Dance of the Philanthropist

A retired ballet dancer creates a new source of funding for choice organizations

Act One: A Classic Ballet

Don Steffy and his wife, Marylou Hume, flawlessly performed a pas de deux across national and international stages for 20 years as the result of a pact made when they wed at just 20 years old. They vowed to never accept a job unless the ballet company hired them both.

The pact allowed Steffy and Hume to continue their careers as co-directors of Montgomery Ballet in Montgomery, Alabama, before accepting roles at separate organizations. Steffy now serves as the executive director at the Indianapolis Children’s Choir and Hume as dance instructor and director of Lebanon Ballet School.

Act Two: Philanthropic Performance

In his new role, Steffy grew increasingly frustrated by the never-ending cycle of applying for grants to keep his organization afloat. “What can I do?” he asked himself. After all, there were only so many donors to call on, and so many other not-for-profits calling on them.

Then it hit him.

“Ask not what the fundraising community can do for you, but what you can do for the fundraising community,” became Steffy’s mantra.

With a small bequest from his aunt, Steffy created The Miller Family Foundation for Theatre and Dance through the Central Indiana Community Foundation to memorialize his aunt’s name and honor his devotion to theater and dance. In this way, Steffy created a new source for funding the arts that continues to grow.

“You don’t have to come from a wealthy lineage to start a fund. You create one and make it grow. If I can do it, anyone can do it,” says Steffy.

He notes that he and his wife made little money as dancers, and yet, were still able to grow a fund – one donation at a time– through monthly paycheck deductions.

Because of the challenges he faced as a professional dancer, Steffy wanted his philanthropic efforts to primarily support organizations that employ actors and dancers.

“The biggest reward is when I would give another dancer a contract, a job, because I knew what it felt like,” says Steffy. “This is almost the same. I know the impact these dollars are going to make.”

When Steffy made his first small grant from his donor-advised fund, he found that he enjoyed having the flexibility to benefit any not-for-profit organizations that falls into his heart. He describes the feeling of making grants as a cathartic experience.

“It really completed me in a way that I could have never seen in my life as an actor, as a dancer or as an administrator,” he says.

Act Three: Finale

Steffy’s foundation has successfully created a new opportunity for organizations constrained by a saturated fundraising community, but he wants more. Steffy strongly believes that if every actor, dancer, artist and arts advocate followed suit in creating a Personal Foundation, theater and dance would survive for future generations.

“If every artist started to think about a fund, the growth and love for theater and dance would keep growing,” says Steffy, not shy about encouraging action.

Standing Ovation

When the curtain drops, the community will not lose Steffy’s contributions. He says, “Even from my grave I will be shouting out ‘Fund this organization and that organization!’ because I’ve laid out how I want my fund to be used.”

Learn more about Don Steffy’s philanthropic journey in this video:

For information on opening a donor-advised fund like Don Steffy, contact Rob MacPherson, vice president of philanthropic services at 317-634-2423 x 509 or via email.

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