Wabash Valley Community Foundation Awarded $350,000 Leadership Grant

The Wabash Valley Community Foundation, together with its affiliates Clay County Community Foundation and Sullivan County Community Foundation, has received a Community Leadership Grant of $350,000 as part of the seventh phase of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT VII) initiative. With the grant, the Community Foundation plans to allocate funding toward each county’s priorities as identified by the county task forces.

As part of GIFT VII, the Community Foundation was awarded a planning grant of $175,000 in 2019 to convene local stakeholders to identify, prioritize and assess opportunities and challenges in Clay, Sullivan and Vigo counties. In March 2020, the Community Foundation was invited to apply for a GIFT VII Community Leadership Grant to implement strategies and activities identified during the planning period.

The initial funding allowed the Community Foundation to work in each county with local residents to evaluate community landscapes. In doing so, the Community Foundation was able to identify and prioritize community needs and assets, develop a deeper understanding of what its role should be within each community, and prioritize and develop strategies to address economic challenges.

Embracing the opportunity for experienced consulting, the Community Foundation engaged e2 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (e2) to consult and guide it through the planning process. As the Community Foundation serves three counties, it pursued a collective planning grant. Through the planning process, each county developed a proposal and solution unique to that county.

A task force was created for each county consisting of volunteers from that specific county. With Clay, Sullivan and Vigo counties’ task forces working independently, the Community Foundation developed three distinct proposals that would allow volunteers to focus on its community’s unique challenges and development opportunities.

In Clay County, a series of community conversations were held last fall which resulted in Resident Retention and Attraction being the number one priority. Retaining residents who work outside of Clay County, as well as promoting Clay County as a great place to live and attract new people to live in the county were the primary goals in the proposal. In order to be successful, Clay communities will need to focus on their assets and develop their Quality of Life Placemaking investments.

Resident Attraction was also a primary driver in the development of Sullivan County’s grant proposal. This grant will fund a Director of Community Development and Recreation position to assist communities by connecting them to appropriate resources for community development. Similar to Clay County, this grant will also provide training and opportunities for resident engagement.

As for Vigo County, numerous community organizations have and are providing leadership on various issues. Building upon this work, the Community Foundation sought to integrate the opportunity offered by GIFT VII to develop a niche – allowing it to complement and expand upon the work already in progress. Through the development of a readily available community dashboard, nonprofits, community leaders and government officials will be able to monitor the community’s strengths and weaknesses in comparison to state and national data, thus allowing optimum utilization of resources to effect positive change.

“The Community Foundation has worked with philanthropic partners to strengthen our communities for nearly three decades,” said Sally Zuel, Wabash Valley Community Foundation Board President. “This process encouraged us to re-evaluate our strategic roles in the support of Clay, Sullivan and Vigo counties. Through this leadership grant, the Community Foundation has a wonderful opportunity to build upon the strengths of our communities and narrow our focus to enriching the lives of our residents.”

The grants will enable the Community Foundation to respond to the identified priorities, as well as implement the proposals specific to each county’s unique challenges and opportunities. Dependent upon the county, plans include the implementation of community leadership development and engagement institutes, school district professional development, seed funding for community impact, marketing collaboration, program development, training programs to build capacity for sustainability and development of a community dashboard.

Work on the plans is currently scheduled to begin in the fall of 2020 but is subject to revisions as necessary due to the ongoing pandemic.

The Community Foundation is one of 84 foundations in Indiana receiving grants through this round of GIFT VII grantmaking. Lilly Endowment created GIFT in 1990 to help local communities in Indiana develop the philanthropic capacity to identify local needs and challenges. It launched GIFT VII in 2018 and made available a total of $125 million to help foundations strengthen their leadership capacities in the towns, cities and counties they serve. Lilly Endowment expects to make additional GIFT VII grants in the coming months.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.