Don’t shoot the messenger

Don’t shoot the messenger

Don’t shoot the messenger12

Fundraising | Tania Mason | 14 Feb 2013

The debate that has been sparked by Giles Pegram's comments and apology about women in fundraising proves that we were right to bring the issue to a wider audience, says Tania Mason.

I hadn’t planned to blog about this.  After Giles Pegram apologised for his extraordinary comment that women fundraising directors still "are not adequately engaged in the thinking in fundraising” and the organisers of the Summit cancelled the beleaguered event, I thought it best not to fan the flames any further, and to let the dust settle.  I decided not to syndicate a blog by Charity Chicks about the issue, and not to blog myself. I even decided not to correct an offensive suggestion on a US blog site that I had misrepresented Giles’ comments.  Let it lie, I thought.

But then yesterday I read a blog by Ken Burnett, one of the speakers that were lined up to speak at the Summit, questioning whether it was right for us to run the story at all.

In it, Ken objects to some comments by Joe Saxton that I reported, and makes the point that though a consultant, he certainly still considers himself a fundraiser. Fair enough. He goes on to insist that Giles Pegram is also a fundraiser, and then asks: “So why would Civil Society imagine that it should run an article on its website labelling him as sexist?”

Ken suggests that before writing the story about what Giles said, I should have done “some simple background digging among those who know and have worked with the man, to establish what really lay behind such uncharacteristic sentiments”.

He goes on: “Was it right that he was interviewed when obviously caught off-guard, that he was not given time or opportunity to form a right of reply and was not given any chance to correct what, in the light of day, were evident absurdities and contradictions in some of the things that, in haste or the heat of the moment, he might have said, to his own obvious detriment?”

So now I feel the need to respond.

I do not dispute for one moment that Giles Pegram is a giant in the world of fundraising. His record at the NSPCC speaks for itself.  His integrity and character are without question – many years ago Giles once took part in a focus group I invited him to on the subject of membership, and he was singularly impressive for his unwavering focus on the charitable cause and the imperative of doing the right thing by beneficiaries.  He is renowned throughout the sector for these qualities.

But all that does not change the fact that an event he helped to organise featured one woman speaker in a sea of male faces, and that when this was queried on Twitter, he put himself forward to publicly defend the panel.  While things said on Twitter may be said in haste, it is nonetheless a public forum. And when I spoke to him by telephone and asked him to elaborate on why more women did not feature, he said (and I quote, accurately): “Because women are not yet adequately engaged in the thinking that goes on within fundraising.”

Now this comment may well make his friends wince – the rest of the Summit organisers and speakers either distanced themselves from the remark or kept their counsel – but for Ken to suggest that I shouldn’t have reported it because Giles was “caught off-guard” beggars belief.  He is clearly a popular figure in the fundraising world but that does not mean he should be beyond scrutiny.

Yes, it was unfortunate for Giles that he briefly became the face of the debate, but those comments were not forced out of him under duress or wrongly attributed to him.  I also reported, in full, his timely apology.  The fact that this story has sparked such a healthy and prolific debate, on Twitter and on our website, vindicates our decision to report it.

Ann Bown
senior consultant
charisma consulting
15 Feb 2013

Although I work and live in Africa I have questioned over the years the prevailing preference for male speakers at fundraising conferences. AFP, IFC are typical examples - in fact until recently IFC was very much ‘A boys own club'. Even my own organisation, the Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising has yet again invited mainly pale males from the North to perform at the October 2013 Convention in Cape Town.
I agree it is irksome and it’s about time this practice of inequality and unbalanced views ceased.

Sir Robin Bogg
15 Feb 2013

There is a great irony that the people claiming that the reporting of these comments has done unnecessary damage to the sector are themselves doing unnecessary damage to the sector by going on about it.

And I think Stolen may have missed the sarcastic point of my previous comment on this thread. I would say that that was typical of a woman but the sarcastic point of that would probably be missed as well and we'd end up in a viscious circle. In the same way that the debate about Giles' comments has.

15 Feb 2013
Response to [Sir Robin Bogg]

I will play the sound of silence then.

Becky Slack
Freelance journalist, editor and communications consultant
15 Feb 2013

Anyone interested in attending the Cass debate on female leadership that I mentioned in my previous blog posting:

Cass Business School debate: This house believes the future belongs to female leaders

Proposing the Motion will be Cass Senior Visiting Fellow Dr Anne Moir – an expert in neuropsychology and an award-winning documentary producer, director and writer.

Opposing the Motion will be Anne Chatroux, a former investment banker, who provides CEOs and executives with incisive, effective coaching.

It will be held on Thursday March 7th, 6.30pm at Cass Business School, 106 Bunhill Row, London

Becky Slack
Freelance journalist, editor and communications consultant
14 Feb 2013

I had wanted to publish this comment at the end of Ken's blog but it doesn't give the facility to do so - so I have emailed it to him and am publishing it here instead. Forgive the length...

Dear Ken

As with your own blog on this issue I want to start with a caveat. That of how much admiration and respect I have for you, for Giles, for Alan, Adrian and the others involved with The Summit. I have had the fortune to be inspired, motivated and educated by your work for many years and hope that I will have the benefit of doing so again.

However, as you have felt the need to defend Giles, I feel the need to defend Civil Society Media, in particular Tania Mason, the journalist who wrote the story. I have had the pleasure of working with and alongside Tania for many years and can confirm that she is an excellent journalist who is very committed to the sector. She celebrates its achievements but is not afraid to question, challenge and be a critical friend – as any good journalist should.

And so I have to raise issue with several of the points you made in your blog.

You question why Civil Society Media would run a story that made Giles look sexist. I'm afraid that the only person who made Giles look sexist was himself. Indeed, days before the story broke on Civil Society I had been in touch with several of my fundraising and HR friends and colleagues to express my horror, frustration and concern at both the lack of female representation on the conference programme and Giles' comments, and to ask what could be done about this.

To suggest that Tania has misrepresented Giles is also wrong. A misrepresentation in itself. Read back through Giles' comments on Twitter and you can see he was accurately reported – his comments are still there to read so please do – you don't need a Twitter account. In fact any of the Internet’s 2.4 billion global users could access them if they so wanted.

Your phrases “unguarded comments”, “caught off guard”, “not given any chance to correct” also warrant a little unpicking. As far as I can see, the first comment about the lack of female representation at The Summit was posted on Friday 18 January, to which Giles responded on the 21st January – a full three days later. The debate then continued intermittently over the course of the next three weeks before Tania's story was published on 7 Feb - in total giving Giles a full 21 days to think about, make and then amend if need be his responses. That would seem like plenty of time to me.

One of the phrases from your blog that I do agree with, however, is that the sector “looked foolish or worse” - although not for the same reasons as you. For me, this 'debate', if we can call it that, has showed a lack of understanding of how social media and the press (both vital communications mechanisms in the fundraisers toolbox) work.

But more importantly it highlighted the unwillingness of a sector to engage in a sensible conversation about the issue of female equality. Instead of accusing the sector's press of misrepresentation and denying any notion of sexism, what should have happened is a discussion about why there was only one woman on The Summit panel; about why Giles would see fit to label two very successful female directors of fundraising as middle managers; about why he believes it will take another 10, 20, 100 years for equality to be achieved (I am not prepared to wait that long!), and importantly what we can do to change this.

And ideally the debate would have been broadened to include the wider voluntary sector, which is by no means equal. Back in January 2012 Rowena Lewis published a report looking at the role of women in the voluntary sector which found that, although representation is better than in other sectors, they still face a glass ceiling. Also in 2012, a report called Women Count found women to be badly under-represented on trustee boards. In addition, Acevo has identified a 16% average pay gap between male and female CEOs, while research by Civil Society Media found that fewer women are making it into the top finance posts at the UK's biggest charities. None of this is particularly inspiring, especially when you consider that women play such a large role in the work of the charity sector (61% of donors, 68% of the workforce and most of the volunteers according to the NCVO's Almanac) - not to mention the fact that equality is at the core of the sector's values (that's why we do what we do, isn't it?).

So, I am sad for Giles, but I am even more sad for our sector. I for one am now looking at ways to address this. A few ideas are in development, but for starters I will be attending a Cass University debate on 7 March: “This house believes the future belongs to female leaders”. Perhaps you, Giles and who ever else has been witness to this debate would like to attend with me. If nothing else we can clear the air with the glass of wine at the end.

Ken Burnett
15 Feb 2013
Response to [Becky Slack]

There is no enemy here

Becky I have a lot of time and respect for you so while I’d like to see this issue come to an early close I feel your comments deserve a reply. What I hope you and Tania will both accept is, there is no enemy here. There never was.

Giles is not a sexist. He’s long since apologised for whatever distress his ill-judged remarks have caused. He’s just someone who, put on a spot and drawn to defend the thoughtless, even indefensible, got himself tangled up in knots and said or inferred things that anyone who knows him would readily understand he did not mean.

As you know him I’m sure you don’t imagine for a minute that he has anything but the highest regard and respect for the female fundraising leaders referred to in Tania’s article. Nor other than the same wishes as you or any of us have for a genuinely level playing field on which all might have equal opportunity. No one is above criticism, as has been said. But these articles threatened to devastate him when, genuinely, there was no evil intent. By all means elevate the subject of sexism, inequality and discrimination, but please not by destroying in the process the reputation and prospects of someone who, as you know him I’m sure you’ll appreciate, simply stumbled into the firing line.

I can’t speak for him but I’m quite certain he’d be as outraged as you are at the injustices you cite in your penultimate paragraph. My point only was that his 30+ years as a champion of equality in the workplace should heavily outweigh some unwise comments made at a time when his normal articulacy and wise judgement seems to have temporarily let him down.

I’d like to think that our sector has enough compassion and decency to allow him that error, accept his apology and stop there. I’d like to see those articles taken down, for they have done a great deal more harm than good.

Many others have also spoken in support of Giles. Now, thankfully, it seems that popular opinion and common sense have surfaced and no permanent damage will be done to the man and his reputation. I suggest that it’ll be better all round if we all can leave it at that.

Please let’s put this sorry affair behind us and concentrate on other, more edifying issues. I’ll be happy to have that drink with you.


Becky Slack
Freelance journalist, editor and communications consultant
15 Feb 2013
Response to [Ken Burnett]

Agreed. Will look forward to seeing you for that drink!

Carl Allen
15 Feb 2013
Response to [Becky Slack]

"I’d like to see those articles taken down, for they have done a great deal more harm than good. "

History erased and forgotten may or may not be a wise thing but history studied and learnt from is a better thing.

Michael Hodgson
14 Feb 2013

I wonder if it has actually generated a 'healthy' debate? Or if it has merely helped to contribute to the cancellation of an event that would help the sector?

There is much that I will refrain from saying about everyday sexism in the sector and the workplace - 'both ways' as it were - as I don't see it as helpful in the least.

I can't tell you the ratio of men to women speaking at the events I've attended in the past, although I can tell you the most inspiring and informative individuals.

All I hope is that the next fundraising conference or event I attend enables me to invest my limited funds and time in learing from the very best speakers, experts and facilitators available, rather than simply the most perfectly balanced diverse selection of gender, race, religion or height.

Sir Robin Bogg
14 Feb 2013

Tania's response is typical of a woman

14 Feb 2013
Response to [Sir Robin Bogg]

And yours is typical of a man?

Emma Lynn
14 Feb 2013

The situation with Giles Pegram has clearly drummed up a great deal of interest, and rightly so. Regardless of who said it, this is an issue that should be spoken about. In a sector that has to move with the times in order to continue, there are going to be many issues that need to be 'hashed out' along the way.

I do believe though that this should not be held against Giles and nor should this take away from all the good he has. As mentioned in this blog, his service to the NSPCC has influenced thousands and helped a great deal more and that is what should be attached to Pegram's name.

After all, you cannot create a footprint that lasts whilst walking on tip toes.

Thank you Giles Pegram for expressing your opinions. Thank you also for your speedy apology. And thank you to Tania Mason and everyone else who has spoken about this issue openly. Hopefully we can have a stronger sector for it as well.


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Tania Mason

Tania Mason is editorial director at Civil Society Media. She has been a journalist for 20-odd years and has specialised in the charity sector since 2003.

Follow Tania on Twitter @taniamason

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