Monday, July 15, 2013

The Insider: Lisa Roy, Executive Director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation

Meet Lisa R. Roy, our latest Insider who is following in the footsteps of her great grandfather who devoted his life to ensuring that African American students receive a quality education.

As executive director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation (TBMF) based in Denver, CO, Roy leads the foundation’s mission of changing lives by improving educational opportunities, increasing access to, and options for health care and human services for those who are underserved and/or underrepresented.  The foundation strives to support organizations that show a commitment to innovation and big ideas, and focuses its giving in the areas of interest to the trustees in Denver, CO, Kalamazoo, MI and Santa Barbara County in California.

Prior to her position at TBMF, Lisa worked in a variety of foundation and direct service roles supporting early childhood and K-12 education, among them the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the Piton Foundation, the Daniels Fund and Catholic Charities.

Read on to learn how Lisa got her start in philanthropy and why she chose it as a career, her advice for those seeking a career in the sector and key lessons she has learned to help those who seek to make a difference through philanthropy.

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland (actual home town is Turner Station, Maryland, also hometown to Henrietta Lacks, Kevin Clash, and Calvin Hill)

Education: M.A., Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education, University of Colorado at Denver (UCD); presently pursuing Doctor of Education in Educational Equity, UCD School of Education and Human Development

How did you get your start in philanthropy and why did you choose it as a career?

I did not choose philanthropy. Philanthropy chose me.   I was running early childhood programs and working on early childhood and welfare reform policy in the 90s.  In 2000, a new foundation by the name of the Daniels Fund was formulating its grants strategies.   The leader of the grants department, Barclay Jones, actively pursued finding someone with early childhood expertise.   My name kept coming up on lists of people to recruit.   It was Elsa Holguin, senior program officer with the Rose Community Foundation who encouraged me to apply.   I did, interviewed and was appointed as one of their first program officers in February of 2001.   From there, I was recruited to work for the Piton Foundation in 2004, also as an early childhood program officer.

What attracted you to work for the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation?

I work for an incredible couple who are dedicated to changing lives. Timothy and Bernadette Marquez did not grow up with silver spoons in their mouths.  Bernadette grew up in Kalamazoo, MI and was one of eight children.  She went to Michigan State to earn her nursing degree and worked as a nurse for most of her adult life.  Timothy’s parents were both teachers and he was one of five children.  He worked and put himself through Colorado School of Mines.  After working in petroleum engineering he started his own oil company, Venoco, Inc.

The rest is history… Timothy and Bernadette have given back in a big way.  They started the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) with a $50 million endowment and have two other foundations - TBMF, where I am the Executive Director, and VCP, Venoco’s corporate giving program.  I love working for a couple who believes in leveling the playing field and puts their resources toward that effort.  From DSF alone, more of Denver’s low-income students are graduating from high school and going to college as a result of their support.  Timothy and Bernadette believe that education is the key to leveling the playing field.  The foundation’s investments demonstrate a value that anyone who is given a real opportunity can succeed.   The attraction to this Foundation was a natural fit for me.

How did your previous positions prepare you for this role?

My previous positions prepared me for this role in several ways.   First, I was fortunate to discover and understand the Denver metro community.   Knowledge of non-profit, government and foundation resources assisted me in making strategic grants.   As a result of my knowledge of the community, I could ask critical questions that also helped grantees to consider other funding sources and/or public-private partnerships.   Secondly, all of my positions taught me to be flexible yet deliberate in setting goals for either the foundations I worked with or the various non-profits these foundations have funded.   Finally, I learned that we are all partners in this endeavor to change the world.   We are like a patchwork quilt.   Each foundation and non-profit must ensure that there is not a duplication of efforts.  Then if we each do our part, needs are met and the result is more than what we could have done on our own as individual entities.

As an experienced grant maker and professional in philanthropy, what is a key lesson that you can share with our readers who seek to make a difference through philanthropy?

I would share with anyone who wants to make a difference in philanthropy that you have to know what outcomes you want to see in the short and long-term.   Without a roadmap for success, with an end goal in mind, we are more likely to waste valuable resources because we are participating in a “charity” mindset versus an “impact” mindset.  

Look at your funding strategies as investments that are connected to your goals.   Set benchmarks to ensure that your investments are gaining a return over time.   Also, understand that investment in innovation will not always yield the positive results you hoped for.   Therefore, it is critical to pilot promising strategies and give support for mid-course corrections before taking them to scale. 

Finally, find and bring interested parties and partners to the table instead of jumping in as the lone funder.   To have the perspective of multiple funders and providers at the table guarantees better results in implementation and sustainability of a project.

What advice would you give to those interested in philanthropy as a career?

I would say to find your passion first then you will attract and be attracted to the “right fit.”

Anything else you'd like to share?

My great grandfather was the superintendent of Colored Schools in Frederick County, Maryland.  He devoted his life to ensuring that African American students had a quality education.   He was responsible for the building of Lincoln High School in Frederick, which served students in Northwest Maryland in the early 1900s.   John W. Bruner, known as Professor Bruner, made a difference and I hope to continue his legacy of impacting education systems.   I want to leave a legacy as did many of my ancestors, who made the needs of the community their top priority.

Learn more about the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation by visiting

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