Human Rights Watch today announced a million endowment campaign, the most ambitious fund-raising effort ever undertaken by a humanitarian advocacy group. Campaign Chair Fiona Druckenmiller said that the campaign had already secured cash and pledges totaling million toward its million goal. The amount came from fewer than fifty donors.

The endowment drive is being launched this evening at 5:30 p.m., at the National Academy of Design on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street in New York.

Founded in 1978, Human Rights Watch has grown to be the largest U.S.-based human rights organization. The Washington Post has said Human Rights Watch "might as well be a major country" when measuring its clout in international negotiations, and The New York Times this year called it "the most powerful and influential Western human rights organization."

With offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, Brussels, Moscow, Hong Kong, and Rio de Janeiro, and a worldwide staff of more than 150, Human Rights Watch conducts investigations in 70 countries around the world, bringing abuses to light and pressing governments to change.

"The public support we have gotten so far is simply overwhelming," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. Roth noted that such an ambitious endowment campaign was unusual for an advocacy group. "We're not going to build a building with this money, and we're not going to endow a chair," said Roth. "What makes this campaign different is that people are committing themselves to the power of an idea."

Roth said the endowment would support efforts that Human Rights Watch's annual $15 million budget cannot cover adequately. Those efforts include guaranteeing Human Rights Watch's capacity to respond quickly to human rights emergencies anywhere on the globe -- such as this year's crises in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and East Timor -- as well as providing funds for areas of the world that attract less financing because they are outside the limelight.

To date, the campaign has received a number of extraordinary gifts. The Sandler Family Supporting Foundation of Oakland, California has pledged $10 million, and the Sandlers have challenged Human Rights Watch supporters to match their gift. Irene Diamond has pledged $5 million in addition to her earlier significant pledge. Fiona and Stanley Druckenmiller, The Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have each pledged $5 million.

Several endowed funds have been created by donors making gifts of $1 million. Barbara Finberg has established the Alan R. Finberg Fellowship in honor of her late husband, who served as a Board member of Human Rights Watch. James Ottaway, Jr. has created the James H. Ottaway, Jr. Fund for Human Rights in Europe and Central Asia. The Hauser Foundation, Gail and Jay Furman and Lorraine and Sid Sheinberg have also pledged $1 million.

Campaign Chair Fiona Druckenmiller is joined by the chairman of Human Rights Watch's board of directors, Jonathan Fanton, who is the former head of New School University and incoming president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Steering Committee members are Bob Bernstein, the Founding Chair of Human Rights Watch; Edith Everett of Gruntal and Co.; Barbara Finberg of MEM Associates; Michael Gellert of Windcrest Partners; Marina Kaufman; Josh Mailman of Sirius Business Corporation; Jane Olson; and Domna Stanton of the University of Michigan. Vartan Gregorian, head of the Carnegie Corporation and former chairman of Brown University, is serving of counsel to the Steering Committee.