Sofia Michelakis, SVP Seattle

SVPI 05/30/2023
Partner Spotlight

Sofia Michelakis has been involved with SVP for almost 20 years. Over the years, she’s been a committed Partner and staff of SVP Seattle and also served on SVP International’s Board both as a member and as Board chair.

Professionally, Sofia serves as a philanthropy advisor with Phila Engaged Giving. She helps high net wealth donors navigate inflection points in their giving, such as when they’re ready to make a significant gift or when they’re looking to change the focus of their giving. She also helps donors find the right partners for their giving while building effective giving strategies.

Sofia loves reading, traveling, cold plunging, and spending time with her partner, son, and two pets.

Sofia Michelakis discusses how SVP is a leader because of the long term relationships it has built with its communities and nonprofit organizations.

What inspires your giving?

I like to put things in a positive frame rather than a problem frame. In the giving sector, we often focus on “issues” and “problems”, but we shouldn’t be thinking about people and communities as problems.

Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been thinking about the role of philanthropy as a buttressing of community resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges. It’s something that communities have been doing for generations and centuries.

I’m inspired by relationships and community. Throughout my involvement with SVP, I’ve seen the power of people working together to create a better future for everyone. We’re building relationships and partnerships that will help us make a lasting impact on our community.

How does collective action play a role in your philanthropy?

SVP Seattle has played such a critical role in connecting me with people who care about making a difference in our community.

I’ve met so many people who want to make a difference. Some are transitioning from for-profit to nonprofit work, while others are already working in nonprofits and want to learn more about philanthropy. And then there are those who have been giving for a while but want to learn how to make their giving more impactful.

As philanthropists, we work together to accelerate giving and make it more impactful. We build meaningful partnerships and connect with real people and real lives. There’s a real passion in knowing that we’re making a difference in the world.

Was SVP the first time you participated in pooled giving?

I participated in smaller, one-off pooled giving efforts before SVP, but SVP was my first experience with intentional, collective pooled giving.

Through SVP Seattle, my spouse and I participate mostly as investors. We have given year after year, trusting in the wisdom of the collective group and what grantees they were picking.

At the start, I felt I had to be very engaged, but I realized that my engagement didn’t necessarily have to be controlling the money. If it’s something I care about and I believe in the people involved in the decisions, it’s liberating to be able to trust the leadership of others and engage in ways that are more fulfilling for me.

Pooled funding is a powerful tool for collective action. When people come together and pool their resources, they can make a much bigger impact than they could on their own. 

The SVP Network leads with the value of trust-based philanthropy. What does this mean for you? 

When I joined SVP Seattle as a Partner in 2013, I knew almost everyone already. That’s because I was on the staff at SVP Seattle at the time. Most people join a chapter of SVP because a friend invited them, but I joined knowing 200 people right away, so it didn’t take me long to build trust with the community. I trusted them from the start.

The first thing I did as a partner at SVP Seattle was participate in the Equity Matters series. We learned about racial equity, and it was a pivotal experience. You can’t go through that experience without examining your history and yourself. It was such a personal experience for all of us to go through an equity journey together. As a result, we built a lot of trust with our peers.

At this point, I probably know more of the SVP Seattle alumni than I do the current partners, but I still feel the same amount of trust. That’s because I know that we all share the same values and stand for similar things.

What about SVP and our movement to reimagine giving gives you the most hope?

I believe philanthropy is at a big inflection point. The pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, revealed the cracks in our systems that were always there. Those of us with privilege could no longer look away, as ‌larger mainstream audiences started asking questions and mobilizing. I saw that SVP had been having these conversations about equity and resilience for a decade. Since SVP is a model of engaged philanthropy, my peers had the experience of being on the ground, working shoulder-to-shoulder with community organizations.

When the pandemic hit, it was more than a health crisis. Nonprofits were going through a different kind of crisis, often not having a lot of reserves and then needing to cancel their fundraising plans. How were they going to keep their doors open or virtual doors open and keep their staff?

SVP partners and staff reached out to these organizations and asked, ‘What do you need?’ and then stepped up to help. SVP is a leader because of the relationships we have with our communities and with nonprofit organizations. Those relationships don’t happen overnight. They take time to build.

We’re the largest network of individual donors in the world. We have the potential to act collectively in a way that few other organizations do. We share values across the network, and we think of ourselves as a global community. It’s amazing to see how our collective power can make a difference, not just in our own cities, but across regions and the world.

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