Linda Wise McNay, PhD
Losing a Donor Friend is Difficult
It’s inevitable. Working for and on behalf of nonprofit organizations puts us into the path of some remarkable people. For fund development professionals like me, they often include donors who are advanced in years. We form bonds. Friendships. When they pass from this life, we feel it. Deeply.
Frances B. Bunzl passed away this week at the age of ninety-nine, leaving behind a legacy of love and generosity. I adored her and treasure the memories I have of her.
Mrs. Bunzl fled Germany during the Holocaust. She once hid a Jewish doctor in the infectious disease ward of the Jewish hospital where she worked, because the Nazis would not go into that ward.
After moving to the United States, Mrs. Bunzl settled in Atlanta, where I work. She was a Girl Scout leader for ten years. She was Chancellor of the Austrian Consulate in Atlanta from 1972 to 1987. She was president of the National Council of Jewish Women and during her tenure there, Hubert Humphrey spoke at their national convention in Atlanta.
Mrs. Bunzl supported the High Museum of Art, the Bascomb Museum, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the Atlanta Symphony, and many others. She and her husband, Walter, were founding members of Temple Sinai.
I first met Mrs. Bunzl when she was on the board of the High Museum of Art. She was better known to the staff as a volunteer on the lower level of the Stent Building. She came every week on public transportation and brought her knitting. She sat quietly clicking away with those knitting needles, greeting visitors getting off the elevator, or descending the stairs and directing them to the bathrooms or coatroom.
I had arrived in my role as Chief Development Officer at the High Museum after much of the capital campaign had been completed. Mrs. Bunzl had been a generous donor and endowed the Curator of European Art position. She also supported several other major exhibitions. Her generosity had also entitled her to a named space in the newly renovated museum. The only problem was her named space was in the contemporary wing and that was not her preferred art form. Mrs. Bunzl never failed to bring up this topic when I saw her. Some of my colleagues might even have tended to avoid a conversation with her for this very reason. So, I did what any self-respecting development officer would do, and I negotiated a different space for her in the European wing. Some thought the space was smaller or less desirable, but Mrs. Bunzl and her family were thrilled. We simply moved the gallery sign and I attribute this small effort on my part as the beginning of a special donor relationship.
The High Museum began hosting regional meetings within our member radius and the next one was set for Albany, Georgia. Mrs. Bunzl’s brother lived there, and she wanted to go with us. She wanted to hitch a ride with the staff and would stay with her brother and return at a later date. I joyfully volunteered to pick her up and away we went with those knitting needles clicking away.
Our conversation in that four-hour car ride was more personal that day. As we were nearing the Columbus, Georgia exits, she mentioned that when she first came to the United States she lived in Columbus. I asked if she had ever been back and when she said no, I whipped the car into the far-right lane and got off at the last Columbus exit.
Mrs. Bunzl didn’t really remember her exact address, so we drove around the small town a bit until we found what we thought was her former home/street. There were tears in her eyes as we sat quietly in the car. Mrs. Bunzl treated me to lunch, and we continued our journey. Ever after, whenever I saw Mrs. Bunzl, I was warmly greeted with a hug by a woman not known for hugging.
I visited with Mrs. Bunzl in her Atlanta home and her home in Highlands, North Carolina. I worked with her insurance advisor on a significant gift designed especially for older donors in good health, and she was able to make her largest gift ever to the museum, enabling us to name the administrative building in her honor.
Because of her generosity, my team and I submitted a nomination to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Atlanta Chapter, securing her place as the Philanthropist of the Year at National Philanthropy Day (NPD) in 2008. We garnered dozens of letters of support from the many organizations she had contributed to in Atlanta and beyond.
My volunteer role for AFP includes communicating annually with our past award winners at National Philanthropy Day. Every year I am in touch with these donors and volunteers to make sure they know that we appreciate them each and every year. These individuals have a standing invitation to our annual philanthropic celebration.
I escorted Mrs. Bunzl several times to our event, but as Mrs. Bunzl aged, her hearing diminished. She wasn’t able to attend our NPD event anymore.
I do think she welcomed my regular call as a time to catch up and let me share our continued appreciation of her generous giving to the whole community.
Have you, too, lost a donor with whom you have become friends? If so, my heart goes out to you in your loss.
Today I join many others in celebrating the life of Mrs. Frances B. Bunzl. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, a generous benefactor, a force to be reckoned with, and my friend.
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