By Babs Rodriguez
Photos by Ralph Lauer
For Kathy Jo Zeigler, a life of giving adds up to happiness
She says numbers are not her thing, but Kathy Jo Zeigler’s life has been filled with some big ones, most notably if the measure is in volunteer hours — both hers and those of people inspired by her example. Then there are the philanthropic gifts; she’s tallied numbers large and small in her development work at area nonprofits and, for the last eight years, as director of annual giving and communications with the Baylor Scott & White All Saints Health Foundation.
Philanthropy, in both her business and personal life, has been Zeigler’s driving force for a long time. But that wasn’t part of her early plan. “I began my studies in the TCU school of business, but after a semester I realized numbers were not my forte and that social sciences was a fit,” she says. “I realized that giving back, whether it be of time, talent or treasure, was important to me.”
Zeigler, who grew up in Fort Worth, ultimately received a bachelor’s degree in social work from TCU; a master’s in the same field from the University of Texas at Arlington further shored up her path. But early experiences on the front lines of her chosen field were hard on the softhearted woman, who is as quick to tear up as she is to laugh. The late Ted Blevins, who was executive director at Lena Pope during Zeigler’s 12 years there, suggested development might be a better direction for her. At first, she thought he was trying to save her from the hard work. He assured her she’d find even harder work to inspire her as a fundraiser. “He had an amazing intuition and saw something I didn’t.” She left the child and family services agency in 2000 and, after stops that included the North Texas Food Bank, landed at the All Saints Health Foundation.
Zeigler still considers herself a social worker through and through. In fact, she calls her fundraising/development positions “macro-level social work.” “Working in the nonprofit sector for over two decades has confirmed for me that no matter what my role, or the size of my role, if I can be a part of something that serves others or makes life better for someone, I want to be a part of it,” she says.
In 2004, Zeigler and her husband, a real estate appraiser, settled in Southlake to raise their son and daughter. “John and I decided to move to the very best school district for our kids. We purchased our house from my brother-in-law, who was relocating out of state — but we still let him visit,” she says, laughing.
Even with a full-time job, Zeigler always found hours to dedicate to volunteer work, often alongside her children. She was introduced to Metroport Meals on Wheels through the Southlake chapter of the National Charity League (a philanthropic organization for mothers and their school-age daughters), and now has been delivering meals to Northeast Tarrant County clients for nine years.
Involvement with the Young Men’s Service League provided her and her then high school-aged son with volunteer experiences at The Miracle League, GRACE and the Metroport Teen Court. “I especially cherish memories of time we spent playing bingo at a local nursing home. Seeing my son engage with the seniors and him calling the numbers loud enough for everyone to hear, which was pretty loud. I can still see the sparkle in the residents’ eyes when they won a game or told us about their families.”
At the Baylor Scott & White All Saints Health Foundation, Zeigler oversees fundraisers, special events and a women’s advocacy board. A significant part of her role is working with volunteers to raise awareness and financial support for the Joan Katz Cancer Resource Center in Fort Worth. For the last 11 years, a volunteer committee made up of cancer survivors, friends of survivors and others who want to support the center meets on-site each month to plan Beyond the Bag, a celebratory evening of fundraising for JKCRC, which relies 100 percent on donor support. “Each planning meeting includes an ‘education moment’ that reminds us of the mission of the center: providing nonmedical support services for anyone with a cancer diagnosis.”
Zeigler’s typical workday is filled with phone calls, emails and meetings as well as talks with donors about a variety of All Saints Health Foundation needs. “As the largest not-for-profit hospital system in Texas, the generosity of donors makes possible things that might otherwise not be available,” she says.
She also finds volunteer opportunities for herself at the medical center. Working with the Pastoral Care department, she and others fill small organza bags with lavender teas, oils and chocolates. The “Code Lavender” bags are distributed to nursing units that need a lift or have had an especially difficult day. During the pandemic, many of her evenings were spent filling such bags.
But Zeigler, who is definitely a glass-half-full person, believes that COVID may have resulted in some good changes in health care philanthropy. “When the virus touched the lives of so many, it became personal to young men and women who had yet to weather any health crisis in their own lives. The importance of giving back became real to them.
“Philanthropy is an investment you are willing to make, a partnership with an organization or cause that you believe in, that allows you to make a difference.” As for developing a giving spirit at home, she has simple advice for families: “Start early.”
Now that her own children have left for college, Zeigler finds she has a bit more time and says she does not miss hearing “What’s for dinner, Mom?” She enjoys working in the yard, reading, meeting friends for dinner or settling in with her husband to watch the latest Bravo show or, more often, sports. On weekends, the couple travel, often to visit the kids.
But Zeigler is always happy to come back to her office. “For me, going to work is a joy. The key to happiness is finding something you enjoy doing, something that continues to educate you, refuel you. Giving time to causes that mean something to you is important because time is precious — we don’t get it back.”