Shelley Buntman loved being outdoors in nature, so this year, the Buntman family planned to gather in Mount Tamalpais State Park in California for an honorary hike to celebrate her and raise money for kidney cancer research.
Shelley died in 2012 after being diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer 14 months earlier. Her son Noah is an Operations Program Manager at Apple in San Francisco and a member of the Kidney Cancer Association’s Board of Directors. Noah, his two older sisters, and his father, have been strong fundraisers over the years, supporting kidney cancer research through various activities.
We spoke with Noah about coming together as a family to plan fundraising events.
Describe your connection to kidney cancer and the KCA.
My family and I are really close and all super athletic. Losing my mom was a tremendous shock and loss for our family. We raised money for cancer with [other organizations] for a couple of years. I reconnected with the KCA when I was in business school in Chicago and came on as a full time Board [of Directors] member in 2015.
Tell us more about how and why you chose to hike Mount Tamalpais as a family this year.
My mom was active and loved hiking. With my wife and daughter and I living in San Francisco, we thought it would be a beautiful place to do the event.
Seeing how the KCA has grown, I’ve felt close to the kidney cancer community in the past year. I wanted to give, with my family, some time and attention to put on an event and raise money for the KCA’s work.
Are you modifying your activities this year to accommodate social distancing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?
We are reevaluating what [our trip] looks like in a COVID-19 world. We are probably going to postpone the actual event and we’re talking through the best ways to communicate with those who have given and those who have not given yet.
In general, I think there’s going to be things you lose in a shift to virtual fundraising but also lots of things you gain. The advantages are that people are online more and they’re connected through social media in a positive way.
What do you hope people who want to fundraise can accomplish through their communities?
Starting small is absolutely fantastic. It’s amazing to watch your network of support and donors grow and develop if you keep at it. When we started out, we set out to raise $2,000. We surpassed that in the first year. The next year we upped the goal, then we upped it again and again. Now [our goal] is $20,000.
The most important thing is just to make sure people understand their donation is going to make a difference in tackling the disease. Especially in challenging economic times – or even in a boom – people want to know where there money is going and why. And that the organization [getting the donations] is doing everything they can to solve the problem they’re trying to solve.
What are some things you did that made your fundraising events successful?
Personal connections and outreach to our individual circles or networks helps. My two sisters and I and my dad have been raising money over 5-6 years now in memory of my mom. We kept every donor’s name and we make personal appeals. We’re diligent in following up with people who give and send personal thank you notes in which we articulate where the money is going, what it’s used for, and how it’s going to fix a problem.
Putting on a huge fundraiser seems daunting. You just begin chipping away at it piece by piece. If you need to write an email, start with a draft. If you have to gather contacts, spend an hour focused on that. It breaks a big project up into smaller tasks.
Have there been other positive outcomes following your fundraising events?
Putting on these events always brings our family closer together. We often accompany our fundraising with some event like meeting up at a bar. Bringing our friends and family together reminds us of how much people care about our family and mom’s memory. That’s very special for us.
Other people also appreciate having this event to remind them of my mom’s memory. Day-to-day, we don’t often have things to memorialize people we’ve lost. Most commonly, my mom’s friends thank us for making a time and space in which we can remember her in a fun way.