Susan Suarez was just four months into her job leading the Holocaust Museum and Education Center when she and her board kicked off a major undertaking—a $3.5 million capital campaign to purchase a new, larger building.
Talk about a success story. The campaign, launched last December, has already amassed $2.9 million, including a $1 million gift from board member Janet Guttman Cohen. The museum plans by early 2019 to move into an existing 6,000-square-foot building on U.S. 41 in North Naples and is working with a design firm on new exhibits and spaces, such as a reflection room.
Currently located in Sandalwood Square Plaza off U.S. 41, the center sees some 7,000 visitors a year; another 13,000 students and community members participate in off-site programs.
Suarez came to the museum with 15 years worth of nonprofit management and consulting. In this new professional mission, she wants to use the lessons of the past to help people understand the present.
“The importance of educating people about the Holocaust and relating it to events that go on today is even more important,” says Suarez, the organization’s president and CEO.
The museum also teaches other lessons about tolerance. It is part of the Human Rights Film Festival Coalition of Southwest Florida, which this fall plans to screen movies related to issues such as LGBTQ rights, civil rights and sex trafficking.
What are you most excited about with the new facility?
The thing that really excites me is the fact that we will own the building. It puts our organization on very solid financial footing, and it is such a testament to all of the hard work of all of our volunteers who almost 20 years ago started this museum with a shoestring budget. It’s a lasting legacy for the Holocaust survivors who have been just invaluable in speaking with school students. We need their stories to continue and to have a place where people can come and learn about this important history.
What is necessary to create a successful capital campaign?
You have to have a group of people who really believe it is important to have this building. This has been something that has been discussed and thought about on a very thoughtful deep level for years. Our campaign is $3.5 million; it’s not $15 million. It’s a reasonable amount for an organization our size. Then we knew that we had several generous philanthropists … and they made their contributions early so that we could say, “Look, this is a reality; this is happening.”
What about the Holocaust Museum is special to you?
What first hooked me was the work done with the students. My children went to the programs right before I started working here, and they came home talking about how interesting it was and how much they learned. I knew going in that the work that the Holocaust Museum does in the community is extremely impactful and high-quality.
After the campaign, what plans does the museum have for expanding its influence?
Once we are settled in our new larger space, we are going to be looking at more ways that we can partner with other organizations that are also working toward inclusiveness and respect and fighting against bigotry.