The idea was born over a coffee break. In October 2016, members of the Indiana University Foundation board gathered in Florida for the group’s annual meeting. During a pause in the meeting, five African American members of the board sat down to catch up on each other’s lives. However, as the conversation shifted to a discussion of strengthening Black philanthropic engagement at the university, the group realized that their work together would extend well beyond a short conversation over a hot beverage.
Louis Jordan, Co-Owner of Tympany Vineyards and a 1980 graduate of the Kelly School of Business, invited the rest of the group to join him in a weekend retreat to discuss the matter further. The group met five months later at Jordan’s California home and, after several days of work, emerged with a new initiative aimed at revitalizing Black alumni engagement with the university: the Indiana University Black Philanthropy Circle.
“Sometimes when you just write a check and walk away, you’re not as much connected. We envision the circle as getting people more engaged,” said Rose Cole Mays, IU alumna, founder of the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and Interim Co-Chair of the Black Philanthropy Circle.
Launching during Black Philanthropy Month, the Black Philanthropy Circle will bring together alumni and friends of the university to support initiatives that will improve the experiences of Black students, faculty, and staff on IU’s campuses. In partnership with the Indiana University Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA), these initiatives will aim to boost retention and degree attainment to prepare Black students for a future where more than two-thirds of jobs will require some type of higher education. In doing so, the circle will work to support ongoing work by OVPDEMA to make IU a more diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff.
“It makes me feel proud to be a part of something that’s special, but it also humbles me to know that we have so many caring individuals who, in many ways, have our backs and are working to support our efforts in this very unique way,” said James Wimbush, Indiana University’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, Dean of The University Graduate School, Johnson Chair for Diversity and Leadership, and Interim Co-Chair of the Black Philanthropy Circle.
Another key part of the circle’s mission will be to shine a light on the extent and nature of Black philanthropy. According to Joyce Q. Rogers, Vice President for Development and External Relations for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs at the Indiana University Foundation and a founding member of the circle, research suggests that Black individuals give at rates equivalent to or higher than the population as a whole. Positioning the Black Philanthropy Circle as a prominent initiative, she said, will help boost this trend and combat some of the lingering stereotypes around Black communities and philanthropy.
“There’s a misconception that African Americans, or Blacks in this case, don’t give, and especially don’t give to educational purposes,” said Lacy Johnson, partner at Ice Miller LLP and founding member of the Black Philanthropy Circle. “It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
At the same time, the circle will also support research to better understand the relationship between diversity and philanthropic giving. To further this aim, the circle will collaborate with Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the first school in the world dedicated to studying philanthropy. The first official gift of the circle will support the school’s Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at IUPUI, including helping to fund research into philanthropy in underserved communities and other institute initiatives.
“We greatly appreciate the Black Philanthropy Council’s generous support for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, which will enable us to advance the institute’s goals and initiatives,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., a nationally recognized expert in philanthropy and Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Philanthropy is a key part of all communities and cultures, and the institute emphasizes the vital role that diverse communities play in philanthropy.”
In designing the Black Philanthropy Circle, the group has looked to other philanthropic efforts that have made an impact on IU’s campuses. According to Rogers, the group took inspiration from groups like the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council, which focuses on giving initiatives that benefit women’s leadership in a variety of areas. By providing a circle focused on the Black community, the founding members hope to continue a trend that will inspire the creation of philanthropy circles for other historically underserved groups.
For now, key to the group’s efforts is spreading the word and finding more founding members to support coming initiatives. Founding members of the circle commit to donating $15,000 to the circle over a three-year period; in return, they help guide how the circle’s funds are used and are given access to the circle’s network of members. Individuals interested in joining the circle’s 23 founding members should visit go.iu.edu/BlackPhilanthropyCircle.
For the group of five with which the Black Philanthropy Circle began--Wimbush, Jordan, Johnson, Mays, and Rogers--these are hardly the only benefits. Being a foundational part of the circle has allowed them to give back to IU in ways that they hope will profoundly influence generations of Black students, faculty, and staff to come.
“Traditionally, education has been the way that I see my family and my ancestors make their way in the world,” Mays said.