For The Patterson Foundation (TPF), a fully endowed charitable foundation in Sarasota, Florida, a strong commitment to bringing people, organizations, and communities together illustrates how the foundation hopes to create impact.
This commitment didn’t spring out of just anywhere, though. It was carefully developed and nurtured by President and CEO Debra Jacobs when she first took the helm of TPF during its creation in January 2009.
The first step Jacobs took? Deciding to spend time exploring and figuring out TPF’s core values.
“We knew we wanted to be intentional about crafting these values, and we had the responsibility to make an impact. Once you decide on your core values, it’s important to know them and live them in every decision you make,” Jacobs said.
After defining its core values of flexibility, opportunity, and responsibility, TPF chose nine legacy initiatives that ranged from new media journalism to support of veterans. While the foundation didn’t plan to focus on these initiatives forever, Jacobs knew that they would lay the groundwork for future endeavors.
“We realized during our first year that we wanted to strengthen people, organizations, and communities,” she said. “Throughout our existence, we’ve created and learned as we go, all while connecting, learning, sharing, evolving, and strengthening partners, their communities, and philanthropy as a whole.
“We recognize that change happens at the speed of trust, and our mindset and approach includes reaching out to others to build that trust from the ground up.
“It’s at times a difficult and slow process to work cross-sector in order to engage business, nonprofits, governments, and media, but TPF commits every day to being ‘radically inclusive.’ ”
The results are clear. One of its current initiatives, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, serves as TPF’s implementation of the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading that empowers more than 300 communities to ensure that their children are reading by on grade level by the end of third grade. Research shows that two-thirds of children who can’t read proficiently by fourth grade are on the pipeline to prison or welfare.
Utilizing its unique and innovative model, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is one of six GLR community efforts in the nation awarded “Pacesetter Status” in all categories for the national Campaign, and the only one working across four, very diverse counties.
“If we can develop shared aspirations and operate from a mindset of collective abundance, we can have impact,” Jacobs said. “If people become aware about collaborative approaches to doing philanthropy, we can accelerate new conversations and create change in more places.”
The impetus to create change in many places developed a spark for a new idea: an initiative that would engage and embed young emerging practitioners in philanthropy at TPF and help develop their skillsets and network while accelerating new conversations about philanthropy around the country.
The spark became TPF’s Fellows Program. Jacobs and consultant Dr. Laurey Stryker knew that they wanted to partner with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to recruit recent master’s degree alumni, individuals who are knowledgeable and trained in the theory of philanthropy who also have practical experiences working in the field through graduate assistantships, internships, and jobs.
“We wanted to have recent alumni work in our various initiatives to learn about and share the knowledge we’ve learned over the years, while also helping us enhance our work through their learning at the school,” Jacobs explained.
Inaugural Fellow Hannah Saeger Karnei has done just that. She’s gained a spectrum of skills, building new muscles in project management, people management, and budget management. She’s learning about the art and science of cultivating relationships and building connective tissue with people in Sarasota, across the country, and around the world.
Saeger Karnei has gained deeper understanding about the “possibilities” of philanthropy in her schoolwork and her work at TPF.
“I’m working for a foundation, but having the broad liberal arts education from the school has been incredibly valuable. For example, I’ve been able to put myself in the shoes of fundraisers whom we collaborate with to understand some of the challenges they face,” she said.
Working for TPF has also helped Saeger Karnei see possibilities and challenges in every initiative she’s worked on. She values the knowledge she’s learned from TPF staff and consultants: “Each individual has something special to share about the initiative he or she works on. Whenever you come into contact with someone who’s really passionate about what they do, you take away some of that spark with you.”
Those same individuals also drive Saeger Karnei’s passion for philanthropy. “What’s interesting about philanthropy is the human aspect,” she said. “Why are people in need? What do they need? Why are people interested in helping others? What inspires them to reach out and make connections that will then create a better world? Working with individuals passionate about answering those questions has been really great.”
Long-term, she hopes that the diverse graduates of the Fellowship program can create a network and demonstrate the power of operating from a possibilities mindset.
“I hope we’re able to share our sparks with each other in the future,” she explained. “Hopefully, those sparks can light some fires across the country and revolutionize the impact that we are able to have across multiple sectors.”
And advice for Lilly Family School of Philanthropy alumni interested in the program?
“It’s an experience of ‘grow’ more than ‘do.’ You’re going to be flexing muscles you didn’t know before, and the muscles you had before will grow stronger,” Jacobs said.
Added Saeger Karnei: “New possibilities will arise all of the time, so your work will constantly change. You will be challenged throughout this process. This is a place though, where your education can go hand-in-hand and help you learn and grow your network.
“It’s been an incredible experience. By investing in the potential of myself to achieve better things, I’m able to have a greater impact on the philanthropic sector.”