Pat's Legacy Realized

MBA Students' Work Fuels Pat Summitt Foundation Grant Program

FOUNDED BY PAT SUMMITT SHORTLY AFTER her Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011, the Pat Summitt Foundation raises money and awards grants to nonprofits engaged in aspects of Alzheimer’s work such as patient care, caregiver support, and research. 

“Our focus has been on making a yearly grant to the Pat Summitt Clinic at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, and to other nonprofits locally and nationally,” says Patrick Wade, foundation executive director. In 2018, however, with $250,000 of new funds to distribute, the organization wanted to implement a more structured system to gather and evaluate grant proposals. “The Haslam MBA program contacted us and we were thrilled to take advantage of this outstanding service that it offers to local nonprofits.” 

The Haslam MBA Innovation In Practice consulting class links students with local nonprofits to identify challenges and solve problems. Students Catherine Porth, Amanda Bromell, Collin Pounders, and Griffin Thomas Smith were assigned to the PSF project last fall. 

“None of us had real life experience with grant programs or trying to delve into how they should work,” says Porth, who served as the project manager. To begin the assignment, they first evaluated how other nonprofit organizations were structured. “Then we started thinking outside the box, looking at venture capital and angel investor groups that provide capital to startups. We realized grant programming runs in a very similar way.” 

The four students talked to dozens of organizations, charting strengths and weaknesses of their structures. After analyzing the data, they created a 55-page report with several recommendations, including forms that PSF could use for competitive grants. They recommended appointing a grant board that would include caregivers and donors, implementing an annual grant program timeline, adopting a hybrid grant application review process, and finding ways to capture impact. 

“The depth of their work went far beyond our expectations,” says Wade. “They were thrown into this with no nonprofit experience, and they knocked it out of the park—and did it in a very short amount of time, while balancing other commitments.” 

Porth says she and her team were motivated by respect for Pat Summitt and personal connections to the disease. “Several of us have lost family members to Alzheimer’s. It was great to work on this project and be able to see the impact it’s made.” 

This spring, PSF is running its first competitive grant cycle. “We’ve adopted a number of the students’ recommendations, and they’ve given us ideas and tools we can use as we move forward,” Wade says. “It’s certainly making an impact on what we’re doing.” 

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