July 2022

$4M ‘transformational’ gift to Columbus Urban League is nonprofit’s largest

Courtesy of Columbus Business First
By Hayleigh Colombo
July 28, 2022

The Columbus Urban League has received its largest gift in the organization’s history, a $4 million unrestricted donation that CEO Stephanie Hightower calls transformative.

Hightower said she experienced “total shock and surprise” when she learned that former Columbus Fair Auto Auction owner Alexis Jacobs, who died unexpectedly in June, had bequeathed the gift to the Urban League.

Jacobs, who also left a $4 million gift to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, frequently talked with Hightower over the years about the Urban League’s work.

Jacobs was involved in efforts to help hire people who were previously incarcerated, as well as help support the Urban League’s men’s closet initiative, which provides suits and business wear to men in need.

“She had been generous to us in the past and had really taken a lot of time with me to learn about our work,” Hightower said. “She really was listening. For me, this is a testament of a quiet philanthropist who respected this work and understood the importance of this work.”

Hightower said she’s currently thinking about to use the donation to advance the organization’s mission.

She said it’s “remarkable” for a gift this large to have no restrictions.

“This gives us the ability to really look at how … we innovate,” Hightower said. “We also need to build capacity at the Urban League and recruit and retain smart people who want to do servant leadership work.”

In a press release, Columbus Foundation President and CEO Doug Kridler said a gift such as this is “the ultimate expression of belief in an organization’s mission and in its leadership.”

“The community benefits of Alexis’ philanthropy will be deep and long and should be celebrated by all,” he said. “Gifts of this size and type are as precious as they are uncommon.”

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens CEO Bruce Harkey said the $4 million gift to his organization also was the largest one-time individual gift for the conservatory.

“It’s the spirit of Alexis going forward,” Harkey said. “She was just a beacon of light in this community and her generous support has had a significant impact on so many organizations and people.”

For the Urban League, Hightower said the funding will help secure the future of the organization by setting up an endowment and building bigger reserves.

But most importantly, she said, the donation gives the Urban League the chance to make a real difference in Jacobs’ name.

“Whatever it is, it’s going to be something transformational and sustainable long term,” she said. “What is the one thing that from a legacy standpoint, we can really use this money for where it would be transformative for Black and brown people in the community?”

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