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Suze Orman champions women's causes

Cause Celeb talks with personal finance expert Suze Orman about her support of the Avon Foundation for Women and its goal of fighting domestic violence and breast cancer.
Image: Suze Orman attends the 2009 Avon Foundation for Women Gala
Suze Orman attends the 2009 Avon Foundation for Women Gala "Celebrating Champions who Change Women's Lives” on Oct. 27.KT Travis
/ Source: NBC News

Q: Could you tell me about the Avon Foundation for Women?

Orman: The Avon Foundation for Women has raised close to $700 million for the purpose of curing breast cancer as well as ending domestic violence. It is a foundation created by women for women in the hope that it helps everybody who has anything to do with a woman.

Q: How did you become involved with this organization?

Orman: Originally, I became involved a few years ago with something called the Hello Tomorrow Fund, where I participated as a judge. Avon was giving away $5,000 a week, and they did so for two years to over 100 women who would write in. Thousands of women wrote in; but, they would write in with a business idea, some business they either wanted to create or was already in existence, where they needed just some funds. There were a few of us that were judges on this. I, again, being one of them, would then decide which of the 34 applicants at a time, the finalists … so, thousands wrote in, I only saw 34 of the finalists every few weeks. I then would choose and weigh each one of those finalists. Then, depending on how all the judges voted, one woman won the $5,000, or, sometimes one man. That was my entree into Avon.

Q: What was the thing that attracted you most after this experience?

Orman: A woman named Janet, who when you first walk in to the offices of Avon, is the woman who greets you. She’s been the secretary there for years, and she had a light about her and a love about her. She loved working there, and I learned a long time ago, if the janitors, if the secretaries, if the telephone people all love where they are working, it’s because they are treated with respect, and therefore respect comes from the top down. When she lit and I saw that, then I started to see.

Then from there, I went in to meet Andrea Jung [chairmwoman & CEO of Avon Products], and at the time Liz Smith (former president of Avon) and Joe Billone (vice president, global representative branding and communications) and Debbie Coffey (vice president, public relations). Off the charts! These were people who were not just, “Oh I’m doing my job,”… “Here let me do it, let me make more profits for the bottom line” … “Let me do this.” These were people who you could tell cared, not only about the people that worked for them, but the people that worked with them, their representatives, they cared, their words were good as gold. That’s really what sealed the deal for me.

Q: Why is this organization important to support?

Orman: Number one, my mother was an Avon representative back in 1964. She was a secretary at that time, and in 1964 it wasn’t the norm for a woman to be working and actually be the one that was taking care of the family. It’s not like today where women are the primary … that 50 percent of the work force is women. Then it was you stay home, you took care of your kids, and, if you didn’t, something was radically wrong. So, back then, for her to even make more money to support everything, because my dad was always sick, she during her lunch hour was an Avon rep. The message there being sometimes, just $100 to $300 more a month in income will keep a women’s family running. It will keep them from really suffering and losing everything, or getting themselves more and more into credit card debt.

This is an organization that has been around now for approximately 123 years, and they have dedicated themselves to women making and living for themselves, not necessarily their entire living, but supplementing their living, so that they could make it. What really got me is that there is no risk to the representatives whatsoever. A while ago, it used to be, if you signed up for one of these direct marketing companies or whatever they are, direct seller associations, you had to come up with all this money, you had to do all this stuff, and really you kind of lost all your money. With Avon, all you’re risking is $10. If you decide to order stuff, because you’ve gone to somebody, and you’ve told them something; now, the product comes, you go to deliver it them or send it to them, and they no longer have the money to pay for it for you, you just send it back. So, I like that.

Suze Orman likes that, that there was no risk to people to try to help themselves, unlike so many of these. You have to buy $5,000 worth of stuff, you have to buy $400 worth of stuff just to get started, and then if it doesn’t work you’re out the $400. In a day and an age where people don’t have $400 to be out, I like that. I could not be a greater advocate to this company if I tried.

Q: In your opinion, what is the most impressive thing the Avon Foundation for Women does?

Orman: I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one, but the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is probably the most impressive thing I have ever seen in my life. The woman who runs it, Carol [Kurzig, president of the Avon Foundation for Women], it’s not that she just puts these things on and then she disappears; she walks in almost every single one of them.

This last one in New York, she had blisters all over her feet. But this is the head of a multihundred-million-dollar foundation. She just doesn’t stand up there and say blah. She walks or talks literally. So, to stand up there on the stage, and watch three or four thousand women walking in from this walk, to see that the care and the love that they put on these events with, will blow you away. I’m never seen anything like it in my life.

Q: What are some of your current projects that you are working on that you are excited about?

Orman: Oh God, I’m excited about everything. Today [on Nov. 3, 2009], I’m excited about being on Oprah and seeing myself as a waitress. But, I’m excited more then ever, for some reason, and I have to tell you, I’m not exactly sure why, but to start with my idea on the Suze Orman show. I was talking to my executive producer, Amy Feller, and saying, “Amy, you would expect, after nine years of doing this, that I literally would be like, oh God, not another year. I’m more excited this year then I’ve ever been before, and I’m not exactly sure why.”

It’s not about necessarily creating new projects and working on this and working that. Sometimes, it’s really appreciating everything you’ve already done. I’m really excited about continuing to do my show. I’m excited that "Women and Money," after three years of being in hardback, will be out in softback in January. I’m excited about those types of things.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Orman: That the beginning of women’s empowerment starts with the ending of those things that keep women powerless. The Avon Foundation for Women is dedicated to eliminating powerlessness for women, for breast cancer as well as violence, and creating a powerful, healthy, and wealthy life for all.

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