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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When Debra Jacobs invited me to be a part of the team crafting The Patterson Foundation's one-credit course at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, I was extremely excited. First, I love school and the opportunities that learning new things offers. To be part of crafting this experience for others was exhilarating. Secondly, The Patterson Foundation's approach is very different from the theory taught in most courses at the Lilly School. I reflected with purpose on what I had learned in the master's program and targeted the areas where TPF's knowledge could bring the highest new content value.

It is not an overstatement to say that TPF's approach and philosophies on philanthropy could easily fill a full-semester, three-credit course, but we only had one credit hour over six weeks to impart our core concepts. After much debate, we settled on six themes that The Patterson Foundation approaches in innovative ways and are central to the impact made in the first decade of operations.

Week 1: Building Connective Tissue
Week 2: Values-Driven Work
Week 3: Creating Value Beyond the Check
Week 4: From-To/Systems Thinking
Week 5: Your Role as a Community Leader
Week 6: More Than Money – Strategic Communication

And then I got to work. As one of Debra's co-instructors and alumna of the Lilly School, I was tasked with filling out the syllabus. We had the topics, now we needed the background readings, assignments, and guest stars to fill six weeks. I remember vividly the stress of working full time and being a full-time student. My quest was to find background documents that made excellent use of our students' time while packing a high "new information" punch. Counter to many full-length courses, our material was heavy on TedTalks, summary videos, and short blogs. While there's certainly value in academic articles, that wasn't the best use of our students' time, especially since the course was only one credit.

Assignments focused on discussion post questions, engaged virtual discussion, and a few practical exercises. Like much of what TPF undertakes, we crafted this course with an eye toward excellence and a firm grasp on our humility and sense of humor as rookie instructors. In The Patterson Foundation's quest to be ever-evolving, we sent out a post-class survey. While there are basic indicators (i.e., nobody sent us hate mail) that the course went satisfactorily, our team truly hungered to know what, if any, of these topics resonated.

When asked to select which weeks were "highest value," everyone picked something different. To me, this is a sign of a course well-charted. There were various points of value for each student at different points in time. And just as in practice at TPF, the weeks built on each other and interwove to create a new path toward possibilities. I hope all six weeks carried nuggets of wisdom the students will take with them. For my co-instructors and me, the opportunity allowed us to share some of what makes TPF unique and explore new depths on the continuous journey of connecting, learning, sharing, evolving, and strengthening across the philanthropic sector.


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