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Matt Little, Looking Forward and Reflecting Back

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

How many of us have a childhood aspiration and actually have the opportunity to achieve it? We now know one of those people: Matt Little, SVP Portland’s Director of Investor Partnerships. Many of you know Matt because he helped recruit you to become a Partner, or because you’ve met with him to discuss engagement opportunities at SVP.

What you may not know is that Matt dreamed of working at Ducks Unlimited since he was a kid in Minnesota hunting, fishing, and exploring with his dad. So, when the organization recently recruited him to be the Director of Policy for the Western Region, Matt accepted. Matt will be working on his dream to promote policies that conserve wetlands and wildlife. Staff and Partners alike feel this is bittersweet, and it is with both sadness and excitement that we wish Matt our best with his new role starting December 1. Fortunately for us, Matt will remain part-time with SVP in the short term.

As we celebrate this amazing opportunity for Matt, we also want to reflect back on his three years with SVP. In the following Q&A we dive into some of Matt’s SVP experiences and perspectives.

Q: In addition to being on staff, you’re also an Investor Partner, right? 

A: Yes, my wife Paula and I have been Investor Partners for five years, and we both have perspectives as nonprofit leaders as well as investors – and Paula serves on SVP’s Board of Directors.

Q: Do you plan to remain a Partner?

A: Absolutely! There’s no other opportunity like SVP that allows you to build all of these deep relationships with local nonprofits and get so much in return. I love that our Investor Partners are focused on any and all aspects of organizational health, and can use practically any skill set they have to help. 

Q: As someone who knows our Investor Partners best, what have you learned about them?

A: SVP Partners care deeply and want to get involved. They want to do more than write checks; they want to participate and see their investments at work. Whether they are mid-career or retired, SVP Partners are looking to have a meaningful impact with our community. 

Q: Matt, what was fundraising like in your previous role as Executive Director at Cascade Forest Conservancy?

A: When I was raising money, which was all of the time, I would sit down with funders and share our most popular program — which was getting kids outside and learning about nature. Funders rarely wanted to hear about our organizational challenges and I was reluctant to tell them. If I was lucky and made a good pitch, we would receive a check. After that, we usually wouldn’t hear from the funder again until it was time to submit a report or we needed more support.

   That is not a healthy model. As an Executive Director, you’re always trying to build capacity for your organization and you are under great pressure to reduce this thing called overhead (“Overhead” is a terrible word). Funders rarely want to fund this essential building block. They want to fund programs. This creates weak organizations.

Q: How would the experience have been different at SVP?

A: As an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I would have loved to have SVP as a partner because we flip that unhealthy funding relationship on its head. Not only does SVP give unrestricted grants to our Community Partners, but we fill in gaps and grow capacity of the organizations. We work alongside them as friends, providing access to free, highly-skilled individuals who want to help. Often nonprofit managers can’t afford to hire such people to do this important work, like conduct a financial assessment or provide strategic advising.

   SVP comes in and sits down with you as a true partner for the long term. Instead of wanting to know what your flashy new program is, we ask questions and listen. Trust is formed so that the leaders of our Community Partners can open up about their challenges and we can help. I just love the model.

Q: A lot of people get anxious about asking people for donations. You have done that for years. What makes it easier for you?

A: A long time ago, I realized that most people in all income brackets regularly give time and/or money generously to some cause. I figure, if most every person I meet is already giving somewhere, why shouldn’t I be telling them about my favorite place where they could have the most impact? I’m just offering another option. They can say no, and that’s okay. Usually, they’re just happy that they’ve been asked.

Q: What will you miss most about working at SVP?

A: The people. From the staff to the Partners, my job with SVP has allowed me to meet and work with genuine, fascinating, and passionate people who share a common passion for community impact. The connections and friendships are enduring and inspirational. I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve in this role at SVP!

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