The Farmer and Adele

The Farmer and Adele

farmer 1Historians know the significance of the Monroe Doctrine well. Passed in 1823 by the fifth President of the United States and the doctrine’s namesake, President James Monroe, this judgment was issued at a time when most Latin American colonies had declared themselves independent. The goal of the Monroe Doctrine was to maintain that independence—to ensure the free American continents would never be subjected to colonization of the European powers again. The boldness of such a declaration at that time put the USA on the map as a definitive world superpower. While I’m no expert on politics, we certainly have spent a great deal of time this past year ‘studying’ superheroes and their superpowers. Around here superheroes are ordinary people who happen to do extraordinary things. Think Clark Kent. Think Superman. Grant County has so many leaders, donors, and volunteers who humbly fall into the superhero category—you know them, you love them, you may even be one of them! What you may not know is that Indiana community foundations have a superhero like that, too. Although you’d never find it in any history books, she’s made much ado about philanthropy with her very own Monroe Doctrine…the Helen Monroe Doctrine.

Everyone in the Indiana community foundation family loves Helen Monroe. She and her adoring husband, Cliff, traveled the highways and byways of Indiana for 25 years. There’s no doubt they’ve visited more cities in Indiana than most Hoosiers I know. And I can assure you, they’ve made many a’friend along the way. In fact, the last time they traveled to Grant County, they were a big hit at our local Hampton Inn when Cliff drove over to what I call the Gucci Marsh and bought a gallon of ice cream. Knowing it would be more than he and Helen could possibly eat, they delighted the hotel staff with a midnight snack that evening. Philanthropy isn’t just something they teach, it’s their way of life. Thus, why Helen’s years with the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) leadership team has forever changed the landscape of Indiana philanthropy forever.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of generous Hoosiers have learned from the master in what we lovingly call the Monroe Doctrine. She’s responsible for knitting together community foundations by teaching CEOs and Boards, development directors and program managers, as well as non-profits and donors alike. Helen’s a problem-solver, but has the superpower of common sense. Dare I say that she’s saved many executive directors (ED) from jumping off the proverbial ledge, and undoubtedly helped those same ED’s secure forever funds by arming us with secret weapons of the endowment-building trade? Oddly enough, much like the well-known Monroe Doctrine, Helen has put Indiana on the map as a definitive philanthropic superpower—one envied by the other 49 states which covet the ingenuity that Lilly Endowment Inc., and their sidekick Helen Monroe brought to our state. Together, with a host of stellar philanthropic minds, they planted growing community foundations in every single county in our state. Every. Single. County. That’s 92 for those non-Hoosiers who may be reading this. No other state in the union has such bragging rights. Indiana is special, indeed.

Just as President Monroe wanted the Latin American colonies to remain independent, Lilly Endowment Inc., wanted to help local, county community foundations thrive independently as well. Of course, the millions of dollars they invested in our county foundations helped significantly. But, it was our very own Indiana Monroe Doctrine taught by Helen that leveraged the investment of those Lilly dollars, creating non-profit powerhouses in every county—powerhouses who, month-by-month and year-by-year, became respected community leaders, impactful grantmakers, and stellar asset developers. In fact, since 1990, the value of Indiana’s community foundations that have regularly participated in GIFT grew from $30 million to almost $2 billion, and more than $915 million went back into the communities through local grants. Merriam-Webster, take note…this is the new definition of powerhouse—act accordingly.

Although I’ve spent countless hours on the phone with Helen and have learned more about philanthropy from her than any book I’ve ever read on the topic, here are three missives from her Monroe Doctrine that I’ll take with me forever:

(1) Go together. In her weekly blog, we’ve all read, more than once, Helen’s recitation of an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The repetition of this wisdom was as intentional as it is profound. Our work is difficult. And, although donations are a means to an end, it’s only part of the equation. What if we went together? Not alone and fast, but together and far.

(2) Endowments are forever funds. Endowment is a complex term to explain. You have your original donation. Then that donation is invested and grown. Some of that growth is granted to amazing causes. Math is involved. It’s like that Facebook status, “It’s complicated.” But, Helen’s common-sense definition reminded all of us that “An endowment is a forever fund that is invested and only the earnings are spent. Why all the technical terms when all you really want to communicate is that it is forever?” That simple, yet brilliant, approach to explaining the long-term charitable impact of a forever fund is why she’s our forever friend.

(3) Philanthropy: it’s not just for rich people. Helen has said, ‘All people farmer 44have dreams about doing something good. Not just rich people.” This is what I like to call “The Parable of the Farmer and Adele.” The morale of this parable has been proven time and time again at the Community Foundation of Grant County—most recently with our Lilly Endowment Inc., Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) VI matching challenge. They generously donated a whopping $1 million to Grant County, and asked us to match their gift with local donations. Truth be told, it did take us until the VERY LAST DAY to secure every matching dollar. But, we did it. And, we did it with Helen’s advice. To assume only the rich people in our community had charitable dreams would have been short-sighted. Sure, we have some Adele donors, although none that sing as well as she does—one generous family gave $400,000 toward this matching effort! But, we also have many hard-working, salt-of-earth, generous farmers and many like them who have amazing dreams too. One of those donors would walk in and donate $5 at a time…several times throughout the year. In all, 341 generous people, farmers and Adeles, helped us match that entire $1 million! The whole shebang. That combined generosity means an additional and immediate impact of $100,000 in annual grantmaking to local charities every year…forever! Yes, we all have dreams about doing something good.

farmer 555This is just a start of what I’ve learned from my friend and colleague, Helen Monroe. Students of our great teacher would have to write a book to encompass all that she has taught us in the past quarter century. It’s actually not a bad idea; America deserves such a book to be on the shelves. But, for today, we get to express our gratitude for the opportunity we had to learn from her, to know her, to hug her through the years. Although she won’t continue her long-standing role with GIFT, the newest Sagamore of the Wabash recipient continues to pick up the phone when I need wise counsel. For that, and so much more, I will be forever grateful. No offense to the fifth President of the United States, of course, but when I hear the term Monroe Doctrine, I’ll always fondly think of Helen. I hope you do, too. Press on, my good friends, press on.


  • Sherri
    Posted at 15:47h, 20 June Reply


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