Power of Collaboration

In early December, the RGK Center hosted the panel discussion “The Power of Collaboration,” the first of a series of programming in celebration of the Center’s 20th Anniversary. We are honored that 36 members of the RGK community, many of whom are actively engaged in a donor collaborative, joined the live conversation. For those unable to attend, we hope you will enjoy the recording below, and we have compiled key takeaways from the discussion for your convenience.

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." African Proverb  

The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have highlighted the limitations of a solo, uncoordinated approach to enact systemic change. Amid this larger conversation about broadening the toolset of philanthropy, advocacy, and policy-making, moderators Estevan Delgado, program manager at the Hispanic Impact Fund, and Jeremy Gregg, managing director of Arabella Advisors, guided panelists and participants through a discussion about examples of and challenges to donor collaboratives. 

Each panelist brought their unique perspective on donor collaboratives. Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, emphasized how organizations must be flexible to successfully participate in a collaborative, drawing on Lyda’s experience with the coordinated giving of North Texas Cares 2.0 and the pooled funding of the Better Together Fund. Curtis Meadows, event guest and founding director of the RGK Center, added that a collaborative cannot be forced to work, sharing an example of a failed collaborative during his time at the Ford Foundation. Dennis Cavner, co-founder of the Austin Together Fund, noted how the organizations that drive nonprofit collaborations must proactively change the “opportunity filter” to reverse screening out minority-led organizations, drawing on the Austin Togther Fund's work with the African American Leadership InstituteJennifer Esterline, founder and director of Philanthropy Advocates, turned to her experience at the intersection of philanthropy and policy to explain the need for funders to work with policymakers around a shared focus to push advocacy work, observing that, compared to the public sector, nonprofit funding is only a drop in the bucket. And, Patrick Bixler, Assistant Professor at the RGK Center, discussed the literature gap in understanding the impact of collaboratives, which he explores in his research on network structures. 

Many panelists emphasized the important of funders engaging with and giving power to the community. "Those community members who are having to live through the current challenges of the time, day in and day out, are actually the experts of their own experience," Estevan Delgado said. Reflecting on how post-COVID philanthropy might best address these challenges, Nicole Small suggested that "we take what we've done during the pandemic and continue to move that forward, and shift the power...anybody who's an expert in an area should be able to have a seat at the table and have these conversations, if we really want to solve these problems." 

The discussion allowed the RGK Center to reflect on how we can best provide value to our network and the broader community. Center director and interim dean of the LBJ School David Springer pointed out the Center’s unique position and opportunity to turn data into impact, a step often lacking among universities seeking to make an impact in their communities. Participants also suggested the RGK Center provide case studies on collaboratives that explore their real decisions and challenges, a valuable resource to those interested in starting or participating in a collaborative.  

"The intersection of policy and nonprofit work and philanthropy--it all came together when the RGK Center was formed, and it really helped me understand the role that nonprofits can play in policy," said Jennifer Esterline, who is an alum of the RGK Center's nonprofit studies portfolio program. 

We appreciate all members of the RGK community who took time from their day to participate in this discussion, and we’d like to extend a special thank you to our host, Mary Jalonick, our moderators, Estevan and Jeremy, and our panelists, Nicole, Dennis, Jennifer, and Patrick. In addition, the event would not have been possible without the direction and guidance of Erica Ekwurzel, RGK alumna and founder of CivicAIM nonprofit consulting, and the technological support of the Thompson Conference Center

For an example of how the RGK Center is involved in collaborative projects in the Austin area, download the report "Strategic Collaboration for Sector Sustainability: A Study of Community "Catalyst" Funds and Austin Area Collaboration" 

David Springer Ph.D.

Director, RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, University Distinguished Teaching Professor 

Interim-Dean Designate LBJ School of Public Affairs 

David W. Springer, Ph.D. is the Director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, a University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and a Fellow to the Sid Richardson Chair of Public Affairs in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. After receiving his Ph.D. in social work from Florida State University, he joined the faculty at UT Austin in 1997.  

Professor Springer began his career as a clinical social worker with adolescents and their families. Bridging direct practice and public policy, his research and teaching coalesce around effective leadership, nonprofits, and systems to strengthen communities. Dr. Springer leads the RGK Center team in preparing the next generation of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders. He serves on several national and local nonprofit boards, and provides executive leadership training and mentoring for nonprofit professionals. 

Professor Springer has been recognized for his leadership in the field and impact on society: Nonprofit Times Power & Influence Top 50, a national list of the top working executives in the nonprofit sector; Fellow of the Society for Social Work and Research; the 100 most influential social work journal authors by the British Journal of Social Work; Distinguished Alumni in Social Policy and Administration by the Florida State University College of Social Work; the Public Service Matters Spotlight Award by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA); the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Social Worker of the Year for his work on juvenile justice system reform; and the Austin City Council Distinguished Service Award. 

Mary Jalonick

Community Volunteer

RGK Center advisory council member

Following thirty years as President & CEO of The Dallas Foundation, Mary Jalonick retired from The Foundation December 31, 2017. Currently she is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation, the Dallas College Foundation, Social Venture Partners–Dallas and a Director of the Lyda Hill Foundation.  Mary is also a member of the Advisory Council of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, at the University of Texas in Austin. Mary has been instrumental in the formation of Early Matters Dallas, a broad-based coalition to raise awareness about the importance of high-quality early education.  She serves as a member of the EMD Governing Board. In December of 2018, the Board of Governors of The Dallas Foundation announced the establishment of the Mary M. Jalonick Women’s Philanthropy Institute Endowment.

Estevan Delgado

Program Manager, Hispanic Impact Fund

Austin Community Foundation

Estevan Delgado, MPAff, is a Latinx community advocate and nonprofit professional. In his current role at Austin Community Foundation, Estevan oversees the operations of the Hispanic Impact Fund, which supports the economic security and advancement of Hispanic Central Texans through building race-forward community partnerships and collective impact investing. Estevan also serves on the Austin Latino Coalition, as well as on the Board of Directors for American Gateways and the Association of Rice Alumni. Estevan is a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Austin at Texas, Leadership Austin (Essentials 41) and is a current Líderes Fellow with Hispanics in Philanthropy.    


Jeremy Gregg

Managing Director

Arabella Advisors

As Arabella’s Dallas-based managing director, Jeremy Gregg works to connect ambitious and innovative changemakers in Texas with the full Arabella platform of services to guide them in moving from idea to impact. Gregg serves as a trusted partner to philanthropists, impact investors, and social entrepreneurs of all kinds across the region and throughout the country, and is passionate about collaborating closely to bring their charitable initiatives and programs to life.

Gregg has 19 years of experience working with various organizations in Texas to help advance social impact and strengthen the practice of philanthropy. A three-time TEDx speaker who was previously named the Nonprofit Communicator of the Year by the Center for Nonprofit Management, Jeremy spent the first half of his career raising over $40 million for nonprofits that provide social services for communities in need. As a social entrepreneur, Jeremy co-founded several successful nonprofits and mission-driven businesses, one of which was named the Success Story of the Year by SCORE, a business mentorship association. Recognized as a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy in 2019, Gregg shifted his career from fundraising to serving as a trusted advisor to several prominent changemakers.

Prior to joining Arabella, Gregg served as the president and founder of Gregg Partners, an impact advisory firm that developed revenue strategies for nonprofits; and Mission Allies Publishing, a mission marketing agency. A passionate advocate for those affected by mass incarceration, Gregg authored and produced a children’s book called “Daddy’s Time Out,” which uses the metaphor of a time-out to explain incarceration to young people who have a parent in prison.

Gregg also previously held leadership positions (including two CEO positions) at a number of charities and social impact ventures, including the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, an internationally recognized leader in prison rehabilitation; CNM, a management support organization that delivered training and consulting to other nonprofits, and CitySquare, a community development organization that improved the lives of over 50,000 low-income families per year. During the economic downturn of 2008–2009, he also served as the founding executive director of Executives in Action, a nonprofit that tapped into the talents of transitioning corporate leaders to build and strengthen the capacity of hundreds of nonprofits that could never have otherwise accessed such talent.

Gregg has been featured by the BBC, NPR, the Financial Times, Texas Tribune, the New York Times, Forbes, and more. His published work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and in cover articles for an industry magazine. Jeremy earned an Executive MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas and holds degrees in both advertising and English from Southern Methodist University. He is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy via the American College of Financial Services and a certified mindfulness teacher from the Dallas Yoga Center. He previously earned his CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive). Gregg serves as a strategic advisor to the Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities, a board member of the My Possibilities Foundation, a guest lecturer for The Warden Exchange, a mentor to several fundraising leaders via AFP Dallas, mentor in the Team 22 program, a hospice volunteer with the Visiting Nurses Association, and a volunteer advisor to the student newspaper at Cistercian Prep School. Jeremy is also a passionate advocate for poetry (which he has taught everywhere from a prep school to a public school to a prison).


Jennifer Esterline

Director of Policy

Philanthropy Advocates, Educate Texas

Jennifer is the founder and director of Educate Texas' Philanthropy Advocates, a collaboration of private, corporate and community foundations across the state working to promote, protect and improve Texas public and higher education through advocacy and public policy. Through this role, she provides executive leadership and project management for Philanthropy Advocates and executes a strategic plan. She builds and maintains relationships with Texas policymakers and philanthropic and nonprofit partners and manages a grants portfolio of nonprofit partners working with Philanthropy Advocates to execute policy projects.

Jennifer has been working in the nonprofit space for over 15 years, first as a program and development director for nonprofit and higher education institutions, and later as executive director for the KDK-Harman Foundation in Austin. She also served as founder and principal of Esterline Consulting from 2013-2019, where she consulted with a number of philanthropic and nonprofit clients from across the state and nationally on issues of high-impact philanthropy, resource development, board development and management, strategic planning, collective impact, coalition building, and effective advocacy and public policy strategies. Through her consulting work, she helped the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute develop and implement a multiyear, multimillion-dollar resource development initiative across Texas.

A proud product of Texas public education, Jennifer grew up in Dallas and holds a bachlor's degree in Latin American studies from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in public affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Nicole Small


Lyda Hill Philanthropies

Nicole Small serves as CEO of LH Capital/Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Small is responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of both entities, including investment and philanthropic activities. Ms. Small is the co-founder of the If/Then Initiative, which seeks to further advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.

From 2001-2013, Small was the CEO of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and has previously held positions including founder and CEO of an internet start-up, Entrepreneur in Residence at an incubator, and analyst with McKinsey & Company. Small received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. She is a member of The Dallas Assembly, YPO, Charter 100, IWF, and serves on the Boards of Southwestern Medical Foundation, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Hockaday School and Texas 2036.

Ms. Small resides in Dallas with her husband, two daughters and two dogs.

Dennis Cavner

Co-founder, Austin Together Fund

RGK Center advisory council member

Educated at the University of Texas at Austin (BBA, JD), Dennis was a partner in a successful boutique financial services firm in Austin for over thirty years. As a social impact investor he directs both philanthropic and investment capital toward ideas for transformational change.  Dennis has served on the Advisory Council for the RGK Center for many years.  He is a Co-founder of the Austin Together Fund, which is focused on promoting collaborations among nonprofits in Central Texas.  Dennis has served as Board Chair for the Livestrong Foundation, Mission Capital, and College Forward, as well as Board member or Advisor to numerous other nonprofits or social enterprises.  As Co-founder and Chief Mission Officer of Design Run Group, much of his energy is focused on improving the lives of people in vulnerable communities through innovation in health care.  In 2016 he received the Governor’s Lone Star Achievement Award in recognition of his community engagement. Dennis was born and raised in Athens, Texas, the Black-Eyed Pea Capital of the World.

Patrick Bixler, Ph.D. 

Assistant Professor, RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, LBJ School of Public Affairs

R. Patrick Bixler is an Assistant Professor at the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT-Austin. His fields of interest include public policy, public administration, governance, organizational theory, nonprofit and philanthropy studies, network science, and sustainability science. His current research focuses on the collaboration of public, private, and nonprofit institutions to solve complex social and environmental problems and promote social innovation. He has an ongoing interest in sustainability and environmental policy and leads the Austin Area Sustainability Indicators project. He is also a faculty team member of Planet Texas 2050, a campus-wide research initiative.