“Moving the Needle.” A Look at the Dallas Foundation’s Approach to Place-Based Giving


We periodically publish quick overviews of grantmakers on our radar, looking at recent developments and key details about how they operate. Today, we’re taking a look at the Dallas Foundation, the oldest community foundation in Texas.

The foundation traces its roots back to 1929, when local business leaders formed the Dallas Community Trust. In 1934, the estate of Sigmund Mayer gave the trust its first gift, establishing the foundation’s Unrestricted Fund, now called the Community Impact Fund.

The foundation had $358 million in net assets or fund balances for the 2021 calendar year. In the fall of the following year, it announced it had disbursed a total of $1 billion in grants since its inception, with over $350 million in the last five years. While a large portion of this support comes from donors giving through DAFs — as is the case with many community foundations — the Dallas Foundation has an impressive discretionary grantmaking footprint focused exclusively on Dallas County.

“Moving the needle in a place the size of Dallas — both in population and geography — requires relationships, patience and a strategic approach,” said President and CEO Matthew Randazzo via email. “One of the most successful tools in our tool kit has been an emphasis on place-based philanthropy.”

Here are four things to know about the foundation’s recent activities and approach to grantmaking.

It launched an ambitious Racial Equity Fund

In 2021, the foundation’s board of directors seeded its Racial Equity Fund with a $100,000 grant from the Community Impact Fund to address systemic and persistent gaps in outcomes in Dallas for people of color, most often Black and Latino residents. Randazzo said this work “directly aligns with the foundation’s strategic priorities to ensure a strong and healthy start in life and to advance equity and inclusion, both of which are critical to helping Dallas reach its full potential.”

Roughly a dozen donors stepped forward to support the new fund, growing it to $3 million, and allowing the foundation to “strategically and purposefully” back front-line organizations, Randazzo said.

From over 250 applications, the fund’s advisory community selected 25 grantees that received a combined total of over $2.5 million, with a focus on “data-informed areas” like housing and infrastructure, economics, education, criminal justice and government, and health. Grant sizes ranged from $25,000 to $250,000. Over 80% of the executive directors and CEOs of recipient organizations are BIPOC. Grantees also formed a learning and network cohort, which includes diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging training. 

The foundation is partnering with MEASURE, an organization based in Austin that supports Black, brown and multiracial/ethnic-led community power-building to fight structural racism, to track what Randazzo called “the individual and collective impact” of the fund grantees. He said that this fall, the board intends to grow the fund by over 65% and eventually plans to deploy $5 million.

It’s a prominent partner of regional organizations

“We are proud to invest in, partner with and support several place-based organizations in Dallas who are successfully — and measurably — impacting the communities they serve with a place-based strategy,” Randazzo said.

He cited how the foundation helped launch Bachman Lake Together, an organization focused on reversing the low rates of kindergarten readiness in Dallas’ 75220 zip code. In 2021, Bachman Lake Together received a $50,000 grant to support a video pilot series on social media empowering parents to engage with their children in early learning.

Other key partner organizations include Bonton Farms, an urban farm that provides residents with easy access to fresh food, and For Oak Cliff, which offers educational and cultural programming in Dallas’ South Oak Cliff neighborhood.

It manages a state-of-the-art complex that houses 32 nonprofits

Along with Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the foundation is a managing partner of the 175,000-square-foot Water Cooler at Pegasus Park. The complex aims to address practical challenges that local nonprofit organizations face, offering subsidized rent, access to philanthropic funds for furniture and infrastructure, and free or low-cost amenities and services designed to accelerate the organizations’ missions.

“Nonprofit organizations, particularly those within the small- to mid-sized budget range, do not typically have affordable access to world-class office space, blue-chip leadership and management consulting services, or conduits for building the next generation of changemakers,” Randazzo said. “However, the social impact organizations located in the Water Cooler are able to easily tap into a range of curated, no-cost/low-cost programming and resources selected for their commitment to excellence and their ability to amplify each nonprofit’s mission.”

The complex’s 32 nonprofit tenants have realized a cumulative value of almost $8.2 million in gifts, operational support, programmatic offerings, rent and storage savings, and access to discounted meeting and event space.

“Working together across organizational boundaries and across issue areas offers unlimited potential, too often hindered by time and resources to plan for and execute ideas,” Randazzo said, citing the What Else Do You Need to Be Awesome Together Fund. Established by the Dallas Foundation and Lyda Hill Philanthropies in 2022, the fund serves as a dedicated pool of funding intended to “explore and address what tenants can do together that they cannot do alone,” Randazzo said.

It launched a women’s philanthropy institute

“In less than 10 years, women are slated to control two-thirds of the wealth in this country,” Randazzo said. Cognizant of this fact, the Dallas Foundation established the Mary M. Jalonick Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) over a decade ago to connect women donors with impactful community organizations.

The WPI meets eight times a year and makes site visits to local nonprofits. Its “Lunch and Learn” sessions educate members on strategically evaluating nonprofits, including reviewing financial documents and organizational structure, and hearing from community experts. “This strengthens WPI’s process of awarding a grant to a vetted nonprofit, and provides tools for the member’s personal philanthropy,” Randazzo said.

At the end of the year, the group votes on a recipient for a fund grant. Money is raised through contributions, including a required $500 minimum donation per member. In the past 10 years, more than 200 women have participated in WPI activities, and in total, have given more than $36.5 million through DAFs at the Dallas Foundation.

Randazzo said that several members of WPI have approached the foundation seeking a “strategic philanthropy partnership,” noting that this model of community philanthropy requires “intentionality, extensive and ongoing community research, and designing a suite of advising services that can be customized for each donor’s needs.” Leaders will take a deeper dive into this issue during upcoming strategic planning sessions in late summer 2023.

Looking a bit further out, foundation leaders have begun to plan for its centennial in 2029. Randazzo said he and his team “want to make sure that the foundation is able to continue to fulfill its mission and will invite our donor partners to help support our collective work through increasing our endowed funds.”