Why did you join TEGAC? Amanda Cloud, Senior Program Officer, Simmons Foundation, Houston, TX

The Simmons Foundation’s mission is to partner with organizations that strengthen women, youth and families while building an educated, tolerant and resilient community. Over the past several years, our foundation has supported over 175 nonprofits annually, primarily in greater Houston, and have distributed more than $3 million each year. We do this through our primary focus areas of Health, Education, Civic & Community and Human Services. Additionally, one of the fundamental areas that is particularly important to us is advocacy. Our staff, board and founder are all committed to funding advocacy efforts because we value the critical role such organizations play in speaking on behalf of the voiceless. Many grantmakers steer away from advocacy organizations, not wanting to “get in the fray.” Others are confused about the rules of the road – for instance, the difference between lobbying and advocacy. Often the result is that foundations choose not to engage rather than risk speaking out.

TEGAC “marries” two of our underpinnings – education and advocacy. Recognizing its value to our foundation, we joined TEGAC two years ago and also participate as a member of the Steering Committee. Such organizations help us grow our advocacy efforts while providing a platform for learning and sharing best practices with our peers. Through TEGAC’s local and regional convenings, we have learned about ongoing advocacy efforts and how we can participate more fully. We have found the information, the network of funders willing to share learnings and the engagement of the TEGAC staff to be outstanding.

For Simmons, TEGAC is particularly relevant since one of our principal focus areas is education. As a foundation, we give approximately 20% of our portfolio to education, primarily pre-K-12. Every year we see the impact that state budget cuts and legislative decisions have on our schools, families and children. Although we choose not to advocate for one particular issue, we do focus on supporting the organizations that are speaking up for Texas children and providing research and best practices to the field. In addition, we are always engaging with the community through participation on committees and seeking out new, innovative ways to fund, including public/private partnerships. Although we are a small foundation, we recognize that we have a critical role to play, believe in the value of our financial investment and the impact of engaging with the community as partners.