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Philanthropy and Aging

Through the leadership of the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance and support from Grantmakers in Aging, local EngAgement Initiative Networks are now being established by nine Indiana (county) Community Foundations and their partners. I had the pleasure of sitting in on yesterday’s first teleconference to hear about local plans to engage community stakeholders and explore the implications for philanthropy of Indiana’s changing age demographics. I was delighted to hear that project leaders are aware of the two-sided nature of this coin, if you will. They are sincere in wanting to address needs of the current population of vulnerable elders while, at the same time, aware of the opportunities to tap the significant resources in social and monetary capital represented by the current and future population of elders.

Thanks to the Lilly Endowment, Indiana is unique in having developed an incredible philanthropic infrastructure that now sees community foundations established in every one of 92 counties! Not only does this provide the mechanism for building endowments at the local level, but it also provides an avenue for large foundations to move money down easily to local communities, knowing that the local funder is capable, accountable, and connected to local interests.

I have a particular fondness for local foundations that emphasize their potential and role as “convenors” – using their neutrality and their skills to facilitate the bringing together of diverse stakeholders to address common community issues and problems. Not being service providers themselves, they can’t be accused of feathering their own caps, as long as they do indeed maintain their neutrality and their whole community orientation.

A recent survey of local foundations in Indiana conducted by Indiana Grantmakers did discover that aging issues are somewhat “down the list” on funding agendas. A survey of 276 foundations, with 69 responding, indicated that only 22% of the respondents agreed that aging issues were a priority for their organization. Fewer than half believed that they have a strong understanding of the actual issues facing our aging population.

Through the EngAgement Initiative, however, this situation is likely to change. It is spurred logically from the realization that in Indiana and elsewhere, we are in the midst of a significant transfer of wealth from one generation to the next. According to the Workforce Wise report, released in December of 2009, “$412 billion will pass from one Indiana generation to the next by 2050. Focusing on the next 10 years, it is estimated that Indiana’s transfer of wealth opportunity is $66 billion. If just 5% of the $66 billion in the next 10 years were to be invested in community endowments across Indiana, more than $3.3 billion in philanthropic assets could be created. Assuming the usual 5% annual payout rate of many grantmakers, more than $164 million would be available annually for community grantmaking.” (to see the report visit the Workforce Wise website. )

In Indiana and in many communities throughout the U.S. (South Bend, IN , Muncie, IN, Indianapolis, IN, Contra Costa, CA, Fort Collins, CO, Chicago, IL, Winter Park, FLA, Grand Rapids, MI just to name a few), community and private foundations have played extremely significant roles not merely in funding aging services but in bringing the entire aging and lifespan agenda into public focus and helping develop long range community plans that address needs and tap the potential of current and future elders. Philanthropy in aging needs to go way beyond the “we need a new van phase” if it is to play a serious role in helping create aging friendly communities. The experiences and contributions of the above-named cities demonstrate that we can certainly get there if we try.

For more information about the Indiana EngAgement Initiative and the Grantmakers in Aging project, visit the new IGA website.

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