Brown Foundation: Texas Grants

OVERVIEW: The Brown Foundation was established with the fortunes of the famous brothers Herman and George Brown, who made their millions from the mid-1900s construction and oil pipeline industry. The foundation primarily focuses on public education and arts giving and has around $1.2 billion in assets today.

FUNDING AREAS: Primary and secondary public education, visual and performing arts, service for children and families

IP TAKE: Although public education has always been the Brown Foundation’s top priority, support for the arts and civil affairs has been on the rise lately. Historically, grantmaking has been focused in Texas, and more specifically Houston, but the trustees have recently been branching out and supporting nonprofits outside state borders as well. Browse through the foundation’s most recent annual report to see examples of this diversification.

PROFILE: Two wealthy couples, Herman and Margarett Root Brown and George R. and Alice Pratt Brown, established the Brown Foundation in Texas in 1951. Herman and George were brothers, Texas natives, and successful oil and construction businessmen. Herman founded Brown and Root, a construction firm that became one of the largest engineering companies in the world in the 1950s with top jobs at the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi and global projects in the UK, Iran, and the Persian Gulf. Along with some other investors, Herman purchased millions of dollars of pipelines and founded the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, which was sold to the Halliburton Company in 1962.

George Brown took over as president of Brown and Root after Herman’s death. He also served as a director of the Halliburton Company, Armco Steel Corporation, Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, Trans-World Airlines, Southland Paper Company, First City Bancorporation, and Highland Oil Company.

The Brown Foundation’s primary grantmaking focus area is public education at both the primary and secondary levels. Almost all grants go towards improving the public education system in the state of Texas. As second tier interest areas, Brown supports visual and performing arts and community service projects that serve local children and families.

This is a foundation that’s more concerned about addressing the root causes of problems instead of merely treating symptoms of problems. The foundation staff looks for grantees that stimulate collaborative efforts across different sectors of the community and promise lasting impact well beyond a grant’s value.

Since it was established, the Brown Foundation has awarded at least $1.48 billion in grants, approximately 80 percent of which have stayed inside the state of Texas. And since the beginning, the foundation has given priority to nonprofits in the city of Houston. Details of how the the grantmaking broke down by category can be found in the annual reports. Brown grant amounts have recently been as low as $1,000 and as high as $4.2 million.  

In past years, approximately 48 percent of grants went to art & humanities groups, 29 percent to education, 11 percent to civic/public affairs, seven percent to human services, and 6 percent to medicine & science. This is in contrast to other years, when more like 35 percent of Brown grants went toward education, with 34 percent for arts and humanities, 17 percent for civil and public affairs, eight percent for human services, and six percent to medicine and science. These figures show that support for the arts has been on the rise. 

Past local education grants included $68,000 to the Children’s Center for Self-Esteem, $50,000 to the Brenda and John H. Duncan Rise School of Houston, and $25,000 to Houston’s Center for Hearing and Speech. The Brown Foundation regularly awards grants to nonprofits outside of Houston as well, including grantees in San Francisco, Tulsa, Boston, and Little Rock.

The same principle applies for arts and humanities giving, with many grants staying in Texas but plenty of others going to museums and cultural centers around the country. Past arts grants in Houston included$10,000 to the Aurora Picture Show, $100,000 to the Center for African American Military History, and $225,000 to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

There are no application deadlines to apply for a Brown Foundation grant, and the trustees typically meet to discuss requests each month. The foundation doesn’t award any scholarships or grants to individuals. Applications should be mailed to the foundation’s executive director, Nancy Pittman, in Houston, and prospective grantees can expect to hear back within a few months of submission.

You can reach out to the Brown Foundation with general questions at 713-523-6867 or via email at bfi@brownfoundation.org.

PEOPLE:

  • Nancy Pittman, Executive Director
  • Katy Hays, Chief Grants Officer
  • Nancy B. Negley, Chairman
  • Herman L. Stude, President

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