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Don’t shoot the messenger

14 Feb 2013 Voices

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.

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.

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