Did you know that an SVP Partner acts as a ‘Lead Partner’ for every Investee we fund? We wanted to check-in with these volunteers to learn more about their stories and experiences in this most-important role. Walter Impert, Lead Partner for Friends of the Children King County, shares his lessons learned. Don’t forget to check out the newest video about Friends, debuted at our June 5th Spring Meeting, below!
Lynn Coriano reached out to me about serving as Lead Partner for Friends of the Children in February 2010. I am on the board of the Washington State Mentors, believe strongly in the power of mentoring, and was excited about the opportunity to learn more about Friends of the Children, and how SVP works with its Investees. More than two years later, I have learned a tremendous amount, both about Friends and SVP.
I started with questions about Friends’ unique model, which employs paid mentors rather than volunteers. The challenge to me was clear, the cost per mentor-mentee match is significantly higher with paid mentors than volunteers (Friends estimates it is $9,000 per child per year). The program cannot grow without incremental revenue for new matches. But, I learned that dollar for dollar, the cost of the program is downright inexpensive compared to what society pays for incarceration, substance abuse treatment, and teen parenting, the statistical path for these children if they were not served by Friends. A focus on costs tells only part of the story. It’s harder to count the benefits when a child no one believed in graduates from high school, makes a positive impact on their family and community, and in many cases, becomes a role model for many others.
I have also learned that Friends works a little bit like SVP. Both organizations make multi-year commitments to their investees, and each has specific goals in mind. A representative of the organization is tasked with overseeing the Investee relationship. Both organizations care about verifiable results.
Of course, Friends invests in young children from difficult backgrounds, not early, mid-stage or mature nonprofit organizations. The selection criteria is also quite different. SVP looks for promising organizations that can grow and achieve greater impact through capacity building support. Friends seeks children that face significant challenges and have limited access to opportunities. Friends has three primary goals for its Investees: success in school culminating in high school graduation, positive relationships with adults and the community (including avoiding the juvenile justice system), and a healthy lifestyle free of substance abuse and early parenting. These goals are essentially capacity building – children come out of the Friends mentoring program with a greater capacity to contribute positively in their vocation, community, and family.
Friends is able to have success with the most vulnerable children because of its long-term commitments. Rather than a volunteer Lead Partner, it pairs children with full-time paid professional mentors from grade school through high school. There are sure to be assessments and adjustments, but Friends agrees to stick with these children through their ups and downs. Relationships are not terminated because of a lack of performance. Each mentor spends at least 4 hours a week with a child, and provides unwavering commitment and support until the student graduates from high school.
Okay, so there are plenty of differences, but one important, and unique, similarity is the multi-year commitment. As Lead Partner, I have had the privilege of seeing SVP tackle funding challenges and think hard about board composition and board roles, as it continues to build strong and sustainable programs. Friends has engaged in the SVP relationship in much the same way as it hopes its children will engage with and learn from their mentors. It has taken full advantage of the collective skill and wisdom of SVP partners, including in the areas of executive coaching, IT and database support, and board development.
In both cases, the relationship eventually comes to an end, but each organization leaves its Investees stronger and better equipped to handle new challenges and to take advantage of new opportunities.
Friends of the Children supports our community’s most vulnerable children. Hear their stories and find out how SVP fits in.
Interested in becoming a Lead Partner? Check out our upcoming opportunities.