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Leader Profile:

Linda Patterson

Linda Patterson worked closely with Peter Ellis, loaned executive from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Joel J. Orosz, (Ellis’s successor) to create and implement major strategies for Increasing and Improving Philanthropy in Michigan. Following the lead of Dorothy A. Johnson, president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), Patterson provided the staff support for the Increasing and Improving Philanthropy Committees of CMF. Her leadership helped launch the Michigan Nonprofit Association, Campus Compact, the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University (now known as the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy), and several other smaller (but no less important) strategies to strengthen philanthropy in Michigan.

Leadership Highlights

Ms. Linda Patterson talks about her career in philanthropy.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the history of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the history behind Michigan Campus Compact.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the growing popularity of academic centers for philanthropy.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the development of the Governor's Service Awards.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the dedication of staff and volunteers in the nonprofit sector.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the incredible leadership of Russ Mawby.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the value of incubating new projects and deciding which ones are worth the time, money, and effort.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the culture of cooperation within Michigan's nonprofit sector.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) educating donor families about formal giving programs.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about learning to be patient with public policy work.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about her concerns for the field, which include a fear of risks.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the benefit of working with local community leaders.
Ms. Linda Patterson talks about the history and mission of the Increasing and Improving Philanthropy initiative.


Linda Patterson earned a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene in 1963 from the University of Michigan and subsequently split the responsibilities of practicing in a private office with serving as a clinical instructor in the dental school.

Philanthropic Biography

Linda Patterson moved from the Detroit area to Grand Rapids early in life.  She quickly noticed the culture of Grand Rapids placed a strong emphasis on community service and giving back. In an interview for Our State of Generosity, Patterson stated she has been extremely blessed by her upbringing in “an area of financial success, relative peace time, and affordable education.”  She also noted that she felt “an obligation to give back, but it was also just a huge personal interest – I love people.”

Patterson’s first experience with formal philanthropy came when she was hired by Dottie Johnson to work at the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF).

Contributions to the Field

While at CMF, Patterson led both the Improving Philanthropy Committee and the Increasing Philanthropy Committee, which looked for ways to improve access to, resources for, and an overall understanding of Michigan philanthropy. Patterson and the committees worked to address some of the challenges facing Michigan nonprofits, including changes in tax laws, staff/volunteer liability, and reduction of federal support. In particular, Patterson recalled that the group wanted to find ways to develop “advocacy for families of wealth to form some sort of formal giving unit and secondly, for there to be more academic and community support for formal giving.” This would later become known as Advisors to the Wealthy, a partnership with The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) of Boston, to create resources that helped financial advisors provide guidance on philanthropic giving options and plans for their clients. In addition to Advisors to the Wealthy, the Improving Philanthropy Committee played a role in developing: 1) the Michigan Nonprofit Association; 2) Campus Compact; 3) academic training programs that grew into the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University; 4) the K-12 Education in Philanthropy program (now known as Learning to Give); and 5) the annual Governor’s Service Awards.

The committee saw great potential for increased collaboration between existing Michigan nonprofits. An umbrella organization for nonprofit organizations was formed, now known as the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA). At its founding in 1990, MNA sought to encourage voluntary giving and service, disseminate information, advance public policy, and build nonprofit capacity.

Patterson’s team was influential in bringing Campus Compact to Michigan. The group recognized the need to strengthen student and youth volunteers. As a program within the newly formed MNA, Campus Compact helped to formalize how volunteers were trained, recruited, and retained, ultimately providing a strong pool of volunteers for local nonprofits to engage.

In addition, the committee looked for ways to strengthen the administration of nonprofits. They sought to do this by partnering with existing Michigan colleges to create academic programs to train nonprofit professionals. “At the time,” said Patterson, “Michigan did not have anything that prepared students academically to become administrators and active in nonprofit organizations. We were successful in getting some nonprofit administration programs going in a number of different colleges around; but I think most important of those was Don Lubbers, the university president, steering Grand Valley State University into really strengthening its social work department and also establishing the Dorothy Johnson Center on Philanthropy.”

Finally, Patterson and committee members increased nonprofit awareness by starting the annual Governor’s Service Awards. Since 1994, this award has honored individual volunteers who have made a significant impact on their community, in recognition of their achievements and helping to promote nonprofit accomplishments across the state.

Patterson served as the executive director for the Dyer-Ives Foundation, a family foundation, which sought to build capacity in organizations that address issues of systemic poverty, or that work to diminish a sense of isolation among residents of the central city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The foundation closed in 2016 and donated its records to GVSU.


Linda Patterson was interviewed regarding her insights and experiences working with Michigan’s philanthropic community and the Our State of Generosity (OSoG) partners. The following quotes specifically related to the five organizing themes of the OSoG project.

          Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy

“They were just incredible individuals and they were very thoughtful people; not the type of person who was a power broker – not a power broker, but they didn’t think of themselves as being powerful or terribly important. They thought of themselves as being ordinary, caring people.”

“The organizations, in order to be effective, needed to understand what other organizations were trying to achieve and how what they were trying to achieve worked cooperatively and worked differently.”

“I think the leaders of those groups had a lot of mutual respect and learned from each other; and because of the cooperation and learning from each, there wasn’t the same kind of ‘turf-ism’ that you often see develop – especially when you have common membership, often at least to some degree.”

          Human, Financial, and Knowledge Resources

“I think also a key is the fact that the Council (CMF) recognized that everybody whose ideas were being tapped had full-time commitments. And therefore, they were willing to staff the issue so that daily attention could be given to the ideas that were expressed in implementing them without adding the burden on the people who already had a full plate of activity… There were a number – especially in that era – of people who felt the nonprofit world should be run voluntarily and that it wasn’t about pay… I think it was very important, and I think that’s a lesson that has been learned. I see this whole impact idea that is sort of emerging in the last year and a half. A crucial component of that is to have dedicated staff, and I think the Council was ahead of its time in recognizing that need.”

“I think most of the programs that I have seen the Foundation participate in that would be innovative at all – and would have a long-lasting impact – have been because of those relationships and knowing the right people to tap, the right people to ask their opinions of, and getting that variety of culture, of education, of economic level.

Philanthropy and Public Policy

“I think social change just is very, very slow and hard work. When you see policy change, it usually takes a long time to get a law changed; and then even when the law is changed, it takes a long time to see any impact from that change. That’s one of the most frustrating, I think, aspects of working in this area – how few people have the patience to really do policy work… [Policy change] really is [the] single area that makes the greatest impact in addressing especially social justice issues, issues of poverty, issues of racism. The really, really tough issues to crack take a lot of public policy, cooperation, and focus – and we don’t get that understanding. The work itself is slow and hard.”

“I think in all of the organizations that you’ve mentioned, the role of public policy has been very important to them. I know with the Council of Michigan Foundations it was, I would guess, probably the number one reason that the umbrella organization for foundations was established. There were things that were happening in tax law that those foundations that had been in existence a number of years were opposed to and felt were going to really make their work less effective.”

“Again, it’s this whole government funding and the government’s unwillingness to address tax issues. What I think is happening is fewer risks are being taken on the part of philanthropy because greater need is there just for operating funds. The thing that always attracted me to philanthropy was the innovation that happened in those fields. Now, the money really is needed so severely by many organizations to just keep their doors open, and some of the innovation is being lost and that’s too bad. I think that’s going to be a social loss.”

Practical Wisdom

“Have your feet on the ground in the local communities.”

“I was raised in the tradition of top-down leadership, and I have really come to believe that the changes that are going to be most acceptable and have the greatest impact are going to be a more bottom-up type of leadership – where you have a lot of a collaboration between different groups…”

This profile was last updated: 05/20/2020