From the end of October through mid-December, I’ve had the opportunity to support The Patterson Foundation’s (TPF) President and CEO, Debra Jacobs, with her instruction of “Beyond the Check: The Patterson Foundation’s Approach to Innovative Philanthropy,” a master’s level one-credit virtual course with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (LFSOP). Through six classes, various assignments, and pre-work, the course uses components of TPF’s innovative approach to philanthropy to challenge students to consider alternative and more effective ways of achieving impact in the philanthropic sector.

The “Beyond the Check” course is part of a larger initiative at TPF called Advancing Philanthropic Leadership (APL). Launched in 2018, APL is a collaboration with LFSOP, the world’s first school dedicated solely to the study and teaching of philanthropy. APL encompasses a series of creative efforts to strengthen the capabilities of emerging philanthropic leaders. Within each of the endeavors, aspiring leaders have the opportunity to build their willingness, capacity, and foresight to incorporate innovative strategies for long-term change.

Beyond the Check: The Patterson Foundation’s Approach to Innovative Philanthropy” is one of two electives offered by TPF at LFSOP, and the electives are one of five different APL endeavors, which also include the Fellows Program, TPF Beyond, Nonprofit Internship Program, and TPF Tuition Reimbursement Program.

The success of the partnership between TPF and LFSOP is rooted in the power of practical academics. An academic approach to philanthropy allows the sector to zoom out, understand itself in context, reflect on historic trends, and connect concepts and terms to lived experiences. Philanthropic leaders benefit because we discover promising practices, learn valuable tools, and grow our ability to make sense of our time in the field.

Academics are limited, however, without practice. When I first started as an M.A. student in Philanthropic Studies at the LFSOP after around six years out of college, I recall how much more relevant the learning felt than my undergraduate degree. As an undergraduate, I was learning terms and concepts that I would later implement in my career, while as a master’s student, I was learning terms and concepts that helped me make sense of my first six years in the workforce, where I was a classroom teacher and then a nonprofit entrepreneur and leader. Indeed, the learning at LFSOP was so valuable because it consistently connected the practical with the academics. As an M.A. student, not only was I able to reflect on those six years, but since the degree was part-time and I was still working full-time at a nonprofit, there was the opportunity for daily real-world application.

TPF’s APL bolsters LFSOP’s offerings by providing more opportunities to connect the academic with the practical. Through the five APL endeavors, current students and alumni of LFSOP get to learn with a foundation that’s deeply intentional and both well-versed in the academics of philanthropy and doing impactful philanthropic work. Courses like “Beyond the Check” make the academics come alive, create space for terms and concepts to be challenged and applied, and, if students aren’t already in the field, a chance to see what philanthropy in action can look like. From there, students are even more prepared to make a difference in their communities.

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