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Big Planetarium Donation Encourages Others to Give

A $100,000 donation from local builder and philanthropist Preston Caruthers has given new life to the campaign to save Arlington’s planetarium.

The donation, first announced late last week, was given to the Friends of the David M. Brown Planetarium organization in the form of a challenge grant. From now until the $100,000 is exhausted, each donation to the planetarium will be matched by Mr. Caruthers’ funds.

That means that reaching certain donation levels will be easier for individual donors. For instance, a donor would now only need to donate $500 to reach the $1,000 level required to dedicate a seat in the planetarium.

“It’s a way of encouraging people to make a donation, and to do it sooner rather than later,” said Friends of the Planetarium Board President Alice Monet. Prospective donors want to get their donations in before the challenge funds are depleted, she said.

The $100,000 donation came at a critical time, as the planetarium campaign was eying a looming fundraising deadline set by Arlington Public Schools, which owns and operates the aging facility on the grounds of Washington-Lee High School.

With Mr. Caruthers’ gift figured in, the Friends have now raised close to $250,000. The donation pushed the organization just north of the school-imposed $241,680 target for the end of December. The ultimate fundraising target for the group is $402,800 on June 30 of this year, with a $322,240 target set for March 31.

Monet says the organization has “seen a big effect already” from the Caruthers challenge.

Between 30 and 40 donations came in over the weekend, Monet said, blowing away the usual half dozen donations during a typical weekend.

“It’s now clear to people that we’re a lot more likely to succeed,” she said. “It’s an achievable fundraising effort, and people want to be a part of that.”

Monet suggested that another large donation may be in the works. She has been talking with large local companies like Boeing and EADS North America, as well as foundations and major philanthropists.

“We have a lot of irons in the fire right now,” she said.

Caruthers, who served in the Navy, made millions as a construction entrepreneur and later served as chairman of the Arlington School Board, is no stranger to making large donations. He recently made a $1 million challenge grant to the planned National Museum of the United States Army and has donated generously to Republican causes.

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