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Social Venture Partners blends venture-capital strategy with philanthropy

Posted by Rose Greensides


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What happens when two venture capitalists talk about philanthropy?

While this may seem like the start of a joke, it’s actually the founding story of Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region (SVPWR).

Jacqui Murphy, Vice President of Marketing at Auvik Networks, and Tim Jackson, Lead Executive at MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, were partners at Tech Capital Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm. In 2010, they both decided they wanted to get more involved in helping out the philanthropic community of Waterloo Region.

Both believed that writing a few cheques a year wasn’t enough.

Through Rosemary Smith, CEO of The Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation, they were introduced to the Social Venture Partners model of giving. The model is simple: act like a venture capitalist, but invest your own money.

Today, SVPWR has 60 partners, and acts much like a VC firm. A call is put out to local charities to apply for funding. Then, through rounds of interviews and a due-diligence process, one organization a year is picked to benefit from the partners.

That organization is then supported financially and through the contribution of expertise from the partners. SVPWR commits to a three- to five-year term with the organization.

SVPWR has a mandate to support youth, children and family organizations. The vision was born on the founding night of the program.

“There were 30 people crowded in (Jackson’s) basement,” Murphy said. “We sat around talking about how we all wanted to help our community. We all talked about what was important to us.

“One area was unanimous: the future belongs in kids.”

Unlike traditional venture-capital firms, the SVP model has partners donating their own money to the cause. The model began in Seattle in 1994 and now boasts more than 3,000 members in 40 cities around the world.

Today, partners donate $5,000 a year to fund the multi-year, unrestricted grants the charities receive. Unrestricted giving is important, Murphy said. Too often, she explained, organizations get donations for specific purposes (single programs, for example), which leaves little room for changes or adaptations.

The SVPWR model allows the charity or organization to use the money as it wishes, no audit required. The model works because the partners become deeply involved in the organization for a long period of time, said Rose Greensides, Executive Director of SVPWR.

Once a charity is accepted by the partners, it goes through a capacity-assessment process that lets the partners see where they can help most. Then, partners with applicable skills are posted to areas that need help. It could be developing a new website, fundraising model or marketing plan.

SVPWR is currently working with three investees on 18 projects.

“A not-for-profit needs more than money.” Greensides said. “They need time, energy and passion.”

For Greensides, what she’s found amazing in the amount of time the organization takes to educate members and partners on the realities of struggles in Waterloo Region.

“We set up learning opportunities about issues in the region so we are informed,” she said. During a recent meeting, the partners learned about Lutherwood and children’s mental health issues.

SVPWR has a range of options for interested givers, from full-partner status to the associate ($2,500/ year for those under the age of 35); fellowship (no financial donation but in-person time donation, by application only); and the SVP Teen program, which helps teens learn the process behind raising money and giving back to the community.

Murphy remains an active partner in SVPWR. It’s not always easy to make the $5,000 donation, she said.

“That’s a new TV, or a trip to some place hot,” Murphy said. “But Jackson told me once that people need to give until it hurts, and that’s something that has stuck with me. If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t giving enough. It hurts every year, but then I see the impact we’re making and I feel so jazzed.”


Social Venture Partners blends venture-capital strategy with philanthropy