Janine Lee’s first Annual Meeting as the organization’s President & CEO. She had taken the reins earlier in the year following the interim presidency of Pete McTier. It was also the first Annual Meeting to take place at Amelia Island in Northeast Florida. The location would prove to be quite popular with members, resulting in SECF returning to the same hotel only five years later.

A year before this meeting, SECF had launched the CEO Forum – the event proved popular quickly, to the point where there was a strong desire for more CEO-only conversations at the Annual Meeting. The 2011 agenda included two such opportunities: a preconference session on the new tools and actors reshaping philanthropy and social investing, and a roundtable discussion specifically for new CEOs.


2012 Annual Meeting

When: November 7-9, 2012
Where: The Charleston Place Hotel, Charleston, South Carolina
Theme: Anticipate Challenge Transform
Notable Speakers: Ron Haskins (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution and Senior Consultant, Annie E. Casey Foundation), Dr. John H. Jackson (President & CEO, The Schott Foundation for Public Education)

If it were possible to pick a year when the Annual Meeting fully became what it is today, 2012 might be a good choice – in big ways and small, this meeting brought in several new elements that have become mainstays.

This was the first Annual Meeting to be accompanied by a mobile app – though only those with Apple devices were able to take advantage. The app allowed attendees to view the conference schedule and speakers, and build a personalized agenda. Today, the Annual Meeting mobile app has the same features and a lot more, including the ability to send direct messages to colleagues and view session presentations and materials.

The phrase “Passing Gear philanthropy” also made its debut at the 2012 meeting through the session that asked “What is it and why should Southern Philanthropy care?” Naturally, MDC President David Dodson spoke at the session. Only five years later, SECF and MDC would team up to release the landmark report Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise, which would profile several SECF members who had embraced the Passing Gear approach, which calls on foundations to leverage multiple forms of capital to address systemic causes of inequity.

Equity itself played a big role at this meeting – multiple sessions explicitly focused on the issue, including Diversity in Grantmaking: Grantmaking with an Equity Lens, and Building Equitable Health Care Outcomes: Affordable Prescription Drugs for All.


2013 Annual Meeting

When: November 13-15, 2013
Where: The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia
Theme: Learning from the Past & Shaping the Future
Notable Speakers: Dr. Sheila C. Johnson (Philanthropist), Marc Freedman (Author, The Big Shift: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life), Dr. Les Salamon (Director, Center for Civil Society Studies, Johns Hopkins University)

By this point, the aging of the Baby Boomer generation had found its way onto the Annual Meeting agenda for several years in a row – experts on demography were a regular feature. The “graying of America” had often been portrayed as a problem that would put increased pressure on communities and the country, particularly in the form of growing health care costs. Marc Freedman, described by The New York Times as “the voice of aging baby boomers [seeking] meaningful and sustaining work later in life.” Freedman argued that the years beyond middle age were actually a new stage of life – an encore. That message offered reassurance, not only in general but perhaps on a personal level. Right around this time, many foundations would begin to see their own leadership transitions as the leaders of the Baby Boom generation began to give way to Gen X, and the first batch of millennials found their way onto foundations staffs and boards.


2014 Annual Meeting

When: November 12-14, 2014
Where: New Orleans Marriott, New Orleans, Louisiana
Theme: New Voices, New Actions, New Orleans: Changing Lives & Transforming Communities
Notable Speakers: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Diana Aviv (President & CEO, Independent Sector), Wes Moore (Author, The Other Wes Moore)

Nine years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, SECF eagerly returned to New Orleans for its 45th Annual Meeting. “It hasn’t been easy as the name suggests, but Hurricane Katrina strengthened the resolve of this city and all of us who love it,” Annual Meeting Chair William Buster wrote in that year’s program book. “The rebirth is a testament to the work of many SECF Members who supported changes in education, healthcare, innovation and community development. Southern philanthropy has provided much of the stability, vitality and backbone to provide opportunities here: Hotel rooms are booked again. Meetings like ours have returned. Throngs of revelers spill out of jazz clubs on Frenchman Street every night.”

Even with the French Quarter right outside, many who attended this meeting single out Wes Moore’s plenary as one of the high points in recent Annual Meeting history. Moore’s book, The Other Wes Moore, compared his own life with that other another man with the same name. Born blocks apart in Baltimore a year from each other, both faced similar circumstances – yet one Wes Moore would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar and decorated veteran, while the other would end up as a convicted murderer serving a life sentence. "The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine,” Moore wrote. “The tragedy is that my story could have been his."


2015 Annual Meeting

When: November 13-15, 2015
Where: Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina
Theme: Bridging the Gap: Finding Common Ground to Create Uncommon Opportunity
Notable Speakers: David Brooks (Columnist, The New York Times), Lucy Bernholz (Senior Research Scholar, Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Stanford University), Phil Buchanan (President, The Center for Effective Philanthropy), Dr. Nat Irvin II (Futurist and Professor, University of Louisville)

The biggest change at this Annual Meeting happened before it technically started: SECF’s Conference on Investing, offered for years as a separate event, was attached to the Annual Meeting as a preconference. It’s stayed in that position ever since, a reflection of the Annual Meeting’s appeal to foundation trustees who are stewards of their foundations’ endowments. The inaugural Conference on Investing preconference featured sessions on the market outlook for 2016, investment allocation, best practice in portfolio allocation and foundation portfolio performance.


2016 Annual Meeting

When: November 9-11, 2016
Where: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida
Theme: Navigating the Currents of Change
Notable Speakers: Karl Zinsmeister (Author, The Almanac of American Philanthropy), Brad Smith (President, Foundation Center), Dr. Jim Johnson (Director, Urban Investment Strategies Center), Robert Putnam (Author, Bowling Alone and Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis), Dr. Larry Sabato (Founder and Director, University of Virginia Center for Politics)

The 2016 election concluded the day before this Annual Meeting and talk of Donald Trump’s election filled the corridors as SECF members discussed the results and what they could mean for the charitable sector. On hand to provide nearly-instant analysis was Larry Sabato, the famed political prognosticator from the University of Virginia. Like nearly all his peers, Sabato’s prediction for the race for the White House was incorrect – an outcome he accepted with grace and humor.

This meeting also featured the debut of SECF’s Southern Trends Report, one of the organization’s first forays into providing original research and data on Southern giving. The report, produced in partnership with the Foundation Center (now Candid), has been updated every year since – and with each year, becoming a more valuable resource for anyone seeking information about the work of Southern foundations.


2017 Annual Meeting

When: November 14-16, 2017
Where: Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, Orlando, Florida
Theme: Forecasting Philanthropy’s Future  
Notable Speakers: David Callahan (Author, The Givers), David Dodson (President, MDC), Liz Murray (Author, Breaking Night)

Rising concerns over income inequality had led to increased criticism of the philanthropic sector by time the 2017 Annual Meeting convened. While mega-donors and college endowments drew the lion’s share of criticism, philanthropic foundations weren’t spared. This ongoing conversation led SECF to invite David Callahan, author of The Givers and founder of Inside Philanthropy, to the main stage for a conversation with Tom Ross.

During this meeting, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was winding its way through Congress – attendees were urged throughout the meeting to contact lawmakers and defend philanthropy’s work.

This meeting also saw the release of Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise, presented by SECF and MDC – the organization’s president, David Dodson, reviewed the report’s findings, which came 10 years after the initial “Passing Gear” report. Interest in Passing Gear philanthropy has remained high in the years since – SECF and MDC have presented Passing Gear events in several Southeastern states since, with more planned for the future.


2018 Annual Meeting

When: November 7-9, 2018
Where: Louisville Marriott Downtown, Louisville, Kentucky
Theme: Come Together. Bridge the Divide.
Notable Speakers: Mark Gerzon (Author, The Reunited States of America), Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury (President, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation), Jon Meacham (Historian and Author, The Soul of America), Lonnie Ali (Co-Founder, Muhammad Ali Center), Michael McAfee (President & CEO, PolicyLink)

Political polarization and a noted decline in political discourse drove the theme of last year’s Annual Meeting. That theme, in turn, was strongly reflected on the main stage, where Mark Gerzon discussed ways to frame debates and conversations in ways that lead to shared purpose and action instead of division, and where Jon Meacham won rave reviews for a plenary focused on America’s long history of overcoming moments of crisis and partisan deadlock by heeding what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Surprisingly, this was the first time the Annual Meeting came to Louisville. The agenda took advantage of its surroundings, in ways both expected and surprising. Attendees and guests had the opportunity to attend bourbon tastings and races at Churchill Downs. Lonnie Ali, widow of Muhammad Ali, was part of the closing keynote, and the Muhammad Ali Center provided the venue for a postconference on equity. The host city also helped out in a pinch – when one of the planned plenary speakers had to drop out at the last minute, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer stepped in, sitting down with Sherece West-Scantlebury for a conversation on public-private partnerships in Louisville that felt like it had been months in the making.


David Miller is SECF's director of marketing and communications.

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