Her nickname was Bunny. I met her as Burnetta Quaid. I was working at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Los Angeles and was tasked with increasing fundraising revenue by double digits with the signature Walk to Cure Diabetes program. Her email came at the perfect time- a fundraiser’s dream. We were climbing the walls- how were we going to increase revenue? Would we like to be Southern California Edison’s charity of choice for their employee giving program?
She worked out of the Hesperia office out in the middle of nowhere. My colleague and now dear friend Anna and I drove out to the local PF Chang’s to meet her for lunch. I was nervous- we couldn’t screw this up- this meant significant fundraising dollars for the organization. I was expecting someone different- more formal, with more ego and attitude. When you are in charge of employee giving programs for a large company and you have charities foaming at the mouth to get in, you get used to people asking you for everything and always saying no.
She was anything but. Dark, long hair. Rosy cheeks. Casual with jeans and a white knit shirt that read Southern California Edison. A beautiful smile and high energy. She had married an older man she met at Edison. He was retired. They lived in Apple Valley and enjoyed riding motorcycles. She was straight and to the point. “Listen, I need a charity who is going to be able to attend all 24 employee giving presentations over the next 4-5 months. They will be in places that are very remote and some will be at very inopportune times. You make a commitment to me and I will commit to you.” Our job would be to attend every single one of those presentations and convince their employees to give money to Juvenile Diabetes. Were we in, could we do it? Um- hell yeah.
For the next 5 months Anna and I breathed, ate, and lived Southern CA Edison, in addition to the other corporate walk teams we had to continue to work with. The pace was grueling and there was no guarantee of a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That is the day to day life of a fundraiser. You have to believe that the money will come at the end of the day.
Spending so much time together, I came to know Burnetta and so many other employees at SCE. Every person who came into contact with her came away inspired by her- you could just tell. She was kind, energetic and positive beyond words. She was a strong, well-respected leader within the company and by her employees. It was truly a joy to work with her. I had the privilege of working with her not only that first year, but a second year as well, we worked that well together and for her- she was relieved to have found a strong, committed charity that finally did what they said they were going to do. The money came- at first in trickles and I was sweating not gonna lie- how do you justify spending so much time and effort and only raising $5k? But then it got into double digits and I knew we were going to be okay. I think that first year we ended at $50-65K, if my memory does not fail me.
After two years and two walk seasons, Burnetta and I went our separate ways and I always thought it would be great to work with her again but then I heard that she had moved departments and I knew that time had passed. I always thought of her though and I always remembered her kindness, strong leadership, and cheerful personality.
I came across her Facebook page two days ago. It was an honorarium page. What? After some investigating, I learned that this past April, Bunny was on her way to work at SCE, riding her motorcyle, when a car making a turn pulled out in front of her. She died tragically in the prime of her life – 45 years old, leaving behind many loved ones.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Bunny. I think, more than just the initial shock, I’m thinking most about the impact she made on me. In a world of egos, attitudes, hostility, and corporate politics, she was just a really strong, kind, and good person. I was fortunate to meet someone early on in my fundraising career who showed me what a strong leader looked like and who made a huge difference in this world, in the lives of so many people. How lucky I was. May you rest in peace Bunny- riding that motorcyle into the sunset, spreading cheer and sunshine to everyone you meet. Until we meet again, my friend.