Legendary fundraiser Kay Partney Lautman, who founded Lautman & Company 20 years ago, died Monday at Sunrise Assisted Living in Washington, D.C., after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years. She was 74.
Lautman was president of the direct marketing division of Oram Marketing Group before buying it and re-launching it as Lautman & Company in 1992. Lautman remained as president emeritus after retiring from the Washington, D.C., firm in July 2007, when it became Lautman, Maska Neill & Company.
In a letter to clients, Lisa Maska and Tiffany Neill described Lautman as a giant in the industry. “Kay was ‘Kay’ to us – our mentor and friend. Her leadership, creativity and dedication to helping the nonprofit causes she championed inspire use every single day. We are so grateful to have known this wonderful woman – our lives are infinitely richer for it.” A reception celebrating the 20th anniversary of the firm will go on as planned Thursday, with a memorial service for Lautman planned in September.
Maska was among the first people hired after Lautman started Lautman & Co. and today is one of its partners. “Everyone in the industry who knew her loved her,” she said. “She was just really a live wire. She just loved what she did and the nonprofits she worked with.”
Maska described Lautman as a “brilliant direct mail fundraiser” dedicated to the nonprofits she served. “We are happy that her legacy lives on with the clients we serve today,” she said.
“She was such a leader in our industry. Her passing is a watershed moment for a lot of us,” said Harry Lynch, CEO of New York City-based Sanky Communications and SankyNet. “Her warmth and passion for what we do, her commitment to the causes…she was a one-of-a-kind, colorful personality,” he said.
At Oram Group, Lautman worked with the late Sanky Perlowin, the founder of Sanky Communications, before each started their own direct response agency. “So, we always joked that we were related, cousins,” said Lynch.
Henry Goldstein worked with Lautman for more than 25 years at The Oram Group, becoming CEO in 1978 and co-authoring “Dear Friend: Mastering the Art of Direct Mail Fundraising.” Lautman was “a sterling professional; anybody would’ve been proud to be associated with her,” he said. “She was a great professional who contributed a lot to the growth of the company before she left to open her own company in 1992.”
In addition to 1984’s “Dear Friend,” Lautman wrote a follow-up in 2000, “Direct Marketing for Nonprofits,” published by Jones and Bartlett Publishers. In Lynch’s copy of the second edition of "Dear Friend," she wrote, “To Harry, who is one of us.” It was an honor “to be recognized by a giant of our industry like that,” he said.
She worked on some of the largest and most successful fundraising campaigns, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of The American Indian, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Lautman worked with smaller charities as well. She touched thousands of lives through her work with House of Ruth, said Director of Development Carolyn Stevens. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit provides housing and recovery services to more than 1,000 homeless or abused women and children each year. “Under Kay’s guidance, and with copy that she wrote, we built the donor base from under 1,000 to more than 20,000,” Stevens said. “We just feel really fortunate that she made her talent and expertise available to what was then a small social service agency in 1994,” she said.
An active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Lautman served on the local board, national board, and foundation board. She was a founding board member of the Association of Direct Response Fundraising Counsel (ADRFCO), and of the Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA).
Lautman was profiled in The NonProfit Times in January 2007 among the World’s Best Fundraisers in the Living Legend category. She described “stumbling” into a fundraising career after answering an ad in what was at the time called “Girl Friday” — essentially the help wanted-female section — in The New York Times to work at Oram Group Marketing. Despite being young and not knowing what she wanted to do, Lautman said, it was “a job made in heaven for me. I got to do all these wonderful things and get paid for it… I did everything, I did it badly but I did it, and I got to learn a lot from that,” she said.
She said at that time that one of the proudest moments of her career was helping to build the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s donor file before the monument was constructed. “You have to love what you’re doing in order to be effective,” Lautman said. “You have to love all the components of it…including the down and dirty work; then, and only then, do you get to share in all the glory of the project.”
Surviving are a sister, Pam Lautman of Silver Spring, Md.; a stepson, Jonathan Lautman of Livingston, N.J.; nieces, Molly Lautman of Washington, D.C., Jenny Anderson of Evergreen, Colo., and Barbara Lautman of Washington, D.C.; and grandniece Mia Anderson and grand-nephew Aiden Anderson, both of Evergreen, Colo. Her husband, Robert C. Lautman, predeceased her in 2009.