The Marcus Foundation was created by Bernard “Bernie” Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot. The foundation’s primary philanthropic effort was $250 million to the creation of the Georgia Aquarium, which opened in 2005. The foundation supports medical research; nonprofits in Atlanta, Georgia and Boca Raton, Florida; nonprofits in Israel and the U.S. supporting Jewish causes; and center-right public policy organizations.
Bernard “Bernie” Marcus
The Marcus Foundation is the creation of Bernard “Bernie” Marcus, who co-founded Home Depot with Arthur M. Blank and Ken Langone in 1979 and retired as Home Depot chairman in 2002. In a 2019 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Marcus said he had given away $2 billion up to that time and planned to donate 80to 90 percent of his remaining fortune to philanthropy and that while he left detailed instructions to his executors, he hoped to give as much money away during his lifetime as possible. The newspaper noted that Forbes calculated his wealth at $5.7 billion. “I want to live to be 100 because I want to be in a position to give it away to those things that I really believe in,” he said. 1
In a 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed co-written with Red Apple Group CEO John Catsimatidis, Marcus said that he would not apologize for having made a fortune. “When we look at the way government spends its money, we are frustrated by the waste and ineffectiveness of so many of its programs, however well-intentioned. The projects we fund of our own accord deliver real bang for the buck…Our enterprises better promote values associated with virtue and success, and they are helping cure terrible and painful diseases from cancer to multiple sclerosis.” 2
Marcus’s major philanthropic activity was the Georgia Aquarium, which opened in 2005 after receiving $250 million in support from the Marcus Foundation and $60 million from other donors. The land for the aquarium was donated by Coca-Cola. In a 2012 interview in Philanthropy, Marcus said he pitched the idea for the aquarium to then-Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D) after both were returning from Israel in 1999. 3
“I wanted this (aquarium) as a payback to our (Home Depot) customers and to our associates. I had to ask, ‘What would they enjoy?’ My employees, my associates—they’re not really symphony people. A very small percentage of my customers go to the symphony. But an aquarium—everyone loves an aquarium!” 4
In 2020, the Marcus Foundation donated $80 million to the Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation center in Atlanta whose patients suffer from strokes, multiple sclerosis, and other brain-related illnesses. The grant will be used to support construction of a new building for the center, augment outpatient care, and start a new program to aid soldiers suffering traumatic brain injuries. 5
In 2021, the Marcus foundation gave $20 million to launch the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network, which will be used to launch a national network of treatment centers for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress, brain injuries, and substance abuse problems. The Marcus foundation grant was matched by a $20 million grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
A Marcus Foundation grant in 2021 was a three-year, $60 million grant to the Jewish Education Fund to support RootOne, which offers Jewish teenagers trips to Israel. RootOne said it would use the grant to provide 10,000 trips for teenagers by 2025 and over 20,000 by 2039. 6
Marcus Foundation grants of over $5 million in 2019 included Hillel International ($8.7 million), Thomas Jefferson University Hospital ($6.8 million), Marcus Autism Center ($5.7 million), Emory University ($5.1 million), and the Boulder Crest Foundation ($5 million). Center-right public policy organizations receiving over $100,000 included the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies ($3.9 million), Turning Point USA ($500,000), the Federalist Society ($150,000), and American Enterprise Institute ($100,000). 7
- Matt Kempner, “Bernie Marcus: Giving It Away,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 2, 2019.
- Bernie Marcus and John Catsimatidis, “Making Money Is A Patriotic Act,” Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2019.
- Andrew Ferguson, “Building America,” Philanthropy, Spring 2012, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/magazine/building-america/ (accessed July 5, 2022)
- Andrew Ferguson, “Building America,” Philanthropy, Spring 2012., https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/magazine/building-america/ (accessed July 5, 2022)
- Matt Kempner, “Metro Atlanta Rehab Hospital Gets Big Gift from Home Depot Co-Founder,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 10, 2020.
- Sheila Poole, “Marcus Foundation Donates $60 Million To Help Students Visit Israel, “Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 12, 2021
- 2019 Marcus Foundation Form 990.