Joshua Doubek [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

October 2, 2019; Houston Chronicle

For the last eight years, Katherine Lorenz has purposefully guided the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation through a process that was designed to expand the capacity of the Texas-based family foundation but keep the values base. She explains that it had long been the plan for her to act as a bridge from the last years of her grandfather’s life to the less family-centric future of the foundation which was launched in 1978.

George Mitchell was a Giving Pledge signer, pledging a large majority of his wealth to charity following his death. Though he built his fortune as the “father of fracking,” this  reportedly led him to a parallel set of concerns about sustainability, which is where he focused the foundation’s philanthropy.

Here, we must stop briefly to question the assumption that this wealth built through fracking should by rights remain under the stewardship of this family, but that is a larger contextual question within which this scene is played out.

The foundation is no small philanthropic player in the area, having given more than $400 million in grants—primarily to groups focused on science and environmental sustainability.

“If you look at most family foundations as they get bigger, they’re less likely to have family leadership on staff,” Lorenz said. “We looked to some of those foundations that are doing really amazing work, and the vast majority don’t have family leadership. I think we aspire to be peers of those.”

Lorenz points out that her joint position of family member and chief executive makes it hard to get an accurate performance evaluation.

The focus of the foundation is on enhancing progress in clean energy, promoting land conservation, protecting clean water for future generations, and supporting the efforts to reduce the negative environmental and community impacts of shale gas development. It also supports community development in Galveston and operates a 6,000-acre nature preserve, Cook’s Branch Conservancy.

This local emphasis is expected to drive the search for a new exec. Search consultant Jeff Waldron said the foundation is focusing on people who live in or have deep ties to Texas.—Ruth McCambridge