Lasting Legacies

By Megan Willome

Cooper Foundation & Waco Foundation

Pictured: Photographs by Grace-Marie Brunken,
Additional photos provided by Cooper Foundation & Waco Foundation

“To make Waco a better or more desirable city in which to live.”
“To improve quality of life in McLennan County.”

These goals, drawn from the mission statements of two of Waco’s prominent foundations, are easy to support. People of diverse backgrounds, beliefs and voting preferences can rally around improving our community. If there is a nonprofit you love and support in Waco or McLennan County, chances are a foundation has helped that nonprofit in some way — either by giving it a grant, providing training for its board of directors or enabling an individual to leave it money in a will.

In this month’s Nonprofit issue we look at two local foundations. Cooper Foundation is a grant-making public charity, and Waco Foundation is a community foundation. Those distinctions mean their roles are slightly different, although their goals are compatible. Both nonprofits collaborate on shared initiatives.

The mechanism that enables an initial investment to grow is a charitable fund. This type of investment fund works less like a bank account and more like an account with a brokerage. It helps assets — whether they come from cash, stocks, IRA rollovers, real estate or even artwork — to grow over time. The funds also enjoy certain tax advantages. Waco Foundation manages these types of funds. Individual givers, whether their financial pie is large or small, can establish their own fund or combine their assets with that of others for the good of the community. Nonprofits also have funds, usually endowment funds, which provide a permanent source of income.

Wacoan writer Megan Willome visited with the executive directors of both foundations by phone to learn how they started, what their focus is and how the money flows.

Cooper Foundation

Making Waco a better place since 1943

This year the Madison A. and Martha Roane Cooper Foundation turns 75. It was established by “Sironia, Texas” author and philanthropist Madison A. Cooper Jr. in honor of his parents.

“It was one of the first foundations in the country. In Texas, he was among the early philanthropists,” said Executive Director Felicia Chase Goodman. “His whole thing was, ‘I want to make Waco a better place to live.’”

When Cooper passed away in 1956, he left the whole of his $3 million estate to the foundation.

“People didn’t know how wealthy he was,” Goodman said, perhaps because Cooper usually dressed in what the website describes as “baggy khaki pants, an old, plaid flannel shirt, if it were cool, an equally ancient sweater and shoes that had been repaired so many times they were past help.”

“He just wanted to make Waco great. His motivation was not a tax loophole,” Goodman said.

But even though the foundation bears the name of a family, it is not a private foundation.

“[Madison Cooper] never wanted it to be a family foundation. He wanted it to be for the community and by the community, and he was very particular about it in his will,” she said.

Today the foundation has approximately $68 million and, since its founding, has contributed approximately $24 million to Waco charities. It has grown in part through generous private donations.

“We don’t solicit donations because we don’t want to compete with the nonprofits we serve, so I don’t spend any time fundraising,” Goodman said.

Goodman came to the Cooper Foundation as executive director in 2012. She graduated from Waco High School, left for about 13 years, then returned. Her background is in nonprofits, mostly state and local, including the Texas Cultural Trust and McLennan County Youth Collaboration, which became Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas. While working at a nonprofit in New York City, she got her master’s in public health at Columbia University. Then she came back to nonprofit work in Waco. Goodman’s job allows her to use skills she developed in previous capacities, all for the good of the place where she grew up.

“I love getting to better understand the nonprofits in town and getting to work with them, to help make their jobs easier,” she said. “Our mission is to make Waco a better place. I get to feel like I’m part of the conversation. It’s not that I’m doing all this on my own, but I get to be part of all the different initiatives in Waco.”

One way Cooper Foundation supports nonprofits is through grant-making. To help in that process, Goodman likes to meet with prospective grantees before they submit an application.

“I want to work alongside you so we can feel really good about making a grant to you in the future,” she said.

After meeting with Goodman, applicants submit a letter of inquiry. If the board of trustees decides to accept the letter, then the nonprofit will submit a formal proposal, which the trustees will then consider. A list of frequently asked questions regarding grant applications is available at

“Cooper Foundation makes grants throughout the year and has a rolling application process. In other words, the trustees consider grant applications at every board meeting, which allows us to be very flexible and responsive to the needs of the nonprofits,” Goodman said.

The Cooper Foundation has eight members on its board of trustees. They are volunteers, four of whom are elected by the foundation’s benefited organizations in order to meet the IRS’s requirements for a public charity.

Goodman wishes nonprofits knew the Cooper Foundation is for them. It wants each organization to be strong so it can have the greatest impact in Waco.

“When they have a problem I wish they knew they could come and ask for help and not be afraid that we were going to punish them later,” she said. “I wish they would see the Cooper Foundation as a resource, not just for money but almost consulting — helping them find resources to be better at what they do.”

Those resources include the Nonprofit Network, which offers meetings on the third Thursday of the month, September through May, to provide free professional education for nonprofit staff and volunteers.

“It’s professional development — how to make your nonprofit better,” Goodman said.

Evaluations from participants guide the planning of the next year’s meetings.

“We sometime bring in speakers from outside Waco. We often use the expertise that we have,” Goodman said. “Last May was about advocacy and lobbying, helping nonprofits know they can do that.”

Goodman also works with Waco Foundation to supplement its biannual board governance training.

“The nonprofits asked for it to happen more often, so we offer a short two-hour [training] for new board members. It’s always on the calendar,” she said.

Another effort in which the two foundations have partnered has been race equity trainings. Mayors, chiefs of police and local office holders have benefited from the four trainings that have taken place thus far.

“I attended and said, ‘We have to be a part of this!’” Goodman said. “The problems of poverty in Waco can’t be solved without addressing systemic racism. It crosses all nonprofits in the city and the whole community. We’re partnering with Waco Foundation because they’re the leader.”

Cooper Foundation also serves as a convener, bringing together Waco leaders to address Waco problems. It created the Waco Leadership Forum back in the ’80s. The forum brings together city leaders, including city council members, county commissioners, city of Waco staff and representatives from Waco ISD and all three institutions of higher education, to discuss topical issues five times a year. Before each Texas legislative session, the group creates a one-page community priorities document and then invites elected state representatives to learn what city leaders agree need to be addressed.

“It was in 2013 we saw we need to come together as a community and say, ‘This is what’s important to us.’ These are things everybody can agree on, having to do with pre-K-12 education, higher education, economic development, health, local priorities,” Goodman said. “We talk as a group, and then our state elected representatives are there to hear.”

Goodman’s other role as executive director is to take care of the Cooper House so it can last for generations to come. Built in 1907, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Madison Cooper hosted gatherings of World War II servicemen on leave at the house, and in that spirit, the house is available for qualified nonprofits to use for meetings and parties.

Goodman says the mission statement written by Madison Cooper still guides the trustees.

“They like that it is so wide open,” she said. “We don’t have to try find a niche. Our niche is Waco.”

Waco Foundation

60 years of philanthropy (1958-2018)

“Community foundations are engaged with their local community. It’s their home,” said Executive Director Ashley Allison. “What we do is partner with people.”

Waco Foundation’s mission is to improve quality of life in McLennan County. That mission has four components, listed at as “promote solutions to community challenges, strengthen our local nonprofits, engage philanthropists and manage charitable assets.”

“We have a sign with a big font in our board room, and the board will look at the mission statement when making decisions,” Allison said. “Anyone that would be wanting to engage with Waco Foundation for a fund or a grant should read that because the board was careful in developing it. It’s important to them, to how they’re implementing their charge as trustees.”

Allison became the head of the foundation in 2007. Previously she led two different community foundations in Boston and served as vice president at Amarillo Area Foundation before coming to Waco.

“At Waco Foundation we receive a lot of assets under management, but our mission is to engage philanthropists of all kinds and all kinds of philanthropy,” she said.

Gifts are donated to Waco Foundation, and then the foundation administers the money from those assets to benefit the community.

Waco Foundation was established 60 years ago by R.B. Parrott with $30,000 in stock. Parrott bequeathed an additional $311,000 following his wife’s death. At the time, the organization was called the Waco Perpetual Growth Foundation, and its assets have continued to increase. As of last year it has a total of $80 million under management. For the fiscal year ending in 2017, it granted a little over $3.7 million.

Sometimes an individual includes Waco Foundation in a will without notifying anyone.

“We have a lot of donors that save a lot of money and then give it to us — we don’t know anything about it. Maybe they’ve been watching quietly,” Allison said.

Such was the case with Stephen Goldstein, who left the foundation $14 million upon his death in 1991. A subsequent posthumous donation of $6.5 million was given by Lyle Kay Masterson in honor of her mother, Lyle Seley Masterson.

A community foundation is a public charity that not only makes grants but also enables nonprofits and individuals to create charitable funds. Waco Foundation then manages those funds so that they grow and do the most good in the community.

Let’s imagine a Jo Philanthropist. Perhaps she received a large inheritance or sold a company or wrote the great American novel and wants to use some of that money for charitable purposes. Or maybe she is a consistent giver who wants to increase her ability to give, year by year and after her death. She might want to establish a private fund at Waco Foundation to manage her giving.

“They may not have had a major event that resulted in wealth. Someone can build up a fund over time. Then after their lifetime it goes as their legacy to support the community that meant so much to them,” Allison said. “I’m always impressed at people’s faith in their fellow man. You completely entrust your aspirations for your world in Waco, and you entrust that to someone else. It’s such a positive thing.”

Jo Philanthropist doesn’t have to have a large estate in order leave a legacy. Allison encourages anyone who wants to leave a Waco nonprofit a piece of their financial “pie” to consider doing so through the Pie Society.

“The Pie Society is a communitywide giving society made up of generous donors who have promised to leave a portion of their estate, or a piece of their pie, to local charity,” Allison said.

“It’s a place to gather all those legacy gifts. It’s a way to recognize and thank them.”

If a favorite charity already has an endowment fund with Waco Foundation, Jo Philanthropist can donate directly to it, ensuring the charity has operating funds for years to come.

Or Jo Philanthropist can donate to one of Waco Foundation’s funds that serve the common good, such as the MAC Scholarship Fund. The fund was established in 1995 by Mary Ruth and Malcolm Duncan Sr. and has given college scholarships to more than 42,000 McLennan County students.

Jo Philanthropist can also give to an unrestricted fund that the Waco Foundation board of trustees will disperse.

“It’s people saying, ‘I entrust my community’ — our board represents the community — ‘and at the end of my life I want it to support these causes.’ Or ‘I trust the board because I want to help Waco,’” Allison said.

In accordance with the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations, Waco Foundation’s board of trustees are uncompensated and reflect a broad cross section of the citizens who live here, including businesspeople, service professionals and volunteers. They are expected to serve from a neutral perspective. Allison says one thing they have in common is “love of community.”

Just as an individual can have a fund with Waco Foundation, so can a nonprofit. Twenty-five nonprofits in town trust the foundation to manage a fund for them, usually an endowment fund. Waco Foundation only charges 0.75 percent annually, considerably less than the cost to establish a fund with an investment company. Fund holders have access to the foundation’s financial and legal expertise and are listed in Waco Foundation’s annual holiday giving guide.

Nonprofits physically located in and serving McLennan County can apply for a grant.

“If you think about grant-making as investing in something, you’re investing in human capital, in what people need in your community,” Allison said.

Even before a nonprofit completes an application, Allison encourages it to work with Nicole Wynter, senior director of community investment and operations.

“If they think they might be interested, we like her to meet with them. The board wants her to meet with them. Nicole understands the priorities of what the foundation is doing. She can communicate helpful information,” Allison said. “We want to save people’s time.”

The review process looks different depending on the size of the request and the type of grant sought. Currently, Waco Foundation makes grants twice a year. Requests received by July 1 will be reviewed by October 1; and requests received by January 1, 2019, will be reviewed by April 1, 2019. All grants operate on a reimbursement basis, meaning Waco Foundation needs proof that funds were spent according to the grant’s specifications. A list of frequently asked questions about the grant-making process is available at

In addition to making grants to help fund nonprofits, Waco Foundation wants to ensure that those same organizations are healthy and viable. The Capacity Building program exists to strengthen nonprofits in the community. About seven years ago Waco Foundation started Building Better Boards, a collaborative effort with other foundations.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces to nonprofit management. A lot of people come into the field and know one part but not all of them. The most common things needed are the most expensive — board governance and facilitating strategic planning,” Allison said. “We want to invest in the [nonprofit] sector itself to make it easier and less expensive for them to manage their nonprofit well and do their work.”

Waco Foundation is also part of starting new things to help McLennan County. Allison is proud of the SmartBabies Early Childhood Initiative, which started in 2011, following a study that evaluated the health and education outcomes of the county’s youngest members. The program has since been transferred to United Way of Waco-McLennan County.

“What I like is we can initiate something here but become a funder of that in the future, leading to public-private partnership,” Allison said.

Those partnerships extend to other foundations in Waco as well.

“We always have communicated and share with other foundations,” said Allison, citing the Building Better Boards training. “We made a specific effort to align with the same language and goals. Then you know other boards buy into the concept. When you start partnering with people, you show you are serving the community well.”

Allison says the race equity training partnership that developed with Cooper Foundation is another example of collaboration between foundations.

“This enables constructive, problem-solving conversations about race and is connected to our mission of improving quality of life,” she said.

Allison enjoys that in her job she gets to work with all kinds of people who care about Waco and McLennan County.

“You meet with them, and they tell you their dream, and you manage the funds for them and help them do what they want to do,” she said. “People have a lot of faith in the future. People have faith in Waco — what it has been and what it continues to be.”

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