The Social Venture Partners (SVP) model was created in 1997 in Seattle. The vision of the founders was a philanthropic community that borrowed from venture capital practices and made highly engaged investments of money, resources and business expertise in local nonprofit organizations. The aim: To develop their capacity and sustainability.
At its core, venture philanthropy is aimed at strengthening and supporting the long-term capacity of a nonprofit to fulfill its mission, rather than funding short-term projects or programs. It requires a high level of involvement from both parties — the philanthropist and the non-profit. It’s a multi-year financial and human resource commitment and assumes there will be positive changes within the nonprofit as a result of the relationship.
This vision captured the attention of Tucson’s Helaine Levy, executive director of Diamond Family Philanthropies, when she attended a SVP conference in Phoenix. She thought it would be a good fit for Tucson, providing a route for nonprofits and social agencies to connect with new people who might be interested in contributing to and improving the community.
Levy, along with Steve Alley, then CEO of the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona (CFSA), worked for two years and, with the support of a group of founding partners, brought SVP Greater Tucson into being in October, 2006. It was established as a program of CFSA and the title later became, simply, SVP Tucson. The founding partners, in addition to Levy and Alley, were David Cohen, Susan Dubow, Ann Lovell, Mark Rubin and Jane Wilson. They conducted surveys and found that literacy support was a critical area of need in Southern Arizona and it was selected as the Investment Focus Area for the initial SVP Investment Cycle.
In 2007, Stephanie Sklar was hired as SVP Tucson’s first executive director and partners elected to continue with community literacy as the focus area for a minimum of three years. In May of that year, SVP launched its first grant round. Eighty seven nonprofits were represented at the launch meeting. After explaining the model, criteria and application process, 17 of them submitted Letters of Inquiry and eight were selected to submit formal proposals and participate in site visits. Two organizations were chosen for funding: Literacy Volunteers of Tucson and VOICES, Inc. Each organization, or “investee,” was awarded $25,000 a year for three years for a total of $75,000 each, subject to semi-annual review. The grants are unrestricted and may be used as the investee desires.
In subsequent years, a similar procedure took place with one investee being funded each year. By 2010, the first two investees had “graduated” and in each year going forward a new investee would be chosen and one would graduate. In each case a lead partner is chosen to work with the investee, setting annual objectives with
measurable outcomes. Growingly, a team approach is used, with several SVP partners working with an investee.
In 2012, Partners elected to expand our focus to Life Skills, which includes not only literacy but other skills that enable individuals to fully participate in the workplace, marketplace and in day-to-day community life. This expanded focus saw the investment in Tucson Youth Development in 2012.
In 2017, through a yearlong, in-depth exploration, SVP learned that poverty lies at the heart of many of the most pressing issues facing our community. Using SVP’s proven venture philanthropy model (time + money), they refined the focus of the multi-year, capacity building grants to strengthen nonprofit organizations that are working to provide Pathways out of Poverty for Children, Youth and Families. This new focus saw the investment in JobPath in 2018.
Investees since inception:
- 2007 — Literacy Volunteers of Tucson (now Literacy Connects) and VOICES, Inc.
- 2008 — Make Way for Books
- 2009 — Sunnyside Parents as Teachers
- 2010 — Reading Seed (now Literacy Connects)
- 2011 — Youth on Their Own
- 2013 — Tucson Youth Development
- 2015 — Old Pueblo Community Services
- 2016 — SARSEF
- 2017 — Higher Ground
- 2018 — Job Path
Total amount of funds invested since inception: $937,000
In addition to these investments, SVP played a significant role in the creation of Literacy Connects in 2011. Literacy Connects is the result of a five-way merger of the organizations Reading Seeds, Literacy Volunteers of Tucson, Stories That Soar, Reach Out and Read and the Literacy for Life Coalition. This significant merger in the literacy community combined five operating entities into one organization reaching individuals young and old.
It was also in 2011 that SVP’s first executive director, Stephanie Sklar, left and was replaced by Julia Waterfall-Kanter. Then in 2016, Julie passed over the role to Ciara Garcia, whom serves as the current CEO of SVP Tucson.