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Leader Profile:

Helen Monroe

For many years the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project [MCFYP] and the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow [GIFT] initiative were the only two projects of their kind. The programs had a statewide vision for community foundation service, had similar values regarding honoring local donors and community leaders, and were engaged in hands-on, in-the-community technical assistance and training. For these reasons, a very close working relationship developed between the staff of MCFYP and of GIFT. Shared resources, mutual support and idea sharing, joint publications and training, were all part of the close relationship. Helen Monroe has a long-time, national perspective on community philanthropy, knows Michigan foundation leaders, and worked closely with Michigan professionals for many years.

Leadership Highlights

Ms. Helen Monroe talks about the development of the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) program.
Ms. Helen Monroe talks about developing community foundations across the country.
Ms. Helen Monroe talks about how philanthropic leaders act modest and selfless.
Ms. Helen Monroe talks about her career in philanthropy.


Helen Monroe graduated from Chatham College in Pittsburgh, PA., with a Bachelor of Arts in art and French in 1963. She earned a lifetime teaching credential at University of California at Berkley in 1965.

Philanthropic Biography

Helen Monroe’s first introduction to philanthropy came from watching her parents consistently engage with the community as volunteers. Whether it was sewing layettes for local children or supporting the war effort by bottling blood, her parents were strong examples of the importance of volunteering and giving what one could.

Monroe began volunteering at a local hospital during summer breaks in junior high with a group of friends. She continued this practice in college, giving of her time as a Sunday school teacher, and facilitating story time at the local library.

Contributions to the Field

Helen Monroe began her career in the sector serving as executive director of the San Diego Community Foundation for 10 years, during which time the foundation’s assets increased from $1.5 million to $75 million.

While working at the San Diego Community Foundation, Monroe was invited by the Lilly Endowment to submit a proposal to nationally promote an endowment building workshop that she had developed. With the help of the Lilly Endowment, Monroe brought this workshop to the National Community Foundation Conference for three years. In the fall of 1989, Monroe began new discussions with the Lilly Endowment about how to better support Indiana community foundations. As a result, Monroe developed the community foundation training and support system that would become known as the Lilly Endowment’s Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow initiative.

Monroe related, “ … We had initially thought 20 [community] foundations would be a huge success, [but we] had 20 active starts within six months of the launch of the first announcement. That led us to believe that there was much more interest and potential around the state.” To date, the Lilly GIFT initiative has helped develop over 90 community foundations in Indiana (2017), and has become a model used across America in encouraging the growth of community foundations.

“The [Lilly] Endowment’s philosophy was that they were not going to prescribe where a community foundation should be, it had to be something that the people wanted. I had made the point that I didn’t think you could cause a community to have a community foundation, and you also could not prevent a community from having a community foundation.”

In 1991, Monroe founded the Endowment Development Institute (EDI), a management consulting firm that specializes in helping philanthropic organizations with building endowments, creating strategic plans, improving management practices, and fundraising. Monroe’s work through EDI helped develop many nationally recognized philanthropic organizations including the Ford Foundation’s Rural Poverty initiative, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, California State University at San Marcos, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the Kansas Health Foundation, and the Walton Family Charitable Support Organization.

In addition to national work in the field, Monroe worked with community foundations in Britain, Poland, Canada, and Mexico. She started the Pacific American Community Foundation (now the International Community Foundation) in 1991, which is committed to fostering lasting philanthropy in Mexico and Latin America by connecting U.S. donors interested in international giving with local community needs.


Monroe was interviewed regarding her insights and experiences in working with Michigan’s philanthropic community and the Our State of Generosity (OSoG) partners. The following quotes specifically relate to the five organizing themes of the OSoG project.

Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy

“I think that common characteristics among those outstanding leaders would be their openness to sharing, their actual promotion of sharing, and spreading a good idea. I think it would be their absence of any personal, stature seeking, or recognition. They are all selfless people in that respect; that has not always been the characteristic of leaders of some of our councils and I think that makes a tremendous difference.”

“Success, when we all first started, was sort of the rising tide lifts all boats, and it wasn’t a competition.”

Practical Wisdom

“I think that the successful programs that I’ve been affiliated with, the big resource funders, have thought of themselves as partners.”

“As times get tough, money gets tight and funding may be drying up from all kinds of sources. They’re going to have to pay better attention to running the business, and I think that’s wonderful. I think it’s about time we tell board members of our nonprofits to not check their business heads at the door when they come in.”


Brown, D. (2016). The farmer and Adele: A tribute to Helen Monroe. [Blog.] Indiana Philanthropy Alliance. https://www.inphilanthropy.org/news/farmer-and-adele-tribute-helen-monroe


Sullivan, E., Monroe, H., Agard, K. A., Council of Michigan Foundations. (1997). Community foundation primer: an outline for discussion and an initial organization start-up kit. 2nd ed. Grand Haven, Mich.: Council of Michigan Foundations. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/004029879/Cite


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This profile was last updated: 04/08/2020