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  • Impact Austin

Discovery Days 2022: Session Three Takeaways

The third and last session of 2022 Discovery Days explored the Funding Landscape in Central Texas. This February 18 webinar shared funding priorities and grantmaking practices of three of our region's major funders: St. David's Foundation, H-E-B, and Georgetown Health Foundation. The session kicked off with an introduction to Impact Austin, followed by a presentation of issues impacting Bastrop, Hays, Travis, and Williamson counties.

We are pleased to share key takeaways, and you can learn it all on our event video below.

The webinar was moderated by Impact Austin member Ami Kane, MPA, CRFE, also the Chief Development Officer for The Girls Empowerment Network. Our stellar participants were introduced in an earlier blog.

Courtney Bailey, Director of Issues and Engagement, Leadership Austin and also a member of Impact Austin's Strategic Advisory Council.

Abena Asante, MHA, Senior Program Officer, St. David's Foundation. St. David's Foundation is a health funder covering five counties: Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson. Abena leads the Thriving Rural Communities portfolio for St. David's.

Felicia Peña, Public Affairs Manager, H-E-B Central Texas Region. H-E-B's philanthropic pillars have expanded beyond those they're best known for - disaster relief, hunger relief, and education. They are also tackling racial injustice and systemic racism in their communities.

Suzy Pukys, VP of Strategic Philanthropy, Georgetown Health Foundation. Their grants and funding partnerships are focused on social determinants of health. They pursue an ethic of health equity.

Social justice should ground the funding landscape in Central Texas

Courtney Bailey led with a definition of social justice, a process and not an outcome that:

  1. seeks a fair re-distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities

  2. challenges the roots of oppression and injustice

  3. empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential, and

  4. builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.

Central Texas is the 9th least affordable metropolitan region in the county, according to a report from Austin Community Foundation. A spike in population growth drives up housing and rental costs while hourly wages remain relatively stagnant. People move away from central locations and their jobs in search of affordability, but this leads to traffic congestion and longer commutes. "Affordable housing" is attainable with 30% or less of a household's gross income. Families that pay more are considered "cost burdened;" housing costs thus reduce purchasing power for food, clothing, transportation, and medical care. Relocation may send families to areas with less green space, "food deserts," and reduced access to quality healthcare and providers. Poor neighborhoods are correlated with lower Kindergarten readiness scores, reduced education attainment overall, and lower adult earning.

The philanthropy community has opportunities in Central Texas
  • Work on issues in a more collaborative, just, and meaningful way.

  • Move beyond data to involve the people being impacted in the funding processes. Use culturally-responsible approaches.

  • Build trust with communities.

  • Recognize and respond to root causes like racism. Use a racial equity lens.

Funders identify specific needs and how are they changing

H-E-B: Hunger relief is something they're well known for. Now their work also includes helping the unhoused get access to food. They increasingly partner with food banks, food pantries, and mobile food pantries across Texas through the Feeding America network. This includes areas where an H-E-B store may not already exist. Additionally, individual stores will reflect a community's particular needs: selection, layout, meaningful support to those neighborhoods.

Georgetown Health Foundation: Needs in Georgetown/Williamson are similar to those in Austin/Travis. The differences are in structures. For example, in Williamson County there are multiple municipalities and districts, making coordinated approaches/responses complicated. Also, their region is neither urban nor rural. In-between suburban regions like theirs have all the issues of urban regions but not the resources (and political will) to address them.

St. David's Foundation identifies five areas of opportunity: resilient children; older adults aging in place; healthy women and girls; safety net clinics as hubs for health; and thriving rural communities. Needs are similar in rural and urban areas, but rural communities may lack developed infrastructure and adequate nonprofit services to meet those needs. Continuing issues include an increase in unhoused individuals, food insecurity, issues around mental health, access to health services, and employment paying living wage. The pandemic has brought up broadband access, connectivity, and associated devices as an emerging need. They also see mental health struggles on the rise, compounded by the pandemic and racial injustice. Finally, they identify shortages of caregivers as an emerging need.

Trust-Based Philanthropy practices are increasingly incorporated in these funders' work

Georgetown Health Foundation: Trusted relationships with funding partners help them understand where "pain points are" and how to address them. They solicit feedback from nonprofits to develop their funding priorities; the nonprofit partners are the best connection to the people being served. Suzy sympathizes that volunteer-driven giving circles like Impact Austin don't have the bandwidth to develop long-term trusted relationships with nonprofits. She does urge us to reduce the grantmaking burden on our applicants. At Georgetown Health Foundation, their first step with a nonprofit may be to fund a program. As the relationship and trust develop (over years), they may move to longer-term or unrestricted funding.

H-E-B: They look for how to offer thoughtful "innovative and sustainable opportunities" to create trust and go beyond checkbook philanthropy. They value the opportunity to lend hands-on assistance, like planting trees, setting up a mobile kitchen, or offer staff expertise and skills. They value proactive opportunities, not just being reactive.

St. David's Foundation already incorporates many of the six trust-based philanthropy practices and is working to incorporate more: multi-year support; general operating support; building diverse leadership; getting to know nonprofits and collaboratives within funding areas; learning from nonprofits; becoming increasingly transparent; seeking opportunity for improvement in funding practices; and simplifying and streamlining paperwork (in progress). Their work with a funding partner does not end with a check. St. David's tries to: link nonprofits with others doing similar work; offer more education and research on issues; get involved in the community; and give capacity building and technical assistance.

Funders' advice concerning overwhelming community needs and making informed (and difficult) funding decisions

H-E-B: Giving circles can be more responsive outside of the pillars that exist for major funders. This could be true for Impact Austin as an organization and also as individual donors.

St. David's Foundation: Program officers within major funders are able to develop relationships with nonprofits and to help bring forward the strongest possible grant proposals. They maintain a dialog with applicants to make applications stronger, to give feedback, to identify other sources for funding. Also their RFPs (requests for proposal) lay out details about what will make the strongest applications. It's helpful to have guidance/strategy for what we would fund or not fund.

Connections and collaboration among funders

St. David's Foundation offered these examples: Texas Rural Funders for broadband access; a collaborative with Austin Community Foundation and United Way and also with Your Shot Texas around COVID vaccine availability and equity; partnership with Austin Community Foundation to establish collaboratives for an accurate census count.

H-E-B plugged the Corporate Engagement Council hosted by the City of Austin and the Mayor's Office for connection to like-minded careers. Within H-E-B there is collaboration among stores and internal departments to be thoughtful and sustainable funders.

Georgetown Health Foundation, being outside of Austin metro area, doesn't see as many collaborative opportunities within and outside their region. Their Foundation would like to see more coordination, however.

Reducing applicants' workload, especially in financial reporting
  • Accept financial statements in the format that an applicant uses already vs. requiring that they input data to the grantmaker's format.

  • A financial audit may not be required.

  • Smaller grants may not require an audit, rather a CPA independent financial review.

  • Discretionary mini-grant funding from Georgetown Health Foundation may fund an audit or financial review to open up possibility for funding from other sources.

Additional pointers to nonprofit applicants and feedback to applicants
  • Applicants should ask questions/have conversations with funders earlier, not later.

  • Applicants may be asked to indicate earlier support from the funder.

  • For H-E-B, they will ask for all funding requests for the year, rather than one-by-one requests. This invites a conversation. An applicant can be thoughtful in this way.

  • If an applicant is not funded, reach out later to the funder to ask how to improve.

  • Funders can keep open the door for how THEY can be better, too.

  • Sometimes great ideas are not well-expressed in a proposal. St. David's Foundation might sometimes provide access to a grantwriter so that an idea is optimally expressed.


Discovery Days is one of three Impact Austin Signature Events. Previously an annual "day of learning," we expanded the opportunities in 2021 with a virtual format over multiple days.

The next Signature Event is our Annual Meeting on June 6, 2022.


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