The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has announced a new round of grants totaling $10 million to a dozen groups that promote civic engagement and voting rights. All of the groups have a focus that includes the metropolitan Atlanta area, Georgia or the Southeast.
“We believe the right to vote is sacred and must be protected,” Arthur Blank said in a prepared statement. “Our democracy is made stronger when we hear from all Americans on the issues of our day, whether they be national or local. This must happen more often than the presidential election cycle.”
Over half of the funds went to three organizations: the New Georgia Project, which promotes voter registration of people of color in Georgia; the Pro Georgia organization, which works to help make government more effective in Georgia; and the Black Voters Matter Institute.
The grants are among the first to bear the stamp of the Blank Foundation’s new president, Fay Twersky, who took over in February. Twersky came to Atlanta from the Hewlett Foundation in California — a major player in the philanthropic world — where she oversaw the foundation’s grant-making program and developed strategies for evaluating its effectiveness.
Twersky has indicated that part of her new approach will be to draw more foundation money to the South, an area of the country, it’s often said, that doesn’t get much national philanthropic attention.
Part of that strategy was evident in the $17 million the Foundation awarded the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in order to jumpstart a national fundraising campaign to transform what has largely been an attraction for visitors to Atlanta.
Jill Savitt, the president and CEO of the Center, is also a relative newcomer to Atlanta. She shares Blank’s commitment to bringing more philanthropic dollars to the region.
“The Blank Foundation has said to us, ‘we believe in you, and you have this beautiful gem of a center, and it should be a focus of the nation.’ And so there are a bunch of investments the Blank Foundation has made in us to achieve this vision and also challenged others to do so, as well.”
This is the kind of work Twersky will be continuing as she develops strategies to gauge the impact of the $10 million the Blank Foundation is spending on these relatively short-term grants.
“We’re going to learn a lot during the course of the next two years, and we’ll be developing a strategy for our whole Democracy Program over that time, too,” Twersky said.
In a conversation with the AJT last month, Twersky indicated that, in addition to the democracy grants, the Foundation will continue to give in those areas where it has had a significant impact in the past. The Foundation was particularly interested, she said, in environmental programs and climate change, in helping young people increase their economic opportunities and economic mobility, and in efforts to help develop Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods around Blank’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But Twersky also said that the Foundation is mindful of its interest in issues that affect the Jewish community and of the rising tide of anti-Semitism and the impact of hate speech in America.
“I would say that Arthur [Blank] thinks that no hate is acceptable. You know, there are no forms of hatred and discrimination that are acceptable or should be acceptable to us as a society. We’ve made grants to support the ADL locally and nationally. And of course, we are committed to all forms of diversity, equity and inclusion, both in our in our own businesses and in the grant-making that we do.”
Twersky, who grew up in an observant Orthodox home, indicated that much of her upbringing was shaped by Judaism’s commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world. She called it an explicit value that dominates much of her thinking and of the family foundation she heads.
“The values that Arthur holds, and his family as well, are values that I share, and many of them are Jewish values. It’s an explicit value of Arthur’s and the family’s, and I share it deeply. In my life it matters hugely.”
Last year, Blank and his businesses — which include the Atlanta Falcons football team and Atlanta United soccer — gave $277 million to various causes, including a $200 million commitment to the new hospital that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is building on North Druid Hills Road.
It was another indication that the 79-year-old co-founder of Home Depot, who has amassed a fortune of over $7 billion, will be accelerating the pace of his giving as he ages. In that sense, Twersky believes that the $10 million she has helped to allocate is just a down payment on much more to come.
“Arthur has signed a giving pledge, and he has pledged to give away the majority of his wealth during his lifetime. We expect to significantly ramp up the giving from the foundation over the next decade.”
- Fay Twersky
- Arthur Blank
- Bob Bahr
- Hewlett Foundation
- giving pledge
- Democracy Program
- Children Healthcare of Atlanta
- Jill Savitt
- National Center for Civil and Human Rights
- presidential election cycle
- Pro Georgia organization
- Black Voters Matter Institute
- Westside neighborhood
- Mercedes-Benz Stadium
- jewish community
- Hate Speech
- Atlanta falcons
- Atlanta United
- North Druid Hills
- Home Depot
- New Georgia Project