At The Patterson Foundation (TPF), philanthropy is approached as a tool to discover possibilities rather than solutions. TPF stands, as of today, quite unique in the independent foundation world in that there are no grant cycles, no requests for proposals, no timing limitations to its funding relationships.


Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about the Ford Foundation’s BUILD Program from the expert herself, Kathy Reich. If you’re unfamiliar with the BUILD Initiative, it is, in essence, a portfolio of longer-term, capacity building grants in a 1-4 model: one year of planning, four years of implementation.

On the surface, The Patterson Foundation and Ford Foundation may seem dissimilar in the extreme. TPF will celebrate ten years of strengthening the community in 2020 – Ford Foundation has been operating for over 80 years. The Patterson Foundation endowment is in the range of $230 million; Ford is one of the largest private foundations in the world with over $12 billion (with a B! as my dad says) in assets. The Patterson Foundation, while supporting some efforts on a national and global level, is primarily focused on the four-county region around Sarasota, FL, while Ford works extensively across the globe. 

And yet, the BUILD program is proof that there is common ground beyond tax classification. By strict definition, TPF has one focused organizational capacity-building initiative, Margin & Mission Ignition. However, if you consider the purpose of capacity building and what it means in behavior, values, and attitude of philanthropy, TPF and the BUILD program are generally aligned. 

From my perspective, the true commonality between TPF and the BUILD program comes down to one quote: “Change happens at the speed of trust.” The Patterson Foundation and Ford Foundation are not the only organizations investing in what I would argue is “trust-based funding” rather than capacity building. This type of funding, which involves extensive due diligence and the ability, to some degree, to let go of ownership plays to an alternative answer to the question we should all be asking, “How does change happen?”

Change happens when organizations doing the work are confident that they can make payroll. When organizations are confident in the ability to cover the mundane and invest in their people, possibilities begin to open. What was once a dream for someday when sufficient support would appear is now a plan to put into action because nonprofits trust that they have partners who know change takes time.

In the philanthropic landscape (which, by the way, includes all organizations working for “the public good,” not just foundations), there is an infinite number of smart and passionate people. So I urge you to contemplate, who said funding needs to look like it does? What could be possible if we consider the infrastructures that would accomplish the greatest good, rather than how we think “the good” should look?

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


Comments (1)

  • Nancy Saeger

    Nancy Saeger

    22 November 2019 at 18:12 | #

    Thank you Hannah for a great explanation of the similarities between these organizations.


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