What Does Kathy LeMay Know That Other Fundraisers Don't?


"I never said anything. I radically listened."

These are the words of Kathy LeMay, a longtime fundraiser, about how she helped a donor discover that she was ready to make a million-dollar donation.

What is radical listening? It's the process of "being in relationship" with donors so that you are able to help them fulfill their mission. It's about being on the receiving end of the donor's vision, and being able to help them articulate that vision in a way that inspires them to give.

LeMay recently taught her inaugural Raising Change Masterclass for fundraisers, which guides students in the fine arts of radical listening and being in full, trusted relationships with donors. LeMay's work in this area is a response to messages she has heard from donors over the years who have told her that they wanted more of a relationship with the organization they are funding, rather than to be treated as a check writer.

In addition to launching her new masterclass, LeMay has also recently been appointed as the interim executive director of Women Moving Millions, one of the most important organizations in the gender equality philanthropy space.

"Women Moving Millions began as a campaign, and thanks to its extraordinary members and the rise of women around the world, transformed a moment into a movement," said LeMay when I asked about her vision for the organization. "As interim executive director, my aim is to help set a course for the future for Women Moving Millions as it equips female philanthropists to advance global gender equality."

LeMay said the estimated timeline for hiring the permanent executive director of  the group is three to six months, depending on the length of the search process. "The organization is soon to begin a robust, professionally run search process for their next permanent leader," said Jacki Zehner, one of Women Moving Million's co-founders. LeMay said she will not be in the running herself for the permanent executive director job, but will be helping Women Moving Millions "in any way I can to secure the right candidate."

At the same time, LeMay will be teaching a new masterclass of fundraisers in April, and provided a glimpse into what the class entails in a free 30-minute webinar. She had some compelling suggestions for how people can grow into a much more influential role in their fundraising.

LeMay is particularly focused in her fundraising on "how to activate the millions of people in the world who have resources and want to use them to fulfill missions in the world."

Step one of Raising Change's recipe for success: self-examination. "How you spend your time directly impacts how much money you raise," said LeMay in the webinar. "Sounds incredibly remedial, right? We tend to think we spend so much more time with donors and investors than we actually do."

LeMay advises fundraisers to examine their time by carefully studying themselves for a 30-day period and then summarizing their own activity with a pie chart. Then, she says, ask yourself:  Does that pie chart reflect the missions or values of the organization I'm working for?

"If you want to be world-class, 60 percent of your time should be spent in relationship with donors and investors," said LeMay. That time can be spent face-to-face, via email, on Skype, or by digging up important research and background information for potential donors. Whatever you are doing, that time should be focused on being in relationship with the donor, said LeMay. 

She has a very clear response for people in philanthropy who say they can't find time to fundraise. "You don't have the time to not fundraise," she said.  "You don't have the time to not be in relationship."

Another meta-message that LeMay teaches in her fundraising class: "Slow down. Your job is to build trust with the donor, not to pitch them. Your job is to understand what values guide and drive them."

LeMay's class helps fundraisers understand their job as mission makers. "Your job is to help people fulfill missions through their relationship with you."

LeMay talked more in the webinar about the donor she recently worked with who decided to make her first million-dollar donation. That process was one in which LeMay played a key role in helping the donor recognize the barriers that were keeping her from making larger gifts. LeMay said that through conversation with her, the donor realized that "a lot of people in my life don't know I have the resources to do a million-dollar donation." According to LeMay, the donor was worried that making such a large donation might change the nature of her relationships with people in her life who did not have the same level of resources.

"We spent the next hour talking about this, and we got to the other side of it," said LeMay. The donor, she said, realized that maybe she should let her friends see who she really was.

LeMay sees this experience as an example of "what it means to shift from 'I need to ask you for money, because this project needs to be funded and you have money'" to a much more relational and mission-focused approach to donors.

"Mission makers say, 'Here is a mission that is exceptional, that needs the right people and the right resources at the right time. Here are some individuals who may be a match for that. I am going to see if I can broker a relationship that is meaningful and impactful, that's values-driven and that's based in a trusted partnership.'"

LeMay sees her masterclass as an invitation for fundraisers to become mission makers. "Using this model, I have raised $175 million from individuals for causes that are not always so popular, and not the hot-button issue at the moment to fund. I have seen this model work throughout sectors. I have seen it work in universities. I have seen it work in hospitals."

Most importantly, LeMay sees the Raising Change method as a potent model for social change fundraising. "This is about radical listening, about spending a significant amount of time with the very people who equip your mission and make it possible."