Editor's Note: Laurey Stryker manages The Patterson Foundation's Digital Access for All initiative, which explores the efforts of multiple sectors working to enhance access to technology and connects people in ways that foster inclusion and well-being. Dr. Stryker was TPF's initiative manager for EdExploreSRQ, a sustainable platform that has greatly enhanced access to experiential learning in Sarasota's schools. Most recently, she managed the development of TPF's Advancing Philanthropic Leadership initiative. Collaborations with IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy led to a vibrant TPF Fellows Program and opportunities for TPF to share its work as a "living laboratory."


In 2018, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) decided to explore new ways to share its learnings with future philanthropic leaders. After nearly ten years of impact strategies, TPF understood it had extensive experience to share. Learning and sharing have always been cornerstone values practiced through collaborations, blogs, presentations, consultations, and alliances. However, TPF wanted to go deeper with a longer-term impact on the field of philanthropy. The idea of an immersive Fellows Program emerged. Debra Jacobs, TPF's president and CEO, called me to help develop the initiative, primarily because of my background in higher education and leadership development.

Every TPF initiative begins with a search for best practices and innovation. There are numerous foundation-based fellows programs that target different career levels (entry/executive), have different structures (full-time/part-time), and different purposes (management/strategies/leadership). TPF gained insights into foundation career paths that influenced our decisions, and we learned that there's a sporadic career path or ladder in the philanthropy sector.

Field surveys show that few foundation CEO/presidents come from philanthropy. There is only one higher education philanthropy center, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. There are many non-profit degrees and certificate programs that include philanthropy courses or continuing education. However, even as the sector has grown, there's been scant attention by higher education.

Our explorations led us to discussions with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (IUPIU). They have bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in Philanthropic Studies at the IUPIU campus in Indianapolis. TPF was especially interested in the master's program, which had a strong liberal arts base and considerable internship requirements.

We began discussions in summer 2018 with the Director of Academic Programs, Dr. Kathi Badertscher and the Director of Student Services, Pamela Larsen Clark. We exchanged ideas about creating a unique TPF Fellows program that would benefit both graduates and philanthropy. Together, we agreed that a one-year paid immersion program for Masters of Philanthropic Studies graduates met shared aspirations. TPF Fellows would learn, do, and lead innovative initiatives. TPF would strengthen its practice with the talents of emerging leaders. IUPUI's interest in getting more graduates into the foundation world would benefit. The immersion year would help propel Fellows careers in the philanthropy sector.

The aggressive plan was to recruit up to three TPF Fellows by February 2019 with a May 2019 start date. This was very ambitious since the faculty and students knew little about our Sarasota-based foundation, and some graduates already had plans or current positions. The Lilly School team, including Dean Amir Pasic, effectively promoted the opportunity with its May 2019 graduates and recent alumni. In October 2019, Dr. Badertscher and Ms. Clark hosted an information session with interested students. About a dozen attended, and by December, we had six applicants.

Everything TPF does starts with great attention to detail to deliver excellence. Building that standard into the TPF Fellow interviews, onsite visits, and selection process was embraced by the TPF team. The graduates impressed us with their academic preparation and TPF research. They had many questions about the experience, assignments, and links to future positions. We were asking them to delay their permanent career slot for a one-year career "boost," like a postdoc in medicine. In TPF style, we openly explained our "evolving principle." We had a plan, but they would be helping us shape the novice program.

Our Inaugural Fellow, Hannah Saeger Karnei, accepted the challenge and arrived in May 2019 with her husband Kyle. TPF Fellows work directly with Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation. Hannah has the opportunity to learn from a national leader in philanthropic innovation. I've been her coach, acting as her sounding board and brainstorming ideas to improve the experience. Hannah is definitely "proof of concept" for the Fellows program. She's enriched TPF's work, managed significant projects, and developed an impressive national network. Follow her blogs, and you'll understand her rich journey.

Our Lilly School partnership expanded when Marilyn Kuhn and Pamela Larsen Clark proposed a Spring 2020 elective course on the Future of Philanthropic Work using TPF as the centerpiece. It was a Study Away course, including campus classes and a visit to Sarasota for one week during spring break. New electives are often hard to fill, but there were 24 applications for just ten spots.

Then, COVID-19 happened, which barred IU students from participating in school-sponsored travel. We could have walked away and canceled the carefully planned onsite immersion, which the students had prepared for in the weeks before their trip. But the TPF team and IU faculty agreed to make it work. It was very different and zoom-powered, but the student blogs reveal valuable learning and insights. And yes, we are working on a potential 2021 Study Away experience.

The second TPF Fellows recruitment geared up in summer 2019. Hannah provided valuable insights and shared her experiences with interested students. We held student information sessions during an October on-campus visit. Dean Pasic and the faculty continued to endorse the TPF Fellow experience. The selection process resulted in two TPF Fellows starting spring 2020 — John Ferguson and Abby Rolland. John, Abby, and Hannah are already beginning to imagine what a TPF Fellows Alumni Network might look like.

Learning, sharing, and evolving are part of TPF's DNA. The TPF Fellows Program evolved to Advancing Philanthropic Leadership as we embrace additional ways of contributing to the sector's future. We were fortunate to recruit Dr. Joni Steinberg as an initiative consultant to lead this expanded initiative. Her extensive work with Tulane Public Health graduate students and universities aligns beautifully with the initiative's future. I am moving on to lead TPF's newest initiative: Digital Access for All.

The last two years have been an exciting journey, starting with a desire to share innovative approaches to philanthropy with the next generation of sector leaders. We found the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and developed a vibrant partnership with their team by listening and learning. TPF's flexibility and openness to possibilities continually energized the work. I am grateful for the privilege of bringing the aspiration to fruition, knowing there will be so much more that will evolve.

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