Tomorrow, Lautman Maska Neill & Company, the fundraising firm founded by Kay Lautman will hold its 20th Anniversary reception.

Of course what’s noteworthy, far beyond the laudable two decade anniversary of a good agency is the death on Monday of its Founder – Kay Partney Lautman at age 74.

You can read all about the professional achievements and the admiration of colleagues of this remarkable woman in yesterday’s online issue of Fundraising Success and on her company’s website. And I urge you to do so.

But all the plaques, certificates, industry awards and tributes clutter up the essence of what Kay did for all of us in this trade and the real legacy she leaves.

All women in fundraising — and all fundraising males willing to admit our profession would be far less than half as decent and skilled without women — owe Kay big-time. She helped smash the glass ceiling. In fact, she took a sledge hammer to it.

In the mid-60s when I entered the business, there was a fundraising agency called the Oram Group. Harold Oram, its owner, followed a unique business model for those days. He hired bright young women, moved them physically into his clients’ offices to manage the account, and called them ‘Oram Girls’.

Kay was an ‘Oram Girl. And along with Sanky Perlowin made it damn clear that male domination in fundraising was doomed. Within a few years of each other they established their own agencies — Sanky Perlowin & Associates in 1977 (now Sanky Inc.) and Lautman & Associates (now Lautman, Maska Neill & Company) a few years later, following Kay’s stint has head of the Oram Group.

Kay had values and scruples bundled around a caring heart. Every consultant working today would do well to emulate these traits.

She pursued what she thought right, honest and best for her clients with a vengeance. Clients didn’t always appreciate her candor, but most are alive and thriving today because she delivered straight talk and sound advice — always with their long-term interest, not short term “make nice” advice in mind.

In fact, many of the museums that line the Mall in Washington, DC – the United States Holocaust Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — stand as a living legacy to her good, tough advice. As my long-time colleague Jennie Thompson charmingly noted today, “If it weren’t for Kay the Mall would still be mostly grass and woodland.”

Kay also gave back to our profession in ways most will never know. Through her books and personal attention and training she helped raise up a generation of talented fundraisers. Her own agency is today is beautifully managed by a new generation of women leaders.

In short, Kay was one hell of great human being. A ground-breaker and sometimes a ball-breaker and always a breaker of conventional, go-along-to-get-along molds.

As I called around our community today to gather reminiscences and insights from colleagues, I especially noted the tribute from fellow copywriter Bob Levy:  “I admired her gutsiness. She may have seemed a tough bird, but her copy revealed her empathy and warm heart.”

Well done, Kay.  Thank you.


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