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Compass Working Capital’s True North

Posted by boston

“SVP provides value-add consulting and technical expertise, giving us access to great minds with amazing backgrounds and bench strength at a critical moment of growth. You don’t get access to that kind of talent without a partner like SVP.”

Sherry Riva, Executive Director of Compass Working Capital (former SVP Boston grantee)

Sherry Riva spoke to guests at an SVP Boston event in October 2014. People were so impressed with Sherry, the Compass story, and her reflection on SVP that we needed to share the story more broadly.

Set the scene for what was happening with Compass Working Capital in 2010.

When SVP Boston first invested with Compass in 2010, we had just launched a new model in Lynn for the federal family self-sufficiency program. We were the first nonprofit in the country to run an asset-building model for low-income residents of federally subsidized housing.

At the time we were building the program, we were asking the question, “Will this really work?”

During this phase, SVP’s help was monumental. We had a team building us a Dashboard and helping us figure out how we measure a family’s progression towards self-sufficiency and how we use that data to monitor and provide course correction. We had another team helping us with our pitch and marketing strategy, and another assessing our Board.

How does Compass compare today?

In 2010 we had a $350K budget serving 76 families in Lynn. This year our budget is $1.9 million, which will allow us to serve over 500 families in our programs.

The reaction to the model in Lynn was so positive, with enrollment rates quadruple that of the national average, that we replicated in Cambridge in 2012 – in effect tripling our program – and launched in Boston in 2014.

Compass always had a good reputation and was known for our solid execution, but the success of this program thrust us into the local and national spotlight.

We now have a scalable asset: our subsidized housing model has the potential to work in other markets.

Describe Compass’s growth model.

Our growth model revolves around 3 big themes:

  1. Lead the market in Massachusetts with strong local execution
    1. Grow to 500-600 families this year
    2. Add a potential fourth site in 2015
  2. Explore the launch of a national community of practice
    1. Organizations in ten U.S. cities interested in incorporating asset-building models in subsidized housing
    2. Host national convening of organizations from around the country
  3. Translate work into field-building policy and practice

We’re working towards a time when asset-building opportunities are built into the fabric of local and federal programs, when every family who is in public housing has the opportunity to build savings and financial capabilities as a pathway out of poverty.

What was the most valuable part of your partnership with SVP?

Multi-year unrestricted capital

SVP is really a leader in this space. More venture philanthropies are starting to grant unrestricted funding for growth-oriented nonprofits.

There’s a growing recognition that nonprofits need the same things that companies need for growth and development: great people, infrastructure, leadership. Unrestricted funding allows us to invest in ourselves.

Talented People

SVP understands that, like a business, a great venture needs great people. Recruiting, retaining, and paying people are always tough considerations in the nonprofit space.

SVP provides value-add consulting and technical expertise, giving us access to great minds with amazing backgrounds and bench strength at a critical moment of growth. You don’t get access to that kind of talent without a partner like SVP.

Being Part of a Network of Entrepreneurs

I have enormous respect for the other SVP grantees, and I’m honored to be in their company. Because we are at similar points of organizational development, this network of grantees supports one another and becomes an invaluable resource for exchanging ideas and tools.