Lilly Builds Civil Society (Indiana)

  • Local Projects
  • 1937

Eli Lilly made his fortune in pharmaceuticals, with a company he founded in 1876. In 1937, three members of his family, son J. K. Lilly and grandsons Eli and J. K. Jr., founded Lilly Endowment with gifts of stock in the company. The men were grateful to the region where their business had prospered, and their foundation has remained deeply committed to Indiana ever since, with about 70 percent of its annual grants staying in the state. Community development, education, and religion have been its major focuses.

The Lilly family believed that strong church communities were essential to a healthy society, and their foundation has consistently funded religious research, ministerial training, even specific congregations. In its secular funding there has been an emphasis on the infrastructure of civil society—everything from library restoration to vehicles for fire companies. Raising the educational level of Indianans has been a preoccupation of the endowment in recent years. Its efforts are a major reason that Indiana is currently considered one of the nation’s leading states in educational experimentation and reform.

The foundation has not shied away from general operating support grants, as many foundations do. And its longtime advocacy of self-sufficient communities has led the number of community foundations inside Indiana to grow from fewer than a dozen to more than 80. In 2014 the endowment’s assets totaled $10 billion and it disbursed $344 million.