By: Jud Fisher—
MUNCIE— With its centennial anniversary just a decade away, Ball Brothers Foundation continues to explore innovative ways of accomplishing its historic goals. “Ninety years later, our founders’ priorities are more relevant than ever,” says Jud Fisher, president and chief operating officer of the private Muncie-based philanthropy. “Our mission hasn’t changed, but the way we live it out continues to evolve.”
That mission was established in 1926 when E.B. Ball—Fisher’s great-grandfather—created a trust of more than $3 million, which upon his death became the bedrock of the family foundation. Surviving family members managed the funds and added to them, a tradition that subsequent generations have followed. Assets this year will total approximately $160 million, a number that has enabled the foundation’s current board of directors, including representatives of the founding family, to award nearly 80 grants paying out $7.25 million. “That’s the highest amount of grant dollars given to organizations in our history,” notes Jim Fisher, BBF chairman and chief executive officer.
Guiding principles handed down from the original Ball brothers specify the foundation’s geographic service area and suggest general topics worthy of financial support. Grantmaking is limited to programs and initiatives located in Indiana, with priority given to organizations that benefit the quality of life in Delaware County. Issues of interest and concern include arts and culture, education, the environment, health, human services and general public benefit.
“Our founders dreamed big dreams,” says Jud Fisher. “Today we do the same thing, but we’re carefully measured risk-takers. Most of the grants we make are fairly ‘sure bets’ to well-run nonprofits; others may be riskier but have the potential of major payoffs for the community. Philanthropy often is the only source of flexible and patient capital for nonprofit organizations, and we take that seriously. Our grants come only after careful research and consideration.”
Historically, some of the most ambitious BBF grants have resulted in the most sizable returns on investment. Examples include:
- Ball Memorial Hospital began as an early project proposed by E.B. Ball. Today, Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital is ranked among the top 10 hospitals in the state and is host to the largest physician-training program outside of Indianapolis.
- Ball State University, once a struggling teachers’ college purchased by two of the Ball brothers and given to the state in 1918, now has an enrollment of over 20,000 students.
- Minnetrista, built with foundation funds and located close to the historic Ball family homes, serves as a community gathering space and favorite destination for visitors from across East Central Indiana and beyond.
- The Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County traces its origins to a challenge by Ed Ball in 1985. If area donors would commit $1 million to form a community foundation, the Ball family and Ball Brothers Foundation would match the gifts dollar for dollar. Last year the community foundation marked its 30th anniversary and often works in partnership with BBF on major projects and initiatives.
- Cardinal Greenway, proposed by employees at Ball Corporation and supported by BBF staff, moved from concept to reality with help from foundation funds in the early 1990s. Today it is Indiana’s longest span of recreational trail and a major quality-of-life amenity.
Although Ball Brothers Foundation assets have grown substantially, so have the needs and opportunities within its service area. In its long history the foundation has learned by forging collaborations, connecting grantees with one another, pooling resources and leveraging funds, it can bring about positive change. For that reason, the BBF board and staff have expanded their roles beyond that of grantmaker. As a community catalyst, “The foundation is positioned to convene groups to help tackle important issues and challenges. We often work behind-the-scenes connecting organizations with one another and helping create synergy,” says Jud Fisher. “We view our grantees as the experts. Our role is to provide them with financial support, research, and ongoing encouragement as we partner to make a positive impact on the community.”
BBF recently hosted a 90th anniversary celebration for board members at the E.B. Ball Center, the site of the foundation’s first board meeting in 1926. In reflecting on the significance of the anniversary, Jud Fisher noted, “As one of the nation’s oldest private family foundations, we are honored to carry on the legacies of those who have come before us. We are honored to continue to support organizations and projects that are helping to improve the community where our ancestors lived and worked. Furthermore, we are humbled when we think of our work as helping to pave the way for generations of Ball family members who will come after us and preserve this legacy of stewardship and generosity in our community.”
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