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Investment Reimagined Transforms Vision into Reality: Q&A with Co-Leads Dick Cahoon and Tara Schmitt

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Since 2017, SVP Cleveland has been evolving and evaluating what’s next for us. This three-year process didn’t start with just one person or one idea. There were cumulative shifts and changes, but, at our 2017 Fall Partner Meeting, a collective burst of lightbulbs went off in our Partners’ heads when asked to think about what’s next for SVP Cleveland? These bright ideas lit the way and began to form three clear strategic constellations: impact, sustainability, equity. Fast forward to 2020 when this work took shape in what we call Investment Reimagined. Over the past year, Investment Reimagined workgroups did just that—reimagined our grantmaking and nonprofit collaborations as more equitable, accessible, and impactful. In January 2021, the outcomes of these initiatives launched with a reimagined traditional investment cycle and new opportunities for short-term engagements for small and start-up nonprofits!

Whew! It was a lot, but our Co-Leads—Dick Cahoon and Tara Schmitt—did an amazing job guiding the process. Dick led the traditional investment cycle workgroup, and Tara led the workgroup developing small-scale and short-term engagements for small and start-up nonprofits. With Dick and Tara’s work complete and results in action, we asked each of them to look back and ahead.

After several months of serving as Co-Leads on the initiative, what does “Investment Reimagined” mean to you?

Dick: Investment Reimagined has turbocharged our traditional investment cycle by preserving the best parts of the old and adding an entirely new process to meet and collaborate with organizations that do not fit our traditional criteria.

Tara: It’s easy to think of investment as an exclusively financial proposition, but SVP has always been more than that. When I joined SVP, I was looking for a way to connect to the broader Cleveland philanthropic community. I wanted a way to engage with the countless inspiring ventures in our region, all aimed at making the world a better place. To me, being engaged in a community in that way is investment. Therefore, after working first with Dick and the SVP staff to define the goal of this initiative and then collaborating with my Investment Reimagined workgroup, I think “Investment Reimagined” is as much about giving SVP Partners more avenues to deeply engage with—to invest in—the Cleveland community as it is about increasing SVP’s effectiveness with regional nonprofits.

What outcome or direction that the Traditional Investment Cycle Workgroup generated are you most enthusiastic about?

Dick: We have shortened and improved everything within the traditional investment cycle process. The SVP Partnership will have a much better feel, up front, for our two-year engagement based on more interaction with the applicants before the Investee is chosen. We have also now stated that every organization to be considered must be committed to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion.

What outcome or direction that the Small-scale, Short-term Project Workgroup generated are you most enthusiastic about?

Tara: Our workgroup quickly coalesced around what we wanted to achieve: broaden our reach to smaller nonprofits, better meet the needs of those nonprofits, and increase engagement of SVP members. Of the recommendations we’ve made, I think the short-term-advisory-team approach best meets all of those goals and is an exciting development for both Partners and nonprofits alike! I love the idea that a few passionate SVP Partners can pick up the charge and work closely with a small nonprofit that needs help navigating a discrete issue over a few weeks or months. This could dramatically increase the number of nonprofits we work with, allowing Partners to have hands-on, direct experience with the nonprofits and people making a difference in Cleveland. And, for nonprofits that may not yet be ready for a long-term investment, this kind of opportunity will give them access to enthusiastic support from Partners who have a diversity of experience and expertise and can help move those amazing organizations’ missions forward. I love it!

With 2021 wide open with possibility, what are you most excited about?

Dick: I am excited about the leadership that our new executive director, Abby Westbrook, is providing to the organization. We have unlimited possibilities.

What is something that went right for you in 2020, and who’s to thank?

Dick: Quite frankly, SVP in both cases. In the early stages of COVID, SVP’s board president, Chann Fowler-Spellman, asked me to be involved in several projects including the search for a new ED. I was on a Zoom call with Partners every week until we hired Abby. It was a very collaborative and exceptional experience during a very dark time. Thank you, SVP!

Tara: With all the craziness of 2020, my home life was pretty fantastic. I have my two teenage daughters to thank for that. They’ve made quarantine a time to build bonds and appreciate the people in our lives, even if we only see them via zoom for now.

How did you fair on your 2021 New Year’s resolution(s), if you had any?

Dick: A date is immaterial. A resolution does not need to wait for the New Year. Also, resolutions need a life beyond goal achievement.

Tara: I’ve never really taken to them myself, but if they work for others, go for it! Having worked in the educational sector for most of my adult life, for me the “new year” starts, as it did when I was a child, in Fall. So, when I say “next year,” I usually mean after September!

Is there anything else you want to share with readers about SVP?

Dick: My relationship with SVP has been a long and mostly fulfilling one. I think we are on the cusp of potential excellence and I am very excited to participate in the journey.

Click to see Dick’s bio and Tara’s bio.