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SVP Portland: The Beginning

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and, with that in mind, we would like to express our gratitude to SVP Portland’s Founding Partners! We appreciate that they identified the innovative model of “engaged philanthropy” originally started by Social Venture Partners Seattle in in 1997, and replicated it here in Portland. The idea has since evolved and spread to over 40 cities around the world! 

SVP Portland was founded similarly to many of our Community Partners—as a concept focused on making our community a better place for children and families. For nearly 20 years, we have practiced venture philanthropy: leveraging the money, skills, and influence of SVP Partners in local nonprofits and collaborations. Read on to hear directly from one of our founders about the beginning of SVP Portland. 


November 15, 2019

SVP Partner Boyce Smith was born and raised in Portland and had a long career at Intel Corporation. Soon after retiring, he and several of his colleagues joined forces to create Social Venture Partners Portland in 2000, with the goal of making a difference in the Portland metro area. Here’s Boyce’s story of how it all started.  

“During my 20 years at Intel, I wore many hats, including manager of production processes and quality control, but my goal ultimately remained the same: fixing problems and finding solutions. 

“Shortly after several Intel employees either retired or quit, we started to get together for lunch or cocktails as a social gathering. At one of the meetings, a colleague named Eli Lamb asked if we had heard of “venture philanthropy.” Most of us had not. Eli had attended a meeting at SVP Seattle, where he learned about their unique model for volunteers willing to invest not only charitable donations, but also time and expertise. A lot of us jumped on board in part to keep busy, and based on the concept, we thought we could make a significant impact. After all, the notion of helping nonprofits already doing good work fix problems to improve their services sounded like a great idea.  

“As we started to set up SVP Portland, we agreed our focus area would be ‘kids and education’ and our regional area would be Portland metro (Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington Counties, as well as the Vancouver area). After we established a process for finding good organizations and making investment decisions, we sent out our first requests for proposals to well over 100 local nonprofits; about 45 proposals came back. SVP Partners got together and selected two nonprofits as our first Investees: Morrison Child and Family Services in SE Portland and the Children’s Relief Nursery in North Portland. 

 “After Morrison had merged with other nonprofits, they faced a thorny problem: their computer systems didn’t all talk to each other. Since Eli was a software engineer, he stepped in as Lead Partner and, two years later, all their computers were talking to each other!”

The Chief Information Officer at Morrison shared her gratitude: “SVP Portland was my ‘ray of hope’ when I saw the reality of what had to be done to be able to implement the type of systems we were tasked to do – and they came through quickly and efficiently with experienced, talented IT resources. We wouldn’t be where we are today organizationally or technically without SVP.”

Boyce continues…“The Children’s Relief Nursery, located in the basement of a church, was getting ready to move to a new location that they had purchased. I was asked to help plan and execute the move from the church to their new location, which had been a small grocery store. I chaired the planning committee and showed up on moving day to help them move in. 

“In both experiences, I found out that while the nonprofits had impressive skills to serve their clients, they for the most part did not have the capacity to make or implement changes to their facilities or structure. 

“I’m most proud of the help we have provided to many nonprofits in the last 18 years. I feel good about the ongoing resources SVP Portland provides to our Community Partners to help improve their capabilities, facilities, and tools, so that more clients can benefit from their services.”

Thanks to Boyce, you can see how early SVP Portland Partners stepped in for our first two Community Partners, helping to collaboratively address problems and find solutions. As we have expanded and refined our focus, the basic model of Partners collectively investing their time, talent, and treasure remains the core of who we and unique value we provide in our community since our founding. We still approach each investment with a problem-solving mindset, applying SVP’s resources to help our exceptional Community Partners serve more of Portland’s children and families. 

Please join us in thanking Boyce and SVP Portland’s Founders for their vision and deep investment in our community over the past 19 years! 

2 Comments:

  1. Judy Strand

    With appreciation to the founders of SVPP and to those who have nurtured and SVPP as it has developed over the years of it’s life! Our organization, and the communities we serve have benefited as a result of investments and partnership with SVPP. With gratitude from all of us at Metropolitan Family Service!

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