Finding Unicorns in the Spirt of Philanthropy

Thursday, Jul 15, 2021


An analysis from Dr. Emily I. Nwakpudaassistant professor of public affairs and planning and her students Marcella Perez and Lenita Dunlap, was presented at the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation board meeting on June 22, 2021. This foundation is known as the philanthropic arm of the City of Arlington, Texas. 




The Arlington Tomorrow Foundation is a public charity that exclusively serves the City of Arlington, Texas, with a City Council that doubles as a Board of Directors. Leaders of the Arlington City Council used proceeds from gas well revenues from an unexpected gas drilling frenzy in the Barnett Shale to create the foundation in 2006. The foundation’s funding and governance structures are unique for a community foundation.


Their work aimed to identify organizations with leadership structures, operations, and financial windfall acquisitions similar to the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation. A comprehensive search criterion identified comparable organizations. These organizations were labeled “unicorns” to acknowledge their unique characteristics. Data was compiled about these organizations before interviews were conducted.


The research team finds these organizations offset their philanthropic efforts by making trade-offs regarding board diversity, willingness to innovate, and beneficiary types to sustain their efforts to support their local communities using their unique configurations. Although none of the identified organizations were a perfect match to the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, the research findings help the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation continue to learn, grow and sustain its dynamic operations. This research has inspired the foundation to update its Mascot to be a unicorn.


This project began as an opportunity for Dr. Nwakpuda to connect students to local philanthropic organizations. Marcella Perez, a Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) student, was a diligent researcher on this project and graduates this summer. Lenita Dunlap is a Public Administration and Public Policy (PAPP) Ph.D. student, nonprofit consultant, and coach. Lenita’s insights further contextualized this research and its findings.


We are so proud of the research team for this well-deserved recognition. Many thanks to the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation executive director, Carolyn Mentesana, for helping to enrich student’s training and educational experience.