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Donor Spotlight: Carolyn Dederer

For Carolyn Dederer, she won’t get to see the fruits of her financial gift to Early Learning Indiana, but that is all part of her plan. In 2013, before finishing her tenure as President and Chief Executive Officer of Early Learning Indiana, Carolyn made a legacy gift commitment to the organization as part of the Next Century Society, a gift that would go to Early Learning Indiana upon her death.

“I had come to understand you can make a gift to things that are meaningful to you — whether that be your church, the cancer society or education — and you won’t miss that money because you’re going to be gone,” Carolyn explains. “It’s easier to do it in your will than while you’re still living and need the money. It’s a way to make a statement that says, ‘This was important to me.’”

Carolyn started her career in education at the age of 20. As a Head Start teacher, she developed a passion for early education and its impact on children. She later spent time doing community-based work and fundraising before getting a call in 1998 to lead Early Learning Indiana, at the time called Day Nursery Association. Carolyn was at the helm of Day Nursery for 15 years, before passing on the torch in 2013.

After a few years away, Carolyn became involved with Day Nursery Auxiliary. Day Nursery Auxiliary is a group of more than 150 members who support Early Learning Indiana’s programs by raising money, providing volunteer services and serving as community ambassadors for high-quality early learning. In recent years, the primary Auxiliary fundraiser has been the annual Style Show in late fall, an elegant luncheon, silent auction, pop-up shop and fashion show.

“The Auxiliary is a group of some of the dearest ladies there are,” Carolyn says. “They asked me if I would chair the annual Style Show event, and I agreed. I wanted to work hard to raise more money to make all our work worthwhile. We grew it from $30,000 to now $50,000 in income. I’m very proud of that.”

Now Carolyn is passionate about encouraging her fellow early childhood education supporters to join the Early Learning Indiana Next Century Society through a legacy gift.

“I could have given to the United Way or other large organizations I’ve been affiliated with, but Early Learning Indiana is local. Not having a million dollars to give away, I know that a gift of my size is a meaningful gift to an organization ELI’s size — it’s small enough that my gift will have an impact, and not so small that it cannot stand on its own two feet. It has capacity.”

Carolyn explained that giving through a legacy gift is often beneficial to the donor’s family as well, especially if giving from an individual retirement account (IRA) or other investments.

“I’m not a wealthy person, so I depend on my IRA and investments to provide income for me in my retirement, but when I’m done with them, I’ll be done with them. If I leave all of what’s left to my heirs, they will have to pay taxes on it. But if the benefactor is a nonprofit organization, then that money is tax exempt. I would rather give some to the causes I care about than have my family pay taxes on it.”

Carolyn understands many of her peers may be reluctant to sign the paperwork that commits them to a legacy gift, often unsure of what they will have left to give and knowing they won’t see the results. But she believes it’s all part of making a lasting impact.

“There will always be small children, and the early years are so important for learning. Even if early childhood education finally becomes publicly funded, which it really needs to do, there will always be a role for advocating for the importance of the early years in young children. That’s advocating for our future.

I like to think of it as investing, paying it forward. I believe in children, I believe in families, and I don’t think we should take them for granted.”

If you are interested in learning more about Early Learning Indiana’s Next Century Society and making a legacy gift, contact Early Learning Indiana Director of Development Kirsten Yeager at

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