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Lilly Endowment Inc. is asking community foundations in Indiana to think more holistically.

Lilly Endowment, based in Indianapolis, has created a program called Community Leadership Grants to persuade community foundations to build internal capacity and have meaningful conversations about local needs and opportunities. The Endowment wants to encourage foundations it funds throughout Indiana to prioritize the needs and opportunities the foundations can address most effectively at the community level.

Community foundations are key threads in the social fabric of Indiana. Beginning in 1990, the Endowment has awarded more than $250 million to encourage foundation formation. Today, Indiana has 94 community foundations—at least one in every county. Assets in the foundations have grown to nearly $2 billion and help fund an array of civic endeavors.

The Community Leadership Grants, which range from $50,000 to $200,000 based on county population, are a component of the Endowment’s Giving Indiana Fund for Tomorrow (GIFT VII) program. Unlike GIFT funding, Community Leadership Grants do not require matching funds from local communities. The CLG application deadline is March 15 this year.

Community Leadership Grants present a special opportunity for foundations to think expansively. The grants also offer a chance for local leadership to show their abilities to identify and address local issues effectively. The additional resources can be leveraged to reach out to constituencies, which do specialized work in a community but have not been included in prior planning activities. Some of the organizations as well as keen observers in such fields as city planning, and economic and education development can be brought into the process.

Rethinking communities as highly integrated systems is key to the CLG application process. Qualitative and quantitative research can help ensure all components of a community are included, that no stakeholders are overlooked. Nonprofits, government, business and philanthropy have valuable perspectives.

Thomas P. Miller & Associates has extensive experience in community needs engagement as well as community engagement and planning. The firm has formed partnerships between public, nonprofit and private sectors, and is particularly skilled in convening various stakeholders, training executive staff and boards, conducting community assessments and studies, and consulting on an array of topics.