On November 4, 2014, Kelly Mitchell won the election to become Indiana’s 55th Treasurer of State. Four years earlier, she graduated from the then-Center on Philanthropy (now Lilly Family School of Philanthropy) with a master’s degree in philanthropic studies.
What brought her to the school, what took her to public office, and how is she using her degree now?
From 1997 to 2004, Mitchell served as Cass County’s commissioner. During her second term, she began working at Logansport Memorial Hospital as its community liaison and proposal writer. The hospital sent her to the Center on Philanthropy to learn about fundraising and proposal writing.
“During one of the trainings, they took us on a tour of the library. I saw a large display on women philanthropists, and started reading about these women and the difference they made. I made a vow to myself that if I could ever come down and earn a master’s degree in philanthropic studies, I would,” Treasurer Mitchell explained.
Fast forward to 2004, when she moved to Indianapolis to work in the private sector for an engineering firm.
“I was here and IUPUI was right across the street, so I applied and was admitted,” Treasurer Mitchell said. “It took a long time to complete the program since I took one course at a time, but I absolutely loved the program and loved learning that knowledge.”
During her time at the school, Treasurer Mitchell worked a great deal with her advisor, Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky.
“With Dr. Lenkowsky, I enjoyed learning about civil society and why it’s important,” she said. “I worked that into my internship as well, spending 10 days in Kathmandu, Nepal with a nonprofit organization that focused on building and supplying children’s homes and training schools.
“We also worked with Thai women from the streets who were then trained in jewelry-making and hair design and care.
“Being on the front lines and seeing the powerful effects philanthropy can have impacted me a great deal.”
During her time at the school, Treasurer Mitchell was asked by the then-state treasurer to run the local government investment pool. Within that role, she worked with local governments across Indiana, offering them investment options.
She continued to work with those funds after she graduated from the master’s degree program, imagining at that time that she would eventually work in the nonprofit sector.
However, after working in the Treasurer’s office for six years, Treasurer Mitchell knew that the current person in the constitutionally term-limited position would be unable to run again.
“I knew I would need to make a job change in some way,” she said. “I started thinking, ‘who will run for treasurer? I know this office. I know this is a place I can make a difference.’”
And so she ran in 2014, won, and has been making a difference ever since. It’s a different career path than what she initially intended after completing her master’s degree in philanthropic studies. However, Treasurer Mitchell continues to utilize the knowledge gained at the then-center in her current career.
“Whether or not you work in the nonprofit sector, understanding civil society and how the third sector creates change is very valuable,” she said.
“I chose a government office, but whether you’re in the government space or the nonprofit sector, we’re all here to help one another. Studying philanthropy gives you the tools to create ways to serve in multiple ways in the future.”
Treasurer Mitchell won re-election to her office last November, and she looks forward to continuing to serve the people of Indiana for another four years. After that, she hopes to combine her interests in philanthropic studies and strategic studies (another master’s degree she received from the U.S. Army War College): “I’m not sure what that looks like, but I think there will be many possibilities.”
Overall, she values the many experiences she had in her philanthropic studies program.
“I enjoyed building relationships with my fellow students and learning about the work they did in philanthropy and other areas,” Treasurer Mitchell said.
“In addition, understanding who gives and why, and what difference it makes matters. I still carry what I learned with me. It applies in surprising ways as we do government work, and I value that a great deal.
“It was a cherished, enjoyable experience. I’m really glad I earned the degree.”