Stop having events in country clubs!
Yup, I said it. And I mean it. Where you have your event says as much about your organization as who you have in the room.
Often times, one of the key event questions that doesn’t come up in conversations is what the venue says about your organization. You are an inclusive welcoming nonprofit, or maybe a place of higher education, or maybe a grassroots organization looking to dazzle. So why are you having your event in a place that for years and perhaps still is inaccessible to everyone? I’m not just talking about overt discrimination and bias, but also implicit bias and unwelcome feelings for others.
It’s also not just about where you have your events but when you have them. It’s the signals you’re sending by doing so. I’ve seen multiple organizations embarrass themselves by having an event or scheduling a conference or meeting on the eve of a Jewish Holiday or during Ramadan. It doesn’t matter if your population isn’t Jewish. It’s what it says about your values that you aren’t willing to be aware or “woke” to the environment of un-welcomeness that sends to others.
Let’s take country and private clubs for example. If you are an organization that has an EEO policy and a statement of diversity and inclusion on your website, why are you having an event for your supporters in clubs that historically don’t allow open and equitable membership practices? If the social purpose is to exclude, what does it say to your potential attendees when they or their predecessors may not be welcome there unless they’re approved by you or invited by a member? Historically, many country clubs were "restricted" and refused to admit members of minority racial groups as well those of specific faiths, such as Jews and Catholics. In addition, many private clubs wouldn’t allow women to be members for decades.
The same can be said for some donor’s homes. While it is a lovely offer to have an event in a donor’s home, sometimes we must avoid this or at least vet the optics of it all. Gated communities and large mansions or apartments seem posh and perfect, but they can often come at a price to the organization. What happens if your donor’s home contains art that could be offensive or crosses the line as décor? Or even worse, if they’ve subscribed to the false notion that cotton stalks should be used as décor. Do you tour and review spaces beforehand? How do you handle it if they have “collector's items” displayed…
Or what about who owns the venue? Many charities used to hold their galas at Mar-a Lago but after Charlottesville, abandoned their contracts and plans. And they haven’t come back yet. The business or person that owns your event and their beliefs matter too. Does it align with your mission? Is it the best use of your funds to support them or their beliefs?
Some of you might be saying, "well how far should we have to go Lynne?" It sounds like the only good place you are suggesting is a tent in the middle of a field on one day with no holidays so we aren’t offensive to anyone. That’s not my point. It’s about awareness, acknowledging that your sense of bias may be implicit, and about thinking deeply about the ramifications of our decisions. It’s also about having a more diverse team who can help you point these issues out before you make a mistake.
Everyone should feel welcome at your events. They should feel comfortable. It’s your job to think of these potential issues and avoid them before the invitation goes out the door. They shouldn’t have to choose between being offended or being with you. They shouldn’t have to choose observance of a religious belief or being with you. Remember, the greatest gift someone can give us is their time, not their money. Honor and value that currency wisely. If you have questions, ask! I'm always happy to help you avoid a potential pitfall or Twitter storm!
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