Left photo: Linda C. Hartley, Naomi B. Levine and Camille Kassatly.
Right photo: Naomi B. Levine and Poonam Prasad

In this special Member Spotlight, past WID presidents Poonam Prasad of Prasad Consulting and Research and Linda C. Hartley of H2Growth Strategies generously shared their remembrances of Naomi B. Levine, a legendary leader in the fundraising field, as well as mentor, collaborator, and friend.

Poonam:  Naomi was a pillar of the New York City philanthropic community for many decades, and the founder and former executive director of the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University where I taught for 15 years, after being recommended as an instructor by Linda Hartley following a luncheon at WID!  So often did we end up teaching courses, classes, and webinars together that Naomi once teased me that we seemed to be “going steady.”  I cherish her thoughtful recommendation on LinkedIn and the little notes of encouragement she would write to me when she learned of projects I was involved in, often new initiatives we were putting together at WID.

Linda:  Naomi was a friend and mentor for more than 40 years. I worked closely with her as a member of the NYU development staff in the 1980s. She wrote a recommendation that led to my earning an MBA. She took me to her power board breakfasts at the Regency. We organized the first Bobst Literary Awards gala in NY and the first gala in Palm Beach, honoring Walter Cronkite. We would joke then that the campaign goal was “a million dollars a week forever.” During my service as WID president in 1999, we honored Naomi with the Woman of Achievement Award.

Poonam:  It was due to Naomi that we celebrated WID’s 25th anniversary in the spacious penthouse at NYU’s Kimmel Center, a building she helped make possible. She hosted and sponsored many other WID events at NYU venues and was always keen that the students in the program attend and learn from experienced fundraising professionals.

Linda:  In the 2000s, as Naomi was wrapping up raising $2 billion for NYU, she founded the George H. Heyman Jr. Center for Fundraising and Philanthropy. I taught there as an adjunct, often with her, and joined her in advocating for ethics education for fundraisers. I also had the pleasure of staying with Naomi at her Adirondack retreat, Camp Greylock.  I made her salad with EVO and balsamic vinegar; she made me a salad with mayonnaise and ketchup, which she preferred.

Poonam: Founding and directing the Center was Naomi’s “retirement” job after she raised billions of dollars that transformed NYU from a commuter school to the world-renowned institution it is today. Her knowledge and skills relating to nonprofit work were legendary. It is only in reading her obituary that I fully realized the scope of her contribution to human rights even before she came to NYU. I remember our conversations in her apartment of another little-known facet of her work – her books, For Her Days, Not Her Nights and Politics, Religion & Love about a Jewish politician, Edwin Montagu, British Secretary of State for India, and his love affair with a British aristocrat, Venetia Stanley, which she traveled to Oxford University to research. Truly a renaissance woman!

Linda:  Naomi was unstinting with her time, inspiring and engaging students, colleagues, clients, and prospects with her brilliant advice and entertaining stories. I treasure the letters she sent me over many years and am grateful she was part of my life. She will always be in my heart.  In 2017, I interviewed her for my book, Big Impact: Insights & Stories From America’s Non-Profit Leaders. Here is a small part of the recording:

Linda: What is your definition of happiness, or your philosophy of life?

Naomi:  I think that love is the epicenter of the human existence. I have dealt with very rich people, raising money for NYU. And the one thing I’m certain about is that money does not give you happiness. Having a husband and family that I love gave me support and helped me through life. I should add that friendship has been critical in my life.

I’m not good at philosophy. I’m a pragmatist. I am someone who worked her whole life right out of law school, and I paid a price for that. I’m sure I could have been a better wife and mother if I wasn’t so involved in my work. But that was what I was. My work gave me meaning. And I felt I was doing something that made the world a little better.

Again, love is critical. Money makes life easy, but it doesn’t give you happiness. And you have to find work that uses whatever skills you have and gives you some sense of purpose. More than that, I cannot add.

To hear more of the hour-long interview with Naomi B. Levine, please contact Linda C. Hartley at lhartley@h2growth.com.

Read the obituaries for Naomi Levine in The Forward and in The New York Times  

View a recording of the online memorial in honor of Naomi B. Levine held by The NYU Bronfman Center on January 25, 2021.

Learn about Naomi’s fabulous book, For Her Days, Not Her Nights: The Story of H.H. Asquith, Venetia Stanley, and Edwin Montagu