After a few years of working at the Lilly Endowment, Johnson began to ask, “How might some of the endowment resources be used to strengthen the independent sector?” Johnson found that many nonprofits were under-budgeted and understaffed and therefore did not have the necessary resources to adequately train and develop their staff in fundraising, grant writing, and philanthropy. Johnson learned about Henry Rosso’s The Fund Raising School®, which provided seminars throughout the country. After attending one of these seminars and speaking with those in attendance, Johnson began a relationship with Rosso. Johnson knew that Rosso had a product that could be of great value to the independent sector and that Rosso needed additional resources. The Lilly Endowment extended a grant to Rosso for The Fund Raising School®, to expand the number of people working there.
Over time, Johnson, Rosso, and Eugene Tempel, a development officer for the Indianapolis branch of Indiana University, discussed the idea of Indiana University adopting this program. The initial funding would come through the Lilly Endowment, with Indiana University increasingly taking responsibility for the program. Through collaboration of chief development officers and a faculty committee at Indiana University, the financial support of Lilly Endowment and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Johnson, Rosso, Tempel, and others helped to create the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and brought The Fund Raising School® under the center’s umbrella.
Throughout his career, Johnson fostered collaborative efforts and symbiotic relationships with Michigan philanthropy leaders such as Russell Mawby and Dorothy A. Johnson, as well as with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Johnson recalled that, “Michigan and Indiana, without any formal relationships, sort of continued that effort and we were supportive of each other.” Johnson served on the advisory committee for the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project reviewing community foundation grant requests including organizational and fundraising development plans. He returned to Indiana with this idea and helped launch the Lilly Endowment-funded Indiana GIFT initiative. This multi-million dollar, multi-year effort helped to create community foundation services for every citizen in the state of Indiana.
Johnson has been recognized and honored for major contributions to the field of philanthropy throughout his career. In addition to being a founding member of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, he was a founding member of the National Committee of Planned Giving (now called the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning) and organized the Indiana chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (now Association of Fundraising Professionals). Johnson was responsible for initiating a program to provide ongoing training for Indiana private college presidents, board members, and fundraising personnel through the Independent Colleges of Indiana Foundation. In 1995, Johnson received the Henry A. Rosso Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Ethical Fundraising, and in 1998, was awarded with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Indiana University.
For many years, Johnson continued to serve on the board for the Center on Philanthropy at IU, but stepped down from this service to create room and opportunities for new pioneers in the field. Johnson served as a board member for the community foundation for the southern Arizona community in which he resided before his death in March, 2016.
We remember Charles Johnson for outstanding leadership in promoting philanthropy. He was a friend, a trusted colleague, and will be greatly missed. His work in philanthropy will live on as a tribute to his values and life. We are honored to have known and worked with him.