Five Texas Funders Supporting Rural Communities in the Lone Star State

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As part of our ongoing series on funders who support rural communities, we've looked at national funders as well as regional and place-based funders in the Midwest, New England, the mid-Atlantic, the South, and the Mountain West. As the state with the largest rural population in the U.S. at about 4.7 million people, Texas more than merits its own list. (Texas also has the second largest urban population.)

Rural communities in Texas share many of the same issues facing other rural communities across the nation. These include hospital closures, declining populations, limited broadband access, economic structures, transportation and limited healthcare options, among many others.  

While the broad issues confronting rural communities in Texas are similar to those outside the state, each community is different and has its own set of unique needs. And as we’ve noted in previous articles in this series, place-based or regional funders are often far better suited to address those needs. 

To that end, here are some of the place-based funders supporting rural communities in Texas. 

T.L.L. Temple Foundation

Founded in 1962, the T.L.L. Temple Foundation is dedicated to working alongside rural communities in East Texas to address poverty and increase access and opportunities for all. The foundation serves 24 counties — 23 in East Texas and one in Arkansas. Its grantmaking focuses on six program areas: education, economic opportunity, health, human services, arts and culture, and conservation. 

Among its goals are things like increasing broadband access, postsecondary success and workforce development, increasing the availability of healthcare providers, affordable health options, and addressing food insecurity. 

To date, the foundation has invested more than $400 million, most of which has been concentrated in east Texas. It’s also working with grantmakers outside the state, including the Oregon-based Ford Family Foundation, to find ways to level the playing field for rural communities seeking new development opportunities, including via increased federal investment.

Amarillo Area Foundation

The Amarillo Area Foundation is dedicated to addressing communities’ most critical needs in the Texas Panhandle, which comprises 26 counties in northern Texas. According to the most recent numbers available on its website, about a fifth of its total grants have been rural grants. Its work is focused on education, health and economic opportunity. 

The foundation offers several types of grants: discretionary grants, catalyst grants, cooperative grants and HRMC (Harrington Regional Medical Campus) grants. Examples of its rural grants include providing almost a half-million dollars to the Meadows Health Policy Institute to enhance mental healthcare access in the Texas Panhandle, including rural communities in the region; and awarding another half-million dollars in college scholarships for local and rural Panhandle students. 

St. David’s Foundation

The St. David’s Foundation is dedicated to advancing health equity in five counties in central Texas. Despite being one of the more sizable health foundations in the U.S., with grantmaking exceeding $80 million annually, St. David’s Foundation describes itself as a “place-based, community-focused, equity-driven funder.” 

Partnering with St. David’s Healthcare and Georgetown Health Foundation, St. David’s Foundation reinvests proceeds from the St. David’s Healthcare hospital system back into communities in central Texas. One of the foundation’s strategic priorities is thriving rural communities, which overlaps with its other strategies: resilient children, healthy women and girls, older adults aging in place, and clinics as community hubs for health. 

For its rural work, St. David’s prioritizes Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties, as well as the eastern part of Williams county. Overall, its strategies resemble the philanthropic strategies of more nationally focused health funders in many ways, but with a rural and local twist. They include engaging and empowering rural communities to prioritize work on the social determinants of health, capacity building for local leaders and organizations leading community-centered change, and investing in solutions to support innovation, ecosystem building, and other relevant approaches that can be scaled. 

Community Foundation of Abilene 

The Community Foundation of Abilene works with donors to improve the quality of life in Abilene, Texas, and the surrounding area. According to its website, the foundation works to connect donors with the causes they care about, manages strategic investments to preserve endowments, makes grants that align with the intent of donors, and responds to community needs. 

Some of the grants the Community Foundation of Abilene manages are focused on rural areas in the region. Its Paula Windham Fund for Education and Community Development, for example, is dedicated to supporting capacity building, capital projects and improving the quality of life in rural communities in west-central Texas. The community foundation also has a special grant cycle for volunteer fire departments in the region, which, according to the foundation, play a big role for rural communities in the area. That fund provided additional support for volunteer fire departments to purchase the safety and equipment needed for their work.

Still Water Foundation

The Austin-based Still Water Foundation funds Texas organizations focused on the arts, education, the environment, spirituality and social services. Still Water also supports the development of rural communities in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos regions, in addition to its work to expand access to broadband in rural areas across the state. Still Water is among the Texas rural funders that have supported a capacity-building initiative — hosted by Texas Rural Funders — where information about rural grants, federal funding opportunities, resources, and a grant writer list are all available in one place. Many of the other foundations mentioned in this article have also added their support.

A few of Still Water’s recent grants include $50,000 to Communities Foundation of Texas for the Texas Rural Advocacy Fund, a $145,000 grant to Mindpop for general operating support and a Texas Rural Arts Registry and Landscape Report, and a grant of a little more than $233,000 to Waco Foundation to support efforts to expand broadband access.

Also playing a role in this space is Texas Rural Funders, a membership organization dedicated to leveraging the power of philanthropy in rural Texas. Its members include private foundations, community foundations and intermediary organizations. Like other membership organizations and affinity groups, Texas Rural Funders believes that by leveraging cofunding opportunities and diverse expertise, funders together can have a bigger impact than a single funder alone could do. 

Members include the Amarillo Foundation, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Trellis Foundation, Meadows Foundation, Priddy Foundation, Community Foundation of Abilene, and Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, among many others. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also a member, has provided significant funding for education-focused organizations and academic institutions serving rural Texas. That includes the Rural Schools Innovation Zone, the Texas Higher Education Foundation, Texas A&M Borlaug Scholars Fund, and the Association of Community Colleges in Texas to strengthen rural community colleges in several states across the nation, including Texas.