Photo: L to R -- Michael Corley, Rachel Hettinger, Tom Tryon, Kiarra Louis

Presenting Higher Waters at The Florida Philanthropic Network Statewide Summit

Posted on February 14, 2023 by Kiarra Louis, Initiative Support Coordinator with The Patterson Foundation
In early February, The Patterson Foundation's (TPF) Higher Waters (HW) team was honored to attend and present at the 2023 Florida Philanthropic Network (FPN) Statewide Summit on Philanthropy. With the theme, "Making Waves," our session and others explored the role government, nonprofits, and businesses can play to ensure the ripple effects we navigate today don't wash away the communities we serve and our efforts to support and strengthen them.

Tom Tryon and I, with support from HW team members Rachel Hettinger and Michael Corley and TPF Fellows Kellie Alexander and Connor LaGrange, presented a session titled Higher Waters: How Funders Can Engage Coastal and Inland Communities in a Hot Topic.

As we always do at TPF, we started our session with a question of the day to get attendees involved and engaged from the beginning. We didn't want to talk at them; instead, we wanted to talk with them. The session was for us to learn from them as much as they wanted to learn from us. When asked if they were funding projects related to climate change, some understandably were not, but others were. Some focused on water activities such as water quality, sea level rise, flooding, and natural disaster, while others on methods to adapt to climate change, clean air, climate justice, and renewable energy. Then there were some that weren't funding in this space – yet.

For those in this space, we recognize that climate change will impact individuals, organizations, and communities – not to mention regions like the Suncoast. Yet, we also acknowledge that hot topics like climate change or, for us, higher waters linked to sea level rise can be seen as risky, unpredictable, and filled with uncertainty.

So why are we doing it at TPF? We're following our mission to strengthen the efforts of people, organizations, and communities by focusing on issues that address common aspirations. Each of TPF's initiatives aims to do just that, whether it be helping children from birth through 3rd grade read on grade level, guiding organizations in developing diverse revenue sources, or connecting people to digital technology so they can participate in the modern world. Most, if not all, TPF's initiatives are focused on helping people live a quality life filled with opportunities.

Coastal flooding linked to higher waters has the potential to impact our coastlines and our everyday quality of life. It's not just a threat to the homes along the bayfront or the rivers, but it's a threat to the schools we support, the parks we cherish, and the places we turn to for shelter during storms like Hurricane Ian. And for others like Tom, it's Snook Haven — a slice of old Florida on the wild and scenic Myakka River. Tom's grandmother operated Snook Haven in east Sarasota County for years. The whole place – including the main house, with its wraparound porches and fireplace made of river rock – was flooded and damaged in the aftermath of Ian. We all have our own Snook Haven, a precious community asset we care about deeply and don't want higher waters to wash away.

At the same time, we're just one foundation. Although we undertake philanthropic work in ways others are not doing, cannot do, or will not do, TPF is intentional and strategic in how we use our time and effort. We can't tackle climate change, so we're doing higher waters. In the Suncoast region, we're blessed with bays, rivers, and other inland waters that enhance our lives in many ways. What better way to wade the waters of climate change than through a relatively smaller piece of it? It's localized, measurable, and Hurricane Ian and Nicole emphasized its relevance and gave us a glimpse of how powerful our waters are.

The goal of our session wasn't to tell attendees what to do. Instead, if any of the funders in the audience were hesitant or unsure of how to navigate the waters, we were sharing our evolving playbook, which remains the same for all TPF's initiatives.

  1. Connect with various individuals and organizations who are experts.
  2. Listen to those we connect with to learn and build mutual understanding.
  3. Share the information, knowledge, resources, and expertise we've gathered to strengthen the collective impact of those in this space.

Success comes in many shapes, sizes, and hues. We don't know what success will look like for us exactly, but we do know we're in this for the long haul. So, we continue to ask ourselves, who else cares about this, what do they know, and what can we do together?

Since we want to go far, we know we must sail these waters with other proactive leaders and organizations in our community.

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