On A Mission: Area Foundation’s New Path Toward Community Leadership & Service

By James T. Hill

James T. Hill

SAN ANTONIO — My friend and iconic local businessman, Tom Frost, used to speak about the stark differences in our beloved city in terms of whether one lived north or south of Hildebrand. He used it as a metaphoric challenge to an unwarranted sense of entitlement.

That demarcation line may have shifted over the years with San Antonio’s tremendous growth, but Tom’s perspective still stands out to me, given that San Antonio has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most economically segregated major cities in the country.

For nearly six decades, the San Antonio Area Foundation, which I’m proud to represent along with my fellow members of the Board of Directors, has been working diligently to do its part to help our neighbors through its inspiring philanthropic work in support of the community.

We stand on the shoulders of visionary giants like Richard Goldsmith, who created the Area Foundation in 1964 when there wasn’t a single community foundation in all of Texas. There are now more than 800 across the country. We rank among the top 20 by asset size. We must continue to build on the Goldsmith legacy. 

Last year, we began taking a long, hard look at the role we play in the community today and, more importantly, the role we envision tomorrow. We undertook a serious assessment of the community’s needs today and in the future. We revamped our organization’s mission and vision statements to better reflect our aspirations and to reflect the Area Foundation’s growing leadership duties in our city.

We believe that real change will come about when we approach our work as the community’s most trusted philanthropic partner, with the objective of closing opportunity gaps that still keep many of our neighbors from having a fair shot to reach their dreams and goals. Our new mission and vision statements directly make that case.

Yet as intentional and determined as we are with our new mission and vision, we are well aware that we cannot realistically be successful going at it alone. We are committed to collaboration with partners like the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, the H.E. Butt Foundation and other funders that enhance our collective impact to build a community where everyone has a chance to succeed.

Our CEO, Marjie French, along with a superb management team, have been forging collaborations and partnerships within the community. In the last two years, these collaborations have collectively provided more than $13 million in immediate emergency pandemic relief funding and nearly $72 million in total in 2020. We also teamed with UP Partnership to secure an unprecedented $8 million grant from national funder Blue Meridian Partners and provided nearly $5 million in college scholarships. 

At the same time, we never took our foot off the gas with our unique professional development program, offering close to 80 classes and workshops with more than 2,000 participants in 2020, helping to strengthen and grow local nonprofits.

We want donors and investors to see the value in our new mission and vision and decide for themselves that they want to make a difference by taking this journey with us. We understand that change never comes about easily nor quickly. Simply put, there’s no turning back. We must continue to be forward-looking with a dream of creating transformational change in our community. 

We feel strongly that the Area Foundation needs to be up front and center, leading the charge. We believe in our new strategic plan. We trust that the Area Foundation’s talented staff will execute it successfully. We believe in San Antonio’s generous spirit. We’re ready to address the needs of our community with impactful vigor and determination. Join us.

James T. Hill is a retired Four-Star U.S. Army General and current Chairman of the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Area Foundation.