It was 1994, and Paul Brainerd was out of a job.
He had just sold his software company, Aldus Corporation, to Adobe. PageMaker, the desktop publishing program his company created, had revolutionized printing and publishing – and left him an unexpected millionaire.
At 47, early retirement might have looked attractive to some, but Paul had other ideas. Drawing on a life-long passion for the environment, he toured the northwest, interviewing dozens of leaders in the field to figure out where he could have the greatest impact. A year later, Paul founded the Brainerd Foundation, as well as an environmental nonprofit.
Not long after that, Paul began to realize that he was not the only person in his particular situation. The dot-com boom was in full swing, and Seattle was brimming with young, retired professionals who wanted to give back, but didn’t quite know how to go about it.
The wheels started turning. Paul invited colleagues, friends, and community members to discuss another idea – this one borne of the desire to get thousands more people highly engaged in philanthropy. These people would not just write checks. They would work shoulder-to-shoulder with nonprofits – using their professional skills to tackle Seattle’s most pressing problems.
“It’s not about charity,” Paul told Susan Byrnes of The Seattle Times. “This is a more engaged giving style. If it’s done right, both sides end up with more in the end.”
More than a hundred people showed up for that first meeting, and in 1997 Paul – along with other business leaders – founded Social Venture Partners.
History of SVP in Cleveland
Founder’s Speech at 10th Anniversary, March 12, 2011
by Kathryn Kaczmarski
I was invited to tell you the story about how Cleveland Social Venture Partners came to be. It’s a very personal story: I have been known to refer to CSVP as “my baby” – a bit arrogant perhaps, as this Partnership is so clearly about all of us (past, present, and future) who chose to get involved. But that’s how much it meant to me, being a part of creating this organization.
In 1999, I completed a doctorate at Case Western Reserve University, and it became evident to me that I was to remain in Cleveland and morph my part-time consulting practice into a full-time business. I began wandering around wondering what else I might do to make a difference in my “home city.” I had worked extensively in the private sector, but my grad school experience exposed me to the world of nonprofits and passion- and mission-driven leaders and organizations. Striving to bridge these two sides of my experience, I decided that giving back to the community was the means to do this. I thought they had something to offer each other. And though I had no wealth to speak of, I had always wanted to be a philanthropist.
I explored options offered by foundations, such as creating a donor-advised fund, but the idea of only giving money wasn’t enough; I had worked too closely with US and international nonprofits (or non-governmental organizations). I wanted to help build the bridge as well as provide funding for the construction.
Around this time, I met Bob Crumbaker and his wife, Carol, at the church I attended in the city. Bob and I became fast friends when we realized that we were both looking to be more connected to the community and were striving to find the right way to do that. We compared notes on organizations and volunteer opportunities. The idea of an extended form of philanthropy that made a difference beyond grant-making or giving money began to take root. Somehow, the notion of “engaged philanthropy” emerged.
Bob was first to discover the burgeoning Social Venture Partner network surfacing out of Seattle, and he immediately contacted Executive Director Paul Shoemaker. We now had our model – the kind of philanthropic and business-oriented engagement with the nonprofit sector that appealed to us. The dilemma: it was just two of us with an idea and a lot of passion. We knew we were onto something, and we began to speak with others.
Over the next year, we talked to everyone in our networks. (This was before Facebook and other online applications that would have expedited and expanded our reach.) Slowly we formed a small group of individuals who were like-minded and philosophically aligned with us – also searching and not quite satisfied with existing channels. We created our first board with John Johnson and Stacy Condon to incorporate Cleveland Social Venture Partners. We four continued to conceptualize the strategy, structure, and function of the organization, holding endless meetings as only people involved in start-ups do. Bob masterfully created a business plan, and having planted seeds through our networking, we were successful in obtaining start-up funding from the Gund and Cleveland Foundations. It was a joyous time – to witness the seed of an idea begin to sprout… .
Things unfolded quickly. Bob, Stacy, John, and I joined as Partners and recruited interested others to do the same: Lin Emmons, the Rourkes, Bronwyn Jones, Heather Sherwin, Pete Ranney, Mary Bright, the Pattersons – just to name a few early Partners. With foundation funding and Partners on board, it was time to hire an executive director and formally set up shop with an office. Many applied for the position, but only one individual fit the bill – Dave Wittkowsky. We knew he was the man who could help us launch this enterprise, and that’s exactly what he did.
Over the next two years, we completed our first two investment cycles and established ourselves with nonprofits in the community. We became a complementary and alternative approach to philanthropy in Cleveland. We offered then – and I believe SVP still offers now – to engage Partners fully: to use their talent, time, and treasure to make a meaningful difference with organizations desiring to grow, expand, and become more sustainable. The return on investment is the bridge that is built between our heads and our hearts. Life circumstances beckoned me to leave Cleveland in 2003, and I was distressed to leave Social Venture Partners. It remains to this day one of the highlights of my life.
What Cleveland has is very special: in those early days there was a strong sense of philosophical and even spiritual alignment with one another. I haven’t experienced an organization like this since. It is a very special social venture fund that has been created here, and I trust that will remain for a long time.
Thank you for allowing me to tell my story. I continue to watch the unfolding of this organization and wish it every possible success in transforming the community and those of us involved to become better citizens and human beings. It is a privilege to be here, and I wish all of you – Partners, Investees, staff – involved with this most special organization the very best.
Since then, SVP Cleveland has grown to include 80+ Partners. There are organizations like ours in 39 cities throughout North America, Japan, and India, and our international network is more than 3000 people strong.