50 Meetings in 50 Days: The Annual Meeting from 1973 to 1975

Registration for SECF’s 50th Annual Meeting will open May 15 – between now and then, we’re going to take a look back at the history of SECF’s signature event and how it’s evolved over the years.

The Annual Meeting had become an established event by the mid-1970s, and SECF had solidified itself as an organization – in 1972, paperwork filed with the State of Georgia had officially established the Southeastern Council of Foundations as a nonprofit corporation. The initial board included representatives from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and Florida.

With its initial growing pains out of the way, in 1973 SECF felt confident enough to begin moving the Annual Meeting throughout the region. The event’s programming also began to expand beyond the legal and regulatory concerns that had dominated its first three years.

1973 Annual Meeting

When: November 1-2, 1973
Where: Holiday Inn of Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Georgia
Notable Speakers: Terry Sanford (President, Duke University), David Freeman (President, Council on Foundations)

Recognizing that one-size-fits-all programming wouldn’t be sufficient for a growing number of attendees, this year’s meeting featured concurrent sessions for foundations without staff, with full-time staff and, separately, community foundations. While these sessions were focused on the familiar topic of foundation administration, the agenda also included sessions on scholarship and loan programs, as well as “regional needs and opportunities for foundation responses.”

Luncheon speaker Terry Sanford, then president of Duke University, had previously served as governor of North Carolina and would eventually represent the state in the U.S. Senate. Not unlike previous year’s speaker Alexander Heard, Sanford was a Southerner with a progressive attitude on civil rights. Two years before speaking at the Annual Meeting, he famously said “the South can lead the nation, must lead the nation – and all the better, because the nation has never been in greater need of leadership.”

1974 Annual Meeting

When: November 14-15, 1974
Where: Governor’s Inn (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina)
Notable Speakers: Watts Hill, Jr. (Trustee, Southern Education Foundation), Dr. William Bowden (Executive Director, Southern Growth Policies Board)

Sanford’s remarks in 1973 must have been well-received – in 1974, the first day of the Annual Meeting included a reception at Sanford’s home on the Duke University campus.

The meeting, the first to be held outside Georgia, was a showcase for North Carolina. The speaker roster was packed with leaders from the state and the agenda included a screening of a film on the first 50 years of The Duke Endowment.

The 1974 meeting also appears to be the first to include women as speakers, including Peggy Spain McDonald, director of the Greater Birmingham Foundation, which would become the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. In a sign of the times, however, McDonald was listed in the meeting program as “Mrs. William C. McDonald.”

1975 Annual Meeting 

When: November 6-7, 1975
Where: Bay Hill Club & Lodge (Orlando, Florida)
Notable Speakers: Leonard Silverstein (Executive Director, Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs)

The 1975 Annual Meeting is notable for two things: First, it marked SECF’s first visit to Florida, specifically Orlando. The event included a reception and dinner held at Rollins College in nearby Winter Park.

More significantly, this is the first Annual Meeting where names from the present day begin to show up on the agenda. Karl Stauber, who will soon retire as CEO of the Danville Regional Foundation, was then a program planning officer at the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation – he spoke as part of a panel discussion, Foundations and the Problems of the Aging.

Karl shared his reflections on that Annual Meeting from 44 years ago:

I was brand new to the field of philanthropy and 24 years old. My boss, Bill Bondurant, encouraged me to engage with SECF as a way to learn about the field and meet other people who did this work. Like some other Southern foundations, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation (MRBF) was beginning to move from interests to strategies, from responsive to proactive grant making. MRBF was going through its first strategic planning effort to see if we could have more impact. I was hired to staff that planning process.

MRBF’s board had gone through a process of rating possible ideas, from approximately 40 down to about five. In the process, I had met a number of national funders whose work focused on aging. Bill encouraged me to pitch an idea for the SECF conference and I pitched Aging, with help from Ruth Shack at the Miami Community Foundation, Merrill Clark of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in New York and Norma Wiser from the Chicago Community Trust. We put together a program and it was accepted. My first of many.

When I went to my first SECF conference, I was struck by several things, which may say more about me than the then membership. I was struck by how old the membership was, how white and how male. Yes, there were exceptions, but that’s what they were, exceptions. I was surprised by the lack of passion. 1975 is the year South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam, that Mitchell and Haldeman were convicted for crimes related to Watergate, that “Squeaky” Fromme tried to kill President Ford, that Microsoft was founded, that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released. It was a crazy year, but you would not have known it based on what I saw at the SECF conference. People seemed more interested in investments and sport, than dealing with critical issues. Equity was not part of the conversation; impact was just emerging as an idea to explore.

What excites me today is how far SECF and the field have come in the last 44 years. We are diverse in many dimensions (I hope we see more progress, especially on board makeup), we are passionate about issues including equity and we are more focused on impact. Major changes in the arc of my career.

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


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