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Austin Community Foundation Works to Close the Local Opportunity Gap

Through strategic philanthropy, ACF makes a data-driven community investment that offers sustainable solutions and challenges the inequities prevalent in Central Texas

Central Texas looked pretty different 45 years ago, and it’s hard to imagine any similarities between past and present Austinites. One thing that has stuck around, though, is our care for one another, and desire to make our city work for everyone who lives in it. This neighborly mission of inclusion is at the core of Austin Community Foundation, a grantmaking public charity whose work over the past 45 years has brought Austinites of all experiences together in efforts to close the ‘opportunity gap’ that prevents financial and social resources from being evenly disbursed throughout the city.

Austin Community Foundation is an organization meant to “bring together people, ideas and dollars to serve the Central Texas community,” says CEO Mike Nellis. Over the past eight years of serving as the Foundation’s chief executive officer, Mike has gained an unmatched insight into where and who in Austin are in the most severe need of resourses. That’s because, as a grant-based charity that raises and allocates funds across the city, it’s incredibly important for Mike and his team to be aware of the most pressing issues for those living in it. “Community foundations are focused on serving the needs of the specific regions they serve,” Mike explains. “Everything we do is driven by community voice and collective decision-making.”

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Austin Community Foundation’s success in supporting the city’s unique needs for the past few decades is no accident, either. Mike and his team can curate funds that address the community and its most immediate needs because they actively listen to their neighbors.

“It’s important for us to amplify voices,” Mike says. “There are trusted resources in our communities, and we should be focused on uplifting them and mobilizing their efforts.” It’s their presence in the community, and their willingness to listen to those leading ongoing philanthropic efforts throughout Austin that enable Mike and his colleagues to strategize sustainable solutions for our city’s struggles.

This advocacy-led investment is also supported with data gathered from across the Central Texas area that highlights the inequities in need of financial attention and investment. “We use data and commission research to expose the areas where monetary support is most needed,” Mike explains. This combination of commissioned research and advocate-led awareness leads to the foundation’s ability to generate direct assistance to the groups that need it most. For instance, the charity’s impactful projects such as The Black Fund, Hispanic Impact Fund and Women’s Fund allocate funding to nonprofits working to improve the economic security of Central Texans. Just last year, along with ACF’s other ongoing funds, these programs helped award a record $52.7 million in grants to Central Texas non-profits in need.

Scenes from this year’s Women’s Fund Grant Celebration.

But it’s not just about raising financial support for various causes. Rather, it’s about data-driven community investment that directly challenges the multitude of inequities prevalent in Central Texas. This strategic philanthropic approach through data and outreach became especially important during the pandemic, where Mike and his team saw COVID as an accelerant in exposing these inequities. When asked about the issues made obvious by the pandemic, such as affordable housing, Mike said that he and his colleagues feel that there is a clear role for philanthropy to play in addressing them. Public sector support can only go so far, and where government assistance is limited, public funds like those curated and disbursed by ACF are crucial for our community.

Mike said it best: “The rapid growth of our community has been incredible, but not necessarily for everybody.” As Austin expands, its essential that we continue to take care of our own, and work to ensure that the increase in opportunity is felt equally for Austinites across all backgrounds and experiences.

That’s what makes organizations like Austin Community Foundation so important, and their work to uniquely address the specialized needs of our growing Central Texas community.

Whether it’s donating to one of their many community funds, or establishing a charitable fund of your own, ACF makes it easy for those interested in giving back to the community to do so. “We’re proud of the work we do here at the foundation,” Mike beams, “and we will continue to invest in this community in the most meaningful ways that we can.”

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