August 2022

Central Ohio leaders ‘breathless’ after record-breaking $8 million donation

Courtesy of NBC4
By Maeve Walsh
July 29, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A posthumous, record-breaking $8 million donation to two landmark organizations in central Ohio has left its leaders “breathless.”

Alexis Jacobs, the former CEO of Columbus Fair Auto Auction who died in early June, left behind two $4 million unrestricted gifts — one for the Columbus Urban League and one for the Franklin Park Conservatory — the heftiest donation awarded in each organization’s history, its leaders announced Wednesday.

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“This is the largest gift ever in the history of the Columbus Urban League, corporate or individual. This is one of those, go home and get on your knees and say ‘thank you’ kind of gifts,” president and CEO Stephanie Hightower said in a statement.

Franklin Park Conservatory President and CEO Bruce Harkey said the $4 million donation marks “the spirit of Alexis going forward,” commending the late benefactor as a “beacon of light” in the central Ohio community.

Harkey, who bonded with Jacobs over his love of cars after he joined the Conservatory, said the botanical garden’s board will consider how to use the gift, potentially for an educational endowment fund or capital support. Jacobs was reportedly a frequent guest at the Conservatory’s spring fundraiser, Hat Day.

“Alexis loved a good party; she loved dressing up; she loved being with her friends and also to support the Conservatory and youth education,” Harkey said in a statement.

As long-time supporter of the Columbus Urban League, Hightower said Jacobs’ gift will allow the non-profit “to think bigger” in its efforts to empower Black communities in central Ohio.

Jacobs reportedly hired people involved in the criminal justice system, who also participated in the Urban League’s workforce re-entry program, to work at the Columbus Fair Auto Auction, Hightower said.

The unrestricted nature of both gifts allows the Urban League and Conservatory to decide how to allocate the funds — a reflection of Jacobs’ understanding of what Hightower called philanthropic redlining, when Black-led nonprofits receive fewer donations and more restrictions on their use.

“Unrestricted gifts like these can be transformational,” Douglas Kridler, president and CEO of The Columbus Foundation, said. “It 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. Gifts of this size and type are as precious as they are uncommon.”

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