Home Depot Head Hammers out $15 Million Gift to Atlanta Jewry
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Home Depot Head Hammers out $15 Million Gift to Atlanta Jewry

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America’s largest home improvement retailer and America’s largest Jewish community improvement campaign have a lot in common these days.

For both, the major player is Bernie Marcus, chairman of Home Depot, a multibillion dollar national company with over 500 stores.

Marcus recently donated $15 million to the Atlanta Jewish Federation’s Community Capital Campaign.

He originally pledged $10 million, with an additional $5 million promised if the federation could match him with $35 million.

Marcus will have to pay up.

His gift is part of more than $41 million already raised out of a planned minimum goal of $50 million in the largest fund-raising campaign in the Atlanta federation’s history.

Home Depot’s CEO Arthur Blank contributed an additional $5 million.

The $50 million that the federation hopes to raise is three to four times more than any federation campaign across the country typically raises in a regular annual campaign.

“This is far and away the largest undertaking we’ve ever done in Atlanta,” federation President Stephen Selig said in a telephone interview.

He said he was not aware of any other campaigns of this size anywhere in the country.

Besides its enormity, the capital campaign is also unusual because all of the funds it raises will stay local.

Whereas about half the money from Atlanta’s annual campaign goes to programs overseas, the $50 million or more it raises for the capital campaign will all go to help 10 local Atlanta agencies.

According to Gary Tobin, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and an expert on Jewish philanthropy, a capital campaign like this “takes federation to a new level.”

The UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York has been in the midst of a similar campaign for almost eight years. New York launched a capital campaign in November 1989 and has since raised over $900 million, with an end goal of $1.2 billion.

Although Atlanta’s $50 million is small in comparison, Tobin noted that “for a community the size of Atlanta to be doing [a capital campaign] is a brilliant stroke for the federation.”

Atlanta has a Jewish population of over 77,000, including the outlying areas.

According to Howard Feinberg at the Council of Jewish Federations, there are several other smaller communities that have recently engaged in capital campaigns, including Winnipeg, Manitoba; Indianapolis, Ind., and New Haven, Conn.

Feinberg does not see a national trend of capital campaigns, however. He said that a community’s decision to start a capital campaign depends upon the “demographics of the community.”

Feinberg explained that a capital campaign allows community members to contribute to the community in a way that the annual campaign may not.

“People tend to support capital campaigns because they directly impact the services in their community and it is an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy to the community,” he said.

In addition to its capital campaign, Atlanta is also in the midst of its annual federation campaign, which should total $13.2 million this year, making it the largest annual campaign Atlanta’s Jewish community has seen.

The two campaigns will provide for different needs in the community. While the local funds raised in the annual campaign typically cover operating costs – – “everything from salaries to lights,” according to Selig — the capital campaign will fund actual facilities — “bricks and mortar type of stuff.”

These projects include a new building for the Atlanta Jewish Community Center and new facilities for the William Breman Jewish Home for the Aged.

The $41 million raised so far in the capital campaign has come from only 72 donors, including corporate gifts from the Northside Hospital Foundation, National Service Industries and Wachovia Bank and its bank-managed foundations.

The Atlanta federation plans to spend the next several months targeting specific donors, and then it will open up the campaign in the fall to make it “a true community capital campaign,” according to Selig.

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