Editor's Note: “Beyond the Check: The Patterson Foundation’s Approach to Innovative Philanthropy” was a one-credit course offered by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy designed to dive deep into TPF with its president and CEO Debra Jacobs.

An impactful leadership-development experience based on TPF's approach, the course explored network building, values-driven work, creating value beyond the check, systems thinking, the balance between foundation leadership and community leadership, and the importance of communication.

Assignments and discussions challenged participants to think about what's possible in philanthropy when one looks beyond how things have always been done. The value-heavy, six-week journey through life in a private foundation featured Zoom sessions with Debra Jacobs, TPF Fellow Hannah Saeger Karnei, and TPF consultant Donna Puhalovich.

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Last fall, Hannah Saeger Karnei and I were asked by Debra Jacobs to co-instruct a newly created course called Beyond the Check offered by The Patterson Foundation to students at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (IUPUI). I was not surprised that TPF collaborated with IUPUI to connect with future leaders in philanthropy and share TPF’s innovative ideas. I was surprised that I was asked to co-instruct this college course. In the end, the words “co-instruct” lost its significance because I became a “co-learner.”

With Debra at the helm and Hannah and me holding the reins, we created six meaningful classes that met once a week for 90 minutes. To our students, our classes unfolded seamlessly. We started on time and kept engaging conversations moving until the last minute of class. They did not know that behind the scenes were three newbies curiously learning about CANVAS, modules, syllabuses, grading, and all things college. We developed a new respect for college professors.

As classes progressed and my job as co-instructor became a comfortable weekly position, I started to connect with the students and rediscover the material covered in a new light. Students ranged in age, work experience, and geographical location. It was fascinating to listen to their unique experiences and thought-provoking discussions. I found myself taking notes throughout the class. Debra led the discussion and created an environment where everyone contributed. Without knowing it, I was becoming a student. I was asked to share some of my experiences and slowly became more invested in the conversations. This experience reinforced how I work and strive toward strengthening communities, and I learned other innovative approaches to use. I was grateful for the reminders of finding mutual aspirations and why it is important to learn and share from each other continually.

I would normally say that it has been more than 30 years since I have been a student because I always related a student to being someone in a formal educational setting. Today I use that word more freely as I experienced how I became part co-instructor and part student in the Beyond the Check course. I am reminded that I am always evolving, and I will always be a learner. It’s what I look forward to every day. As Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” If that is true, I will be eternally youthful!

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