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SVP International



Every year at VOICES, young people age 14 to 21 come eager to tell stories about their lives—what has happened to them, what they dream, theorize or wish, and their musings and investigation of the world around us. In our culture, youth voice is fragmented, ignored and co-opted by media outlets, marketers and stereotypes. Youth are among the most marginalized populations, yet they have tremendous insight and the potential to change our world. When they feel heard and understand that what they have to say matters, they invest in their education and future.


VOICES was an organization that ran an exceptional program, but we were very administrative heavy and didn’t have access to data, such as student test scores, to help prove the impact. Before SVP Investment, VOICES was an organization almost completely funded by government grants and contracts with very little funding from the private sector. The model needed a deep overhaul to be sustainable. We saw the need to diversify our funding sources and broaden our reach by tapping the professional skills of the Partners. “SVP was one of the few sources that was unrestricted and would pay for everything from salaries to keeping the lights on; things that government grants weren’t necessarily going to pay for. In that way, the SVP funding was really vital,” former Executive Director, Stephanie Balzer recalled.


SVP Impact: $75,000 between 2007 and 2010 + Partner time and expertise

Lemons to lemonade

In October of 2008, only a short time after being selected by SVP, VOICES began to feel, along with the rest of the country, the impact of the economic meltdown leading into the recession. At a time when everyone had pulled back their giving and were unwilling to take on new commitments, the challenge to diversify funding was amplified. “How do you launch a private donor program for an agency that hasn’t had one before, when everyone’s worried about their own investments?” It’s a daunting task.

But, they weren’t alone, Balzer remembers. “There was a lot of encouragement to find what the new model might be and what new partners might be out there. SVP Investment bought us time to figure out a better operational model and it allowed opportunities to refine our programming and to make some necessary alignments to be sustainable.”

After corporate partnership funding ceased, a natural alignment was formed with building mates City High School, an urban charter school with similar philosophical and programmatic ties and affinities to a certain type of youth development. VOICES co-wrote and received a grant with City High for a 21st Century Community Learning Center through the No Child Left Behind Act and became a program of City High. Students may now be involved for an entire high school career, VOICES impact is proven in test scores, and many students and former staff still keep in touch.

SVP Partners helped VOICES build its board of directors, develop fundraising expertise, and strengthen its capacity to serve youth. SVP also helped lead a nationwide search for a new executive director.

“The rigor that SVP brings to the table is a great thing. We had to grow up a lot and there were a lot of hard lessons, but Social Venture Partners always believed in us and our youth. Everyone at SVP wanted to learn with us,” Stephanie said.