If author Kathy LeMay has her way, more people will put this on their list of 2010 resolutions:
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This year I’m going to live and lead a generous life.
Isn’t that just so appealing?
LeMay is the founder, president and CEO of Raising Change, a fundraising organization that works to advance social change agendas and philanthropy worldwide and she has just written a book called The Generosity Plan which is not just filled with helpful information but illuminating anecdotes as well.
“The goal for the book is watching what people have to unleash to make the world a better place,” LeMay said in our recent interview.
In case you’re about to stop reading here because you think this is going to be a message directed to the wealthy, please don’t. If there’s one thing LeMay’s book does from the outset, it’s dispel the notion that one has to be a trust fund kid or millionaire to give, or to have a well thought-out giving plan.
“It wasn’t until I turned 31 years old – after 17 years of activism everywhere from Massachusetts to the former Yugoslavia – that I stepped in front of a crowd of 400 at a philanthropy conference and, with my body shaking, named myself a philanthropist,” LeMay writes in her book’s introduction.
This after realizing early on that she wanted to be a giving person, but didn’t feel she could make a difference without lots of money. As one who can identify with that mindset because I had it for a very long time, I asked LeMay to pretend I was a client and coach me a bit around my Generosity Plan.
When I told her that 9/11 got me started with volunteering, she asked what it was about 9/11 that prompted it. I explained that I had given lip service to volunteerism, but somehow that historic day put me more in a global mindset, one that required I do my part to make a difference. Then she asked if I recalled the most generous thing anyone I know has done. It seemed a daunting question, but I pulled a giving gesture out of my memory – when my brother sent me boxes of groceries after a layoff in 2002.
From there, LeMay helped identify how I profile as a donor. What about that gesture particularly spoke to me? In that instance, I was moved by the specifics of my brother knowing what salad dressing and cereal I liked. This falls into the category of relationships, of being a natural giver in life.
Taking it up a notch, how might I apply that to my own Generosity Plan now? As it turns out, I enjoy some giving that requires relationships (doing pro bono life coaching for a formerly homeless woman in my community), some that is more detached but meaningful (plucking a card off an angel tree and buying clothing for an anonymous 5-year-old boy) and some that is as simple as writing a check (most recently to Heifer International). Since I listed homelessness and education for women as areas on which I’d like to focus my giving, the idea is to make sure the bulk of where I put my time, treasure and talent is aligned with those passions.
I then mentioned to LeMay that I felt a little self-conscious about listing some of my good deeds in a column because wasn’t part of the deal being hushed about it?
“Why?” she said. “Think about why you feel that way.”
Indeed, there’s a difference between bragging and sharing, isn’t there? Why not put generosity on the table?
LeMay even addresses naysayers in her book, a section I found particularly helpful since I’ve come across skeptics frequently. Aside from the ‘say nothing, nod and smile’ approach when someone questions the nature of your generosity, try something like this suggested exchange from LeMay’s book:
“Animal rights? Are you kidding? Children are starving and going without the basics. There are wars and genocide everywhere and you’re trying to protect a pig?”
"That’s a good point. Can you tell me what you’re involved in around helping starving children? I’d love to know more about that."
The idea is to get confident in your plan and execute it with goodwill and grace. Whether it’s buying Girl Scout cookies, reading to the elderly or embarking on a mission in Africa, do it because it speaks to your heart and sense of spirit. Also, look at whether you prefer to build something that doesn’t exist or give to an established charity.
“As donors, we’re responsible to give where we mean it,” LeMay said. “I am constantly revisiting my own plan and how to best hit the goals I want to hit.”
In response to a financial expert who thinks that it’s irresponsible to give when your finances are strained, LeMay writes, “Color me irresponsible! If it is irresponsible to invest in social service, social change, and social justice, then I would like to be counted among the legions of irresponsibles.”
Considering I only learned the power of giving after hitting on hard times myself, all I can say to that is, “Amen.”