A confidential audit warned an abrupt change in leadership at the Tarrant County College Foundation likely would strain an already small staff and hinder fundraising.
Nonetheless, TCC Chancellor Eugene Giovannini wanted new leadership. He thought a new foundation leader could propel the foundation to reach an ambitious $20 million fundraising goal.
Foundation board members received the 16-page document in February 2020. By October that year, the foundation’s longtime executive director, Joe McIntosh, was no longer leading the nonprofit he had shepherded for 14 years. Kristen Bennett took over his duties, becoming TCC’s executive vice president of advancement.
Just over a year later, Bennett also no longer works for TCC, and the foundation is nowhere near its fundraising target.
The executive director turnover is one example of the rift between the foundation and district that dates back to at least 2020. The Fort Worth Report recently obtained the audit through an open records request. The document details the tense relationship between the entities and how it could ultimately harm donor relationships, impacting the hundreds of students who receive foundation scholarships every year.
“Donor relationships, information, processes, and progress is difficult to share between the two offices due to a disconnect, lack of trust, and a territorial divide, a barrier to sustaining a philanthropic culture,” the audit said.
Assembling the audit
The TCC Foundation board of directors tapped Project Partners to assemble an audit of the nonprofit. Project Partners is a consulting and program management firm based in Fort Worth.
The firm interviewed 16 people for the foundation audit. They included Giovannini; seven foundation board members, including two elected TCC trustees; and eight foundation staff members.
Among the questions asked included goals, roles and responsibilities, teamwork and the relationship between the foundation and district. Project Partners also reviewed several documents detailing the entities’ plans, donor reports, rebranding, organizational chart, job descriptions and more.
The foundation board of directors, who are all volunteers, hired Fort Worth-based Project Partners to audit the nonprofit to see what steps were needed to increase fundraising to $20 million — almost 10 times more than what the entity brought in that year. The time frame? Two years. The audit listed three areas that prevented the foundation from hitting its new goal:
- A tense relationship exists between the TCC Foundation and the district.
- The foundation was asked to do more with less as staff dwindled.
- The new goal put too much emphasis on businesses to hit its $20 million figure.
The Report contacted eight current foundation directors who were on the board when the audit was issued, as well as six former board members. A former foundation board member who was recently the treasurer, Cullen Green, resigned in early December; he did not respond to several requests to comment.
Conrad Heede, a foundation board member who was an elected TCC trustee for a decade, described the audit as accurately capturing the relationship between the pair of entities in 2020.
“The audit was a wake-up call,” Heede told the Report.
Foundation board, chancellor disagreements
The audit pins part of the rift on Giovannini.
“The chancellor is frustrated and has no confidence in the foundation’s ability to grow or change,” the audit states. “He has unmet expectations of the Foundation and has little appreciation for its work and impact to date.”
The district saw the foundation as a way to better support some initiatives that could strengthen its workforce development push, Heede said. The foundation, though, was not in a position to do that and was still evolving, he added.
Giovannini did not show interviewers evidence to support his negative take on the foundation’s work, according to the audit. In fact, the report notes the foundation’s work ran contrary to the chancellor’s gloomy outlook.
Still, Giovannini believed a change in executive director was long overdue, according to the audit. The foundation board disagreed and stood behind McIntosh, whom the audit notes had more than a decade of donor and community relationships in Tarrant County.
However, the foundation board’s support lacked authority. The foundation board has no oversight role, yielding that duty solely to the chancellor or his designee, according to a memorandum of understanding between the two entities.
TCC District vs. TCC Foundation
The Tarrant County College District is the governmental entity responsible for awarding two-year degrees to residents. The district was established in 1965. Currently, 41,845 students are enrolled in TCC.
The TCC Foundation was established in 2001. The nonprofit’s goal is to raise money to support TCC students and whatever needs the college may have.
Another problem the audit identified was how the executive director reported to the chancellor and the chair of the foundation board. The chancellor, though, supervises the position, which is now part of his cabinet of top administrators. All the foundation board can provide is input before the executive director’s annual review. The blurring of responsibilities could ultimately harm the foundation, according to the audit.
The TCC District covers most of the foundation’s operating expenses, leaving most of the nonprofit’s contributions to directly support students and other programs. The audit described the arrangement as a selling point to donors and an aspect the foundation should tout to the community.
“Yet, that operational funding provided is sometimes made to seem as a negative and can be held against the (TCC Foundation) board and staff,” according to the audit. “(TCC Foundation) does currently fund a portion of the expenses and is in discussion about the possibility of covering more of the staffing requirements.”
In a statement, Giovannini did not address the audit’s conclusions as requested by the Report. Instead, he said in the statement that the TCC Foundation is set to undergo a scheduled revision of its five-year strategic plan. Giovannini expects the new goal-setting document to be one of TCC’s most ambitious endeavors ever.
Some foundation board members, including Giovannini, set the ambitious goal of $20 million, according to the audit. The millions of dollars were planned to go toward the following programs:
- $500,000 for cybersecurity
- $1 million for health care
- $9 million for public safety
- $1 million for the Stay the Course initiative, a joint venture between the foundation and Catholic Charities Fort Worth
- Up to $4 million for scholarships
- $250,000 for the foundation’s Eliminating Barriers fund
- $2 million in discretionary funds for to be decided initiatives and support
Gary Fickes is a Tarrant County commissioner who has served on the TCC Foundation’s board of directors for almost three years. He was surprised to learn about the $20 million goal and the existence of the Project Partners audit. Before a Report interview on Jan. 31, Fickes said he had not heard about either.
“None of us on that board are quote experts at raising money. We’re community people,” Fickes told the Report. “I didn’t go on the board because they told me they wanted me to help raise $20 million. I’ve never heard about that.”
In the two years since the audit was completed, the foundation’s fundraising efforts are nowhere near that ambitious goal. The foundation raised nearly $2.6 million through August 2019, according to publicly available tax documents. During the 2020-21 school year, the foundation received $955,165 in gifts and pledges and awarded $923,640 in scholarships to 513 students, according to the nonprofit’s annual report.
The audit determined the $20 million fundraising goal likely was not something the TCC Foundation could achieve on such a compressed timeline.
“The feasibility of the tenfold increase in giving by our community has not been determined by either an internal or external study,” the audit reads.
More with less
One of the biggest hurdles stopping the TCC Foundation from achieving its $20 million fundraising goal was staffing, according to the audit. Before the lofty fundraising goal was set, the foundation was expected to do more with less, according to the audit.
The foundation’s top priority is to raise funds for scholarships and award them to TCC students. Beyond that, the foundation also helps TCC students struggling to make ends meet by awarding a one-time grant of up to $500. The Eliminating Barriers grant is aimed at keeping students enrolled.
In 2020, the foundation’s senior donor relations officer, donor relations officer and scholarship manager were vacant. The foundation’s alumni and communications specialist role was empty. Giovannini directed the foundation to add a development director, but the person who got the job did not have a fundraising background, according to the audit.
As staff dwindled, the foundation received new responsibilities. A new partnership with Catholic Charities would require the foundation to raise an additional $975,000 over three years. The partnership would help students stay in school. The audit noted the Catholic Charities program was similar to the foundation’s Eliminating Barriers Fund, and warned it could confuse donors.
The foundation also was planned to be a hub for public-private partnerships to help the TCC District.
The expanded duties were a charge from the chancellor, Heede, a foundation board member, said. The new direction and change in leadership caused stress, but both were needed to set the foundation on a new path, he said.
“That’s still evolving at this point. We are trying to get the right people in the right jobs to be more effective in achieving those objectives,” Heede said.
The TCC District had three foundation jobs posted as of early February. The executive vice president of advancement position has been on TCC’s job board since Jan. 13.
Two other foundation positions, development officers, are also open. One of the development officer jobs would focus on grants and the other on major gifts — two roles the audit suggested two years ago were needed to add capacity for additional programs at the foundation.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.