An Afternoon with Local Philanthropy Legend Earl Maxwell

-Ashley Haustein, Director of Marketing and Communications

I recently had a chance to sit down with Earl Maxwell, CEO at St. David’s Foundation here in Austin, TX. We talked about Earl’s views on philanthropy, the partnership between our two organizations, and — as Earl prepares for retirement — his words of wisdom for the next generation of philanthropists.

Q: What people and experiences shaped your views on philanthropy?

Really it goes back to my grandparents. They were always giving back and helping people. Their philanthropy was confined to their church, family, and neighborhood. I remember they were always putting people up… they had a rollaway bed that people would sleep on as they were looking for a job. My mom was also really generous. She was a Registered Nurse, and she served as our neighborhood nurse.

I grew up with this idea of giving back front and center.

Right out of college, I went to go work for Deloitte. On the last day of my training, the local Partner Bob Cruikshank came in to talk with us. He talked about the importance of being involved in the community. I remember leaving that training thinking, “That’s the kind of CPA I want to become.”

Q: St. David’s Foundation is “building the healthiest community in the world.” That’s awesome. Tell me a little bit about the challenges Austin faces in the arena of health and how St. David’s Foundation is working to address those challenges.

Our community’s challenges in health are huge, but not insurmountable. Here at St. David’s Foundation, we are focusing a lot of our time, attention, and money on two of the most vulnerable populations in the community: Children and aging adults. These are the two groups most ignored by society in the healthcare system. We’re trying to change that.

Just like United Way, we are focused on trying to eradicate poverty. Our efforts are primarily focused on people of color and people in poverty.

Q: St. David’s Foundation is a big supporter of the work we do here at United Way for Greater Austin. Thank you! What excites you about the work we’re doing fighting poverty in the community?

What excites me the most is our two organizations coming together on the Family Connects program. Through Family Connects, women who have recently given birth receive a free visit from a Registered Nurse, shortly after they get home with their baby. During the visit, nurses provide immediate maternal and family support in areas such as breastfeeding or safe sleep and share information about community resources that are available.

Right now, all families who deliver at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center are offered a Family Connects visit. Eventually, there are plans to expand Family Connects to hospitals across the region. 

Q: In your 20+ year career, you have grown St. David’s Foundation into one of the 10 largest health charities in the country and your leadership in Austin will be celebrated for generations to come. What words of wisdom will you share to inspire the next generation of philanthropists?

Learn to say no. You’ll have to say “no” far more than you say “yes.” Once you say “yes,” it’s extremely important to commit to a long-term relationship with the organization you’re funding. Systematic change doesn’t occur in a couple of years. It takes long-term, trusting relationships.

Don’t underestimate how difficult community building is. If you’re serious about being in philanthropy – joining the fray – you will have battles and scars. It will all be worth it for the things you can accomplish. It takes nonprofits, foundations, philanthropists, and the business community coming together as a broad community. That’s how real systems change happens.

Q: What is your favorite iconic Austin place?

The first one that comes to mind is closed… a product of Austin’s growth. Las Manitas used to be at 2nd and Congress. It was a tiny restaurant with the best migas in town. You never knew who would be there — Ann Richards, Evan Smith, George Bush.

Our favorite place that’s still open is Fonda San Miguel. It’s absolutely our go-to place for birthdays and anniversaries. Huge plants, delicious food. Nothing else quite like it in Austin.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in retirement?

I’m looking forward to more freedom, more choice, more purpose. More freedom to spend time with family and my grandchildren. More time to travel with my wife Anita. And more time to fish. I may even write a book or two.

Earl, thanks for your leadership and partnership! You’ll always be a part of the United Way ATX family. (And we can’t wait to read your books!)

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