Dr. Edward Burger, President and CEO of the St. David’s Foundation, based in Austin, recently shared his insight with our Lance Avery Morgan on the many nuances of the philanthropic spirit and how it can positively affect so many.
Lance Avery Morgan: Dr. Burger, can you tell us about St. David’s Foundation and the organization’s vision for our Central Texas community?
Dr. Edward Burger: St. David’s Foundation is one of the largest health foundations in the United States, funding $80 million annually in a five-county area surrounding Austin, Texas. Through a unique partnership with St. David’s HealthCare, the Foundation reinvests proceeds from the hospital system back into the community, with a goal of advancing health equity and improving the health and well-being of our most underserved Central Texas neighbors. St. David’s Foundation also operates the largest mobile dental program providing charity care in the country and offers the largest healthcare scholarship program in Texas.
LAM: St. David’s Foundation is a part of the philanthropic and social web of the community—to what does it owe that success?
EB: As stewards of our community dollars, we have worked over the last 25 years to foster longstanding, collaborative relationships. From our outstanding Board members, volunteers, and event chairs to our grantees and partners on the ground, I believe we share a commitment to improving health outcomes for our Central Texas neighbors.
LAM: The Foundation began its Toast of the Town events a few decades back in 1984—why do you think it was initially so successful—and still so successful? It has a huge following…
EB: The concept of Toast of the Town is truly unique and built on a model that speaks from the heart—opening one’s home to host intimate gatherings. It quickly became a suite of favorite annual philanthropic social events for our many supporters. The soirees and programming change every year, offering something special for every taste and interest. Part of the secret to Toast’s ongoing success is that it continues to evolve right along with Central Texas.
LAM: The Toast of the Town annual events each spring provide philanthropic support and awareness for the St. David’s Neal Kocurek Scholarship—how does it benefit students pursuing their educations in health-related fields?
EB: Our scholarship program is truly transformational in nature. Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college, so our scholarship community provides academic and emotional support in addition to financial assistance. Each scholar is also matched with a healthcare professional who mentors them for a minimum of four years. The guidance of these mentors is vital to encouraging our scholars along their unique journeys and has become a key, distinguishing element of our program’s success.
LAM: It’s so great when many of the scholarship recipients share their personal stories at the Toast events. All proceeds from Toast of the Town sponsorships and tickets, with a two-to-one match by St. David’s Foundation, are dedicated to the St. David’s Neal Kocurek Scholarship program. What kind of impact do you see that philanthropy having?
EB: Looking ahead, it’s essential that we foster the next generation of physicians, nurses, dentists, lab technicians and others to provide quality care to the communities served by these future healthcare professionals. We are reminded now, more than ever, of the vital importance of a strong healthcare workforce for the health and well-being of our Central Texas neighbors.
LAM: Beyond the Toast events, please share some of your insight on the Foundation’s grant-making initiatives.
EB: We are guided by a commitment to achieving health equity both today and tomorrow. Our work is based on our belief that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve optimal health, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or zip code. And while access to high-quality medical care is essential, health is about much more than a visit to the doctor. In fact, the most influential drivers of health outcomes are factors that exist outside of the healthcare system, such as poverty, unemployment, housing status, and education level. Our strategic initiatives throughout Central Texas range from support of safety net clinics and mobile charity dental care to initiatives that promote healthy environments for young children to increase their odds of succeeding in school, to critical support for older adults and their caregivers to allow aging in place.
LAM: Thanks so much for your time and looking ahead, what are your thoughts on philanthropy in this region and opportunities that exist for our community within the philanthropic sector?
EB: We stand in a pivotal moment. We continue to see a rapid increase in our population, along with tremendous growth in wealth, access, and innovation. Central Texas, in particular, has the opportunity to foster a stronger philanthropic environment that is more on par with other major cities with mature cultures of community giving. I believe through collective collaboration and contribution, we have the potential to truly transform Austin and Central Texas for generations to come. This aspiration holds the promise to be one of our greatest collective legacies.