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SVP International


Who are Social Venture Partners Cincinnati (SVP)?

We are people for whom improving our community is part of our life’s journey.

We are corporate executives, community leaders, volunteers, philanthropists, parents, and young professionals. We area network of local Partners connecting passion and purpose. We see the chasm between the challenges we face today as a society and the way we are engaging those challenges. We are intentional in bringing the best practices from our life experiences to selected nonprofits, which we call Investees, to help them become the best they can be.

What is the business model of SVP?

SVP is an accelerator for nonprofits. Similar to the model practiced by venture capitalists that invest in start-up companies, SVP invests financial support and intellectual capital into promising nonprofits. We call our model of support “engaged philanthropy” because, over a three-year period, we actively interact as business advisers, mentors and consultants with the nonprofit we select, accelerating the speed of their growth.

What does it mean to be engaged?

At SVP, our Partners are engaged with our Investees either by serving as a consultant to the staff of that organization or by working on a project that helps build capacity within the Investee organization. Examples of engagement projects include participating in a strategic planning committee, creating a business or marketing plan, consulting on IT systems or facilitating an HR organizational assessment.

What do I need to know about SVP and the organization’s focus on “social innovation?”

SVP practices engaged philanthropy with those nonprofits that have implemented an innovative solution to address one of our society‘s social challenges. Social innovation is evidenced in many ways. It may be reaching an audience that has been traditionally hard to engage. It may be driving collective action that breaks through traditional boundaries. More generally, non-profits practicing social innovation may be implementing services, programs, processes, technologies or ideas that remarkably influence change for others. SVP helps them strategically realize their visions.

What is an Investee?

Traditional funders give their contribution to nonprofits and typically refer to as grantees. Generally that relationship ends when the check has been delivered. At SVP, our relationship is just beginning with the presentation of the first check. Because we invest our time, dollars, and talents with a nonprofit for up to three years, we refer to the nonprofits we select as our Investee.

What are the benefits of investing with SVP instead of directly with a non-profit?

When you invest with SVP, your financial contribution goes towards an organization that is making a difference for our community. We collectively vet our portfolio of nonprofit Investee organizations. Those in which SVP invests, get both monetary and capacity building support so your dollar goes further; it is leveraged 4:1 with best business practices and consulting direction. Because partners invest their consulting expertise at no cost to the nonprofits, the actual cash contribution is enhanced by a factor of four.  The Investee will receive $20,000 in cash and $60,000 in strategic counsel equaling an investment of $80,000. One of our SVP partners serves as  liaison with the executive director of each of our Investees so all members of SVP get information to stay connected to our entire portfolio of organizations. As a Partner, you know where your money goes and how it is spent.

What amount of funding is offered to the typical Investee?

The financial portion of the SVP investment is typically $20,000 unrestricted funds per year. SVP makes the initial $20,000 investment in the first year with the intent of establishing longer-term partnerships with its Investees (typically three years.)

What can you say about your Investees? What are their characteristics?

The nonprofit organizations we support offer innovative solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing our society today. They are in need of and committed to an infusion of SVP volunteer support to build and strengthen their organization’s capacity to deliver programs. They are committed to project evaluation and measuring outcomes. They have a long-term perspective of their impact on the target population.

There are thousands of nonprofits. How does SVP decide which ones to fund?

As an SVP Partner, you no longer have to make that decision on your own. Whether or not you participate directly, you benefit from the careful selection and reviews carried out by the SVP Investment Committee – ensuring that your money is wisely invested.

Each year, 18-24 SVP Partners gather for a few hours a month over six months to select the organization that SVP will fund. The committee is looking for nonprofits that are having a significant impact in our community, and are poised to take their work to the next level. Through their work on the Investment Committee, Partners:

  • Learn about the area they are funding and about good grant making practices
  • Review letters of inquiry and proposals, debating the merits of each organization
  • Visit those organizations, meet staff and board members, and witness their work first-hand
  • Select three organizations to present to the entire membership for consideration and debate. Ultimately a decision is made and selection of the next nonprofit to add to our Portfolio of Investees.

Partners consistently say that participating on an investment committee is one of the most rewarding experiences at SVP.

What is the criteria that guides the Investment Committee for choosing an Investee?

We typically change our focus area every few years.  However, the following criteria tend to stay the same over time. The nonprofit we seek for our investment cycle will vary depending on our focus area, but generally, each:

  • Has been serving the community for at least three years.
  • Has at least three full-time employees.
  • Has a an executive director, leadership team and board that is engaged and willing to invest time and spirit to successfully partner with SVP.
  • Shows a real desire for growth and has staffing and board engagement appropriate to implement capacity building efforts.
  • Will benefit from the financial investment as well as the personal and professional expertise of our partners.
  • Has a willingness to further innovate in order to deepen organizational impact.
  • Has methods to track/evaluate outcomes and impact and is committed to measuring its outcomes.
  • Is operating with an annual budget that ranges from $300,000 – $3,000,000.
  • Must qualify as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code.

What can you say about the people leading your Investees? What are their characteristics?

SVP’s Investees are led by innovative, passionate leaders with vision and ideas about effecting change and solving problems in the community, and creating more social value from their limited resources.  We coach them with traditional business skills to achieve their goals and make creative use of limited resources to doggedly pursue their social mission.

Can Partners nominate Investees?             

Yes, they can. Some Partners have worked in the community and know of good candidates for grants. SVP encourages Partners to bring those organizations to light but these organizations are subject to the same application process as any other organization. SVP has conflict-of-interest policies to prevent any preference being given to a prospective Investee based on a prior relationship with a Partner. Investment decisions are the objective responsibility of the SVP Investment Team.

What kind of people do you look for as Partners?              

We welcome a diversity of talents and life experiences.  Our Partners currently range in age from 25 to 60+ years.  They range in life experience from those who have climbed the corporate ladder all their lives, to life-long volunteers, to those starting their adult lives.   About half of them are working full time and half are retired or self-employed. Some Partners join to share their leadership, others to hone their leadership skills. Half of our Partners are women. We look for skills that range from time management and event planning to strategic planning and risk assessment to accounting and financial skills to creative talents to social work.  Every Partner has something to contribute – and something to gain by joining and becoming engaged. Partners can join as an individual or family unit (2 votes per unit).

How do I know if SVP is right for me?

If you are passionate about making a difference, excited to connect with likeminded philanthropists, or simply ready to be more engaged in the Greater Cincinnati community, SVP is right for you. There are a variety of ways that SVP Partners are making a difference every day, from financial investment to providing direct capacity building support to our non-profit Investees. SVP is also FUN- when you become an SVP Partner, there are opportunities at the local or global level to socialize and learn from each other. When you join SVP Cincinnati, you also join Social Venture Partner International (SVPi), a global network of more than 3,000 partners, ready to make a difference.

Can I use the SVP partner network to support other charities or foundations I am involved with beyond the selected Investee(s)?   

Partners make new and lasting friendships and connections among fellow partners.  Networking with like-minded people is one of the partner benefits of SVP. As such, Partners may choose to support one another’s interests and passions.  Partners are free to send information or a request to all Partners for support of an organization with which they are personally engaged.  In so doing, we trust that Partners are respectful of their fellow Partners and make it clear that the information is being offered with no expectation or pressure to participate.  Partners for whom this is an imposition can simply inform the sender that they would like to ‘opt-out’ from further communication on the topic. We are sensitive to sending excessive unsolicited appeals to all Partners but are happy to share announcements and news with fellow Partners as part of our monthly newsletter.

Beyond leveraging and focusing our philanthropy practices, are their other benefits to becoming a Partner?                    

One of the benefits of being a Partner is continued education about philanthropy and the connection to one another and the community of non-profits in Greater Cincinnati.  SVP Partners come from a broad spectrum of previous philanthropic experience – from volunteering or writing checks, to serving on nonprofit boards or foundations.  Locally, SVP education encompasses discussions and panels on philanthropy, concerns facing our community, nonprofit issues and the focus areas in which we invest.  As part of the SVPi, our Partners have access to the SVP intranet, which links SVPs around the world and provides a wealth of resources.  The annual SVPi conference draws together SVP partners from around the world for several days of informative, engaging, and inspiring speakers, workshops, and conversations.

How do I become an SVP Partner?

Contact our executive director, Lauren LaCerda Merten for a personal, no-pressure conversation about your interest. Partners contribute $3000 annually for an individual, $6000 for a family or $1500 for a Young Professional (<35).  Some of our Partners are sponsored by Corporations, associations and nonprofits.

Lauren can be reached at lauren@svpcincinnati.org or 513-458-6715.