Q&A with new board chair, Austin Brockenbrough IV
Austin Brockenbrough IV is President and Managing Director of Lowe, Brockenbrough & Company, a Richmond based investment advisory firm serving individuals and institutions, as well as a devoted family man and a genuine community servant. As the new board chair of the Community Foundation, we sat down with him via video chat to learn more about what inspires him and what opportunities he sees for the Foundation as we move from the urgency of the moment to longer-term planning for our region’s recovery and resiliency. We found him to be serious about his responsibility, passionate about investing in people, and mindful that creating real, sustained change requires continuous learning and collaboration. See for yourself.
What has most influenced your commitment to philanthropy and service?
No doubt, my father is my greatest influence. As a young child, I remember going to Camp Little Hawk, run by the Boys & Girls Club. It was the first time I remember seeing philanthropy in action and understanding the impact it could have. It was a place for kids who may not have other opportunities to go to camp and form relationships with peers from other parts of the region. As I became more observant of my father’s involvement in the community and learned from many of his peers who were similarly committed, it started to crystalize for me that service is a key part of building a thriving community.
Where do you choose to get involved and why?
My heart is with high-potential youth who have limited opportunities due to circumstances out of their control. While my path to philanthropy started in high school, it became personal in college when I was a big brother to Marcus, a child who resided in a tough neighborhood in Charlottesville. We formed a great relationship where he felt comfortable showing me his vulnerability. He taught me the power of one-on-one connections. We still communicate and think about each other all the time. It’s gratifying that the care we developed for one another endures.
When I returned to Richmond, I took a tour of the Boys & Girls Club that would change my life. In what would blossom into a 20+ year relationship with the organization, I have grown more as a person from that experience than from any other gift of time or money. I truly have received more than I have given. The youth and incredible staff taught me gratitude for the opportunities I have had, but also the importance of recognizing other people’s struggles and listening to their stories. The more I learn, the more I want to lean in and help wherever possible.
My 11-year involvement with the Community Foundation has expanded my view and my commitment. Through their wealth of knowledge, I have built a deep appreciation for our many other complementary strategies – like affordable housing, childcare and workforce initiatives – that empower youth and families to reach their full potential. I take joy from helping others and that’s what the Foundation is all about.
Your father served as the Foundation’s chairman in the 1990’s. How do your leadership opportunities in this role compare to his?
The Community Foundation has had an impressive growth trajectory over the years, with each phase setting the groundwork for the next. My uncle, Tennant Bryan, served on the founding board and helped introduce the community foundation as a new giving model for local philanthropy. My dad joined the board after the Foundation added permanent staff and helped guide the organization through an important asset-building period in which donor-advised funds became increasingly popular, creating a solid base for sustained growth and greater community impact.
From generation to generation, we evolve. Current events build our resolve to do better, to act with urgency. We add insights, cultivate new relationships and expand resources to help us address the complexities we face. My dad’s generation and those before him helped write the playbook for how to deal with challenges and it’s our responsibility to adapt to current scenarios. As chair, I am committed to inviting new and diverse people and perspectives into our work and using every tool we have to ensure all individuals and families have access to opportunity and the chance to succeed.
How do you talk with your own kids about philanthropy and finding their own passions?
We talk about philanthropy as a family all the time. I have three daughters who are all involved in philanthropy-led projects at school. One co-chaired the 100 4 100 campaign at St. Catherine’s, which raises funds to facilitate holiday shopping for low-income families. Another daughter recently involved all of us in creating kits for the homeless with non-perishable foods and essential toiletries. I’m always ready to drop everything to support their good deeds. They know how critical it is to give back and they are starting to love it as I do. They will choose their own path though, and I’m ecstatic for that. Happiness in serving leads to true joy.
What do you wish more people knew about the Community Foundation?
Coming from the investment business, I often compare the work of the Community Foundation with portfolio management. On the one hand, the Foundation invests donors’ capital so that it will grow to support future and unforeseeable needs in the community. Each year, we also have a portfolio of nonprofits whose expertise and services are vital to the well-being of our region. We are fiduciaries to both, and we want to be good stewards to both.
We bring donors and partners to the table and work as a unified front to solve Richmond’s most pressing challenges. The Central Virginia COVID Response Fund, which raised and distributed well over $6 million dollars, is a prime example. We were able to activate the fund in record time, leverage the generosity of hundreds of new and existing donors, and rapidly respond to urgent needs such as food, shelter, rental assistance, school technology and more. It was a success and it makes me proud to be associated with such an important organization.
I believe anyone who is interested in investing charitably in the Richmond region should consider the dynamic giving options offered by the Community Foundation. The experienced and professional staff provides financial stewardship and a depth of expertise around issues facing Richmond. Our commitment is to help donors achieve their goals, while also helping Richmond reach its highest aspirations.
What are your priorities for the Foundation’s work over the next several years?
My goal is not to add new priorities, but rather amplify and accelerate the work that is already underway. If anything, we are working with greater urgency and intention than ever before.
It begins with relationships. We are committed to delivering best-in-class experiences to our donors, as well as our nonprofit and community partners. Because we believe that we can achieve more together, we will use our platform to encourage and grow local philanthropy and align with our cross-sector partners to bring greater equity and opportunity to our region.
We also have an important opportunity to leverage the leadership and resources of the Foundation to build a more resilient region post-COVID. The pandemic and racial reckoning illuminated and exacerbated systemic inequities that have left too many people behind. We cannot go back to the way it was. It is imperative that we reimagine our community to ensure we all move forward together.
I’m a big believer in helping people build the skills they need to achieve self-empowerment. We are strategically focused on education, jobs and affordable housing because they are the foundation for building wealth and advancement, which over time can close opportunity gaps. With bold goals for this work, we will continue to measure and report our progress, but also leverage additional revenue and partnerships to support deeper investment in critical regional issues.
What are you most looking forward to doing after the pandemic?
I am most looking forward to hugging my friends and family. Ideally, it would be at a favorite restaurant that we haven’t been to in a year.
At this point, I even long for a shakedown by a TSA agent on the way to a vacation. I love being on the water with my family, especially back bay and tarpon fishing on the west coast of Florida.