The RGK Foundation
August, 2005"The act of philanthropy is a spiritual act, an expression of caring for one's fellow human beings. It is a belief in the future that the future can be good. It is investing in that future. It is helping to make the dream come true."
--Arthur C. Frantzreb
A Look Inside a Family Foundation
Family foundations have a long history in the United States. As early as 1911, Andrew Carnegie established the first family foundation, followed by John D. Rockefeller in 1913. Today, approximately two-thirds of the estimated 44,000 private foundations in this country are believed to be family managed. Research from 2000 showed family foundation giving of $7.2 billion surpassed corporate, community, and operating foundations, and provided close to half (48.2%) of independent foundation giving.
The Council on Foundations defines a family foundation as a foundation whose funds are derived from members of a single family. Family foundations are set up so that one family member must serve as an officer or board member of the foundation, and they or their relatives assist in governing and managing the foundation throughout its life. These types of foundations are set up to support and perpetuate the founder's core values. It is this desire to strengthen deeply held values and fulfill a commitment to future generations of family and community that led George and Ronya Kozmetsky to establish the RGK Foundation. The Council on Foundations defines a family foundation as a foundation whose funds are derived from members of a single family. Family foundations are set up so that one family member must serve as an officer or board member of the foundation, and they or their relatives assist in governing and managing the foundation throughout its life. These types of foundations are set up to support and perpetuate the founder's core values. It is this desire to strengthen deeply held values and fulfill a commitment to future generations of family and community that led George and Ronya Kozmetsky to establish the RGK Foundation.
RGK Foundation is an independent foundation established in 1966 by Ronya and George Kozmetsky. It was originally founded when their daughter, Nadya, was diagnosed with the terminal illness called scleroderma, a chronic, autoimmune disease of the connective tissue. Noticing that at the time there was very little research about the disease, the Kozmetsky's decided to set up a foundation devoted to bring together researchers and clinicians to provide information about the disease. Fortuitously, it turned out Nadya did not have scleroderma, but they continued to support research which produced cutting edge treatment and new discoveries in treating this disease. With a well-established foundation already in place, the Kozmetsky's decided to broaden the foundation's focus into other areas of medical research, and eventually into a broad range of social issues.
The Foundation's new focus included studies in several areas of national and international concern, including health, corporate governance, energy, economic analysis, and technology transfer. From its inception, the foundation was particularly committed to the development of areas of particular interest to George Kozmetsky, specifically conferences that enhanced information exchange and developed linkages among business, academia, community, and government. Today the Foundation's focus includes three main component areas; Education, Community, and Medicine/Health.
Co-Founder Ronya Kozmetsky was especially interested in education. Currently, education is a primary concern of the Foundation. The Foundation promotes programs that focus on formal K-12 education and, particularly for young girls, in areas such as mathematics, science, and technology. Other programs involve after-school tutoring and enrichment, integrating technology into curriculum, teacher development, and higher education. In 2002, RGK donated $375,000 to the Austin Public Education Foundation to develop technology and a leadership team to direct and monitor "The Austin Blueprint: To Leave No Child Behind." This program is designed to raise student achievement in chronically under-performing and low-performing schools. This year, it funded the Girl Scouts Lone Star Council of Austin, to provide assistance in constructing a new Program Service Center that will enhance technology center programming and multipurpose training activities.
RGK Foundation is an active supporter in the community, supporting a broad range of human services programs, youth development programs, community improvement programs, and cultural arts programs. Its interest in human service programs led the Foundation to support a broad range of community programs, specifically those aimed at early childhood development, parenting education, domestic violence, and child abuse intervention and prevention. In 2003, the Foundation funded the Women's Advocacy Project, an organization that provides support for the Battered Women Defendants Program, which offers direct legal representation for survivors of domestic violence. Pursuing its goal to sustain future generations, the Foundation supports youth development programs that work to build character, leadership and social skills. It also focuses on community improvement projects that enhance nonprofit management and promote philanthropy and volunteerism. The RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service is one of its most recent and sizeable grants in this area.
Following its original purpose, the Foundation continues to support medical and health initiatives. According to Executive Vice President Christina Collier, the Foundation redistributes medical funding promoting medical research programs for ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrigs disease, access to health care and programs that promote the health and well-being of children and families.
Ms. Collier also says that while funding is concentrated into certain areas, the foundation does not run on a percentage basis and the types of programs funded vary. This year, RGK provided $75,000 dollars to the Travis County Medical Society Program that will support a community partnership to improve access to health care for low income uninsured residents of Travis County.
The majority of foundation support is given within U.S. borders, providing about one-third of its funds to local initiatives, one-third throughout Texas, and another third nationally. Occasionally the Foundation funds programs internationally, but according to Ms. Collier these are usually programs of specific interest to board members. Today, the Foundation's assets total approximately $100 million, and it has disbursed over $55 million in grants and direct charitable expenditures to over 1,500 nonprofit agencies worldwide. However, the last couple of years, the availability of funds decreased significantly. Despite asset losses, the board remained committed to maintaining stable levels of giving to help meet the needs of their grantees in the face of economic downturns. Ms. Collier says, "The asset base has reduced significantly over the past three years." To deal with these changes, the Foundation has not been able to fund at its previous level. Such economic decreases result in a reduction in the size of grants and the number of grants awarded.
Regardless of economic shifts, the RGK Foundation has continued to meet the needs of its community. In response to the current economic situation, Ms. Collier says, "family foundations try to manage funds by planning for future economic changes." She added that, "If a foundation plans years in advance it should be able to withstand economic flux and still provide funding at a satisfactory level." It is this long-term strategic planning and the continued desire to better the community that formulates the success of the RGK family foundation. The Foundation recently suffered a major loss last April when one of its founders, Dr. George Kozmetsky, passed away. Ronya Kozmetsky led the Foundation until she retired in 1996 and the Kozmetsky's son Greg now serves as President and Chairman of the Board. In the tradition of charitable family foundations, George and Ronya's visionary thinking and altruistic giving will continue to impact the community, both locally and nationally, for many years to come.
The RGK Foundation is located at 1301 West 25th Street, Suite 300, Austin, Tx 78705-4236. You may phone them at (512) 474-9298, or fax them at (512) 474-7281. For more information go to www.rgkfoundation.org.
Elayne Esterline is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where she pursued a BA in Latin American Studies with a concentration in Journalism. She has since worked as a field director in Guanjuato, Mexico, Project Coordinator for the non-profit Southwest Key's biannual Key Olympics, as well as held the position of Project director for a local start-up NGO called Mayan Communities. Elayne recently finished her first year as a joint masters student in LBJ School of Public Affairs and Journalism at the University of Texas.