Editor's Note: The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and The Patterson Foundation partnered on "The Future of the Philanthropic Sector," a special topics course for the school's students during the spring 2020 semester. The course connected students to The Patterson Foundation's innovative approach to philanthropy and nonprofits in the Sarasota area engaged in the foundation's initiatives through interactive online experiences.

Planning began last May to use The Patterson Foundation as a living laboratory for how philanthropy is changing. Course faculty Pamela Larsen Clarke and Marilyn Kuhn proposed the new elective course, "The Future of the Philanthropic Sector," approved for the Spring 2020 term. It included a week in Sarasota, embedding students into TPF's initiatives. Enrollment was competitive—24 students applying for ten spots.

On March 4, 2020, just 11 days before the ten Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy students and their two faculty were to arrive for the experiential extravaganza topping off their course, TPF finalized its action-packed experience. Students were coming during their spring break, so we included some fun with Siesta Key drum circle, theatre tickets, and Hob Nob and Linger Lodge experiences!

Less than a week before their arrival, we got the news.
Because of COVID-19, the university was canceling all travel for any affiliated course or program. Now what? We could have all walked away,
but that's not TPF or IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy philosophy.

Every planned experience was reviewed with partners and faculty to engage our intrepid students effectively. Both IU and TPF have used Zoom, but this deployment spurred even more creative uses.

Sara Leonard conducted an iPhone tour of Prospect Riding Center for Margin Mission Ignition. Beth Duda converted the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in-person focus groups to dozens of survey interviews. Initiative leaders worked with student teams, and students collaborated to prepare presentations. Together, IU students, faculty, and TPFers created excellence in virtual learning. Miraculously, all the students beamed in and spent hours interacting in virtual space, while inadvertently teaching the nonprofits the power of connecting using technology. We truly lived TPF new realities and possibilities.

We still wish we could have shared the beach drum circle (TPF even had a supply of drums ready), treated them to outstanding live theatre performances, and oh, yes, it wrinkled our brows that it was a beautiful beach week for their free time. But, together, we joyfully maximized the experiential value within the new realities we faced. It couldn't have happened without leadership and willingness to adapt and TPF's tenacious "stage-manager," Donna Puhalovich.

Learn more from the blogs crafted by each of the students affirming that experiential learning can be vibrant when people lean into the possibilities.


  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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