Column: Woodruff Arts Center campaign is most ambitious ever

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, November 9, 2012

The Woodruff Arts Center has set its most ambitious corporate campaign goal in its history — $9.2 million — compared with the $9 million raised in the last campaign.

The campaign, which is being chaired by Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power, will go until next spring.

“We really wanted to have an aspirational goal,” Bowers said. “Last year, we had more than 140 volunteers. We wanted a goal that would keep them inspired and push them to do their best.”

The campaign helps support the four artistic entities of the Woodruff Arts Center — the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre and Young Audiences.

As a way to thank its top donors, the Center held its annual Patron Circle of Stars on Nov. 5 at the High Museum — a change of venue from last year’s event at the Governor’s Mansion.

It was the first Patron Circle of the Stars for Virginia Hepner in her role as president of the Woodruff Arts Center (following the retirement of Joe Bankoff) and for Tommy Hills in his role as the Center’s campaign coordinator (succeeding Beauchamp Carr).

“This year [we are] off and running for this campaign,” Bowers said. “We already have raised $1.4 million toward our $9.2 million goal. That’s great. A thriving arts community enriches us all.”

Bowers gave special thanks to The Coca-Cola Co., United Parcel Service Inc. and his own Georgia Power Foundation for each giving at least $500,000 to last year’s campaign.

Larry Gellerstedt, CEO of Cousins Properties Inc. and chair of the Woodruff Arts Center board, said private contributions are especially important for Atlanta.

“We don’t live in a part of the country that believes in public funding for the arts,” Gellerstedt said. “And that’s not going to change in the near future.”

Meanwhile, it is unclear how the Woodruff campaign will dovetail with an effort to raise additional funding for the Atlanta Symphony, which has been operating in the red for several years with about a $5 million annual deficit.

At the 2012 Atlanta Interfaith Business Prayer breakfast in October, Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson said he was co-chairing an effort with Global Payments CEO Paul Garcia to raise between $3 million and $3.5 million a year for three years to put the ASO on a sound financial footing.

Historically, the Center’s annual corporate campaign has been the major fundraising vehicle for the various artistic divisions.

Southwest’s charitable giving

Atlanta’s nonprofit community has been trying to figure out how best to work with one of the city’s newest businesses — Southwest Airlines.

The Greater Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, at its breakfast meeting on Nov. 6, received some guidance from Debra Benton, Southwest’s director of community relations and charitable giving, who is based in Dallas.

Southwest entered the Atlanta market through the acquisition of AirTran Airways, known for its extensive donations.

“We have never opened a new city where we already had relationships,” Benton said. “AirTran has a similar culture [to] ours in giving back. There’s a little bit of difference in the focus that we have.”

Benton said she and her team have been working on “how we are going to transition away from some of those things” that AirTran had been doing.

“We are still involved with a lot of AirTran partnerships through this year,” she added. “You will see some transition.”

After her talk, Benton was asked about specifics of that transition.
“We are trying to make sure that we don’t leave anybody in a lurch,” Benton said. “It is a step down. Some of it is a transition from cash to tickets. AirTran had a lot more cash.”

Benton said Southwest has been meeting with various nonprofits to make sure they can plan around that transition.

Decatur Education Foundation

A Decatur family has given the Decatur Education Foundation its largest gift to date — $500,000 — to provide a wide range of education support to the city’s students.

The donation was announced Nov. 8 on the city square at the kick off of the “Terrific Thursday” holiday shopping season.

“This gift will allow us to continue to build on the work accomplished over the past 10 years to ensure that every child in Decatur has opportunities to thrive,” said Paula Collins, chair of the foundation’s board, in a statement. “Coupled with the continued support from our community, it will allow us to impact exponentially more children.”

Members of the Decatur family, who chose to remain anonymous, said they made the gift to express their gratitude “to Decatur teachers and staff who do such wonderful work educating the children in our community, and who play such an important role in making Decatur a great place to live.”

Gail Rothman, the foundation’s executive director, said the gift will impact youth at every grade level and build on the partnership with the City Schools of Decatur. She said “it’s more than a major act of generosity — it is also a catalyst for us to take the foundation to the next level.”

YMCA to honor Yates

Charlie Yates Jr. of Atlanta will receive the YMCA of Metro Atlanta’s 2012 Bransby Christian Leadership Award — the organization’s highest volunteer honor — at a dinner on Monday, Nov. 12.

Yates’ first experience with the Y was when he played Gra-Y football and basketball as a student at Buckhead’s R.L. Hope Elementary School. He has attended numerous Y camps and his first job was as Y summer camp counselor in Roswell. As a young adult, he volunteered to coach basketball for the Decatur Family Y.

In 2000, Yates was elected to the YMCA of Metro Atlanta’s board, serving in various capacities including as board chair in 2009 and 2010.

“I am passionate about making a difference in the community,” Yates said. “I’m especially proud of the work the Y is doing in early childhood education. It’s so much fun to see a child succeed. It’s changing lives, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”

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