Innovative ideas in philanthropy was the topic of the third Engage Breakfast on Dec. 4. Panelists talked about unique models of philanthropy and developing a culture of giving back.

"A lot of people, when they think philanthropy, it's about 'I'll write you a check. We can help underprivileged children. We can help lost and stray animals,'" said KXAN-TV reporter and anchor Robert Maxwell, who moderated the panel discussion. "A lot of what I've been learning through the panelists has been fascinating in that this is about building human capital and expanding the culture of giving in the community."

A three-person panel, including Nichole Aston, Central Texas program officer with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation; co-founder of Innovation + Dennis Cavner; and Laurie Loew, broker and founder of Give Realty, discussed how they view giving has changed in Central Texas along with how the public could get involved.

Aston said she has seen the community's approach to philanthropy change since she joined the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in 2003.

"It's been really interesting to see the evolution of foundation giving in Central Texas, because back then in 2003, it really was about investing in really good programs and services that had great outcomes," Aston said. "You wanted that return on investment. Over time, we got a lot smarter about our investments and tried to really help expand and scale some of the programs."

Loew said her company, Give Realty, is based on a for-benefit business model where about 25 percent of each commission goes to a nonprofit of the client's choice. She said the initial donation made through Give Realty opens to door for clients to become further engaged with that organization.

"I consider it a win-win-win when a client continues to get further involved [in a nonprofit]," Loew said.

Loew said when she decided on the for-benefit business model for Give Realty, it was just a means to differentiate her company from other real estate companies, but she has since made philanthropy one of her passions.

"I hadn't written a check. I wasn't philanthropic. I didn't know anything about nonprofits before I started my business, and now it's so addictive and so wonderful," Loew said. "I literally get goosebumps every single day."

Cavner said Innovation + invests money and knowledge into organizations that are doing something unique in the world of philanthropy and are poised for growth. He gave the example of College Forward, a nonprofit providing college access and college persistence services to economically disadvantaged students. He said when Innovation + got involved with the nonprofit two years ago, the company was serving about 2,500 students. College Forward, through the help of Innovation +, is hoping to serve about 15,000 students by around 2015.

"That kind of dramatic increase in the impact that really changes people's lives is the kind of leverage that we're looking for in terms of the investment we're going to make in an organization," Cavner said. "We have our partners that sit on their board of directors, on their strategic growth committee, we help them refine their growth plans and develop the growth funding that they need in order to make that happen. It is roll-up-your-sleeves, full-contact kind of philanthropy."

All three panelists encouraged the audience to look at ways they could incorporate philanthropic giving into their lives and help develop a giving culture.

"The more you do, the more you're going to want to do," Cavner said. "There really is a [psychological] benefit in our doing something that is selfless and helping someone else, and actually seeing that occur that can really change your life."

The next breakfast in the Engage series is scheduled for Jan. 15 and will cover the topic of innovation and industry. For more information on the event, visit