Column: Leadership transitions at city’s top fundraising firm, Coxe Curry

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Dec. 19, 2014

A leadership transition is underway at Coxe Curry & Associates, the most prominent fundraising consulting firm in Atlanta.

Ann Curry, who has owned and run the firm for the past 22 years, has been telling her clients this week that she will pass the reins to David Eidson on Jan. 1.

Eidson, a seasoned corporate executive with SunTrust and Ridgeworth Capital Management, decided he wanted to enter the nonprofit sector after volunteering with the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

He was introduced to Curry by mutual friends, and he eventually joined Coxe Curry in May 2012. He first worked as a volunteer through that September – partly to see if it would be a good fit, whether it lived up to its reputation and whether he wanted to be part of its succession plan.

“It has been everything I had hoped it would be, and more,” Eidson said. “We do have an opportunity to have a major impact on the community if we do our jobs right. The donors in this community are fantastic.”

Eidson will become the firm’s fourth owner in its 60-year history, and its first male owner.

“It was an issue we talked about,” Curry acknowledged. Of the 46 people on Coxe Curry’s staff, only three are men. But she quickly added that Eidson had been well-received by the employees, clients and the community.

Curry also will not be leaving the firm. She will become chairman and chief client strategist while Eidson will become president and CEO.

“I’m going to be doing what I really love doing,” Curry said. “It’s the complicated, client consulting work that involves public and private entities and getting more nonprofits to collaborate with each other.”

And then with a smile on her face, she said: “The firm is David’s to manage.”

Eidson said Curry will continue to play another valuable role — mentoring younger professionals when they are working with clients.

In many ways, Curry is just repeating the transition pattern she enjoyed when she joined the firm in early 1992.

The firm was founded in 1954 by legendary fundraiser Be Haas. Because she didn’t think a woman could have a high-profile business, she brought in a 10 percent owner – Claude Grizzard ­— and named the firm Grizzard & Haas.

In 1979, Frankie Coxe bought the firm from Be Haas and it became Coxe & Associates until Ann Curry joined as a consultant and prospective owner — testing to see if she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to buy the firm. She did later that year, and the name was changed to Coxe Curry & Associates.

Asked if he would be changing the firm’s name, Eidson quickly said no.

“The value of this firm is the people in the firm and the brand of the firm, which has been built over a long period of time, but especially in the last 20 years,” he said.

During Curry’s tenure, the firm has tripled in size — going from 15 employees to 46. The biggest campaign during that era was $14 million for the Rialto Theatre. Now Curry said the firm is working on multiple campaigns that are much larger than that.

Eidson said that in 2014, the firm worked on 46 active campaigns (several of them are multiyear campaigns).

Coxe Curry’s clients include the Woodruff Arts Center, Zoo Atlanta, the Atlanta History Center, Grady Health System, Spelman College and the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., among numerous others.

So what has changed in giving trends during the past two decades?

“The biggest change I’ve seen is that in the early 1990s, you mainly thought of corporate donors and foundations exclusively — Rich’s, Macy’s, the banks. You didn’t think about individuals,” Curry said. “We talked of Atlanta being a young city and not having mature wealth. We have mature wealth now — individuals who can dig deep. I’m very excited about what we see.”

Susan Booth wows Rotary Club

Susan Booth has done it again. The artistic director of the Alliance Theatre has become one of the most sought-after (and entertaining) speakers in town.

This time she spoke to the Rotary Club of Atlanta Dec. 15 for Rotarian Daughter Day. And it seemed as though the only person she didn’t impress was her own daughter, who basically shrugged her shoulders after the speech when asked how her mother had done.

Booth spoke about the “Look Up” movement — trying to get people to look up from their smart phones to experience the world around them (you can see a video about it on YouTube). Yes, enjoy the hypocrisy, Booth pointed out.

“This whole talk is going to be riddled with hypocrisy,” she warned.

But then she asked rhetorically: “We need a movement to become better attuned to the real world environment? There’s an app for that.”

Is our addiction to our little devices just a cover-up for the fact that we are all powerfully sad — trying not to be overtaken by loneliness and sadness, she asked, presenting one theory.

The little devices, which allow us to self-select our media outlets and social media channels, create “a firewall between our views and those that diverge from them.” It’s easy to hit “unsubscribe” when you read something you dislike. “I don’t want to hear your opinion anymore,” Booth mimicked. “It varies too much from my own.”

The danger in society is that we will lose our ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes; we will lose our ability to be human.

As a society, we will need a “how to be human” tune-up. She then shared her favorite statistic. Children who are provided cultural arts opportunities are 40 percent more likely to connect with children with different backgrounds than their own compared to children who have not had those opportunities.

And so the arts matter. Going to the theater matters. And it should not be cast as an either-or proposition: funding for the arts or parks, the arts or infrastructure — one can creatively combine the two.

Bill Clinton in town Jan. 17

It looks as though Operation HOPE will be hosting another stellar gathering in 2015 with former President Bill Clinton delivering the keynote speech at the 2015 HOPE Global Forum on Jan. 17.

Clinton, founder of the Clinton Foundation, will be one of several speakers attending the Atlanta-based Operation HOPE Summit.

Other major speakers include Glenn Hutchins, co-founder of Silver Lake and part-owner of the Boston Celtics basketball team; Kat Cole, president and COO of Cinnabon Inc.; and Julian Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The forum will start on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 15, and continue through lunch on Saturday, Jan. 17. Most of the program will take place at the Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta.

Operation HOPE is a nonprofit that aims to lift the poor into the middle class.

It should be noted that it was the King Center that first secured former President Bill Clinton to come to Atlanta on Jan. 17. He will be receiving the Salute to Greatness Award that evening at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. The dinner is the largest fundraising event of the King Center, and the Salute to Greatness Award is the highest honor it gives.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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