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United Way Blog

United Way and Lilly: A Century of Giving

United Way and Eli Lilly and Company have been partners for more than a century.  

In fact, United Way of Central Indiana has never existed without Lilly.  In the early 1900s and 1920s, J.K. Lilly Sr. helped start the war chest that would later become United Way. Today, Lilly employees and retirees not only fundraise for United Way but volunteer, serve on nonprofit boards and set an example of what it means to be a philanthropic leader.  

This spring, Lilly reaffirmed its partnership with United Way of Central Indiana and United Way Worldwide by signing a memorandum of understanding, renewing and expanding its commitment.  “Lilly, in a way, is fueling our impact work here in Central Indiana,” said Allie Smith, fundraising associate for Team Lilly at United Way. “... They have an important presence in our community.” 

In recent years, Lilly has made a big impact. Lilly has the most donors of any company in United Way of Central Indiana’s Tocqueville and Meridian societies. (Those in the Tocqueville Society give $10,000 to $24,999 annually; Meridian Society donors give $25,000 to $999,999 annually.) 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, Lilly was one of the first companies to sign on in support of the Central Indiana COVID-19 Economic Relief Fund, including a $500,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation and a generous two-to-one match from the Foundation for eligible donations from Lilly employees and retirees.

That same year, Lilly joined United Way in signing the Indy Racial Equity Pledge.  

Lilly’s support allows United Way to act quickly in the face of a crisis and “move the needle” on improving the quality of pre-K education,” Smith said.  “Our partners at Lilly understand the challenges facing those in Central Indiana and across the U.S., and their unwavering support allows us to invest in systems that will affect long-term change, rather than ‘Band-Aid’ fixes for the short term.”  

Here’s a look at the numbers , illustrating some of Lilly’s achievements with United Way over the last six years, since their first partnership agreement was signed:  

  • More than $82.5 million was raised by Lilly employees and retirees across the country from 2016 through 2021. Over 400 local United Ways are supported by these dollars, including United Way of Central Indiana and United Way Worldwide. 
  • Over $300,000 in grant funding was awarded dollars given to nonprofits for volunteer projects through Lilly's Connecting Hearts at Home program.  
  • Nearly $120,000 was raised through the Goodwill Clothing Drive from 2018 to 2021.  
  • More than 550 volunteers participated in the New Employee Service Program, which connects new Lilly employees to volunteer opportunities at community partners across Central Indiana.  
  • 157 volunteers were recruited for United Way’s ReadUP program in 2016 to celebrate Lilly’s 140th birthday. Lilly employees and retirees make up at least a quarter of all ReadUP volunteers every year. The program sends volunteers into elementary schools across the region to read with third graders who are falling behind on their literacy skills. 
  • 2 Exceptional executives were recognized: In 2021, United Way named Tiffany Benjamin, former senior director of Social Impact at Lilly, its Exceptional Executive of the Year for her leadership and support of the Central Indiana COVID-19 Economic Relief Fund. Kirsten Casteel won the award in 2018.

It's partnerships like this that make United Way "America's Favorite Charity" (as ranked by Forbes) and one of the largest privately funded charities in the world. With 1.5 million volunteers, 6.8 donors and 45,000 corporate partners, the global United Way network is making life better for more than 48 million people in 1,100 communities across 37 countries and territories. Together, we are building resilient, equitable communities across the globe.

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