Opening Doors to Boost Advocacy and Expand a Foundation’s Impact: Texas Women’s Foundation

There was a time when the Texas Women’s Foundation (TXWF) looked at advocacy as a dark door they couldn’t open — let alone walk through. Established in 1985 as the Dallas Women’s Foundation, they and their grantees have always fought for economic security for women and everything that goes with that — from access to quality education, childcare, healthcare, and housing, to preventing human trafficking and domestic violence and shutting down predatory payday lending.

TXWF began exploring advocacy around 10 years ago, primarily at the state and local level. However, when they first began, they were uncertain of the legal boundaries that might impact their advocacy as a 501(c)(3) community foundation.

“We were just frozen in a lot of ways,” says Dena Jackson, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of TXWF. “We didn’t know what the guidelines were, how to handle the accounting — on top of legal fears — and we didn’t have a big designated advocacy staff. Because of Bolder Advocacy, we see a lot more opportunity than we did before.”

In fact, when they began working with the Alliance for Justice (AFJ) Bolder Advocacy program, the door flew wide open.

Funding Advocacy With More Confidence

After joining the foundation in 2012, one of Jackson’s primary advocacy goals was to increase the number of voices speaking out on behalf of women and girls. Around that same time, there was also increasing interest across the foundation to meet with elected officials. That’s when the organization knew they needed more guidance, and it didn’t take them long to realize AFJ and Bolder Advocacy were the right resource to turn to with their questions.

According to Jackson, she first became familiar with Bolder Advocacy through the materials available on their website. And, after finding out that AFJ was thinking about opening a Dallas office, the foundation gave Bolder Advocacy a grant. They knew having their expertise and training nearby could help the foundation better serve their constituents across the state, including their grantees.

“We see Bolder Advocacy as a partner in advancing our advocacy agenda,” Jackson says. “There are a lot of individual issues to advocate for, but if I can get more people talking to elected officials about the importance of the lives of women and girls, then that’s a win.”

Today, Bolder Advocacy provides advocacy training to TXWF’s staff and Board on a regular basis. They also lead workshops for the foundation’s grantees, which cover the rules related to lobbying in Texas, ballot measure advocacy, and 501(c)(3) candidate and elected official engagement. These grantee workshops are tailored to the specific needs of each grantee, such as child care organizations that focus on education and family services.

Jackson says she believes TXWF has gained important skills in crafting unique programs thanks to Bolder Advocacy. They’ve even developed an “Army of Advocates” to encourage everyday Texans to support their initiatives and amplify their research. “Learning the difference between lobbying and advocacy and how much is encompassed in advocacy taught us there’s a whole lot we can do without lobbying,” she says. “The staff is very much on board with it and sees it as a real way to be more engaged and advance our mission. It makes us more powerful.”

Expanding the Potential for the Foundation and Women and Girls in Texas

Sharing their message and mission across the state, including advocacy and lobbying, provided extra motivation for the foundation to take other steps to broaden their reach. For example, until late 2018, the organization was called the Dallas Women’s Foundation. Although the organization has always advocated for women and girls statewide, people in other areas of Texas weren’t necessarily interested in hearing from a Dallas-based group. With their new name, TXWF has garnered more statewide attention for their important research and advocacy.

With more recognition comes a greater ability to engage in advocacy, too. Because of the training they received from Bolder Advocacy, TXWF’s board was comfortable with the foundation speaking out against predatory lending — Texas is one of very few states that allow exorbitantly high-interest on payday and title loans. In the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie, TXWF’s education and advocacy — along with the efforts of another nonprofit — played a part in the city council deciding to take up payday lending reform. “Predatory lending has consistently been an area we have made advances in,” Jackson says.

TXWF has also scored advocacy wins in cities like Dallas, where the foundation supported a coalition urging the Dallas Independent School District Board “to add a more comprehensive sex ed curriculum to replace the state’s abstinence-only curriculum. “This was especially important since Dallas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country and teen pregnancy had been identified as a major driver of poverty in our city.”

Ultimately, Jackson and TXWF want the Texas of the future to be one where people have equal access to health care across the board, where there are protections for renters and homeowners — in short a strong pro-business state that provides equal protection to citizens and a level playing field for everyone. By learning from Bolder Advocacy how to safely advocate for these causes and by making the 501(h) election to maximize their lobbying limits, TXWF is now well poised to make this future a reality.

“We feel very confident about where we’re headed and having AFJ available to us is critical — they’re incredibly responsive because they understand advocacy is a time-sensitive issue,” Jackson says. “We talk a lot about elevating the voices of women — working with Bolder Advocacy helps us elevate our own voice and wield our own power, which helps our constituents: the women and girls of Texas.”