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How One Community Partner Grew by 400%

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland
Friends of the Children Portland

Written by Cassie Fowler, SVP Partner

SVP Portland is built on the relationships between our Investor Partners and Community Partners. These relationships enable organizations and collaborations to strengthen their operating capacity so they are on a trajectory to flourish well after SVP’s investment is complete. In honor of our 20th anniversary, we are taking a look back at our past investments to see where they are now.


Friends of the Children opened to serve the Portland-metro area in 1993 with a mission to impact generational change in youth who face the greatest obstacles. Youth are paired with paid, professional mentors (Friends) whose full-time jobs are to facilitate life-long success. Friends are committed to working with each child starting as early as age 4, all the way through high school graduation,12+ years – no matter what.

SVP Portland first partnered with Friends of the Children in 2008 to build their capacity to serve more children. Partners engaged with them on facilities and building management, database management, financial management systems, and program evaluation, as all were limiting their goal of programmatic growth.

However, the most significant impact we made was helping to strengthen junior and senior leadership within Friends of the Children. SVP Partners worked with their leadership team to recognize challenges and develop solutions that enabled more cohesive internal progress toward long-term and short-term goals. Through our in-depth work, they boosted their leadership culture and upgraded their problem-solving abilities.

Larry Fox, the SVP Partner who worked with Friends of the Children’s leadership team, reflected: “Seven years ago, Friends of the Children was going through significant and timely change in both their data management system and the structure of their programs. The stress of these changes undermined morale and overwhelmed an executive team unfamiliar with this level of disruption. Among SVP’s contributions at the time was a year and a half of executive coaching and training to create a leadership culture in which all members learned to carry the team’s success with independent thinking, problem ownership, and reasonable risk taking.” 

The focus on leadership development couldn’t have come at a better time. In 2012, Terri Sorensen, Friends of the Children-Portland’s Executive Director, became the first CEO of Friends of the Children’s national office. At the time, there was no national staff in place, so the Friends-Portland team supported Terri’s scaling efforts, while continuing to grow their own programs.

“It was truly inspiring to see the ascendance of Terri Sorensen to CEO! Throughout the partnership with Friends of the Children, I had to hone my ability to listen, learn from, and translate the organization’s inherent strengths into a future befitting their potential. Working with them simply helped me grow.” Larry added.

Today, Friends of the Children is thriving on a national level, scaling from five to 22 locations in just seven years.

“We are incredibly grateful for our long-standing partnership with SVP Portland,” says Terri Sorensen. “The work we’ve done with SVP has been critical to our scaling efforts. We had a lot of work to do so we had the internal capacity to scale our model, and to ensure the organization was sustainable. SVP was able to look at every aspect of our organization and invest in our leadership and infrastructure so that we could scale.”  

The flagship Friends-Portland chapter continues to grow—with the addition of a foster care program and the launch of a Southwest Washington chapter. They are now able to serve more Portland area children – and thousands of children from all over the country. We are proud to have partnered with this fantastic organization, and we look forward to seeing where they go next!

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