Photo: Alexa Carr

Finding My Place in Philanthropy

Posted on July 31, 2023 by Alexa Carr, TPF Fellow 2023/24

Editor's Note: Alexa Carr is The Patterson Foundation's 9th Fellow. She graduated in May 2023 with her Philanthropic Studies MA from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Carr also completed her undergraduate years at IUPUI— majoring in biology and philanthropic studies. Additionally, she completed her Certificate in Fund Raising Management through The Fund Raising School in 2023.

Alexa is excited to work alongside people who are passionate about making an equitable and intentional philanthropic impact in the community and looks forward to learning from the team and developing as an innovative leader in the nonprofit sector.


Growing up, I was fairly certain that I wanted to be a doctor—so much so that I went to IUPUI as a pre-med biology student, worked in a neuroscience research lab, served on the executive board of Jagathon: IUPUI’s Dance Marathon (a student-led pediatric research fundraising organization), and volunteered weekly at the Riley Hospital for Children Emergency Room. All those things I did during my first three years in college were to prepare me for medical school (and because I honestly loved them), but they led me to the philanthropic studies program at IUPUI.

Like many Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (LFSOP) students, I discovered philanthropic studies well into my college career. I was introduced to LFSOP through Jagathon after mentioning in an executive board meeting that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to medical school anymore, but I was still passionate about healthcare. I was encouraged to take Introduction to Philanthropic Studies, and at first, I wasn’t sure about it. I had never considered the possibility of philanthropy or nonprofit management as a career. Despite this, I ended up enrolling in the course. I am so thankful that I did.

Although I absolutely love science and ended up finishing my biology degree, I felt at home in philanthropic studies courses in a way I never quite did in science. I was good at science, but I was never as passionate about it in the way I am about philanthropy. It was a “when you know, you know” moment.

The realm of healthcare was still exciting to me, but I realized that with philanthropy, I didn’t have to give it up. I also came to see that it didn’t have to be as big of a change as it seemed; the things that I loved—like Jagathon and volunteering at Riley Hospital—were honestly as related to philanthropy as they were to biology. As a Dance Marathon participant, I had already been fundraising for pediatric research and Child Life at Riley Hospital for years. Through Child Life in the Emergency Room, I had been volunteering and spreading the word about volunteering there. Jagathon and volunteering made me realize how important services outside of medical care—like research and Child Life—are to the kids and their families while they’re at the hospital. It also made me realize how much I wanted and felt driven to advocate for better and more equitable healthcare policies and practices.

Despite my realization that many of the things I was already doing fell into the philanthropy bucket, I wanted to get more formal experiences in philanthropy as a potential career. There were so many organizations and causes I was passionate about, so I reached out to them and my academic advisor. Through these connections, I served on the Donor Experience Team at the IU Health Foundation as the Fundraising and Development Fellow at PATTERN and as the Community Programs Graduate Assistant for Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. Each experience taught me so much–about the nonprofit sector and myself. With each experience, I reaffirm my passion for philanthropy. It’s so energizing to wake up and do work that I care deeply for every day.

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