The history of SGMP is not that of one single person, but it does start with one single vision. That vision came from Sam O. Gilmer, a meeting planner from the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC. A very serious man about his work and duties at the federal level, he investigated several industry organizations that provided networking with training and development in the meeting planning field.
His findings were disappointing, however, mostly due to the fact that none of these organizations addressed the unique needs of a government meeting planner, whose work was impacted by the rules and regulations of the federal government. So it became apparent to Sam and others that they would have to create their own organization if they wanted professional development and training that pertained to the unique world of government planners.
The initial organization meeting was held on October 29, 1981, in Washington, DC, and was attended by 70 planners and 20 suppliers. Sam Gilmer presided over the meeting, but his organizational efforts were greatly assisted by Dave Dubois and Jim Horvath. These three men were instrumental in the founding of the Society of Government Meeting Planners, which was the name of our organization when it was founded.
The vision was simple — to create an association dedicated to government meeting planners and to provide them with the training and industry relationships to do a better job. That vision became the first mission of SGMP — to enhance the knowledge and expertise of government meeting professionals by improving the quality and promoting the cost-effectiveness of government meetings.
Originally, SGMP was located only in Washington, DC, with one board of directors holding regular meetings and serving a nationwide membership. However, interest in expansion became fervent in 1985 and SGMP’s first four chapters were chartered. These new chapters (in the order of their chartering dates) were the Chicago chapter, the Seattle (now Pacific Northwest) chapter, the Colorado (based in Denver and later renamed Rocky Mountain) chapter, and the Springfield (later Heart of Illinois) chapter.
Government meeting planning was now an industry being established nationwide with federal, state and municipal planners and SGMP was no longer simply relegated to federal planners in the nation’s capital. With an ever-increasing interest in expansion, the board of directors recognized the difficulty of administering a national organization and operating a large membership under the national banner. Therefore, the National Capital chapter, based in Washington, DC, was chartered in early 1986. The local chapter now had a separate chapter board of directors, distinct from the national board of directors that governed the entire Society outside of any one chapter.
SGMP’s first big success story was its annual conference. The first one was held in Columbia, Maryland, in 1983. The education theme was "Spending Government Money Powerfully"… and that theme is as relevant today as it was then. There were just 68 attendees and 36 consultation tables (exhibits) at that very first conference. SGMP has since attracted nearly 1,000 attendees and has hosted a 50,000-sq. ft. exhibit hall at what is now called the NEC (National Education Conference).
SGMP has grown quite a bit in all areas since its founding as an organization for government "planners." A quarterly magazine was introduced in 1999. The organization hired its first executive director, Carl C. Thompson, in 2001. Our own designation program — the Certified Government Meeting Professional (CGMP) — was also launched in 2005. The "P" in our name now stands for "Professionals." A new mission statement was approved by the members in 2012.
Today, SGMP’s membership is served by 21 chapters. We are managed by ASCENT Management and a national board of directors committed to the continued growth of the Society and expansion of member benefits that are delivered through education, resources and networking. SGMP is poised to be a leader in the meetings industry — now and into the future.
A simple vision that meets the needs of many is what Sam Gilmer gave to SGMP and our future leaders. We need only to look back at that first conference’s message — "Spending Government Money Powerfully" — to remind us of our focus on improving our industry by educating our members. In the years to come, SGMP will continue to hit new levels of professional development and member services to all government meeting professionals.