At a recent philanthropic event, a woman in charge of generating revenue for a large national nonprofit asked about my work with The Patterson Foundation. Actually, the direct quote was, “What’s this ‘Lens’ thing, anyway?”
I laughed out loud. Every tribe has its own dialect, shaped by geography and philosophy, and TPF is no different. Our vocabulary sometimes takes a little getting used to because TPF isn’t a typical foundation.
Take “the Lens thing” for example. TPF has three lenses – Communication, Finance and Technology, which I manage. That means we view our initiatives – and potential initiatives – through those lenses. Think of them as a classic Venn diagram – unique areas of expertise that overlap in different ways depending on the need. Each circle is managed by someone who brings a specific perspective to the party.
TPF has more than a dozen initiatives. (I won’t give a definitive number because, by the time you read this, that number will have changed.) These initiatives are designed to one day leave the TPF incubator and fly free, join another flock or morph into something new. But each of them, while they’re in the TPF brood, gets extra jet fuel in those three areas.
Speaking only for the Technology Lens, that takes all kinds of shapes.
With New Media Journalism, it means providing input on technology platforms and the possibilities of those platforms while NMJ was building the Journalism Accelerator. It’s also meant using social-listening tools such as Radian6 at community events – leveraging technology to hear what’s being said and using the tool to find thought leaders in the crowd.
For Cultural Connections with Students, it’s meant working with developers on how an open-source blog software can be tuned up to create Ed Explore SRQ– then going in as a site administrator to see how data is flowing in both directions so the initiative manager has a better view of the site’s impact.
With Caregiver Connect, it means working with partners at Share the Care on building a new platform and helping them see that, if it’s built with the long-view in mind at the start, scalability won’t be an issue.
With TPF itself, it’s meant helping our Designation Committee get comfortable with using iPads for reports, rather than endless amounts of paper that later gets shredded. It also means connecting TPF with the broader foundation space to explore how funders can leverage technology to increase their impact.
Sometimes it’s connecting initiative managers with developers or tech-audit folks. Sometimes it’s being a sounding board. Sometimes it’s about making sure tech jargon from a partner doesn’t outpace reality.
But to my friend at the cocktail party, I explained it a little more succinctly: “It means that TPF doesn’t just give money away. It also supplies intellect and energy to your initiative. It means that the money comes with – depending on your viewpoint – fringe benefits or strings attached.”
She thought about it and then said, “That’s not how most foundations act.”
I clinked her glass and said, “Exactly.”