Seventy years ago, J.K. Lilly Sr.’s sons, Eli and J.K. Jr., quoted in Lilly Endowment’s 1951 annual report a statement made by their late father: “My ambition is that we may enter a new and larger era of service to humanity.” The three men had founded the Endowment in 1937 to support the causes of religion, education and community development.

With individuals, families, communities and organizations across Indiana and throughout the country still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and with our ongoing commitment to help address racial and other societal inequities, the Endowment in 2021 found J.K. Sr.’s aspiration to be especially compelling and relevant. Read the Executive Message

“It is our commitment to practice love and to provide service to the least, the lonely and the left out."

Leigh Riley Evans
Eastern Star Church
Community Development

Enhancing quality of life in Indianapolis and Indiana and funding selected compelling causes nationwide

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Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Through the Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis initiative, the Endowment issued a broad invitation to human service agencies, community centers, employers, faith-based groups and other community organizations to imagine how funding could help improve the livelihoods of individuals and families facing complex challenges associated with poverty and financial insecurity.

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How a Midwest Zoo Became a Global Player in Conservation

The Indianapolis Zoo is a sprawling complex of wildlife habitats, featuring an aquarium and botanical gardens, and it typically attracts more than a million visitors annually. It is also home to the Indianapolis Prize, conservation’s richest and most prestigious award, as well as the Global Center for Species Survival, the world’s only centralized resource for conservationists working to preserve wildlife around the globe.


Increasing educational attainment and helping young people reach their full potential

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Higher Ed Responds to Changing Realities

In 2019, Lilly Endowment launched Charting the Future for Indiana’s Colleges and Universities initiative, investing $138 million to encourage Indiana colleges and universities to prioritize the challenges and opportunities they face to fulfill their educational missions in light of rapid economic, demographic and technological changes and the evolving needs and demands of students.

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Center for Leadership Development Expands Reach

A 2019 $11.6 million Lilly Endowment grant supported CLD in expanding its capacity to empower hundreds more Indianapolis youth to succeed. Among the grant’s key objectives: expand CLD’s reach through satellite locations and in-school programs across Marion County; build a 20,000 square foot addition to expand operating capacity; establish support services and mentoring for CLD students attending colleges and universities; and strengthen CLD’s endowment to help assure long-term sustainability.

"At the most fundamental level, we help students understand what good character is and help them see the value of education."

Dennis E. Bland
Center for Leadership Development

Enhancing congregational leadership and vitality and public understanding of religion

“American religion has been diverse from the very beginning; it has never been about one religious tradition or even several religious traditions. It always has been about the interactions of many traditions.”

Peter Manseau
The Smithsonian Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History
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How Religion Shapes American Life

Through its Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative, the Endowment asked museums to consider how an exploration of religion could help them further their missions. The initiative began with a series of planning grants in 2019, followed by grants totaling more than $43 million that are funding implementation of projects at 18 museums and historic sites around the nation.

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Initiative Provides Resources for Theology Schools Seeking New Pathways

In 2021, Lilly Endowment approved 84 grants of $500,000 to $1 million each to theological schools across the United States and Canada in the second phase of its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. This three-phase initiative is designed to help theological schools strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian congregations.

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Documentaries Spotlight Leading Theologians and Their Impact on the World

Five of the most influential theologians of the 20th century are featured in a series of documentaries produced by Journey Films with support from Lilly Endowment. Based in Alexandria, VA., the non-profit film company this year is compiling a set of the documentaries called “Prophetic Voices,” which is designed to encourage congregations and interfaith groups to learn more about the lives of these extraordinary religious figures.

2021 Grant Guidelines and Approvals

Lilly Endowment’s grant guidelines and 2021 grant approvals for community development, education and religion.

For a printed edition of Lilly Endowment’s 2021 Annual Report, please email