Houston Endowment: Texas Grants

OVERVIEW: Houston Endowment is a $1.67 billion foundation focused on grantmaking in Texas’ Harris County and the contiguous counties of Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller. Jessie H. and Mary Gibbs Jones established the fund in 1937, and grants in the millions of dollars are not uncommon. 

FUNDING AREAS: Arts and culture, education, the environment, health and human services

IP TAKE: The bulk of Houston Endowment grant money has gone towards education and human services. Both of these categories are broad, so if your nonprofit serves the Greater Houston area, this is an excellent foundation to keep on your radar. Applications are accepted all throughout the year.

PROFILE: Jessie H. and Mary Gibbs Jones established Houston Endowment in 1937 to improve the lives of people in the Greater Houston area, which is defined as Harris County and the contiguous counties of Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller. Jesse Jones grew up on his family’s prosperous tobacco farm in Tennessee following the Civil War, and he moved to Dallas to work at his uncle’s lumberyard as an adult. After the Galveston hurricane of 1900, he began building small homes, office buildings, and Houston’s first skyscrapers. He became the city’s foremost developer, a prominent civic leader, a political chairman, a global defense manufacturer, and a philanthropist.

The couple donated over a million dollars during their first few years of marriage to support and encourage the people of Houston. During the foundation’s first year in 1938, it donated nearly $15,000, almost all of it going to schools and colleges. Over the years, some of the foundation’s most generous grants have gone to Rice University, the Texas Medical Center, the Hedgecroft Clinic, and the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

Today, Houston Endowment awards about $75 million in grants year. In addition to supporting arts and culture, education, the environment, and health and human services, Houston Endowment also funds a scholarship program called the Jones Scholars Program. Since 1958, this program has helped 10,000 high school seniors attend and graduate from college.

Houston Endowment is led by President Ann B. Stern and has a moderately sized staff. Financial data can be viewed on the funder's website to understand how it has grown over the years. In addition to traditional grantmaking, Houston Endowment has done a two-for-one match on personal gifts made to charitable organizations by the foundation’s directors and staff. 

In recent years, the majority of grants have been split between education and human services nonprofits, which is representative of the foundation's recent strategy. The foundation’s education program supports initiatives in early childhood education, public education, and higher education. The endowment’s two education strategies are student success and leadership, and recent local grantees include Citizen Schools, Collaborative for Children, and the College for All Texans Foundation. Human services grants are awarded to nonprofits working on programs to address basic needs, vulnerable populations, safe families, children and youth, economic development, and strong communities. Basic human needs and community-building programs tend to see the most grant money.

Arts & culture is a middle priority of Houston Endowment, followed by the environment, health, and finally sustaining the nonprofit sector. The arts & culture program is broad and encompasses visual, performing, and literary arts. Recent arts grantees include the Alley Theatre, Bach Society Houston, and Dance Houston. The environmental program focuses on Houston’s ecosystems from Piney Woods to the Columbia Bottomlands, Galveston Bay, and nearby prairies and bayous. Houston Endowment puts a priority on the city’s uninsured, underinsured, and poor working families for its health grants.

Houston Endowment takes an investment approach to grantmaking by asking what specific result grantseekers want, the likelihood of achieving that outcome, and whether a project stands out in the sea of applications. The foundation stays away from religious activities, lobbying efforts, fundraising events, galas, individual memorials, and all other scholarship programs besides the Jones Scholars Program. Nonprofits can apply for general operating support, project support, capital improvements, capacity building, innovative approaches, public policy, or research.

Grant applications are accepted online throughout the year and there are no deadlines to adhere to. First-time grantseekers will need to complete a pre-application to provide basic information to the staff before moving forward.

According to the Houston Endowment's media rep, Claudia Morlan, "We are always open to new grantees. We seek organizations that are high-performing, that are effecting change, and are focused on improving the lives of Houstonians... Through our grantmaking, we want to have a direct impact on people. But, we are equally committed to encouraging greater change—whether that is innovating processes, fostering multi-party collaboration, building capacity or other." 

You can reach out to Grant Manager Lydia Hickey with general questions about guidelines and procedures at online@houstonendowment.org or 713-238-8134.


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