100 years of helping Indy grow 

The vision, past and present, of the Indianapolis Foundation

click to enlarge The Cultural Trail in Indianapolis is one of many initiatives supported by the Indianapolis Foundation. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • The Cultural Trail in Indianapolis is one of many initiatives supported by the Indianapolis Foundation.
  • submitted photo

Indianapolis is a great place to live.

NBC News recently listed Indianapolis as the best city for millennials because of the job market and a low cost of living. And two months ago Forbes listed Indianapolis as one of the best places for young professionals. It has taken a long time for Indianapolis to get to the position that it is in compared to other major metropolitan cities. One organization that celebrates 100 years this year can take a lot of credit for Indianapolis being what it is today.

In 1916, a group of business professionals in Indianapolis decided to run with an idea that began in Cleveland. They decided to invest and plan for the future of the capital city and its citizens. That was the beginning of the Indianapolis Foundation.

The purpose of the Indianapolis Foundation from its very beginning was to make Marion County a better place to live. According to the website the foundation exists for three reasons — to improve the quality of life for Marion County; to provide support where the need is greatest and the benefits are most extensive; and to give donors a vehicle to see their gifts in the best possible way in the present, as well as the future.

"There is a very strong tradition of supporting our basic needs in health and human services first and foremost," says Brian Payne, President and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. "We were the first organizational donor for Second Helpings," says Payne. "Second Helpings was just an idea and we were the first kind of donor of any size to support Second Helpings. And we're a big supporter of theirs and Gleaners Food bank and other food banks."

Other services supported by non-profit organizations — homeless shelters, domestic violence programs, education, healthcare and other basic needs — are also funded with help from the foundation. The Indianapolis Foundation has supported initiatives to help Indianapolis become a better city through beauty and nature by supporting projects like the Cultural Trail and the development of the various art districts.

For 100 years, the Indianapolis Foundation has collected and invested donated funds for the sole purpose of giving that money back to the community. "The Indianapolis Foundation has actually been a progressive thinker about quality of life for the people of Indianapolis for 100 years."

The Indianapolis Foundation has inspired the creation of other foundations and grant-making funds. With the help of the Lilly Endowment, every county in the state now has a foundation. In 1997, the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) was formed as the administrator of the Indianapolis Foundation and the Legacy Fund of Hamilton County along with several smaller focus funds and family funds. Each fund is managed and administered individually with its own board for decision-making.

"CICF and its affiliates have hundreds of funds, and each fund has its own purpose, its own decision-makers, its own process of decision-making," says Payne. "CICF kind of coordinates that and manages that for the donors. The Indianapolis Foundation is our largest individual fund at about $130 million and its own board gives away that money."

click to enlarge The Indianapolis Foundation is working with several other groups to bring focus and attention to the various waterways in the city, including Pogue's Run. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • The Indianapolis Foundation is working with several other groups to bring focus and attention to the various waterways in the city, including Pogue's Run.
  • submitted photo

One hundred years is a milestone for any entity and is a call for celebration. The Indianapolis Foundation plans to celebrate in a way that is true to its core — by enhancing the local quality of life and giving money away. A Lights festival designed to illuminate downtown Indianapolis will kick off later this month. In the middle of the festival, CICF will host a gala filled with a "100" theme.

"We're going to have this fun gala and the program is really built around celebrating programs the Indianapolis foundation has supported for years, some for 100 years," said Payne. "What we are going to do is we are going to give ten $100,000 gifts away that night."

The Indianapolis Foundation has been setting money aside in a special fund over the last five ears or so for just such an occasion. Ten organizations will receive $100,000 to use without having to go through the grant proposal process.

"This really is extra money that's going to hit this community and our not-for-profits beyond their normal grant budget," said Payne.

Planning for the next 100 years is also a part of the celebration this year. Two funds have been created and dubbed the Ben Franklin funds, designed to raise $100,000 each. One fund will have 1000 people donate $100 each while the other fund will raise $1,000 each from 100 people. The funds won't be touched for 100 years, allowing them to grow over time.

"If we can average 7.2 percent investment return over 100 years, each of those funds will be worth $100 million dollars and we'll put them into action 100 years from now," said Payne. "And we'll celebrate 100 years from now all the people who gave that money."

As for the immediate future, Payne says there is plenty to do to continually increase the quality of life standards in Indianapolis. The foundation is already five years in to a 10-year plan to bring attention to the city's waterways with the Lilly Foundation and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.

"Little Eagle Creek, Fall Creek, Pogue's Run, the White River, Pleasant Run, all of these waterways which actually are beautiful, but we've done a bad job as a city for 100 years or more dumping industrial and human waste into our rivers and waterways, or streams and creeks," said Payne. "Those are getting cleaned up and there's an opportunity to make the waterways really an awesome natural and creative asset."

Regardless of what the future holds, Payne says the Indianapolis Foundation will continue to work on the city's behalf in finding more and more ways to make Indy a great place to live.

"There will always be new ideas," said Payne. "If we stop to celebrate, in five years we would be behind the rest of the cities we have past over the last 15 years with all of our great development around arts and cultures and beauty. Everyone's trying to get better and as things change and you have got to keep up with the times, so your work's never really done."

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Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns

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Amber Stearns was born, raised, and educated right here in Indianapolis. She holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Indianapolis (1995). Following a 20-year career in radio news in Indiana, Amber joined NUVO as News Editor in 2014.

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