After graduating in 2015 with a master’s in philanthropic studies and certificate in nonprofit management, Kyla McEntire has served as the Fund Manager at the Oaks Academy in Indianapolis for the past three years. Here, she talks about her journey through the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and how she applies the knowledge she learned into her professional life.
What is your background?
Kyla McEntire (KM): I grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from North Central High School. I went to undergrad at The College of Wooster in Ohio and graduated cum laude with a degree in political science with a concentration in international relations and a minor in philosophy. During my time at Wooster, I had two internships that sparked my curiosity about the world of philanthropy. One was at Amnesty International in Chicago and the other was on the corporate partnership team here in Indy at the Children’s Museum. Both organizations relied heavily on donor support in one way or another and had incredibly important “missions.” After those experiences, I knew I wanted to be a nonprofit professional that raised support for a cause in which I believed.
What brought you to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy?
KM: After being in Ohio for undergrad, I wanted to explore graduate school options closer to home and with a focused passion for philanthropy, the school seemed like such a great choice. The deciding factor between this school and other graduate programs were the graduate assistant opportunities available to students in Indy; I was excited about simultaneously taking classes while being a practitioner in the nonprofit world.
What was your favorite class and/or faculty member? How did classes help foster practical knowledge?
KM: My favorite class was human resources with Dr. Debra Mesch. I felt like most of the class content for the program was great, but incredibly cerebral/theoretical. The HR class was different and “hands-on.” Our main project allowed us to do a deep dive case study with a local nonprofit and I felt like I was able to read material for class and put it to use through that project, while making connections and building relationships with other Indy nonprofit professionals.
Any internships/specific areas of study? How did that help you with career goals?
KM: My time with Rob Smith at the Eli Lilly Corporate Foundation was eye-opening. Up unto that point, I’d only seen nonprofits from the fundraising side. I’d always imagined that being a “grantmaker” or with a corporate foundation would be so much easier, but I was wrong. Saying no to fabulous ideas wasn’t enjoyable and trying to compare apples and orange groves by developing a hierarchy of needs to determine which program/project was the most “deserving” never became easy. As someone on the fundraising side now, I have patience for corporate sponsors, but also have a passion for opening up lines of communication between nonprofits and companies that support them.
What are you doing now?
KM: In August of this year (2018) I will have been at The Oaks Academy for three years on their development team. The Oaks is an independent school in downtown Indy that provides a classical education to a student body that is intentionally a mix of race and class. We serve 50 percent low-income students and more than 80 percent of our students are on some type of scholarship. We’re a private school with a public mission, and have a large philanthropic need.
As the Oaks Fund Manager, I have a portfolio of donors, engage our alumni and corporate sponsors, support events, and lead stewardship for our team. It’s great to be on the frontlines of fundraising for an education-related cause committed to diversity!
Can you talk about the seminars on philanthropy that you’ve worked on recently?
KM: My colleague Sara Fichtner and I were inspired by a Women’s Philanthropy Institute event we attended last fall. It was a women-led conversation, but men were in the audience. At The Oaks, we’ve had “women’s conversations” in the past, but as the title suggests, only women attended. We wanted to give it a bit of a refresh and continue to have women-led conversations, but encourage women AND MEN to attend. I’ve been trying to engage our female donor base in an intentional way at The Oaks and this event series seemed like a strong starting point. To get this program off the ground, Sara and I created a proposal for the series, advocated for internal buy-in, and most importantly utilized current relationships at The Oaks to recruit expert speakers. We also leveraged this event to expand relationships at The Oaks through those that attended and those who volunteered their time to speak/host these events.
For this particular year’s theme of philanthropy, we set out with the goal to equip everyone (especially women) on ways to engage in philanthropy in a sophisticated way. This started with a 30,000-foot view of what philanthropy can look like, on a local scale with the Junior League or informal giving circle, to statistics on women in philanthropy nationwide.
Our second and most recent event “Give Like the Pros Do,” was a deeper dive into individual giving for the everyday giver. We know that those who are middle class and/or don’t have financial planners or wealth advisors, might not have access to the tips and tricks utilized by high-net worth donors. We wanted to remove that barrier. The Oaks was built on meaningful gifts of all sizes, and just because you aren’t writing large checks doesn’t mean you can’t be intentionally giving or using tax strategy to leverage your impact. Also, we marketed this event toward women because as shared by our speakers at the event, most of the time women aren’t always at the table making financial decisions let alone philanthropic ones. By encouraging women to take a seat at the table, or at their financial meeting, we’re hopefully empowering women to make informed and intentional philanthropic decisions and advocate for giving to the causes they care about.
What advice/suggestions do you have for alumni or students wanting to begin events like this and/or foster conversations about philanthropy?
KM: I would say events are a lot of work and won’t raise you large amounts of money in the short-term. Events aren’t always the answer or a good idea. HOWEVER, to evaluate the success of events you have to look at the relationship capital they can create. Also, bigger isn’t always better. These conversation events have been intimate and it allows me and my team to connect on a deeper level with those that attend and better the opportunity for follow-up.
What are your future career goals?
KM: In the future, I want to continue growing as a professional and always be connected to a cause making a positive difference. As long as challenges continue to pop up and I learn from them, I’ll be happy! I haven’t set out to be the CEO or executive director by a certain date nor do I want to land at a certain organization or company. Instead, I try to focus on being a strong leader even if I’m not in charge and ensure my relationships as a professional and employee are built on a meaningful foundation.