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The Contra Costa Times

"Couple find passion in fund-raising lessons

West County Weekly (CA) April 2, 2004

by Alan Lopez, Staff Writer, El Cerrito

Ann Lehman and her business partner Robert Zimmerman are so in tune with each other, they finish each others jokes during their workshops. They have different but complementary styles.

"He sounds like a college professor, and I sound like a neighbor giving you advice," Lehman said. When they decided to write a book, it was mostly Lehman's project and it was her job to put it together. Zimmerman, who is considered the more detail-oriented of the two, read through the manuscript, fixed the grammar and otherwise changed things he didn't like.

"He's probably the fastest typist anywhere," Lehman said. "He's a born editor and I'm mildly dyslexic, so we need each other."

There's another reason they work so well together: They've been married for 13 years.

That professional and personal partnership has resulted in the book published by San Francisco publisher Jossey-Bass: "Boards that Love Fundraising: A How-to Guide for Your Board."

The book is the culmination of years of experience by the couple, whose firm - Zimmerman Lehman - has been offering advice, workshops and consulting services to nonprofit organizations since 1988.

The book gives advice to nonprofit organizations on how to raise money. There was $241 billion given to 1.4 million charitable organizations in 2002, the book says.

There's a lot of money available but the problem is that many nonprofits don't do their best to go after it, Zimmerman said.

"Many board members, volunteers and staff members view fundraising as 'genteel begging' rather than as creating opportunities for citizens to invest in successful enterprises through philanthropic contributions," the book states.

The problem is that "board and staff members don't ask for money effectively, they don't ask often enough and sometimes they don't ask - period. Every year billions of dollars that could be invested in the nonprofit sector are lost because organizations aren't asking properly."

The book is a user-friendly soft-cover workbook providing information on how to more effectively raise money. The key, said Zimmerman, is thinking of the non-profit as a service to the community - which, of course, is what it's supposed to be.

"Donors want to see organizations run like a business," Zimmerman explained. "That they're evaluating their activities, that they're cost-effective."

Continued Lehman: "If more boards trained and more nonprofits had different attitudes about the work they did, they could all raise more money."

Much of the content of the book is based on smaller books written by the couple for their workshops. How difficult the book was to write came as a surprise, said Lehman.

However, like almost everything in their lives, the book came to fruition as the result of their life and business partnership.

The two met in 1988, when Lehman, who has been the executive director of two nonprofit organizations, took one of Zimmerman's fund-raising workshops, shortly after he started his firm. They married in 1991, have a 10-year-old son, Gabriel Zimmerman Lehman, a dog, Stella and an affectionate kitten, Betty.

They complement each other well, Lehman said. In general, she looks at the firm's big picture, while her husband examines the details and does the necessary schmoozing.

"Bob's enthusiasm is hard to resist," Lehman said. "There aren't many people who love fund-raising as much as Bob. I love building the community, he loves instilling confidence that you can go out and do this.

"He makes it (fund-raising) seem very doable, very easy. It isn't easy actually, but he makes it seem easy. He takes the mystery out of it."

Zimmerman got into the nonprofit field after becoming a grant writer for a nonprofit organization in Boston in the early 1970s. He has been the director of development at a variety of nonprofit organizations, including an independent living center for physically disabled people in Los Angeles and a national public interest law office in San Francisco. He started the nonprofit consulting firm in 1988.

Lehman is a lawyer and has been working in the public interest arena for 25 years. She's directed an alternative bar association in New York City; worked as a senior policy analyst on women, girls and human rights; and was the executive director of a public interest law office specializing in issues affecting seniors.

Locally, the couple is also working together to raise money for the renovations of the Cerrito Theater.

Together with Dianne Brenner, Lehman is heading the steering committee for the Friends of the Cerrito Theater, which is raising $200,000 over two years to fund historic elements of the theater. The fund-raising effort has recently begun in earnest with a mailing to residents urging them to contribute.

Her husband examined the letter before it went out, Lehman said. And then he rewrote it.

Reach Alan Lopez at 510-243-3578 or alopez1@cctimes.com

Copyright 2004 West County Weekly.




Copyright © 2005, Zimmerman Lehman