Why Giving Back Has Always Mattered to Me

When I was a young child, one of my favorite activities was writing stories and plays and performing them for the neighborhood children. I was always passionate about the arts. Although I didn’t have a career in performing arts beyond college, I have made a lifelong commitment to preserving and supporting the arts.

I view giving back as an obligation, but it’s also a privilege to be able to do so. I am thankful for the many blessings in my life and there is nothing more special than sharing that with others.

I spent 20 years in business litigation and it came naturally to me. I was always interested in helping people. When it came time for me to retire from working in law, I was eager to continue to devote my time to giving back and couldn’t wait to dive completely into philanthropy.

I decided to launch the Franci Neely Foundation so I could give back to the performing, literary, and visual arts. I really wish I had chased my own star as an artist a little further. I think that by giving back and nurturing the artistic spirit in others, it’s helping me with my unfulfilled dreams as a performing artist.

I’ve donated to various charities over the years but I admit if I could do it all over again, I would donate more money to fewer charities so those charities could benefit in a bigger way. If you sprinkle a little around to too many, only a slight difference is made, but I see now how important it is to give larger amounts in a concentrated area to make more of an impact.

The Hermann Park Conservancy is very dear to my heart. I donated funds there to build a water-themed play area there for children in honor of my grandchildren. It’s a wonderful part of the Houston community and an important part of the city’s history. I am proud to play a small role in benefiting the park’s future. I think of all the generations of children who will enjoy this play area and it makes me smile.

I am also a proud supporter of the Houston Cinema Arts Society. I spearheaded the society in 2007 and I worked to make the Houston Cinema Arts Festival a reality. That fantastic event has hosted everyone from Tilda Swinton and Shirley MacLaine to Isabella Rossellini and Robert Redford.

Supporting Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy is another cause that’s dear to me. I co-chaired its 25th anniversary gala. President Barack Obama was a guest at the event and spoke on a panel, which was very exciting. The gala raised $5.4 million, an amazing amount. The Baker Institute for Public Policy has a rich history. When the groundbreaking took place in 1994, Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush were there. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III wanted to establish its nonpartisan roots from day one. It’s been an essential and empowering political think tank and has conducted priceless research over the years on critical issues.

As a photographer myself, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how vital it is for me to give back to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. During the COVID-19 pandemic when so many arts programs shut down, I was proud to contribute to the museum’s virtual programming, which continued to foster the needs of both artists and art fans to continue the conversation on the necessity of the arts.

I lent support for a comedic French film event in May and the screening of three Japanese films along with a “Jazz on Film” series and several other events. As a voracious reader, the literary organization Inprint Houston is another important cause I treasure. It’s helped more than 15,000 people through reading and writing workshops, from youth to senior citizens and has made a difference in the lives of those who are incarcerated and those with a dream of becoming a writer but not knowing where to begin.

Outside of Houston, I’ve also been a supporter of the arts in Nantucket, Massachusetts. When I think about those I have given back to, they’ve always given me more in return because I get to keep the gratitude in my heart and that, to me, is priceless.

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