Lilly Endowment: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Lilly Endowment was founded in 1937 by gifts of stock from J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons J.K. Jr. and Eli. The endowment is now an independent organization, with focuses on religion, education and community development. The last of these three focus areas is limited to organizations in the Indianapolis area, but its higher ed and religious giving are national in scope. This organization is separate from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation.

IP TAKE: While the Lilly Endowment is well known for its nationwide support of business programs and nonprofits focused on increasing higher ed access for minorities, its grantmaking in religion is also a major source of funding for aligned higher ed organizations.

PROFILE: The Lilly Endowment traces its roots back to 1937, when J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons J.K. Jr. and Eli set established it “through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company.” The endowment is now an independent organization, but the company’s stock continues to be  the main source of its revenue. The foundation’s three main issues are “religion, education and community development,” and it is especially interested in community-based “projects that benefit young people and promote leadership education and financial self-sufficiency in the nonprofit, charitable sector.”

Geographically speaking, Lilly’s primary focus for community development and primary/secondary education is on organizations based in its home city of Indianapolis. Fortunately for higher ed grantseekers, this same restriction does not apply for its postsecondary programs, which “extends to Indiana colleges and universities and nationwide to historically black colleges, Native American colleges and programs to increase access to college by Hispanic Americans,” though grants for non-Hoosier postsecondary institutions are “generally are restricted to programs offered by the Endowment on an invitational basis.”

Working directly in higher education, Lilly Endowment grants have ranged from a little as a few hundred dollars all the way up to the tens of millions. While these awards have indeed been national in scope, it probably comes as little surprise that some of the largest awards have gone to universities in the funder’s home state of Indiana. For example, the endowment recently awarded a whopping $40 million to Purdue University, divvied up between the universities Engineering and Technology colleges, along with the Purdue Libraries.

Lilly has also given past support in a big way to support a number of business schools and financial opportunities related to higher ed. Back in 2013, the endowment awarded Indiana University a “$33 million grant to help transform undergraduate facilities at IU's Kelley School of Business in Bloomington,” and more recently Lilly pledged a seven-year,  “$50 million to the United Negro College Fund to launch the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative—an effort to improve employment rates and wages for African-American college graduates,” matching the record for the largest UNCF grant ever awarded.

The endowment’s religious work is similarly “national in scope” and is “designed to “deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians.” Indeed, the recent trend seems to be that on a national scale, universities and colleges whose projects are aligned with the endowment’s religious goals have tended to receive the lion’s share of higher ed dollars. To take one example, in a recent year Duke University was awarded a $6 million grant to support leadership education at the Duke Divinity program. The program provides professional development and education for church leaders and the heads of nonprofit ministries. The grant also will fund other Duke Divinity School programs, including Foundations of Christian Leadership, a two-week seminar for institutional religious leaders. Back in 2008, a $14 million Lilly grant from Lilly enabled Duke to create the leadership education program at Duke, and also led to the creation Duke Divinity School programs, including denominational leadership and the online magazine Faith and Leadership.

Along similar lines, USC was recently awarded $1 million for a project on “Remapping American Christianities,” and Notre Dame University received just over $2.5 million for a “national research program on pastoral leadership and clergy well-being.” The endowment also has a Campus Ministries Theological Exploration of Vocation Initiative, started in 2012 to “help campus ministries build up their capacities to play a more prominent role in identifying and nurturing a new generation of highly talented and religiously committed leaders for church and society.”

Lastly, for students in Indiana, the endowment offers “four-year, full-tuition scholarships to Indiana students who intend to work toward a baccalaureate degree at any accredited public or private college or university in Indiana.” Independent Colleges of Indiana manage the scholarship program.

One challenge for seeking higher ed funding from Lilly is that, “Grants to institutions of higher learning outside Indiana generally are restricted to programs offered by the Endowment on an invitational basis.”

That said, for eligible programs, a a letter of inquiry (two pages or less) can be sent in hard copy (faxes and emails are not accepted) to:

Program Office
Lilly Endowment Inc.
2801 N. Meridian St.
Post Office Box 88068
Indianapolis, IN 46208-0068

Grant decisions are made four times a year, in “March, June, September, November and December. The grant review process takes three to six months.”

One last note: this profile refers only to the operations of the Lilly Endowment, not to be confused with a separate organization, the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation.


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