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Obituary: Robert Zimmerman ’69

A memorial service for Bob Zimmerman, an El Cerrito consultant who helped change the face of fundraising for hundreds of Bay Area nonprofits, will be held Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011.

Mr. Zimmerman died Dec. 26, 2010, at his home after a four-month battle with stomach cancer. He was 63. "He loved to sit across the table from someone and ask them for $50,000," said his wife and business partner, Ann Lehman. "He never used the word 'charity.' He was giving people an opportunity to invest in their community, just like they'd invest in a stock." Mr. Zimmerman helped nonprofits - ranging from Stanford Law School and the Keck Observatory to preschools and AIDS groups - beef up their fundraising tactics to include individual donors, board members and the community at large. "Bob was very authoritative in a very tricky area for all of us, working with boards," said Judith Frankel, senior leadership gifts officer for the San Francisco Opera. "He was really instrumental in helping us integrate our board with fundraising." Because of his help at Step One preschool in Berkeley, the school was able to bring in double the donations, expand its financial aid program and plant a large kitchen-garden for the children. "Bob was such a likable person, very compassionate and humorous," said Step One Director Sue Britson. "It was really easy for him to connect with people - boards, donors, everyone." He also helped El Cerrito High School launch its first major fundraising drive and helped the city build one of the area's first wheelchair-accessible playgrounds.

Mr. Zimmerman was born in Brooklyn and earned a bachelor's degree from Antioch College in Ohio and a master's in political science from the University of Michigan . His first jobs were at various Boston nonprofits, where he eventually fell into fundraising. "Back then there was plenty of federal money around. Because he was a good writer, it was easy for him to get grants," his wife said. He eventually moved to California, opening his own consulting firm in 1988. In all, the firm, Zimmerman Lehman, helped more than 270 nonprofits. Mr. Zimmerman also wrote several books on fundraising and offered free resources on his website for nonprofits.

He was a devout fan of opera and poker, but his No. 1 passion was the San Francisco Giants . "He was so sick, but then in early October he suddenly made this amazing recovery," Lehman said, referring to the Giants' postseason run. "After each win, I swear he seemed to get better. I didn't want the season to end." Mr. Zimmerman, while in the throes of chemotherapy, attended the Giants' World Series victory parade in his wheelchair.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, Gabe Lehman, and sisters Paula Zimmerman and Laura Zimmerman, both of New York. The memorial service is scheduled for 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane. Donations can go to El Cerrito High School's Investing in Academic Excellence fund, P.O. Box 2396, El Cerrito 94530.