By Janine Lee and Robert Dortch
Last week, we found ourselves in a previously unthinkable position: needing to cancel the Annual Meeting due to a mandatory evacuation order at our host hotel in Amelia Island.
While weather is always a concern at this time of year in the Southeast, not once in our 53-year history had we faced this situation before. The closest we had ever come was 2005, when our meeting in Marco Island came two weeks after a hurricane that made our overflow hotel unavailable.
This time was different: Hurricane Nicole was set to make landfall while the meeting was taking place. Flights in and out of Jacksonville were being delayed and cancelled. Weather forecasts called for severe coastal flooding – a major concern at a hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The double red flags snapping in the strong winds, signaling the closure of the beach, provided a clear warning that these conditions could not be ignored.
We are so sad that we were unable to come together – and we know that many of you feel the same way. We have literally been moved to tears reading the many messages we have received from members following the Annual Meeting's cancellation.
Planning for the 53rd Annual Meeting began a year ago and required the work of our entire staff plus dozens of member volunteers. We want to thank each of them for what they brought to this process – your work is deeply appreciated, and you should be proud of what you built!
We are beyond grateful that our entire team and all our attendees were moved out of harm's way before the worst effects of Hurricane Nicole hit northeast Florida. We appreciate the staff at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island who stayed in constant communication with our staff and helped facilitate a quick, yet calm, evacuation and relocation.
We also want to thank everyone who chose to not make the trip to Amelia Island as it became clear weather could be an issue. Your decision made taking care of those already on-site a much easier task.
Assessing the Impact
The Annual Meeting is our premier and most complex event – and our most expensive by far. While our contract with the Ritz-Carlton contains language that removes Philanthropy Southeast from some financial obligations in the event of an evacuation, we had already incurred significant expenses leading up to that point.
Other expenses related to the Annual Meeting, such as costs for materials and signage, cannot be recovered. In addition to our contract with the Ritz-Carlton, there are agreements with secondary hotels, vendors, sponsors and some speakers that we are now reviewing to determine the impact of the meeting cancellation.
In this unprecedented situation, effective financial stewardship is crucial. It will take time to determine the full impact of cancelling the Annual Meeting on our organization. In light of this, we ask for your patience as we move through this process and decide on next steps, including the possibility of refunds.
We expect our financial review to take a few weeks and will be in touch by the end of the year with further details.
If you and your organization have already decided that you would like the cost of your Annual Meeting registration or sponsorship to be considered a gift to Philanthropy Southeast, please let us know by contacting Dena Chadwick at email@example.com. We deeply appreciate your support!
There are a few items on this year's agenda that we plan to return to by the end of the year. Look for more details on these items in the weeks ahead:
- A new report, Leading with Courage: Reshaping Southern Philanthropy for a New Era, focused on emerging trends and bold leadership in our region.
- The launch of the Accelerating Equity Learning Collaborative, a new member experience we believe has the potential to transform people, organizations, and entire communities!
- Recognizing the Healthcare Georgia Foundation's Two Georgias Initiative, which received this year's Truist Promise Award.
- The election of a new slate of Trustees to the Philanthropy Southeast Board.
On behalf of the entire Philanthropy Southeast staff and Board, we want to express our profound appreciation to all our attendees for their understanding and patience. Even though we were not able to come together last week, the response to these events has provided a powerful reminder of why we come together in the first place, and why we do this work. Thank you!
We'll be in touch soon – in the meantime, we wish each of you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a great kickoff to the holiday season.
Janine Lee is President & CEO of Philanthropy Southeast. Robert Dortch is Chair of the Philanthorpy Southeast Board of Trustees and Co-Founder of the Ujima Legacy Fund.