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CEO of the Year News

Large Nonprofit CEO of the Year: Freeman Foundation Executive Director Patti Grimes

Katie Tabeling
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On June 1, Patti Grimes celebrated 40 years with the Carl M. Freeman Companies, the parent organization of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation that champions the arts in the Delaware and Maryland region.

Patti Grimes. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JOSHUA M. FREEMAN FOUNDATION

She first joined the organization in 1984 when she moved to the beach and needed a job. She started out as comptroller with the company, even though Grimes thought someone that only took two accounting classes in college wasn’t qualified for the job.

“I’ve had so many wonderful positions with the Freeman companies. When you look back on your life, sometimes you realize if you keep saying yes, the doors open a little or a lot,” Grimes said. “Even though on paper I wasn’t qualified for that job, it led me to this opportunity.”

The Freeman Foundation was launched after Joshua Freeman died in a helicopter crash and his wife Michelle Freeman asked Grimes to lead the charge. 

“In some ways, it was something I was built to do,” Grimes said. “I wanted to be a leader that inspires myself and others to make an impact and, in a sense, I’ve done that in a way I never thought was possible.”

Since its inception in 2007, the Freeman Foundation has impacted 130,000 people through its concert series at its venue in Selbyville and its Arts Initiative which gives thousands of students the opportunity to see live music. For Grimes, it was an unexpected way of serving children, as she once thought she may like to go into social work.

While COVID-19 brought tremendous challenges for a live music venue, Grimes and her staff and board were up for the challenge. Inspired by a concept in New York City, where attendance was restricted to circles, the Freeman Pavillion rolled out a pod concept. The capacity was capped at 388 people per show and two shows per night. It kept admissions coming in and staff employed. Between 2021 and 2023, the Freeman Foundation grew revenue to $15 million

“One of our artists that summer thanked us because he said the last time he played that year was March 17. And he could pay his rent. That took my breath away,” Grimes told DBT.

Grimes also led her team to reimagining what the future of the foundation would look like, including building a new pavilion in a campus-like setting to help attract national acts and bring more people to the shows.

“Necessity is the mother of investigation and we were all in. That belief and trust we built with our volunteers, donors and our team is so paramount to what it takes to be a great nonprofit at the end of the day,” she said.

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