What Exactly is the Hamilton County Community Foundation?

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March 2019


Writer // Janelle Morrison          Photography // Courtesy of HCCF

What Exactly is the Hamilton County Community Foundation?Perhaps you have heard of the Legacy Foundation, which became the Hamilton County Community Foundation (HCCF) in 2018, but you may not be fully aware of what its purpose is. HCCF President Tom Kilian Jr. sat down with us to discuss why the foundation rebranded, what its mission is and how it helps to improve the lives of Hamilton County residents.

First, we took a brief look back at how and why it was created. In 1991, the Legacy Fund was established to provide Hamilton County residents a broader opportunity to create a “living” legacy and make an impact during their lifetimes in their own communities. The foundation was formed from the assets of Carmel-Clay Community Foundation and Hamilton County Parks Foundation. These foundations had been receiving donations primarily in the form of bequests.

What Exactly is the Hamilton County Community Foundation?In 1997, the foundation partnered with The Indianapolis Trust – currently the Indianapolis Foundation – to create the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF). In 2018, the Legacy Fund announced its new name, Hamilton County Community Foundation, and its new strategic vision under Kilian.

“I came on board almost two years ago,” Kilian said. “One of the things that I did first was to really try to understand where we’ve been, where we currently were and where we were supposed to be going, which was an interesting journey. We embarked on an extensive board assessment and optimization study to try to understand what does all this mean?”

Kilian explained that HCCF is a separate 501(c)(3) but remains in a partnership with CIFC.

“Frankly, it is an exciting partnership that allows us to move forward and create shared services, but our focus is purely on Hamilton County,” he said. “With the focus of HCCF on our county, the name change [from Legacy Fund to HCCF] makes sense to who we are and who we serve. Given a lot of changes that our organization has been through in the last two years, it was the opportunity to make that change. Legacy Fund served us well, and I believe that Hamilton County Community Foundation will continue to serve us into in the future and will help identify us and what we do.”

Kilian shared the three primary functions of HCCF. “We really exist to do three things: We partner with donors and their philanthropic interests; we work with nonprofits in the community, oftentimes by granting dollars through our unrestricted endowment; and we lead and convene on certain things in the community,” he stated. “When the board assessment came back, it essentially said that we need to dive in a bit deeper into this community and understand what the needs are. For the first time in our history, we embarked on a Hamilton County-only strategic plan.”

In this process, HCCF discovered that its focus needs to be on three critical areas: mental health, family and youth empowerment, and inclusive economic growth.

“Imagine creating a syllabus for every community when it comes to mental health,” Kilian stated. “It would include everyone from first responders to the school systems. It’s what we need, and it’s an area that we can serve. The second initiative being family and youth empowerment, we identify what the direct services are that we need to provide for families and youth. The third being this idea of inclusive economic growth, our communities have all said that we want to be these economic hubs. If you talk with any economist, they’ll tell you that if you’re going to have successful growth, you have to have multiple sector growth. We’ve broken this initiative up in three ways – that live, work and play initiative. How does everyone, regardless of race, place or identity, have the opportunity to live, work and play in Hamilton County? I’ll say it – though I know these are sometimes things that we don’t like to talk about in Hamilton County – but we are identifying the organizations and individuals that we need to talk with about personal mobility. What is the conversation surrounding affordable and workforce housing? We [HCCF] have a wonderful relationship with the school systems and local governments on the mental health initiative, along with concerned citizens and experts in the health field who are all converging on this issue.”

Kilian continued, “We really want to pilot a creation of a syllabus or road map with a community and see how it will look and feel. In our family/youth empowerment, we are currently partnered with the Shepherd’s Center who is doing a terrific job. Ideally, we would like to see an increase in not only the number of senior citizens served but see that service throughout the county.”

Regarding inclusive economic growth, Kilian said that HCCF is excited to understand how it can really move the needle and create an opportunity for anyone to raise their families in Hamilton County who wishes to do so.  

“We are in the process of understanding where we can have the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time,” Kilian said. “We know that mental health, family/youth empowerment and inclusive economic growth aren’t going anywhere, and our communities are going to deal with issues for several years to come. We are working with nonprofits, community leadership, businesses and individuals on how we attack these initiatives and bring opportunity for our entire community.”

Most people may initially think of a community foundation as being strictly an organization that administers donor-advised funds.

“Awareness is key,” Killian emphasized. “We’ve got to get enough of our community understanding what the issues are and willing to put in their own time, talent and treasure. We could sit here all day and talk about what the needs are and do our environmental scans, but if we don’t have the ability to connect our community members with our nonprofits to understand what the needs are and then help create solutions to those needs, in my mind, we lose.”

Kilian concluded, “Often somebody will come to a community foundation and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to give to these five things. I’d like some help with the back office and reporting, and I’d like to create a donor-advised fund.’ But what happens is that once donors understand who we are and understand more the needs of the community, they start asking questions, and you watch this amazing connectedness occur. That is really the power of a community foundation. It brings folks together and truly makes this environment a place to live, regardless of one’s race, place or identity.”