When undergraduate student David Johnson saw the Joseph and Matthew Payton Philanthropic Studies Library at IUPUI, he knew that philanthropy was the field he wanted to study.
The nontraditional student returned to school after working for the post office for several years, knowing that he wanted to make a difference. He knew that shifting from working long hours to taking classes and doing homework would be an adjustment, but he also knew that it could lead to “something greater.”
Johnson was introduced to philanthropy at a young age. He remembers being involved in community-building activities with his family, including fundraising and canvassing the streets when Hurricane Katrina hit the southeastern United States in 2005.
He learned then that helping in small ways was philanthropic.
As he grew up, Johnson originally wanted to work in politics, but realized over time that he wanted to be involved with organizations making immediate impact. He found nonprofit work the best way to do so.
Before he even began at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Johnson started a nonprofit organization to address issues he saw in the community. Spring Oath maps community and neighborhood resources so that individuals and families can find easily-accessible resources and help if they need it.
“I want to help build neighborhood relationships and strengthen communities,” Johnson said. “We can do that by connecting people to their neighbors, who know how and where to access needed resources.”
At the school, Johnson is learning about the tactics, research, and knowledge to help build his organization.
“By going to school here, I’m able to apply what I’ve learned directly to my nonprofit, in order to grow and expand it to be responsive to people and communities,” he said.
That knowledge accumulation has been assisted through his interactions with multiple faculty members, including Patricia Snell Herzog, Ph.D.
“She has a great deal of knowledge about many different areas about philanthropy,” Johnson explained. “She’s also given me practical information and advice about philanthropy, and has answered a number of questions I have. I’ve really enjoyed learning from her.”
Johnson has also jumped at extra opportunities to participate at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. He competed in the David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Leadership and Giving Competition last fall, and won the opportunity to visit a nonprofit of his choice in order to learn about “client perspective,” a tool used to see if nonprofits are committed, foster a culture, and provide quality service that responds properly to an individual’s needs.
Johnson also participated virtually in the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s study away course this past spring with The Patterson Foundation.
“There are a lot of foundations that work with the school, so I want to understand better how they work and how they add value to the sector,” he said. “How do they think about their partners? I want to see how that industry operates within the other ones. That’s something I’m interested in seeing because once you know the players, it’s better for you to maneuver in the field.”
He also looks forward to taking advantage of other opportunities at the school.
“When I returned to school, I made a commitment to make school my work,” Johnson said. “I attend as many events and programs as I can, because I want to learn and grow as much as I can.”
Long term, Johnson hopes to continue to grow personally and professionally, and eventually earn a Ph.D.
“At the school, I’m in an environment that’s conducive to growth and is helping me bridge my leadership,” he said. “I can continue to build the nonprofit that I have, meet new people who can help me, and give back.”
He encourages students to make the most of their time:
“Ask questions while you’re in class. Participate in extra opportunities. Earn what you want out of your education. It helps you enjoy school more. You’re learning what you want to learn and will become a better person and member of society as a result.”