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Column: Jewish Federation raises $19 million, names chief foundation officer

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on July 5, 2019

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is defying gravity.

The Federation reached a $19 million milestone with its 2019 campaign (which just ended June 30) – a $1.5 million increase over 2018.

“For the first time this year, we saw a slight growth in our unrestricted campaign after several years of decline,” said Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. “It was a post-recession high.”

Eric Robbins

Eric Robbins in his office at the Atlanta Jewish Federation (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Before the Great Recession, the Federation raised $18.22 million in 2007. But then it experienced a significant decline due to the economic crash. The organization has been gradually increasing its total philanthropy each year, culminating in the $19 million milestone. A total of 47 percent of its donors increased their giving from the previous year.

But the real secret to the campaign’s success, however, was adopting a “targeted philanthropy” model.

“Collective giving is falling out of favor,” Robbins said. “It’s one of the challenges of raising money these days. People want to pick their individual interests for their giving. We know we have to raise money differently.”

The Federation has started several specific funds, which is what has been driving most of the campaign’s growth.

“We raised $440,000 in our campaign around innovation alone,” Robbins said. Other areas of designated giving included the “Repair the World” service initiative, PJ Library, Jewish overnight camping and the new project – The Interchange – an interfaith symposium.

Ever since the Federation was formed 113 years ago, its philanthropy model has focused on its unrestricted annual campaign – donations that support more than 50 organizations each year through the Partners Fund. In 2019, the unrestricted fund raised $13.6 million. About 35 percent of those donations support initiatives for the Jewish community overseas.

Last year, the Federation gave out a total of $44 million – $12.9 million from the campaign and $31 million from the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, which has a total endowment of $328 million.

Having a solid unrestricted campaign is crucial because it helps cover the costs of the Federation’s operations, according to Robbins, who has just completed his third year at the helm.

“We have spent the better part of my three years preparing for the future,” Robbins said. “We see the federation as the philanthropic champion for the community. We see ourselves as an incubator of new ideas.”

Robbins said he and his team have been having to “reinvent” the Federation, which operates as a United Way for the Jewish and general community.

“It’s exciting and incredibly challenging,” Robbins said. “This is the most challenging job I’ve ever had, but it also feels like the most important job I’ve ever had. A strong Jewish community is an important part of having a strong community.”

Christy Eckoff joins the Federation

The Atlanta Jewish Foundation – a part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta – has selected Christy Butler Eckoff to become its chief foundation officer and managing director beginning Aug. 12.

Christy Eckoff

Eric Robbins, the Federation’s CEO, said he anticipates Eckoff will help position the foundation as a key driver for it to be a philanthropic champion in the community. “In addition to solid credentials in law and taxation, Christy is a superb relationship builder and will be an incredible fit to work with donors and fundholders. As our chief foundation officer, she enters with a bold mandate to make AJF the go-to place for planned giving, asset management and Jewish generosity.”

Eckoff has specialized in donor-advised funds, asset-based giving, and charitable planning. She has spent more than 12 years working large foundations, including the Georgia State University Foundation and, most recently, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, where she served as managing director, philanthropic counsel. Prior to her foundation work, Eckoff practiced law as an attorney for 15 years, during which she worked with tax payers, charitable foundations, trusts, private foundations and non-profit organizations.

During Eckoff’s tenure at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, she helped secure major and planned gifts, including a $104 million gift of privately-held assets to establish a donor-advised fund, the largest gift of privately-held assets in the Community Foundation’s history. The Community Foundation manages more than $1 billion in assets.

By comparison, Atlanta Jewish Foundation currently has $328.5 million in assets. One of Eckoff’s priorities will be to significantly grow the endowment.

“Our goal is to get to $1 billion under management over the next decade,” Robbins said. That will allow the Federation to increase its giving in the community. In 2018, the Foundation gave more than $31 million in grants to 954 organizations, and it has given more than $300 million to the community since its inception.

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to lead the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, an organization that has always been close to my heart,” says Eckoff. “AJF helps donors manage philanthropic investments wisely and at the same time, helps them express their highest philanthropic priorities. Both of these tasks excite and inspire me. I look forward to bringing my experience working with nonprofits doing meaningful work and applying it to the mission of strengthening the Jewish community.”

Jewish Family and Career Services

The Atlanta Jewish Family and Career Services has a new CEO, Terri Bonoff.

Bonoff is a former Minnesota state senator (from 2005-2016) where she championed legislation to create the Minnesota PIPELINE Project, a program that expands dual training and apprenticeship programs in Minnesota in emerging and high-demand occupations by partnering employers and students.

Terri Bonoff

Before serving in the Minnesota Senate, Bonoff had a successful business career – first working at Jackson Graves, a women’s retail specialty chain, before moving to Tonka Toys as manager of promotional services. She then served as vice president and general manager for the computer products division of Navarre Corporation, a division that grew ten-fold during her tenure.

“Terri’s combined business acumen and political experience and her success in building transformative social services programs make her an excellent choice to lead our agency,” Jeff Alperin, board president of JF&CS, said in a statement.

Bonoff has moved to Atlanta for the JF&CS position and to join her husband – Matthew Knopf – who joined Delta Air Lines as a senior vice president and deputy general counsel in 2016. Knopf had been a partner with the Minneapolis-based law firm – Dorsey & Whitney where he worked with Peter Carter, who became Delta’s chief legal officer in July 2015.

“I love it here. The people. The mission. The job,” Bonoff said in an interview. “It’s allowed me to feel at home with the choice we made more than two years ago. I have a purpose here – one that is in line with my life’s work.”

In just a month, Bonoff has become fluent in the myriad of programs under the JF&CS umbrella. That includes its senior population services, metro Atlanta’s fastest growing population, serving both the general and Jewish communities. It has a “brain health boot camp” as well as programs aimed at helping people age well.

JF&CS also oversees the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, which Bonoff described as “mind-blowing” work with 150 dentist volunteers offering free dental services to those in need.The organization also offers clinical services for children and adults as well as career services.

One of its key programs is Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (IDD) for adults with developmental disabilities – helping them live independently. JF&CS has seven residential facilities to serve that population.

“One of the biggest changes I have made is increasing the hourly wage rate of our professionals for the IDD services by 20 percent, to $12 an hour,” said Bonoff said, who added that she would like all JF&CS employees to make a living wage.

“We have over 220 people for work JF&CS,” Bonoff said. “We do so much, and the need is so much greater.”

When Bonoff became her role on June 3, interim CEO Faye Dresner resumed her role as JF&CS chief program officer, a position she has held since 2015. Bonoff succeeds Rick Aranson, who left JF&CS las year. He became chief operating officer at the Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta in February.

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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