Member Spotlight: Beth Casselman, The Clowes Fund
This member spotlight features our interview with Beth Casselman, executive director of The Clowes Fund.
The Clowes Fund is a family foundation that fulfills its mission and values by awarding grants in three fields of interest: arts; education and social services, including immigrant services; and workforce development. The Fund concentrates its support in Indianapolis, Indiana, as well as New England. Since inception in 1952, the Fund has awarded nearly $125 million in grants.
How’d you get started in this work?
A GIFT from God’s hand (or dumb luck if you prefer that perspective). I studied journalism, intent upon working in public relations, which I did for 12 years…until Lilly Endowment announced the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) initiative to boost the development of community foundations throughout the state. I threw my hat in the ring and became the inaugural CEO of the Community Foundation of Boone County (CFBC). Turns out that PR expertise was useful in launching a complex new organization. Fast forward nearly 30 years and here I am.
What’s kept you there?
At CFBC I delighted in helping donors achieve their philanthropic goals. I was also exhausted by the demands of running a fledgling organization that had to raise operating money, serve as a neutral convener related to community needs, and make grants that would meet those needs and please donors. I am celebrating 20 years at The Clowes Fund, a private family foundation. The idea of being able to focus on one family’s grantmaking goals, sans the challenge of fundraising, was too attractive to pass. I stayed because my grantmaking style seemed to be appreciated by the Fund’s board and grant partners. I am fortunate to have had a board that provided guidance, encouragement, resources, and freedom to develop rich relationships with grantees.
What’s next on your agenda (workwise)?
A successful succession by June 2021. I came to The Clowes Fund when leadership transitioned from second- to third-generation family members. The board had three key goals: (1) To develop a more focused, accessible, transparent, and effective grantmaking program, (2) to engage the fourth generation, and (3) to fulfill the Fund’s stewardship responsibility for the Clowes Collection of art by transferring it to the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields rather than passing that burden of duty to Gen IV. The first two goals have been accomplished—in fact, we’re working toward Gen V engagement—and the third goal will culminate in June 2021, which seems like the right moment to cede my responsibilities as well.
Tell us what you do in your work (pretend I’m a fifth-grader).
I get paid to give away other people’s money! How cool is that?! Seriously, it’s a privilege and a sobering responsibility. What’s not in the job description of a family foundation CEO—but which is very much a part of the work—is playing the role of family counselor and confidante, which is also a privilege and sobering responsibility. You don’t want to be the CEO under whose watch friction over the foundation causes the family to implode! Rather, you want the shared work to be a uniting force for good.
Who/What inspires you?
I’ve had the opportunity to employ several graduate assistants from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. I’ve learned so much from those students through the years, and I continue to be inspired by the amazing work they are doing today; e.g. Angie Carr Klitzsch, president/CEO of EmployIndy and a 2019 Indianapolis Business Journal Woman of Influence; Kathy Souchet-Downey of Congressman Andre Carson’s office; Jennifer Zeisler of the ECMC Foundation; and Kari McCann Boutell, president of the Iowa Council of Foundations, just to name a few.
What’s your favorite on-screen guilty pleasure?
I am an entertainment industry awards show junkie: Golden Globes, Oscars, SAG, Emmys, Tonys…watching while downing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey…pure bliss.
The Clowes Fund board hired Beth Casselman in 2000 as its first executive staff leader and charged her with developing a more focused and transparent grantmaking program. Beth’s career in philanthropy spans more than 25 years following a stint in public relations. She majored in journalism, earned a Bachelor of Science from Butler University, and earned professional certificates from the Grantmaking School at Grand Valley State University and the Fundraising School of Indiana University.
In 1992, Beth became the founding executive of the Community Foundation of Boone County (CFBC); then, 15 years after leaving that post, she returned to serve on the CFBC board, retiring as board chair in 2016. She is past chair of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance (IPA) board, United Way of Central Indiana’s Boone County advisory board and served on executive search committees for IPA, the CFBC and Boone County’s United Way. Beth served on the National Center for Family Philanthropy Friends of the Family advisory committee and the Asset Funders Network Indiana Chapter steering committee and has contributed to a variety of philanthropic conferences and publications. She was honored in 2012 to receive IPA’s Hazelett Award for Leadership in Grantmaking, which recognizes integrity and mentoring of other professionals.
Outside the office, you are likely to find Beth in a rocking chair with a good book, a cat on her lap, and a dog at her feet; hiking with her husband; or otherwise celebrating life with family and friends. She is most grateful to be mom of two grown sons and a daughter-in-law, and Granny to one precious granddaughter…so far.
Do you have questions or ideas for collaboration? Reach out using IPA's Member Directory or connect with Beth on LinkedIn.
IPA's Member Spotlight Series
IPA Member Spotlights are written by IPA members to share their personality, purpose, and passion for philanthropy. By following this series, you can connect with peers doing work similar to yours and find opportunities for collaboration.