A Call for Collaboration – One-Year Update From CICF CEO Jennifer Bartenbach

July 1, 2024

A Call for Collaboration

I share this letter as I reflect on the past year, my first as CEO of Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF). As leader of a philanthropic organization that stewards more than $500 million in charitable assets and is part of a philanthropic collaborative with over $1 billion in assets, I report to you not just to share what we have done, but to provide you with a vision for the future of Central Indiana philanthropy.

At his retirement after more than 20 years with the institution, Brian Payne’s dual role as head of CICF and The Indianapolis Foundation was realigned into two positions; I was appointed as CEO of CICF and Dr. Lorenzo Esters was appointed President of The Indianapolis Foundation. This provided each organization with a full-time leader dedicated to guiding their organization to reaching its full potential.

CICF, The Indianapolis Foundation, Hamilton County Community Foundation, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, and our various supporting organizations and limited liability companies comprise the Central Indiana Philanthropic Collaborative. The Collaborative allows for these separate entities to come together and work toward common goals, primarily the advancement of philanthropy and betterment of Central Indiana.

The cornerstone entities—CICF, The Indianapolis Foundation, Hamilton County Community Foundation, and Women’s Fund of Central Indiana— share the mission to mobilize people, ideas, and investments to make this a community where all individuals have equitable opportunity to reach their full potential—no matter place, race, or identity.

The Indianapolis Foundation and Hamilton County Community Foundation focus on charitable giving and philanthropic leadership in their respective counties, while Women’s Fund of Central Indiana focuses on regional leadership in support of those who identify as women and girls in our community. Each of these organizations, including CICF, are developing or have just completed new strategic plans to leverage their unique roles within Central Indiana.

CICF supports each of these entities through its highly specialized team that provides financial, investment management, compliance management, operational, development, marketing, human resources, and other services to enable them to focus on what matters most: creating positive change in their respective communities. CICF also provides these services at varying levels to our supporting organizations and limited liability companies such as Nextech and GANGGANG.

In partnership with the cornerstone entities, CICF also addresses regional issues by convening partners, resources, and funding. I will expand upon that later in this letter.

And we also have our own work to do.

I began my tenure as CEO with the tenet that traditional philanthropy won’t exist in 20 years. We sought data that would allow us to recalibrate our baseline and understand where we are now in order to chart a course for the future. We gathered data from stakeholders of the philanthropic process; among them were donors, fundholding charitable organizations, and our staff.

Donors: In conjunction with The Indianapolis Foundation and Hamilton County Community Foundation, we partnered with the Center for Effective Philanthropy to hear directly from fundholders their needs and concerns. This data will be used to make the philanthropy experience easier, more meaningful, and ultimately more impactful for Central Indiana.

Fundholding charitable organizations: We also surveyed the not-for-profits with charitable organization funds within the Philanthropic Collaborative. We discovered critical gaps in resources essential to fulfilling their missions. We can harness our resources, partner network, and intellectual capital to address those resource gaps for all Central Indiana not-for-profits.

Staff: We gathered data from our most valuable asset—the passionate people who work at CICF and its affiliates. Our team holds deep expertise ranging from philanthropic strategies and not-for-profit finance management to the nuances of Central Indiana’s not-for-profit community. Our team generously shared their vision for what CICF can be and roadblocks that slow our journey. These conversations will inform our future decision-making about how we will expand and fulfill our potential.

Most importantly, our data showed that in an increasingly fragmented community—where the Indy Metro can both lead the Midwest in GDP growth while nearly coming in last for upward mobility, where we can host world-class events such as the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials while struggling to feed nearly a quarter of our region’s children—Central Indiana is in a unique moment of need. We must bring our success to bear on our challenges.

In the coming months, we will revitalize our approach to philanthropy in order to address the insights from the data. CICF will be centered around the theme that consistently emerged throughout the data collected this past year: collaboration.

In many ways, the Central Indiana Philanthropic Collaborative model is already structured on the concept of collaboration. As I mentioned previously, CICF provides complex operations services at varying levels to partner entities, supporting organizations and limited liability companies within the Collaborative. Centralizing and unifying those services permits each entity to operate more efficiently.

The Collaborative’s structure also allows CICF to bear the administrative burden, offering highly competitive rates for donor-advised funds (DAFs), scholarship funds, and charitable organization funds.

Collaboration allows costs to be consolidated and investment rates to stay low, ensuring more philanthropy dollars are spent in communities.

A new area of focus for CICF will be expanding regional collaboration beyond Marion and Hamilton Counties.

Included amongst the leadership team I’ve built over the past year is Chief Innovation Officer Jeff Bennett; he is forming a not-for-profit data and resource center to provide metrics on regional issues. Such data provide the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors with benchmarks and unified goals.

That data will also permit CICF to expand its work of convening the organizations and resources tackling issues that occur beyond the county level. Indiana is one of the few states fortunate enough to have a community foundation in nearly every county. By bringing together these foundations and other key partners, we can align efforts to prevent duplication and ensure gaps are addressed.

Collaboration on regional issues prevents philanthropic dollars from being spent on duplicated efforts, ensures gaps are addressed, and enables Central Indiana’s issues to be tackled more effectively.

Further, collaboration allows Central Indiana to attract federal dollars that local entities may not be eligible for independently. While each partner contributes its local or issue-specific expertise, the Central Indiana Philanthropic Collaborative can leverage its structure and CICF’s national accreditation to help collaborative groups meet the complex requirements of large federal funding opportunities such as enhanced audit, tax, documentation, and legal requirements.

Collaboration brings more funding to the Central Indiana region.

Donors also benefit from a collaborative approach. As our surveys this past year showed, donors demand a philanthropy experience that is more straightforward and streamlined.

The unequal outcomes I highlighted earlier illustrate that there is no shortage of worthy charitable causes in Central Indiana. For a donor, the options can be overwhelming, and requests for support are frequent. This can deter consistent and impactful giving and prevent donors from feeling connected with their philanthropy.

When donors work with the Central Indiana Philanthropic Collaborative, they are paired with a donor engagement officer who simplifies their philanthropic journey. They get to know the donor’s values, interests, and passions, and act impartially to help the donor explore and navigate a breadth of opportunities within Central Indiana that fulfill their goals. We consistently see donors who are increasingly engaged with their communities because they are giving to causes that are deeply meaningful to them that they themselves may not have had the time or expertise to find. And engaged donors provide greater benefits, not only in funding but also in volunteerism and other interactions, with the not-for-profits they care about most.

Collaboration fuels a true win-win for philanthropy: a more meaningful philanthropic experience for donors and a more effective landscape of not-for-profits. 

I am grateful to each entity and individual who collaborated with us to provide the data gathered this past year. Your insights are helping us redefine what philanthropy can be in Central Indiana.

That is how we mobilize people, ideas, and investments to make this a community where all individuals have an equitable opportunity to reach their full potential—no matter place, race, or identity.

As I look to my next year and beyond as CEO of CICF, I welcome the opportunity to challenge the status quo and amplify the impact that Central Indiana can make together—as donors, implementors, conveners, and as Hoosiers. I look forward to collaborating with you along the way.


Jennifer Bartenbach
Chief Executive Officer
Central Indiana Community Foundation

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