Inside the Summerlee Foundation’s Texas Giving

Question: What’s the best way to have a big local impact if your foundation’s assets are less than huge?

Answer: Focus, specialize, and really narrow down your grantmaking scope.

That’s been the strategy for the Dallas-based Summerlee Foundation, and it’s been working out pretty well for them anyway. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, Summerlee’s total assets topped out at just over $72 million. However, this funder has emerged as a statewide leader in two fields because it focuses on, well, just two issues.

The foundation was established in 1998 by Annie Lee Roberts, a Texas native who married another Texas native, Summerfield G. Roberts. Summerfield found his success in the banking, oil, and real estate industries, while Annie helped causes for homeless animals and captive wildlife during her lifetime. The couple was also passionate about preserving Texas history. Since 1998, the foundation has awarded over $30 million in grants to more than 1,000 organizations.

Texas is full of fascinating history and there are many different angles that you can take to pursue a Texas history grant. Your first step is to contact the program officer in Summerlee’s Texas History department to discuss the project. Right now, your best point of contact is the foundation’s president, John W. Crain, who can be reached at jwcrain@summerlee.org or 214-363-9000. Letters of inquiry should be two or three pages and also include a fact sheet. A formal proposal will be required upon acceptance.

Here are a few key facts about Summerlee’s Texas history program:

  • Grants are about $10,000
  • Independent scholars with a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor are eligible
  • Monuments and memorials are not eligible
  • Most funding is program support and general operating grants are rare
  • Multi-year grants are possible

Examples of past grantees include the Armstrong County Museum, Inc. (Claude, TX), the Dallas County Heritage Society (Dallas, TX), and Friends of the Texas Historical Commission (Austin, TX). The foundation has been giving out a couple dozen of these grants per year lately.

See: Texas History Grant Guidelines

Although the geographical focus of Summerlee’s Texas history program is obvious, its animal protection program is a bit broader. In fact, this program is led out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Proposals from the Americas and the British Isles are considered for animal protection grants, which generally fall into the following program areas:

  • Cats in the U.S. and Canada
  • Dogs in Latin America
  • Wildlife, especially mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and black bears
  • Marine life, especially dolphins and orcas
  • Sanctuary for captive animals
  • Wildlife rehabilitation, especially emergency rescue, food, medications, and housing improvements
  • Emergency funding through the Humane Society of the U.S.

However, Texas-based animal groups regularly see support from Summerlee each year. Past examples include the Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells, Castroville Nip & Tuck in Castroville, InSync Exotics Inc. in Wylie, and SNIPS Spay Neuter Initiative in Jasper. Local spay and neuter programs and animal rescue shelters can capture the Summerlee Foundation’s attention.

See: Animal Protection Grant Guidelines

The application process at Summerlee involves a fair amount of conversation, and site visits are also common. While program directors do the leg-work, the final authority belongs to the seven-member board of directors, who are experts in history, animals, and community leaders. General questions about the grantmaking programs and processes can be directed to the Dallas office at info@summerlee.org

Related: Summerlee Foundation: Grants for Animals and Wildlife