The family trust of a Holocaust survivor who was a longtime philanthropist to Atlanta Jewish communal service recently gave $5.6 million to the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and Jewish Family & Career Services. It is considered the largest endowment in those agencies’ history.
The gift by the Frances Bunzl Family Trust to the Atlanta Jewish community will have a lasting impact on the Jewish community for generations to come, according to those interviewed for this story.
Bunzl was born in 1922 in Germany, where she lived until 1939. At 19, she fled the country after Kristallnacht and eventually arrived in Atlanta. She was heavily involved in the Jewish and greater Atlanta community for decades and passed away peacefully at the age of 99 in 2019.
The bulk of the $5.6 million to the Jewish community will be split between the Federation and JF&CS. The donation had been years in the planning, as Bunzl met with communal leaders and Federation professionals during her later years to talk about community priorities and how her legacy could help the Jewish community, according to a press release about the donation.
Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Federation, told the AJT that “Frances cared deeply about Jewish life and the Jewish people. She cared about us today and in the future. Her gift will sustain us today and strengthen us in the future,” he said. “For the Jewish Federation, the gift will be used to enhance current programs and create new programs, including one which will target the next generation of Jewish leaders.” A new program “will be committed to the next generation of leaders and leadership,” Robbins said.
“Frances cared deeply about the future of the Jewish community. … We will work hard to really train and engage young people to care as much about the Jewish community as she did.”
Bunzl’s daughter Suzy Wilner spoke extensively with members of the Federation and JF&CS, helping to communicate her mother’s priorities for her legacy. “Throughout her life, my mother spoke of growing up in a family (both in Germany and here in Atlanta) that was focused on helping others. We believe her gifts to the Federation and JF&CS will continue that legacy,” Wilner said in the release.
The donation will be administered by the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, part of the Federation that helps community members organize their philanthropic intentioned funds before they pass away so they can have the greatest impact. The gift will increase the size of the endowment of the Foundation by 50 percent, nearly doubling it, Robbins said.
These endowed gifts “make a tremendous difference,” Robbins told the AJT. The Federation will be naming its chief philanthropic position after Frances, he added.
“It is the first time any federation has endowed a position. … It is really helpful to us since it means that position is endowed and we have the dollars to pay for that position and we can use some of those operating dollars in different ways, so every year we know that we have that position largely funded.”
JF&CS CEO Terri Bonoff told the AJT the agency will be naming its clinical services practice after Frances Bunzl, but the gift will also go far beyond that. “When we look at the long-term stability of our organization, to have this endowment grow that much instantly, is a game changer.”
While the Federation has very specific plans for the funds it received, JF&CS will be using them in more general ways. “They wanted us to have the flexibility to use the funds in a way that we thought would have the greatest impact,” Bonoff said.
The gift comes at a time when COVID-19 has stressed the budgets of many nonprofits. “It gives us security,” Bonoff stressed. “We have just gone through this pandemic, our annual budget is around $17 million, there are a lot of places where we have risks because of the pandemic and a gift like this gives us the peace of mind that we can continue to grow to meet the demand without hurting the agency from a financial perspective.”
JF&CS is preparing to use future donations to meet what it views as the coming “tsunami” of mental health issues, particularly among children and teens. JF&CS has “decided to launch a new center that will serve children, teens, and families mental health needs, that will really focus around family and child well-being, and so having a gift like this gives us the certainty that we can go forward with confidence that we can accomplish that,” Bonoff told the AJT.
“Choosing to spotlight the importance of mental health support by naming the current service area in Frances Bunzl’s honor reflects the deep commitment JF&CS has to providing best-in-class support for the health and well-being of this community,” Bonoff said in the press release. “Legacy gifts such as this one support Jewish Atlanta long into the future.”