Kathy LeMay Inspires Other Women to Help Change the World

Posted on September 28th, 2011 by Maggie Castrey

Dr. Nancy: My own volunteer efforts lead me recently to hear a truly amazing woman speak about how each of us can help.
Kathy LeMayKathy LeMay uses her gifts to raise, not just money, but a global community to make the world a better place. She founded an organization called, Raising Change in 2005 to help others transform their relationship to social change. She is also chairwoman of the Board of World Pulse, a communication organization dedicated to broadcasting the global voice of women.

  • Kathy has been a global fundraiser for 15 years.
  • She has raised over 100 million dollars.
  • Her causes are in the areas of women’s human rights, hunger, poverty relief and movement building.

Now she has written a book, The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure, and Talent to Shape the World.  I found it to be both inspiring and a guidebook to empower women to find their own change agents.

Teach Philanthropy To Children

N: Kathy, why you do what you’re doing today?
Kathy LeMay: I grew up in the oldest mill town in the United States. My mother raised my 2 sisters and me on a $6,000 salary for years and we got food banks and food stamps and I’m grateful for those public safety programs where they supported us. And we had very little and yet my mother always told us that compared to other people, we were very blessed and that we should be grateful for what we do have and resources we had access to. So she opened my eyes to the much larger world that was around me and to make sure that my sisters and I didn’t fall victim to anything, and that we felt powerful with who we were.
K: So as I moved forward I was mad about a lot of things that I saw that seemed wrong and unfair to me. And my mother said to me, “Okay, what are you going to do about it?” With her there was no way to just complain, you had to take an action. So it seemed to me activism was something you could do for free. You know, could you show up and stuff envelopes, and go to a rally and get involved in Democracy in the United States. And that’s what I did.

Making Money for a Cause

K: And after awhile I realized I could make some money for these initiatives. They were good ideas, but they had no money. So I started fundraising. And of course, when you start fundraising, it puts you across the table from people who have vastly more resources than you do. And I really had to learn how to navigate that — as someone who didn’t grow up with money I felt very intimidated.
K: So what I started to learn is the people sitting across from me cared as much as I did. They wanted to help as much as I did. And they didn’t know how to make a difference. And I started to realize that because I dedicated my life to causes about equality and fairness and justice, I was slowly becoming an expert about how to make these things happen. But I was actually a great asset and resource to these folks, who hadn’t been immersed in the same field that I had and wanted to learn from me. I found that every single one of us has something important to offer. We all matter to the conversation about making the world a better place and part of our work is finding out what those gifts are and then sharing them.

How to Find Your Own Generosity Plan

N: People really don’t know how to help. Your book, The Generosity Plan, really helps educate people. I’ve found if you give people the vision and the opportunity to give and ways they can give with time and talent, they usually rise to the occasion.

N: I don’t like the negativism of the term non-profit. I prefer to call them “social profit organizations.” Now, you had a role model in your mother. She gave you a vision as to how you could go out and change the world and challenged you to do it. I had the same kind of people in my life. It really became a kind of responsibility and expectation that we, in our family, did those things. Not everyone has that background.
K: Absolutely. I just recently met a woman who just recently graduated from college, who moved to the East Coast, who got a job, which is not a small thing, to make it to New York and find an apartment and a job, right?  And she said there’s got to be something more than this. And she sought me out and said she’s always known, “There’s a greater purpose for me. I’m supposed to be applying my heart, my smart go-getter attitude, to make a difference in someone’s life.” I have never met someone who can’t make a difference.

What Breaks Your Heart?

K: How do you spark in people that they can? I ask people, “What breaks your heart? What keeps you up at night? What gets you out of bed in the morning?” And then you really land on that.
N: I like to help people notice that in their lives, they’ve already been philanthropic. People think they’ve got to do something great, like the Nobel Peace Prize or something. But their random acts of kindness show they are a caring, giving person. Isn’t that really the first step to creating a philanthropic person?
K: Mother Teresa grew up in Eastern Europe and she heard about Calcutta and she didn’t know what to do and she went there and just helped one person. She didn’t go there with a great master plan. It broke her heart and she showed up. About the work, she said, “What we’re doing is just a drop in the ocean, but if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Inspired By Mother Theresa

N: Yes, you can drop a pebble in the water and it ripples out.
K: People aren’t often invited to step up and change the world. And if you’re one of the people inviting someone, they will be shocked. But you just keep pushing. And if you’re being invited by someone, trust that the person inviting you sees something. They know what they’re doing. The advice, in particular, I give to women is, “Just slow and steady wins the race.” Take it a step at a time. Sure I’ll go to this first meeting or this event. Step back and ask, “What did I like about what I heard? What resonated with me? What made sense? Was there anything that didn’t click or didn’t’ make sense?  Who in the room seemed an interesting, thoughtful person who you could go to and ask, “You seem really involved in this. Tell me how you got there, how you got more involved.” Take some time to learn and explore.
K: The causes I personally care about are women’s human rights and animal rights. When you have a generosity plan, what really helps is to figure out what your deep values are. What are you passionate about? Then you know when to say yes and why, and how to say no without hurting someone’s feelings. Then you learn more and then your connection continues to grow. And then one day, someone looks at you and says, “You know you seem to know about this. Can I take you to lunch?” And then you get to pay it forward for the person who once did it for you.

How to Recruit New Members

N: Our best way of creating membership is to create a bit of ownership. If a woman brings another woman into it, just as a friend, just as an opportunity for them to come in and learn, it’s a soft sell. It’s not “you’ve gotta do this.” And I think that part of it… people also need to know if it’s the right time in their lives, ff they’re able to give time. If you’re a busy mother with children and you’re working you have to prioritize. If you’re going to volunteer, you’re going to take on a cause, but it has to fit into your life as well. I do know some people who unfortunately try to be all things to all people. And in my profession, we see a lot of burn out. You can tell when it’s time for them to leave, because they feel overwhelmed if you ask them to do one thing more. But you also know that the people who are the busiest get the most done and they are very good at it.
N: What are the questions that you ask people to inspire them to give?

How to Inspire Others to Give

K: I go back to their giving roots. A lot of times people think they’re just starting from point zero. I have rarely found this to be the case. “Did you grow up in a faith based tradition? Did you ever see your mom volunteer? And what’s quite amazing is the number of stories around, “You know, my mom used to help with blood drives or collect food. Or we did give checks to the church food baskets every week.”
K: So you find they did have a history of philanthropy, it just didn’t look like Bill Gates. I remember asking this woman once, “When did you start volunteering?” And she said, “Not until college.” And I asked, “So nothing in high school.” Because she was telling about her mom who seemed like a very giving person and I could just see that rubbing off on her. And she stopped and she said, “Kathy, I just remembered when I was 12 years old, I was a Candy Striper at a hospital.” And we went back to that and she talked about the patients and the people she was with and giving them magazines and taking the time to talk with people and feeling like, “When I just show up and listen, it really matters and makes a difference.”

Finding Your Passion

And when we were creating what she could do, what she was passionate about, she decided that she wanted to make sure that some of it was showing up and taking time to listen, because she now knows that’s one of her philanthropic gifts. And at 12 to be in a hospital and be with people who were very sick. And she’s older, so this was pre-Hospice and many were dying and she was still brave enough to go and be with them knowing that they may not be there the next day. And she began to realize, “I have a lot to offer. “ And that became the core and the heart of her generosity plan. And from there it just became, which folks, which organizations. But she really found that her giving roots ran deep.
K: I ask people to go back and remember. And they’ll say, oh I’ve been giving a long time, because when I was six, I did the UNICEF boxes. I asked for candy, but I also asked people to give me pennies, nickels and dimes….
N: Yeah, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t sell candy in high school or grade school, in Brownies or something.
K: Yeah and that’s not easy. You stand outside of a grocery store and ask people, “Will you buy this for a dollar?” And people reject you. You can learn to do it.

What Is The Right Amount To Give?

N: During the worst of times, people give more. It’s something they can control in their lives. I’ve seen that in my own fundraising; people tend to give during the hardest times.  But let’s talk about the amount, because that seems to be the kicker for people. That they don’t think they have enough money, or time and talent.
K: Yeah, I think that the money thing does throw us.  People don’t know how much to give. People think: What if I give too much and it’s more than I can handle in my budget? I don’t want to go back on my word. Or what if I get on a mailing list and get overwhelmed with requests. Or What if I start giving and then they want more? I don’t want to be rude, because I care, but it’s more than I can manage.

Fears About Giving

K: So I ask people not think about the dollar amount but instead to ask, what is the total percent of my total budget I can give to make a difference?  So you look at your whole pie and say, I give this much to shelter and heat and I give this much to food and I give this much to luxury and down time and nurturing me. What’s the percentage in your pie that you want giving to occupy that is a good starting point for me or reflects where I am. So that’s one.
K: How you can gauge that is look at what you gave last year and look at your percentage was. So I just worked with someone who said, “I want to be at 10%. It’s a tithing tradition in my family and how do I get there? We looked at last year’s tax returns, did a percentage and she was at 6.7. So that’s good. It won’t be that much work to get to 10.  I said you may not get there this year, You might have to go 8 or 9% this year, so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Don’t think, “How much money do I want to give away?” Think, “How much percentage do I want it to occupy in my budget?”

Advice on Asking for Donations

N: Most people hate to ask for money. But, if you believe in this and you care about this, it’s always easy to ask. I’ve done a lot of fundraising and I’ll continue to do a lot of fundraising. But I can ask, because I believe. I can ask because I care. I can ask because I’m committed. I’m not going to ask you to do any more than I do, because it is equal sacrifice. But I am going to ask you, because I believe in what I’m doing and I believe in my cause. I try to explain that to women when we’re talking about fundraising…most people if you’re truly committed and you truly, genuinely believe in what you’re doing…understand that and see your passion and they’ll give what they can.
K: Someone once said to me, “I can’t believe what you do for a living is ask for money.” And I said, “I can’t believe what you think I do for a living is ask for money.” I said, “In the multiple conversations I have with donors, talking about their financial gift occupies one to two percent of the conversation throughout the year. There’s so much more going on.”
K: But when I ask people who are afraid of fundraising, ”What’s your fear?” most people say, “It’s getting rejected.” And you have to realize that the odds are you’re going to get rejected. So walk in knowing that you’re going to get some “no’s.” It’s not personal. It’s not like you’ve just asked someone to pay your mortgage. And they said no. It’s not about you.

Matching Donors With Causes

There’s no shame in talking to people and saying: “I want to take you to lunch…and talk to you about this organization and how passionate I am. I don’t know if this group is going to be a match for you….or something you’re going to care about and might join me in, but I thought we could have a lunch to explore it. And if not, then at the end of a lunch, I appreciate so much the time to share with you and explore with you and learn about what you care about and, if yes, then we’ll go from there.” Just say to people, it’s either a match or it’s not and we’ll find out.
N: And you’re right, they can either say yes or no and you can be pleasantly surprised. But again, it’s about not taking it personally and seeing it as an opportunity to develop a relationship that someday may become more fruitful. It’s a contact that you make. They say sometimes it takes up to 5 contacts before people do anything. So it’s a matter of developing a relationship, because you get to tell your story and they get to tell theirs. And I think that’s the value and so important for all of us to try to understand why we do what we do.
N: I really applaud your efforts. One group I work with, Female Leaders in Philanthropy, is working very hard to put women in the workplace, so they have jobs and are able to care for themselves. Everyone can make a difference. Everyone can help in some level.
K: if people want to learn more about the book or how you can create a generosity plan, you can go to www.thegenerosityplan.com. The good news is that we’re launching a new website this year and we’re going to be doing workshops where people can get together and talking about their plans with one another. Or you can get the book on Amazon and you can create a plan all on your own.

Create Your Own Giving Plan

N: And part of the proceeds go to your own plan as well; isn’t that right?
K: Exactly. I give out probably 30-50% of my income a year to organizations I care about and to close people in my life, who live in the United States, but who live below the federal poverty line, and I consider that a critical part of my philanthropy. And the company gives to organizations that we really feel embody our vision that there truly is enough for everyone. That no one needs to go without and that another world is possible. And we really support those organizations that are bold and brave and fierce in their work.
N: Yes, just get out there and make it a better world. Kathy, you speak it, you talk it and you are it, so that’s your extreme value.

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