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SVP International

Quick survey of San Antonio Philanthropy (and more)

Posted by Billy Cox

As I am new (again) to San Antonio, I took some time to get a high level view of both the charitable investment landscape broadly as well as specifically in San Antonio. It is easy to tally over $250M in investments in San Antonio, therefore one would expect to find significant activity – and indeed there is.

Here are some of the resources I found in my survey for the “lay of the land.”

Bill Gates blog, Gates Notes. I liked his article on innovative colleges and especially the data driven approaches they use to keep students in school, get them help when they need it, and more. From my perspective, this looks a lot like what I read from St. Phillips College in their strategic plan.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 1,376 employees, $39.6 billion endowment(!), $4.2 billion(!) in grants for 2015. Some points I found interesting:

  • All research done via their grants is openly shared (including the underlying data).
  • They have extensive evaluation criteria requiring all investments to be openly evaluated against goals.
  • Their Outcome Investing is near and dear to my own perspectives: set the goal and then build strategies to achieve.

Clearly, they can operate at a scale that is way out of reach for the rest of us. However, their processes for investing, due diligence, etc. should be templates we can follow in our work in SVP SA.

United Way San Antonio. Well known to most of us: $54M income (2015), 141 programs, 70 partner agencies. Strategic partnerships with Eastside Promise Neighborhood and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. For SVP SA, this is an established organization with years of experience working in San Antonio and are likely connected to many of the charities we will be working with.

San Antonio Area Foundation. The SAAF is the SVP SA strategic partner for managing contributions. Overall, the SAAF provided $32M in grants and scholarships in 2015. One program in particular we (SVP SA) might want to take a closer look at is the Strengthening Nonprofits Initiative (building capacity in the nonprofit community). The SAAF is a valuable tool for donors in the community to not only learn how to optimize their giving but to connect with the charities of interest.


SA2020. I’m probably the last person in these parts to hear of SA2020. If you haven’t read their latest report card (thanks Molly Cox) then I would encourage you to do so. The thing I find impressive is the strong strategic basis and breadth of data (from CI:Now, see next paragraph) they use to measure progress in their 11 areas of focus. We should find interest in the areas where they highlight “Flat/Getting Worse”.

Community Info Now (CI:Now). Again, I may be the last to find out about CI:Now, but they will be a highly valuable resource for us as we do our strategic planning and partner assessment. As we proceed, I would urge us to strongly consider supporting this non-incorporated group of volunteers who gather and analyze data from a myriad of sources.

Eastside Promise Neighborhood. I mentioned this one earlier in the United Way San Antonio paragraph but they deserve a deeper drill down. They have captured their mission nicely in their 10 Promises – succinct, simple, direct. They have also done a good job breaking down their mission into 15 measureable goals. It takes a lot of group discussion time to be able to crisply break the mission into measurable goals and have some confidence that those goals are sufficient (meaning that progress on the measured goals will actually mean progress on the mission). For the truly inquisitive amongst us, they have published a 192-page annual report. The executive summary is a fairly blunt assessment of the current state of affairs: improvement in some areas (early childhood outcomes, schools thrive in strong neighborhoods) and areas where improvement is needed (student outcomes in grades k-8, high school graduation rate). The data they gather and the goals they set should inform us (SVP SA) as we look to set our own area of focus and goals.

Editorial: Mark Zuckerberg published his 2015 reading list and in that list is a book that speaks to the massive changes we are seeing in society, and in this context the philanthropic sector. The book “The End of Power”, by Moises Naim, addresses the fundamental change in modern society that concentrated power is no longer sustainable. One of the examples he uses is philanthropy, pointing out that by 2010, private and institutional giving in the US has begun to “displace official government efforts overseas”. This change in philanthropic activity is evident here in San Antonio with the empowering of donors (United Way, San Antonio Area Foundation) to directly connect with charities. SVP SA is in a prime position to accelerate and draft on this already emerging change.

From this early look, I could argue that we need two sets of activities in SVP SA.

  • Broadly impact the philanthropic organizations to be more effective, along the lines of the Mission Accelerator from the Austin group. Since we (SVP SA) are human capital as well as financial capital, something like an accelerator is a good way to leverage our efforts.
  • A specific charity on which to focus, initially to learn how to operate, but add charities over time. Selecting a charity will allow us to make a difference in one specific area and create the learnings that will let us scale.

One of the things I really like about SVP SA is that we can take action on a local level. But, we are also able to start from and adapt ideas and methods we find on the national and regional stage. So, we drive change locally but using methods and means from a much broader perspective.

Given that this wasn’t scientific survey and certainly was not exhaustive, please let me know of any organizations that I should study.

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