Three Possibilitarians Create New RealitiesPosted on October 11, 2021 by Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation & Susan DeVenny, Arras Foundation CEO & Hannah Saeger Karnei, Inaugural TPF Fellow
Editor's Note: This blog is written by three possibilitarians: Debra Jacobs, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) CEO; Susan DeVenny, Arras Foundation CEO; and Hannah Saeger Karnei, Inaugural TPF Fellow.
It is amazing to find what might happen when one is open to "what is possible."
Earlier this year, I took advantage of the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF) CEO listserv to query about what firms used to recruit senior staff. Actually, I was interested in exploring what firms might be helpful to TPF Fellows as they were questing for their next career chapter.
I appreciated the many responses from colleagues I had not seen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One response, in particular, delighted me. Susan DeVenny, Arras Foundation CEO, shared that she would appreciate a Zoom to learn more about TPF Fellows since she hoped to add younger minds to her team.
When the calendar genies aligned, we discovered that we shared similar values and approaches.
Shortly after our Zoom, Susan reached out to explore a "crazy idea," which, from my perspective, was not crazy but rather brilliant. How would TPF feel about sharing TPF's Inaugural Fellow, Hannah Saeger Karnei? With COVID-19 forcing both foundations to work remotely…why not?
Within weeks, we created TPF Fellow-on-Loan with an agreement that for the hours Hannah worked for Arras Foundation, Arras would "Pay It Forward" to Season of Sharing, an initiative in TPF's service area that provides one-time emergency assistance. By May 2021, Hannah was working remotely about ten hours per week, while continuing to manage many TPF projects.
As we all look forward to post-pandemic life, one thing is certain. There is no going back to our old ways of working. The health crisis has pummeled communities, families, systems. Basically, it feels like all humanity is bruised and exhausted.
Philanthropy teams must look ahead for creative ways to work on the big challenges before us. One place I go to look for creative leaders is SECF.
In March 2021, I saw an email pop up from the SECF CEO listserve. Debra Jacobs, CEO at The Patterson Foundation, asked for "lessons learned" from those of us who had worked with search firms. I had been thinking about ways to recruit talent to our team, so was intrigued by her query. I answered quickly and received a prompt reply from Debra with more detail behind her request. She was looking for ways to help TPF Fellows bridge to their next chapters.
Intrigued, I explored The Patterson Foundation website and saw so much that resonated with how we aim to work with our community at Arras. I wrote again, asking for a conversation. Within weeks, I had the chance to meet Debra and TPF Inaugural Fellow, Hannah Saeger Karnei. Both women struck me as hard-working, creative change agents. (Note to self – DEFINITELY read and respond to listserve requests.)
Within a few more weeks, TPF worked with us to create a Fellow-on-Loan position for Hannah, who skillfully straddled big responsibilities at both organizations for five months.
Hannah was actively looking for her next chapter, and I thoroughly enjoyed being a partner to her in that work. I also watched how well she "fit" with us at Arras. Hannah was a quick study of our culture and excelled in working adaptively all summer with our staff, interns, and community members. She brought fresh eyes to our work and made it better.
You've probably guessed the end of the story. Hannah is wrapping her stellar career at TPF and moving to Lancaster, SC, to join the Arras team as our Strategic Initiatives Coordinator.
Hannah Saeger Karnei
As Inaugural Fellow at The Patterson Foundation, I've always known that a lot about my experience is experimental...what projects offer the most value, which conferences the most networking opportunities, what connections provide the most food for thought. Because of this constant need for evaluation, it has created a skill for quick identification of great opportunities.
After my first Zoom conversation with Susan DeVenny, it was clear to me that not only did Arras Foundation and The Patterson Foundation have synergy in their approach to philanthropy and community engagement, Susan is a kindred spirit when it comes to sparking change. The opportunity to work with another foundation dedicated to deep community engagement was too good to pass up – there's a lot to be learned in ten hours a week!
During those ten hours a week, I was able to delve deeply into not only the projects, but also Arras' culture and the community it is dedicated to – the perfect exploratory opportunity while also building new muscle. Through my "on-loan" period, we explored possibilities. Did the Arras team need someone with my talents? If they did, was I the right culture fit for them? Were they right for me? Happily, the answers ended up being yes on all sides, but even if the opportunity to begin my next chapter with them hadn't emerged, the chance for immersive learning with another foundation was priceless.
Originally Debra was going to end the blog with a wrap-up, but after receiving the following written at 12:13 a.m. on September 30 from Susan DeVenny, it deserves to be shared:
Dear Hannah and the entire TPF Team:
When I first met Debra Jacobs back in March 2021 (thank you, Stacey Gadeken - Zoom goddess), I IMMEDIATELY knew there was something super special about the TPF team.
Debra exuded a magnetic vision and passion for –
...deep community relationship building (I instantly adopted the TPF term- "connective tissue" because - well, of course - who wouldn't get THAT?)
...innovative approaches to philanthropy (which I share),
...her way cool staff (all of you)...
In initially studying the TPF website, meeting with Michael Corley, reading Fellow research sent by Nancy Vafeas...I was so very impressed.
Another foundation that talks and thinks like us, only BOLDER!
Then I met Hannah, a bright, sparkling change-maker.
Hannah's keen insight, her compassion, her deep interest in making a difference, her work ethic. Just WOW!!!! I kept thinking... how is someone this young so very wise???
Like Debra - the TPF spark was there.
Hannah conveyed her own passion for the work of TPF and philanthropy broadly. Overnight, she grabbed the Arras opportunity and made our work better. We could not be MORE THRILLED about her joining our team and welcoming her to SC!
I know it is a bittersweet day for TPF, but we pledge to keep imagining ways to work together, and we PROMISE to let Hannah bring her amazing gifts --- honed by her time at TPF --- to our "little corner of the world!"
KUDOS to Hannah, Debra, and ALL OF YOU!
With immense gratitude for Hannah and Susan...
Yes, creating new realities happens when we are open to possibilities, take the time to connect, discover shared aspirations, and deliver excellence.