“I could not be more excited,” Robbins said in a YouTube announcement of the hiring.
He will begin the job in August, roughly 11 months after Michael Horowitz announced his resignation from Federation’s top job. The organization has been without a CEO since Horowitz left in mid-February.
Federation’s board made the formal decision at 11:14 a.m. Thursday, May 5, Chairman Howard Feinsand announced to the crowd of several hundred people attending the Fed Talks event that night at the Buckhead Theatre. Federation emailed the news to supporters and shared it on Facebook early that afternoon.
Feinsand expressed gratitude and excitement about the hiring in the YouTube announcement and in his Fed Talks announcement, which earned Robbins a standing ovation. Feinsand cited Robbins’ leadership, collaboration and visionary spirit, and the new CEO called himself a change agent throughout his career in nonprofit leadership.
“He will invigorate our professionals, donors, volunteers and beneficiaries and dedicate his talents and efforts to the betterment of the Atlanta Jewish community,” Feinsand said.
Robbins will assume Federation’s leadership at a time when the organization is trying to redefine its role in a Jewish community that doesn’t depend on traditional centralized fundraising in an era of direct online donations, crowdfunding and social media.
Betty Sunshine, who is leading Federation’s community campaign this year, announced during Fed Talks that total fundraising has reached $17.1 million for this fiscal year, which began July 1. She said that amount includes more than half a million dollars in new giving and 300 new donors.
But the total is still less than Federation raised before the 2007-09 recession.
“I want to thank the leaders who have the confidence in me to lead this organization at such a critical time,” Robbins said. “This is going to be a very different place. This going to be a very engaging place, and this place is going to make a difference in our city and in our community for generations to come.”
Robbins moved to Atlanta in September 2005 to run Camp Twin Lakes, which provides camp experiences to nearly 10,000 children a year with serious illnesses in collaboration with other nonprofit organizations. Under his leadership, the camp expanded from one location to three and moved into areas such as programs for military veterans and their families and a group home opened with Jewish Family & Career Services for special needs adults.
The organization also has cultivated leadership development and built “a top-notch development system with enviable fundraising events” to help accumulate “healthy financial reserves,” Robbins said in a resignation notice emailed to Twin Lakes supporters.
Before taking over Camp Twin Lakes, he worked in the New York area. He was associate executive director of the Jewish Community Center MetroWest in northern New Jersey from the start of 2000 until he took the Twin Lakes job, and he was deputy executive director of New York’s Educational Alliance, a wide-ranging service agency with Jewish roots, for about four years. Robbins also earned a master’s in social work from Yeshiva University during his time in New York.
But his ties to the Atlanta area go back to childhood. He first came from Pittsburgh as a 10-year-old to attend summer camp at Camp Barney Medintz, and he got his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgia State University in 1986 before becoming assistant director of Camp Barney. He also met his wife, Jewish Kids Groups founder and Executive Director Ana Robbins, in Atlanta.
Robbins and Jodi Mansbach brought the Limmud movement to Atlanta a decade ago, and he remains on the Limmud Atlanta + Southeast board, as well as serving on the boards of such organizations as JF&CS, the Weber School and Federation. For their Limmud work, Robbins and Mansbach received Federation’s Mary and Max London People Power Award in June.
Robbins’ experience includes the Wexner Heritage Program, Leadership Atlanta, American Jewish Committee Berman Leadership Program and Anti-Defamation League Glass Leadership Institute. He has participated in nonprofit leadership and management programs through Columbia University, Harvard University and Emory University.
“Eric distinguished himself early in the search process as a uniquely attractive candidate,” said Gerry Benjamin, who chaired a search committee that included Cherie Aviv, Jay Davis, Elise Eplan, Michael Kogon, Joel Marks, Carolyn Oppenheimer, Mark Satisky, Linda Selig and Helen Zalik.
“I am going to need you,” Robbins told the community in the YouTube announcement. “I’m going to need you regardless of your gift, regardless of your affiliation, regardless of whether you’ve ever been involved before. I’m going need to you because we’re going to transform, we’re going to reimagine, we’re going to reinvent this community and this organization, and we’re going to do it together.”