Mays Family Institute advances deep convictions

By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors

In December of 2014, Bill Mays’ obituary lauded his entrepreneurial savvy and financial skills. Not only had the Indianapolis businessman run successful companies, but he had supported over 100 others by sharing his time, talent and treasures. These weren’t his only accomplishments – he and his wife, Rose, were generous philanthropists who donated to community organizations and educational entities.

So it’s not surprising that when his family and friends sought to honor his legacy and his family’s continued commitment to community and philanthropy, they would seed a project designed to endure.

The name was christened by Indiana University President Michael McRobbie in 2015, and after conversations with Lilly Family School of Philanthropy staff, morphed into the Mays Family Institute of Diverse Philanthropy. And while Lilly Family School’s Dean Amir Pasic didn’t know Mays, together with Mays’ family and Mays’ friend, Lacy Johnson, Pasic shaped the concept and came up with a plan.

“His family and close friend decided that one of the most important pieces of his legacy was his philanthropy, and it should be commemorated and remembered. As they talked to us about memorializing something in his name, it became clear how important diversity and inclusion are in the world of philanthropy,” said Pasic.


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A Diversity Speakers’ Series will bring nationally prominent speakers to Indianapolis to examine diversity in philanthropy and nonprofit organizations during the 2018-19 academic year. The events are open to the public. Additional speakers information for the spring will be added.

The Mays Institute Speakers Series schedule.

  • Oct. 4, 5:30 p.m., IMA at Newfields, Helene Gayle, CEO, Chicago Community Trust
  • Oct. 30, 5:30 p.m., Indiana Historical Society, Jim Moore, CEO, University of Illinois Foundation
  • Nov. 6, 7 p.m. Spirit and Place Festival, at Shelton Auditorium, Christian Theological Seminary, Race Matters: Faith & Philanthropy in Black Communities. Starsky Wilson, Dr. Brad Braxton and Aimée Laramore
  • Jan. 15, 2019, 5:30 p.m., Central Library, Susan Taylor Batten, CEO, Association of Black Foundation Executives

Initially, the Mays family and Johnson endowed scholarships for a graduate and undergraduate student. The first Bill Mays Fellowship for a graduate student will be awarded next year and the Lacy Johnson Family Scholarship for an undergraduate will be given out in 2020. Recruiters have already started attending diverse conferences to spread the word, hoping to attract students from underrepresented populations.

Pasic said there are foundations and other association initiatives to boost philanthropy, but saw that the school could have a unique role.

“It quickly became obvious that there was a need and a demand for research and the academic voice to play a role in complementing that effort. There is also the importance of understanding what’s going on more deeply,” said Pasic.

According to Ann Boyd-Stewart, the Lilly School’s assistant dean of development and alumni relations, the team has worked since 2015 to secure operating funds from businesses, leaders in the community and foundations.

After $250,000 was raised for operating expenses, some funds were used to sponsor a diversity summit in 2017. The goal was to listen and learn from scholars and practitioners on what role the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy could play in advancing diversity efforts throughout the philanthropic sector.

The Institute was officially launched last month. Una Osili was named the dean’s fellow and will conduct research studies on various aspects of diversity and philanthropy. The Mays family made it clear that this is an institute focused on historically underrepresented communities and individuals. It will attempt to glean information about donors from these areas – information that is already understood about traditional donors groups.

For Rose Mays, Bill’s widow, the research that the Institute will focus on is exciting because from her perspective as an academic, research findings cannot only shape practice, but have the potential to help those in the field see the power of giving in underrepresented communities. Not only can it help be more sensitive to those characteristics, but help guide practice as well.

“Much of our family’s giving has focused on advocacy, especially advocacy for marginalized groups. The institute’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the philanthropic sector aligns with those values and allows students, faculty and the community to experience an array of insights and perspectives on these issues,” Mays said.

Mays recognizes the value of philanthropic service and with her family, has fostered many educational opportunities. As a retired professor and administrator at IU School of Nursing, she understands how things work in higher education and the value of an institute.

“The Mays Institute Speakers Series and Dr. Osili’s appointment will increase awareness and understanding of robust philanthropy that is an integral part of all diverse communities,” said Mays. “Not only is there value, but there is power. I have seen the Women’s Institute at the School of Philanthropy and how that really helped shine a spotlight on women’s giving.”

The Mays Family Institute joins the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving and Women’s Philanthropy Institute as a Lilly School of Philanthropy program. All three have office space and dedicated employees, and while the Mays Family Institute is the newest, it is expected to grow.

Based on external information gained at the 2017 summit, Pasic said that research is one area where the Lilly School can lead.

“We are a unique voice by the fact that that we don’t represent a particular constituency — we don’t represent foundations, we don’t represent the fundraising profession, we don’t represent the wealthy or the volunteering groups. We are truly independent, so we are a great place to convene and allow people of different perspectives to come and be heard,” said Pasic.

Included in this first-year effort is the Diversity Speakers’ Series that will bring nationally prominent speakers to Indianapolis to examine diversity in philanthropy and nonprofit organizations during the 2018-19 academic year. The events will be open to the public with the first taking place in October.

This academic year, according to Pasic, diversity and inclusion are the major themes with efforts underway to have faculty incorporate more systematically diversity and inclusion into their courses and the school’s curriculum.

“We have one course on race and justice in philanthropy but we also want to make it go across the whole curriculum more broadly. So it’s become one of our priorities to look at for this year and for the future of the school,” said Pasic. “The family’s interest was a wonderful coincidence.”

Boyd-Stewart said a social justice course is a good example. The school offered a graduate and undergraduate course that studied the topic, but faculty suggested there shouldn’t be just one course, but rather the topic should be infused across the curriculum.

“When teaching about writing an RFP, shouldn’t the type of community have an effect on what is written? What if it is responding to a Latino community? It’s made us really step back and think about how we become more welcoming, not just our school, but in our curriculum,” she said.

The initial operating funds have also been used to send students to different conferences, like the Association of Black Foundation Executives.

Moving forward, the focus is to grow the Council of Advisors, the institute’s governing body. Right now, according to Boyd-Stewart, there are nine members with Lacy Johnson chairing the council. The council’s focus is to raise operating support for lectures, student projects and training programs. They also have a five-year goal to create a $5 million endowment to provide funds for a strong support system, which includes hiring an executive director.

For Mays, becoming self-sustaining is important, but learning more about underrepresented populations is critical.

“My hope is that we’ll know more about their giving and be better positioned to meet their needs and hear what their concerns are in pursuing their philanthropic interests,” she said.

“We really want to engage the community, which is very diverse. It may be a challenge, but I think it’s a working challenge,” said Boyd-Stewart. “The conversations that I am having with people about the Mays Institute are very emotional. After all, the definition of philanthropy is love of mankind.”

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