By Hope Katz Gibbs
Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing the World
When Washington, DC author, activist, business leader, and philanthropist Edie Fraser went to an awards dinner and was seated next to TV journalist Robyn Spizman, she had no idea that less than a year later she’d be standing before a room packed with well-wishers at the National Press Club.
They were celebrating the publication of Fraser’s and Spizman’s new book, Do Your Giving While You Are Living.
“We believe the most important word in our vocabulary is love,” the authors write in the introduction. “We’re talking about the kind of love that opens our hearts to others and expects nothing in return. It inspires us to do kind and caring things even when no one is watching.”
It is that belief that inspired these two truly amazing women to give 66 leaders of some of the country’s most influential nonprofit organizations the opportunity to write about the benefits of giving.
“A magical bumble bee” is what Success in the City founder Cynthia de Lorenzi (pictured) called Fraser at a recent event. She’s also been warmly referred to as a stellar philanthropist, businesswoman, and diversity advocate who has touched thousands of lives in her 40-year career.
As the president, founder, and CEO of Diversity Best Practices, Business Women’s Network, and Best Practices in Corporate Communications—all part of the Public Affairs Group, an iVillage Company—Fraser supports more than 170 organizations, corporations, and government members.
“I knew it was important to be a leader, and I took that commitment seriously when I became the president of my high school class, the president of my youth organization, and the president of my school,” Fraser said. “In fact, I took it so seriously my parents took me to see a psychiatrist. He talked to me about moderation, but I knew I was here to accomplish something.”
Today, she knows her purpose is to encourage people to seek out a personal approach to their own giving—and truly understand why it is important to give now. That process is one Frasier began decades ago after watching her entrepreneurial parents, who helped build the retail franchise Casual Corner in Atlanta. “They taught me incredible lessons,” she shares.
But she had plenty of lessons to learn once she was on her own, Frasier insists.
“I studied political science at Duke University where, for the first time, I encountered prejudice,” she says. “I am Jewish and when I got to college, I wanted to be in a ‘popular’ sorority and not a Jewish one. The one I liked had a charter saying it could not admit Jews. It hit me hard.”
She went on to volunteer for the Peace Corps, befriended Walter Cronkite (who told her to do only those things to which she can give 100 percent), and ultimately launched several companies and organizations including a successful PR agency that she sold in 2007.
That year, Fraser was named as one of the Top 50 Pioneers in Diversity by Profiles in Diversity Journal, and—along with Oprah Winfrey and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton—was named one of America’s Top Diversity Advocates by DiversityBusiness.com. She is a founding member of The Committee of 200 and is in the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame, the magazine’s highest honor.
“The one thing I have learned in my life is that you have to keep changing,” she concluded. “Get into things where you can be unique and then go for it. Walk the walk, and as it’s been said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’”
About “Do Your Giving While You Are Living”
The chapters are written by well-known personalities such as Caren Yanis, executive director of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation; Dionne Warwick, renowned musician and philanthropist, and the late Dr. Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women.
Other chapters are written by the heads of some lesser-known nonprofit organizations, such as the Gail Heyman of the National Fragile X Foundation, and Terry Baugh of the DC-based organization KidSave.
On page 204, Baugh’s partner and KidSave co-founder Randi Thompson writes: “When you ask someone if they can help the 33 million kids in the world living without families, they can’t imagine what they can do. But when you talk about the possibility of reaching out to one orphan or foster child, it’s a very different story.”
That idea captures the essence of this 289-page book, which strives to teach and encourage everyone to open their hearts and give what they can.
In fact, the book’s publisher, David Hancock of Morgan James Publishing, has made a commitment to donate a percentage of book sales each month to one of his favorite organizations, Habitat for Humanity.
“Habitat for Humanity is changing lives,” Hancock writes in the book. “Working in partnership with low-income families to build decent homes they can afford to buy, Habitat helps to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. So we place its logo on the back and inside of our books and give a small library of books to the new homeowners. In addition to generating funds, we are raising awareness of Habitat’s critically important work.”
The goal of the book, which hit the Businessweek bestseller list just weeks after it was published in November 2008, was to encourage more companies to reach out in similarly profound ways.
“Whether in your community or around the world, choose one or more actions that make a difference,” says Spizman, (pictured) one of the country’s leading gift experts, who is often featured on NBC’s “Today” show, CNN, MSNBC, and The Discovery Channel, among others. “Continue to search for meaningful ways to connect to causes that matter. Considering what you can do and inspiring yourself and others in the giving of time, talents, and treasures has never been more critical.”
Fraser notes: “My forecast is that with the support of corporate and nonprofit leaders, outstanding philanthropists, dedicated volunteers, celebrities, ambassadors for change, and innovative activists working to better humanity, ‘Do Your Giving While You Are Living’ will become a movement.”
For more information about Edie Frasier, and her latest project, “STEM Connector,” click here.