If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
— Lilla Watson
Slow down, be kind.
— Fred (Mr.) Rogers
In the last two and a half years, one of the greatest rewards of my job as CEO was to spend time with many of you, visiting your SVP Affiliate communities. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know you, see the successes brought by your hard work, and hear your challenges and aspirations. It was from those conversations I realized that the most important conversation we needed to have was about why we do the work (our purpose) and how we do it (what we uniquely bring). If we could clearly answer those two questions, all the programs, tactics, and tools to support our success would easily follow.
So, what did I learn from this journey? I think we have the capability to be true leaders in the philanthropic sector if we can demonstrate how to work side by side with the people closest to both the problems and the solutions. Four lessons I’d like to share:
- Find your “nested why”. “Why are you part of SVP?” is a question I’ve asked Partners and staff hundreds of times and, in the end, I believe the answers I’ve received all gather under a single umbrella: “We want to create a better community for all”. Once you’re clear on that overall goal, you can be more focused. SVP Connecticut’s focus, for example, is to “close the opportunity gap in Connecticut”. It’s simple, bold and aspirational — and it’s not a coincidence their Partnership is doubling!
- Get Proximate. Bryan Stevenson’s use of the term “proximate” describes one of SVP’s most unique value propositions. It expresses our willingness to get much closer to those within our communities of change, and open ourselves to a deeper journey of discovery. I’ve heard many SVP Partners say they started out wanting to transform their communities and discovered, ultimately, that they had also been transformed personally.
- Keep the “Venture” in SVP. SVP grew rapidly to more than 40 Affiliates with an innovative model. Today, that innovation needs to continue as the world is changing around us, whether it is opening up the membership model, impact investing, collective impact, or bringing community members onto our boards and grant committees. At our best, we blend business and social change principles with a bias toward social justice, action, innovation, and measured risk.
- “Activate” Partners. As we become more accountable to our communities, it’s important to recognize that our uniqueness stems from making SVP Partners central to how we do the work. It is the Partners’ time, talent and resources that make us an impact organization — not just a grantmaker. To quantify the impact of their work beyond direct grant dollars, SVP Portland has discovered that the combined value of volunteer work and influencing other funders’ giving is consistently 10 times the value of the grants alone.
I’ve had to learn some personal lessons along this journey too. After 40 years of work it’s not so much time for me to retire, but to “rewire” — to become a better husband, father, and son, and to take better care of myself. I am looking forward to connecting with as many of you as possible in my future journey as an SVP Partner, volunteer, and member of your community. You can find me on LinkedIn or Instagram, or reach out to me via email.
Finally, some news you won’t want to miss:
In the coming weeks, Sofia Michelakis, SVPI Board Chair, will announce our new CEO. I’m incredibly excited by the slate of finalists, all of whom are highly capable of taking SVP to the next level.
Also, stay tuned for upcoming registration information for next year’s SVP Global Summit in Vancouver, BC.
Lastly, if you’re as inspired by the direction of SVPI as I am, keep in mind that membership dues make up only one-third of our revenue; individual donations and foundation grants make up the rest. A donation, no matter the size, is a vote of support for our shared vision. Thank you for your consideration!