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Friday, January 19, 2018

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The Greatest Dollars are Dollars from the Heart - The Topfer Family Foundation
Jacqueline Beretta

September, 2004

Austinites of the Year 1998, Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year 1999, Outstanding Philanthropists of the Year 2000, Girl Scouts Council Woman of Distinction Award 2002. These are among the many distinctions of the Topfer family: philanthropists, community leaders, and business executives of Austin, Texas.

Morton Topfer, a Brooklyn native with a Physics degree from Brooklyn College, retired in 1994 after a 23-year career with Motorola Inc., and looking forward to trading in the snow and ice characteristic of the harsh Chicago winters for the dry heat of Las Vegas, Nevada. However, Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell Computers had other plans. He recruited Morton to serve as vice chairman of Round Rock-based Dell Inc., which moved the Topfers a bit further south than they had planned- to Austin, TX.

10 years later, the Topfers remain in Austin with Morton serving as the managing director of Castletop Capital- a Texas-based investment firm- and as a member of Staktek Holdings and Measurement Specialties, Inc.'s Board of Directors.

The Topfer Foundation – Encouraging Self-Sufficiency in Communities

In 2000, the Topfer family created a private foundation with the goal of positively impacting the lives of their neighbors while establishing a legacy of giving in their own family. The foundation was formed with a single shared philosophy: that by inspiring self-sufficiency - particularly in individuals with limited economic or social resources - they could leave an imprint on their communities that would benefit current and future generations.

This became the cornerstone of the foundation's mission: to help people connect to the tools and resources they need to build self-sufficient and fulfilling lives. To do this they identified five key program areas to direct their giving: child abuse prevention and treatment, youth enrichment, job training and support services, children's health, and affordable housing for the elderly.

The Topfer family is keenly interested in understanding the unique needs of the communities in which they invest foundation resources. Therefore, contributions are limited to the communities in which the family resides: the greater Austin, Texas and the greater Chicago, Illinois metropolitan areas.

Since its inception, the Foundation has donated more than sixteen million dollars in the Austin and Chicago metropolitan areas. More than twelve million dollars have been focused in Central Texas.

In Austin, the Topfer Family Foundation has been focused on creating relationships with non-profits that fit within their five focus areas. The Foundation works with and supports established agencies with proven successes. The board members are interested in supporting existing programs with proven track records and performance that have goals with measurable results.

Along with great programs and strong leadership, a factor that the Foundation looks for in agencies is diversified funding sources so that the Foundation is never the majority funder of any organization. Each program and agency is evaluated on its own merits. Oftentimes, if programs are successful, the Foundation will continue to offer financial support.

The Foundation, in conjunction with several other local funders, spearheads monthly informative meetings for foundations and funders to learn of local and regional issues from experts in the field. This monthly meeting provides a venue for discussion between local funders on the pressing issues of the community as well as a chance for funders to discuss collaborative ways in which to work on the issues.

A Gracious Philanthropic Philosophy

The Topfers' philanthropic philosophy is not simply about financial contributions. They believe that true philanthropy means much more than just gifts of money. The Topfers take a very hands-on approach to giving by sharing their resources, expertise, input, guidance, and time, fostering community interaction, and working side-by-side with community leaders and organizations to make the possibility of the American dream available to everyone especially those in need.

The diversity of their giving in Austin means they have had a dramatic impact on every corner of our lives,” said Rusty Tally, senior vice president of investments for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in an interview with Philanthropy World Magazine. “ They have taken philanthropy to a new level in Austin; not only by their tremendous financial generosity, but they take an active management and mentoring role with the charities they love and support. Having their advice and counsel along with their financial gift is priceless!”

Gena VanOsselaer of the Austin Children's Shelter said "The most extraordinary aspect of working with the Topfer Family Foundation was that they invested the time and effort to really understand our programs and the needs of the population we serve. Many funders are only interested in funding a new, innovative project and are reluctant to fund existing programs or operations. The Topfers understood that when our public funding decreased dramatically due to government budget deficits, we were in danger of losing critical staff resources that would have compromised our ability to provide high quality care for the children we serve. When you are caring for children who have suffered a lifetime of severe abuse and neglect, the single most important factor in your ability to provide the care they need is the skill and experience level of staff. Because of the Topfers' support, we were able to recruit and retain the quality of staff we needed, and made key improvements to our programs and operations.”

VanOsselaer continued, “Another benefit of working with the Topfer Family Foundation was that they not only fund programs, they work closely with the agencies to strengthen those agencies and deepen their impact. When they first began working with the Austin Children's Shelter, they lent their business expertise and made recommendations to help us strengthen our infrastructure so we could reach our goals. The result has been that we are better equipped to serve the children in our community."

Executive Director Ed Gomez, Executive Director of El Buen Samaritano in Austin, acknowledged that his organization is a perfect example of an organization the Topfers would be delighted to support because it aims to transform lives by engaging the strengths of working poor Hispanic families to promote their successful participation in our society.”

Gomez explained, “The Topfers' great generosity is related to strengthening the economy in a broad sense in the cities in which they give. This is achieved through better integrating poor Hispanic working families in Austin into the big picture, and encouraging their participation in the community. In the case of El Buen, we serve poor Hispanic families who basically have one foot in their homeland and one foot in their host country. These transient families do not understand their history and traditions. Without history, they have no goals for the future. They suffer from three things: and English language barrier, issues of legal status and documentation, and lack of participation in their respective community. These people come to the United States to get what they need financially and then they return to Mexico. They are not invested in community here because they feel it is temporary, and therefore do not take the time to participate or contribute to their home away from home. That reminds me of the following quote, ‘What you do not plant, you do not reap.”

The Topfers understand this concept and through their investment in El Buen Samaritano, are encouraging and enabling Hispanic families to join in and participate in the Austin community to grow the economy and culture –not live in an invisible sub culture that is silently corrosive.

The Five Focus Areas of the Topfer Foundation

Melanie Ridings, Program Officer of the Topfer Foundation stated,"The Topfer Foundation has currently identify focus areas to concentrated on."

To this end, the Topfer's have identified five focus areas:

  1. Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment : $592,808 in Central Texas Strengthening families and healing victims of abuse and neglect.
    Self-sufficiency for children and families begins in a safe, healthy home. TFF supports programs that provide resources, training and treatment for families and children of abuse. Grants are awarded to programs that promote positive parenting, strengthen families, and provide early intervention. Additionally, TFF funds therapeutic support services for victims of abuse to enhance their quality of life and enable them to reach their full potential.

  2. Youth Enrichment - $1,506,929 in Central Texas
    Fostering confidence and instilling life-skills in today's at-risk youth.
    TFF is committed to helping at-risk youth prepare for self-sufficient, fulfilling lives. Therefore, the foundation funds initiatives that help youth develop practical life skills, promote education, build self-confidence, and provide positive development and enrichment opportunities.

  3. Job Training and Support Services - $370,209 in Central Texas
    Promoting self-sufficiency by helping others develop the skills necessary to earn a livable wage.
    Self-sufficiency is unlikely without the skills and knowledge to earn a livable wage. Therefore, the foundation supports job training programs and support services that enable people to increase their earning potential and enhance their quality of life through sustainable and meaningful employment. Initiatives eligible for TFF funding include vocational training, remedial education and life skills training. Successful programs will address the multiple needs of the individual to ensure that employment is secured and sustained.

  4. Children's Health - $2,811,300 in Central Texas
    Enhancing the health and quality of life of low-income children and those children living with chronic or terminal illnesses.
    For parents who have faced the expensive and overwhelming task of caring for an ill child, self-sufficiency can be a distant dream. TFF supports organizations that provide access to critical healthcare for low-income children and those with chronic and terminal illnesses. Grants are awarded to programs that address the physical and emotional needs of sick children and their families through compassionate care, medical treatment and intervention services.

  5. Affordable Housing for the Elderly - $525,000 in Central Texas
    Helping the Elderly live with dignity and independence .
    Aging does not lead to an inevitable loss of independence. However, limited access to safe, affordable housing can be a barrier to maintaining a life of dignity. TFF partners with local organizations that provide housing options for the elderly while ensuring access to the support services needed to maintain their health and independence. Eligible programs include those that offer home modification, home repair and affordable housing alternatives.

  6. Over $6.4 million to other areas including a $5 million matching grant to support the Seton community clinics. These grants were made prior to the creation of TFF's five focus areas.

Guidelines For Funding

The Topfer Family Foundation supports organizations that further their initiative to help people help themselves whether it is through parenting classes to prevent child abuse, low-cost healthcare, home repair, youth enrichment projects, or job training services. Because the Topfers dedicated their time, money, and skills to the local communities in which they lived and worked and are devoted to understanding the unique needs of the community, the foundation limits their geographic focus to the greater Austin metropolitan area and the greater Chicago metropolitan area with an emphasis on Cook, DuPage, and Lake counties. Therefore, through the foundation's annual givings, they are able to extend the generosity of the Topfers in areas and to organizations close to their hearts and in which they had a vested interest.

Additionally, only organizations with tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) status will be considered. Applications are available on their website at and are accepted on an ongoing basis with review based on the order of receipt. A copy of the IRS determination letter should accompany the online application along with the most recently filed IRS Form 990, a copy of last year's audited financials, an annual report, and a letter of support by the board chair. These documents can either be uploaded on the application, submitted electronically, or sent by mail. Applications are then reviewed by the Board of Directors at quarterly meetings held in March, June, September, and December and a response can be expected within 2 weeks after the meeting.

Topfer Family Foundation generally does not support:

  • Grants or loans to individuals

  • Loans to charitable organizations

  • More than 20 percent of an organization's operating budget

  • Administrative costs

  • Organizations that exclude participants based on race or religion

  • The purchase of dinner, gala or raffle tickets

  • School fundraisers or events (including sports and other extracurricular activities)

  • Tax-generating entities (municipalities, school districts, etc.) for services within their normal responsibilities

  • Public or private educational institutions for: recurrent operating, administrative or capital expenses (i.e. acquisition, construction, improvement and maintenance of buildings and equipment), or scholarships that subsidize existing funding base

  • Academic or scientific research

  • Advertising or marketing efforts

  • Political campaigns or purposes

  • Any one program more than once a calendar year

Critical Evaluations

The Topfer Family Foundation believes that evaluation is a critical component of the grant process. Therefore, each grant recipient is required to complete a Grant Report Form, which is designed to effectively track the progress and outcomes of programs/projects funded by the Foundation. The Foundation relies on candid responses in order to accurately assess the effectiveness of its grant making and to ensure that it is meeting the needs of the community and its nonprofit partners. Reports are due six-weeks after the completion of the funded project or within six weeks of the end of each one-year funding period. Failure to submit evaluation reports can jeopardize future funding opportunities with the Foundation.

Sample Grants

Austin Children's Shelter: TFF supports direct care for the children of the shelter and worked with Shelter Executive Director and board in hiring their development director

Lifeworks: TFF supported the capital campaign to build a Youth and Family Resource Center and to expand its shelter as well as program support for GED, Literacy and Life Skills programs

Any Baby Can\Candlelighter's: TFF has supported both organizations and was instrumental in facilitating the merger of the organizations which happened in 2003

Children's Medical Center Foundation of Central Texas: To support capital campaign for new Children's Medical Center $3.2M ~ From TFF and Topfer Family

Girl Scouts-Lone Star Council: TFF supported the capital campaign to build a new Program Center as well as program support for outreach programs for at-risk girls

El Buen Samaritano: TFF supported the capital campaign to build a new Program Facility and Medical Clinic as well as program support for computer literacy classes.

Communities in Schools of Central Texas: TFF supported CIS in starting a new program at Rodriguez Elementary, which provides counseling and supportive guidance, community referrals, parental involvement and educational enhancement as well as the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters Program

Capital IDEA: TFF supported programs, which upon graduation, participants will earn a livable wage.

In its short, but distinguished four-year existence, the Topfer Family Foundation has made an unforgettable impact in the communities they serve. With their focus remaining narrow, the Topfers and the Board of Directors are able to better analyze, understand, and meet the growing needs of the Austin and Chicago area communities. Their dedication is not only on financially supporting people and organizations, but in volunteering their time and talent to help people in need and provide them with the proper resources so they can be empowered to improve their own lives. Dover said this about the Topfers, “ The greatest dollars of all are dollars from the heart. The Topfer family is all heart.” The philanthropic legacy of Angela and Morton Topfer will be carried on through the years by new generations of family members and through the Topfer Family Foundation. You may learn more about the Topfer Foundation at


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