David Ferguson, on being an SVP Partner
David Ferguson and his wife, Kathy Butler, joined SVP in 2003. Since then, David’s engagement has ebbed and flowed based on his life journey, giving him the chance to both dive deeply into partnerships with non-profits, and also to witness SVP’s evolution to the organization it is now. He has a wonderful perspective on the time he’s spent with us, so we asked him to share his story!
David, tell us about about your beginnings with SVP.
We joined as a family in 2003, but I didn’t start getting really involved until 2006. In the early days, SVP was very different and I’m thrilled with the way it’s evolved. At the beginning there was a focus on technology, and evaluating Investees was quite different. There was a more strict VC model in that we’d use a ‘Dragon’s Den’ approach, hearing 15 minute pitches from seven or eight organizations who’d present to us in the boardroom where we’d make our decisions on which non-profit to work with. We still had an Opportunities Committee (OC) and that’s where I started. I participated on the OC for a number of years and ended up becoming a Lead Partner for the Chrysalis Society, eventually joining their board for eight years.
Back then, SVP was focused on children and youth, women’s issues, and the downtown eastside. SVP was an entry point for me getting involved in the non-profit sector and was fundamental in providing me with opportunity and knowledge to go more confidently into the non-profit space.
You’ve been a Partner for more than 16 years. Tell us about that journey.
I stayed on the OC for a long time, I think from 2005-2010, then I got busy at home. I was raising a family and was also CFO of a smaller, growing company in a heavy growth phase, so I stepped back from SVP for a bit. Some Partners have more time, and some put in money. From 2010 to 2017 I was mostly financial only, very light on my SVP involvement. During that time there was a lot of positive change in the organization. I decided it was important for me to work with non-profits, so I circled back to SVP and got re-engaged. Now I’m on the OC again, and a Co-Lead Partner with the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation (DSRF).
What made you continue to contribute financially when you weren’t able to give time?
We loved the model and we loved the engagement from the non-profit perspective; the time plus money for Partners rather than just blindly cutting cheques. SVP was a two way street, not just me providing my expertise, but also a chance to learn from the organizations. To engage at different levels and to learn. We were always big believers in the model. We were happy that SVP is set up so that if you have time, great, but if you don’t have time, that’s okay too. You can be more selective in how you donate time. On a practical level, there is only so much time that is available to be given. SVP needs both kinds of Partners – the time givers and money givers.
What’s been your most satisfying work?
One of my most positive experiences was being on the Chrysalis (former SVP Investee) board for so long. SVP enabled that. Chrysalis now has long term financial stability thanks to SVP. They’ve gone from an unstable rental-only situation to owning two of their three houses. When I first started working with Chrysalis, they were always a month or two away from not existing anymore. Now they have long term sustainability and are still doing well.
Now, what I enjoy is the one to one engagement with non-profits; the opportunity to be a Lead Partner, building a relationship with DSRF, getting to know their business. These are the things I find most rewarding.
Is there an especially remarkable experience you had along the way that you’d like to share?
There are so many! When I was a Lead Partner I attended a couple of meetings at Chrysalis before I joined the board. The first meeting I attended was a profound experience – they were celebrating different clients’ sobriety. I was the only attendee who was a man – it was a women’s society. It was profound hearing the participants talk about their experiences, to be a part of something I wasn’t exposed to in my business life. As business people we’re focussed on our careers and families – sometimes you need to step outside the bubble and broaden your perspective. SVP helped me broaden my perspective.
What would you say to motivate Partners to get involved?
I encourage people to broaden their experience horizons. The time plus money model is so valuable to non-profits, and the reward from their investment of time is significant. It’s not like any other non-profit experience. It’s extremely rewarding both short-term and long-term.
One key thing to put across… it’s a two-way process. Getting involved is an opportunity to be exposed to non-profits who can teach you as much as you teach them. The more you put into SVP, the more you get out of it.
David Ferguson, father of three and spouse of Kathy Butler, has a background in corporate finance and business development. He currently sits on the SVP Opportunities Committee, is a Co Lead Partner (alongside Barb Berg and John Murphy) for Down Syndrome Resource Foundation, and has been busy as a member of the Financial Management and Governance Communities of Practice – working with Investees on financial literacy for non-profit boards, and board governance in general. When David’s not SVP-ing, he’s trying to convince his kids to ski with him (he says they’re far better skiers than he is). He’s focussed on his family and spending as much time with his kids as he can.