EDITORIAL: Having Lilly Endowment on our side is powerful weapon in virus war

The Lilly Endowment has long shown a deep commitment to this city and state, but rarely has it been on display in such a resounding way as during the COVID-19 crisis.

On April 1, the endowment announced $33.5 million in new grants to help Indiana communities respond to this public health emergency and the economic damage it has wrought. The money is going to the Indiana United Ways ($30 million) and the United Way of Central Indiana ($3.5 million), which will dole it out to organizations providing food and housing assistance, emergency child care for families and other badly needed services.

Announcements of this sort from the endowment have been coming in rapid-fire fashion in recent weeks. It has provided a $15 million donation to a new central Indiana economic relief fund, $5 million to create an Indianapolis center for the homeless with COVID-19 and $5 million to The Salvation Army’s Indiana Division.

Central Indiana residents through the years might have become almost blasé about big-dollar gift announcements from the endowment. That might be understandable, given their frequency and size.

After all, in 2018, the latest year for which data is available, the endowment paid $348 million to Indiana organizations. That represented 69% of the $504 million in grants distributed that year.

Following the wishes of Lilly family members who founded the organization with gifts of Eli Lilly and Co. stock in 1937, the grants go toward three priority areas—community development, education and religion.

The endowment, with $15.1 billion in assets at the end of 2018, is one of the largest private foundations in the country. It’s a resource most communities could only dream about. As Brian Payne, CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, told IBJ in 2016, “Most … cities know we have the Lilly Endowment, and they are incredibly envious about that. That is absolutely a huge competitive advantage.”

Despite the endowment’s immense resources, it’s far from a slam dunk to secure grants. Applicants go through a rigorous review; it’s not something that happens overnight.

At least, normally it doesn’t. We are glad to see the endowment act with such haste to come to the aid of Indiana’s most vulnerable citizens. Many face days and weeks of hardship ahead, and they need help now.

Putting funding in the hands of organizations with the know-how and passion to help will ease that suffering—and help put a large swath of Hoosiers back on their feet.

That’s not just good for the individuals affected; it’s critical to the vitality of Indiana’s economy.•

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