Meet Maureen Hackett of Hackett Family Foundation

The following interview is part of the Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Free to Give” series highlighting the impact that philanthropy can have when Americans have the right to give freely to the causes and communities they care about most. Learn more here.


“My husband and I formed the Hackett Family Foundation in 1996 after we moved to Houston with our four children. Moving to Houston was our tenth move. Every city we lived in was really good to us, and after landing in Texas, we thought it was time to give back to the community in a substantial way. We wanted to support the arts, education, health, climate, wilderness – you name it.”

“Our giving has always been based around faith, family, education and health. Those are basic needs. I grew up in Chicago, one of nine children, and – to put it in my mother’s words – we didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but we had a lot of love.”

“My mother was philanthropic in her wisdom, her love and her compassion for others. What is philanthropy if not care for humankind? I learned a lot from her.”

“She was the breadwinner as my father suffered with mental illness. Mom took on the mantle and started a school for women, helping them to establish the skills needed to find employment, while providing a stable emotional environment for their personal growth. Hoping to follow her generous lead, I have been volunteering since I was nine years old – whether it was helping with a lemonade stand, organizing a babysitting group or serving as a candy striper at the local hospital.”

“In honor of my mother, I got involved at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, chairing the philanthropy committee. Mom beat cancer twice, while raising all those kids. It’s been wonderful to see so many come together to make a difference across important areas, like research, patient care and education.”

“After I turned 50, my oldest daughter, Kelly, asked me, “Mom, what do you want to do with the second half of your life?” I thought I would love to make a greater impact than I’m making right now. The first thing that came to mind was to focus on the mental health space, which I’ve always been incredibly passionate about.”

“After Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017 and wreaked massive destruction on so many communities of Greater Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, I was really distressed by the number of children who were suffering from stress, grief, anxiety and fear – a lot like today, throughout the pandemic.”

“So, I got involved with the Mental Health Policy Institute in Dallas, trying to help state legislators understand the need for more funding in the mental health space for children, and we were very successful. Through a significant gift, Jim and I were able to create The Hackett Center for Mental Health Policy, here, in Houston. As a regional affiliate of the Institute, The Hackett Center is focused on “Putting Policy Into Practice” to improve the lives of every Texan by advancing mental health initiatives.”

“We’ve responded to COVID-19 by educating and connecting with the funding community and nonprofit and governmental leaders to facilitate collaboration and increase access to best practice care.”

“We have also rallied support behind telehealth coverage from insurance companies, free vaccinations and other avenues to help people get through this mentally, emotionally and physically.”

“COVID-19 has in many ways led more people to understand the need for mental health support and its place as a core part of our public health response. It’s been really heartwarming to see the philanthropic response in this area.”

“The response to COVID-19 is a perfect example of how collaboration and partnership between foundations and donor-advised funds allow donors to make a greater impact, and respond to need quickly and effectively.”

“I’ve always been a fan of donor-advised funds because they allow someone who can only give you $5,000 toward a $25,000 grant request to be a part of the circle. There are people who don’t have millions and billions of dollars, but they are able to dig deep into their pocket once a year and give to their church, a hospital, education or something else important to them. It wouldn’t be fair for that to be stifled, nor would our community benefit from excluding willing participants from learning more about the needs of the community and the process of giving.”

“Donor-advised funds have been incredibly successful in getting help to people who otherwise wouldn’t receive it because of the time and administrative costs that often create barriers to donors operating private foundations. These funds allow people with the resources to jump into the ring of philanthropic giving and rely on the support of professionals in the business of philanthropy to handle much of the diligence and “back-office” work of grantmaking. In the case of the Greater Houston Community Foundation, they also provide immeasurable education and assistance to various donor circles, families, and next-gen philanthropists, all of which ultimately impacts community beneficiaries.”

“Jim, our children and I have every intention of continuing our philanthropic giving through our private family foundation as well as our donor-advised fund. The flexibility of the donor-advised fund has allowed our adult children, and their own kids, to shape their philanthropic identities beyond that of the Hackett Family Foundation, plus learn more about societal needs through giving circles and task forces.”

“It provides us a multi-faceted perspective we believe strengthens our family’s commitment to and awareness of our greater community.”

“Today, I think there’s a total disconnect in how philanthropy is broadly perceived. It’s not for people to get recognized or to have tax shelters. Those with donor-advised funds, like all philanthropic donors, want to give. They have an underlying desire to do right and serve others. More so than ever before, they are being very strategic about it – seeking to achieve the greatest impact with each dollar granted. If you stunt that, then you’re taking two steps backwards.”

– Maureen Hackett, co-founder and president of Hackett Family Foundation in Houston, Texas

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