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 2022 semester. The course connects students to The Patterson Foundation's innovative approach to philanthropy and nonprofits in the Sarasota area engaged in the foundation's initiatives.


For our Study Away course with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and The Patterson Foundation (TPF), my classmate Jada and I were selected to work on two of TPF's initiatives: Digital Access for All and Aspirations to Actions. These initiatives demonstrate how TPF invests time and expertise into facilitating community-strengthening collaborations instead of simply writing checks to nonprofits. Below are summaries of my experiences with each initiative, including descriptions of how you can join TPF, Jada, and me in More Than Money Philanthropy.

Digital Access for All
Take a look around you. How many devices do you see? Within a foot of where I am sitting, I have a fully functional laptop and a newly refurbished iPhone. I also have the internet connection necessary to use these devices and the technical skills needed to efficiently complete my homework, access important resources, and stay connected with family and friends. Sadly, many people lack one or more of these essential digital access elements, which TPF describes as follows:

  • Connectivity -- The ability to connect to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.
  • Devices -- Possessing the right device for one's needs.
  • Skills/Support -- Having access to the necessary training and support to use devices and programs effectively while solving technical issues when they arise.
TPF's Digital Access for All initiative was created to provide individuals with the aforementioned elements of digital access. As support for this initiative, Jada and I assisted TPF staff and Digital Navigators (representatives from local nonprofits who have been trained in digital navigation by TPF) with an enrollment event for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal program that allows eligible families to receive up to $30 off their internet bills each month as well as up to $100 off a device purchase. In addition to helping families apply for ACP, Digital Navigators at the event also connected community members with resources for computer literacy. Thus, individuals received connectivity, device, and skills/support assistance all at one event.

Among other event responsibilities, I had the privilege of interviewing Digital Navigators regarding why they serve. For example, Ben and Sam from CareerSource Suncoast described how CareerSource patrons utilize the organization's computer lab because they do not own computers. Without their own devices, these individuals lack quick access to important resources and convenient opportunities to practice basic computer skills (which are critical in many jobs). Ben and Sam are grateful that TPF's Digital Access for All initiative helps individuals purchase affordable devices and receive necessary computer skills training.

Bonnie, Darlene, and Angela from Multicultural Health Institute shared that children in underserved communities do not have the devices necessary for their schooling and that older adults in these communities still use flip phones due to limited technological knowledge. Bonnie, Darlene, and Angela appreciate how TPF's Digital Access for All initiative helps to combat these issues.

TPF staff and Digital Navigators inspired Jada and me to take digital access solutions back to Indiana. For example, I intend to inform my local community foundation about ACP so the foundation can spread enrollment resources to all of my county's nonprofits. If you would like to join us in helping families access affordable internet and devices, please consider sharing ACP outreach resources.

Aspirations to Actions
TPF's Aspirations to Actions initiative was established to build trust within communities and help communities collaborate to achieve their aspirations. Thus, TPF hosts cross-sector Community Conversations between individuals, businesses, nonprofits, government, and the media, leading to community-strengthening actions.

My Study Away class had the privilege of participating in a Community Conversation simulation in which we were each given a specific community stakeholder role to play. We were then asked, "What are your aspirations/concerns?" "What are you already doing to help achieve your aspirations?" "What can we do to more fully achieve these aspirations?" and "Who else needs to be a part of this conversation?"

As an advocate for collaboration in philanthropy, I was excited to learn how integral partnerships between community stakeholders are to TPF's philanthropic approach. Each stakeholder brings their own unique observations, skills, resources, and networks to the table, opening up many more possibilities for community-strengthening solutions. I encourage you to consider cross-sector partnerships the next time you seek change in your own community.

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