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Holocaust Museum surpasses fundraising goal, now aims for $1 billion

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, seen in 1993, has entered the final stage of the fundraising effort it began five years ago. (Timothy Hursley/U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is marking its 25th anniversary with a new — and bold — $1 billion fundraising goal.

The Never Again: What You Do Matters campaign set out five years ago to raise $540 million by the museum’s 25th anniversary. The campaign reached that goal 18 months ahead of schedule and has now brought in $715 million from 366,000 donors, officials said. The Washington museum announced Monday evening that it would increase its goal to $1 billion by 2023, its 30th year.

“We see that we have all this momentum that we really want to seize,” museum director Sara J. Bloomfield said. “We thought it was important to send a message to the survivor generation that we will secure” the museum.

The Holocaust Museum opened in 1993 as a living memorial intended to inspire visitors to confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity. Just south of the Mall, at 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, the museum has welcomed 43 million visitors, including 15 million students.

The fundraising goal is gutsy for an organization of the Holocaust Museum’s size and relative youth. Its operating expenses were $116 million in 2016, according to tax filings that reported a federal grant of $53 million. In comparison, the Smithsonian Institution, which completed a $1.5 billion fundraising campaign last year, reported its annual budget at about $1.3 billion, or 13 times that of the Holocaust Museum.

$20 million gift to fund updates to Holocaust Museum exhibitions

The new fundraising goal was announced at Monday’s 25th-anniversary tribute dinner, when the museum honored all survivors of the Holocaust with its highest honor, the Elie Wiesel Award. The award recognizes the survivors for their courage and resilience and for “inspiring the global movement for Holocaust remembrance and education.”

As time passes and the number of survivors dwindles, the museum must extend its reach to new supporters, said Allan Holt, vice chairman of the museum’s board. Holt is the son of Holocaust survivors Jenny and Irving Holt.

“We need to strive for relevance with a new generation,” said Holt, who noted that many survivors were among the museum’s earliest and most stalwart donors. “It’s important that the next generation continues to not only support the museum, but to carry its message.”

The final stage of the museum’s fundraising campaign will support efforts to build its collection and education programs and to expand its reach as a global authority on the study and prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities.

“When we opened in 1993, we saw ourselves as a national museum. But I don’t think we realized we could be a global institution,” Bloomfield said. “Today, the problems are global, and our response has to be global.”

That work is underway. On Monday, the museum hosted its first Global Issues Forum, featuring three panel discussions on the psychology of extremism, the rise of neo-Nazism and the role of technology in extremist ideology.

Holt said the money raised during the last phase of the campaign would build on this work.

“Most people, even those who may have visited the museum once or who know about it, think of it strictly from the standpoint of memory and remembrance,” he said. “It is not only remembrance. It is education, prevention of genocide. There’s no shortage of work to be done to continue to carry the message.”