March 31, 2021
Contact: Judith Cebula
317.916.7327 |

Lilly Endowment makes Enhancing Opportunity grants
totaling $93.6 million

Grants will fund projects in Indianapolis to help people make
progress toward economic self-sufficiency


INDIANAPOLIS – Lilly Endowment Inc. has approved grants totaling $93.6 million to fund collaborative strategies and programs focused on helping Indianapolis residents living in or near poverty make progress toward achieving lasting economic self-sufficiency.

Grants are being awarded to 28 Indianapolis-based organizations collaborating with a wide variety of community partners and local employers through Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis, an Endowment initiative designed to improve the livelihoods of individuals and families facing complex and varied challenges associated with poverty and financial insecurity.

The Endowment launched this initiative in 2019 because poverty and financial insecurity have been persistent challenges in Marion County. In the years leading up to the initiative launch, poverty rates in the city had been around 20 percent.  Another 20 percent of residents had been earning between 100 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level, meaning they were eligible for certain government assistance programs, such as free or reduced-price school meals for their children. In total, this suggested that around 40 percent of Marion County residents – including tens of thousands of working adults – were struggling to make ends meet, with many facing significant challenges in addressing their most basic needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the challenges.

Organizations being funded through this initiative will implement new or enhance and expand existing promising strategies, programs and services intended to address challenges many Indianapolis residents face as they try to meet their basic needs and build better lives for themselves and their families.  The projects were developed with input from the youth and adults to be served.  Many draw upon compelling practices that are already working locally or in other cities across the nation. Several are designed specifically to help individuals and families from communities experiencing disproportionately high poverty rates, especially Black and Latino residents.

Lead organizations and collaborating partners will provide a range of programs and wraparound support services, including education and job training programs culminating in credentials or degrees; peer mentoring and employment coaching; and increased access to legal aid, early childhood education, mental health services and stable and affordable housing. Several projects include partnerships with local employers who intend to train, recruit and hire people at wages that will help workers build strong financial futures for themselves and their families.

Grants range from $180,000 to just more than $8 million and comprise highly collaborative projects led by community organizations, including multi-service community centers and other neighborhood-based groups, a community foundation, churches, a legal aid group; and organizations specializing in serving veterans, individuals with disabilities and children and youth. Learn more about the projects here.

“We are grateful for the tremendous response we received from the Indianapolis community during a time when organizations were called upon to significantly ramp up their existing programs and services in response to the acute needs brought on by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Rob Smith, the Endowment’s senior vice president for collaborative strategies. “We believe that these projects have the potential to improve the lives of a significant number of Indianapolis residents facing the challenges of poverty and financial insecurity.”

Organizations receiving grants are working on projects that will:

  • Address the need to prepare and connect residents to more “good and promising jobs.” (Note: The Endowment encouraged organizations to consider a 2018 Brookings Institution study that defined a “good job” in the Central Indiana region as one paying a wage of at least $18/hour and offering employer-sponsored health benefits, and a “promising job” as one that would place an employee on a viable path to a good job. Brookings found that the region had a deficit of nearly 120,000 good and promising jobs and recommended “new multi-dimensional approaches” to create more good jobs and provide more support to workers seeking to access existing good or promising jobs.)
  • Help children and youth by expanding access to high-quality early childhood education and child care, strengthening mentoring programs, and implementing training and education initiatives that prepare youth for in-demand jobs and college.
  • Support specific groups of individuals who face challenges in addition to poverty, including individuals with disabilities, young people who are aging out of foster care, individuals reentering their communities after incarceration, and immigrants facing language barriers and other obstacles.
  • Strengthen neighborhoods, particularly those with high concentrations of poverty.
  • Help remove barriers to economic prosperity that disproportionately affect Black and Latino residents and enhance efforts to help Black and Latino residents achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Through the Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis initiative, the Endowment invited eligible organizations to consider how they would work collaboratively and comprehensively with other community partners and employers to help Indianapolis residents living in or near poverty make progress toward achieving lasting self-sufficiency. In total, 220 organizations responded by submitting concept papers that outlined a wide range of ideas to meet the objectives of the initiative. The Endowment subsequently provided planning grants to finalists to support the development of complete proposals detailing collaborations, activities, budgets and goals. Final proposals were submitted to the Endowment in January 2021.

The Endowment originally allocated $50 million for the initiative; however, due to the number of high-quality proposals and the compounding challenges COVID-19 brought to bear on already vulnerable individuals and families, the Endowment is nearly doubling its initial funding commitment to more than $93 million. Although the Endowment acknowledges that the efforts funded through this initiative will not end poverty in Indianapolis, it does hope that they will help put thousands of Indianapolis residents on the path to self-sufficiency.

“We are heartened by the significant number of organizations that care deeply about these issues and are working tirelessly to address them,” Smith said. “But we understand that the grants awarded through this initiative are able to support only a subset of these organizations and that all of their efforts and much more will be needed to adequately address the challenges of poverty in our community.”

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family — J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. — through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment 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 and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.