A Conversation With Board Member Dash Patterson - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

A Conversation With Board Member Dash Patterson

Person with very short, darker hair stands with hands in their pant pockets against a gray photo backdrop Kenneth Rainin Foundation Board Member Dash Patterson. Photo credit: Mitch Tobias

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s Board of Directors plays an essential role in furthering our mission. In this Board profile series, our goal is to share how our Board members’ experiences and perspectives contribute to our work.

We continue our series with a profile of Dashiell (Dash) Patterson, who joined our Board of Directors in 2021. Dash is a recent college graduate and brings a unique generational perspective to the Board. As Jen Rainin’s son and Kenneth Rainin’s grandson, he also adds a new generation of the family to the Foundation. Dash shares about his decision to join the Board, his thoughts on Board leadership and what’s next for his future. Following are highlights from our conversation with him.

Tell Us About Your Path To Becoming A Board Member.

The Rainin Foundation has always been an important part of my family’s life. I’ve seen how it began and how it has progressed. I started attending Board meetings as a junior Board member when I was 16. It was a nonvoting role and an opportunity to learn about our grantmaking and the organizations we support. I had a discretionary budget of $1,000 and could add that to a grant the Foundation was awarding. When I was 17, I had a summer internship at the Foundation and spent time with staff in all departments. I saw how everyone works and how cohesive and positive the Foundation environment is. My most notable memory was spending a few days of my internship with Susan True, who was the head of the Education Program at the time. Learning her perspective on education in Oakland and how she made strides in her own life had a profound impact on me.

During that time, I was talking to my father about the unique opportunity to make discretionary grants as a Board member. I felt almost a responsibility to join, given the position I was in. That was key—it made the choice to make my case to become a full Board member very clear.

How Does Your Background Shape Your Leadership?

Like my mother and grandfather [Kenneth Rainin], I suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease, so I have a close tie to the Health Program. Growing up in the East Bay, I also spent a lot of time in the Oakland school district and around Bay Area arts, which gives me a unique perspective of the work in our Education and Arts Programs.

I appreciate that each Board member has a different experience growing up and going through their lives, which is beneficial to our discussions. At first, I was intimidated by the idea that I would disagree with my mother or another Board member and how that might transpire. But the positivity and constructiveness of how the Board functions has made a big impression on me. The open and respectful environment makes it possible for important conversations to take place, even when Board members don’t share the same perspective. And despite disagreeing with all the Board members at some point, the most notable thing to me so far is this experience of open, safe dialogue.

For example, we had a discussion at our last Board retreat about including land acknowledgments in our Board meetings. I was able to draw a lot on how different professors and fellow students dealt with it in a classroom setting on a college campus. The conversation was an opportunity to hear each other’s differing opinions and perspectives about long-term impacts and harms along with meaningful support and action. It showed how much we can learn from each other when diverse perspectives are shared in important conversations.

“It showed how much we can learn from each other when diverse perspectives are shared in important conversations.”

What Do The Foundation’s Values Of Interdependence, Creativity And Equity Mean For You?

I think all three values help us work together and achieve better results. Interdependence is an important value in my life, and it stands out for me. The Board works together cohesively and creates an environment that isn’t transactional between us and the staff. If there’s a gap between the people who are doing the work and the Board’s goals, there’s no way to succeed in that situation. But all of us are on the same page that Board members should be an asset to the staff—a source of information, creativity and support when needed. And that makes furthering the Foundation’s goals easier. The safer and more trusting and constructive the environment is, the more the Foundation can do with its resources.

I recognize wholeheartedly the unique situation that I’m in. Serving on a family foundation board is not available to most people. But on a deeper level, the greatest gift that we as human beings can give is our time, energy and knowledge, in any way we can. You don’t have to know exactly how or where before you start. I think you will find what you want to do by just doing something. You’ll find where you want to give your time, and you will find how people need what you can give.

“…the greatest gift that we as human beings can give is our time, energy and knowledge, in any way we can.”

How Do You Approach Your Discretionary Grantmaking?

One of the biggest draws for me about becoming a Board member was the opportunity to make discretionary grants. There are things I care about and I should give back to the areas that matter to me if I can.

The environment is arguably the most important cause to me. I have looked mainly towards sustainability and environmental nonprofits for my discretionary funds. I’ve been talking to land restoration groups along California’s Central Coast, where there was so much rain and flooding this year. It’s increased erosion at an unexpected rate and they are working in some unique ways to address it, especially with sea level rise.

Another area I care about is education. It has been an important issue to me for a long time. I’ve spent hours talking with my mother, Dr. Rainin, [who has her doctorate in education] about the value of reading to children and how valuable that becomes later in life.  

What’s Next For You?

I graduated this spring from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a BA in Global Studies, which encapsulates different fields. My studies focused on how international players in the public and private sectors interact in communications, finance and commerce. I’ve gained a lot of understanding about the world’s interconnectivity, especially through social media and the internet. I was always interested in the functionality of the world in a professional sense, and how governments and corporations and the private sector all interact on a global stage. But I’m honestly not sure where it’s going to take me professionally.

I’m taking a break this summer, and I’ll have time to think about what would be most valuable to do with my life. This fall, I’m going to Barcelona to complete coursework in Spanish, economics, communications and financial management at the university there, and I’m applying for jobs next year. I’m excited for what’s next for me professionally and in my role as a Rainin Foundation Board Member.