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SECF Staff Highlight: Marianne Gordon

Note: This week’s Member Highlight uses excerpts from a profile of Marianne that will run in the next issue of Inspiration, SECF’s quarterly magazine, coming out later this month!

While SECF’s 50th Annual Meeting will mark the beginning of a new chapter, it’s also the end of an era: It will be the final Annual Meeting for SECF’s Marianne Gordon, who has overseen planning of the South’s premier philanthropic event for 21 years.

Marianne first brought her talents to the Annual Meeting in 1998 as an outside contractor. Within a few years, it was clear that she was the perfect match for planning the annual event. In 2002, she became SECF’s full-time director of meeting planning, a role she has held ever since.

With 21 Annual Meetings under her belt – and one more on the way – Marianne has seen the event grow and evolve in a number of ways. 

“I would say that the biggest change is the number of sessions and level of speakers we have to offer our members during the Annual Meeting,” Marianne says. “The second biggest would change would be in the diversity of the attendees we now have at the Annual Meeting.”

Throughout Marianne’s tenure, she’s had to deal with more than a few unexpected developments. In 2000, TVs had to be brought in and tuned to the news so members could track the still-undecided presidential election. In 2001, the 9/11 attacks required changes to the agenda and made some people less willing to fly to the meeting. At last year’s Annual Meeting, a last-minute conflict prevented a plenary speaker from attending, requiring quick thinking to fill a major slot on the agenda.

The most difficult year, though, may have been 2005, when the meeting was held on Florida’s Marco Island. That year’s eventful hurricane season, including Hurricane Katrina, had already caused a dip in attendance when another storm, Hurricane Wilma, knocked that year’s overflow hotel out of commission.

“That was the only night I remember really crying out of frustration! I stayed all night at SECF and tried to think of every possible way to make things come together before the meeting began,” Marianne recalled. “Our theme that year was Charting our Course through Changing Currents and boy did we live up to that theme! We even had to ask our members if they would be willing to share a room and they were gracious in accepting our request.”

Marianne will remain on staff following this year’s Annual Meeting, retiring shortly after the planning meeting that decides the agenda of the 2020 conference. After that, she plans to focus her time on her family – though she hasn’t ruled out a surprise visit now and then.

“We have four granddaughters who are now 9, 8, 5 and 4 and I want to enjoy them as much as possible while they are still young and like to do fun things together,” she said. “But you never know – I may show up now and then in the philanthropic community and I will look forward to the opportunity to catching up with all of you then!”


Southeastern Council of Foundations
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Mission: The Southeastern Council of Foundations serves, connects, strengthens and champions philanthropy and philanthropic infrastructure in the South.