Tucson not-for-profits looking to effect positive social change have long relied on philanthropists to make their mission a reality.
Agencies work diligently to make a connection with donors to prompt them to action, usually in the form of grabbing the checkbook.
Social Venture Partners Greater Tucson takes this concept a step further. Established in 2006, SVPGT's goal is to provide resources for the not-for-profits it helps, but, just as importantly, to provide education and a sense of community to philanthropists donating the funds. Their mission is one of venture philanthropy via engaged partners and informed donors.
Mark Rubin, an attorney with Mesch, Clark & Rothschild and a member of the SVPGT founding board, said, "We're not just a funder. It's a venture capital model. The nonprofits we fund get business advice and opinions, too."
The first SVP organization was started in Seattle as an outgrowth of the tech boom. "There were people with a lot of money and a desire to leave something more of value than software or the best chip," Rubin said.
Helaine Levy, executive director of the Diamond Foundation and current SVPGT chair of partner recruitment and retention, and Steve Alley, former CEO for Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, were instrumental in bringing the Seattle model to Tucson.
"About seven years ago, I noticed that the same five families were always being asked to make contributions," Levy said. "I knew there was more wealth in the community, but it wasn't surfacing. And social service agencies didn't know how to seek it out."
Levy attended one of SVP's annual conferences in Phoenix and thought the model would be a good fit for Tucson. "It's a way to promote philanthropy and teach people how to be good philanthropists."
John Smith, a retired physician and current SVP board chair, says the model works because it engages not only the groups that receive the money, but the people giving the money. "You're not just standing back, writing a check and reading about it in the newspaper. You're getting involved."
To that end, the not-for-profits receiving the funds get more than just money. They have access to the considerable talents of SVP's partners. Smith added, "It's a small amount of money involved, but the contribution in expertise and capacity building is huge."
Currently, SVPGT has 41 partner units. Each partner agrees to contribute $5,000 each year and whatever amount of time and expertise they are comfortable giving. The not-for-profits pay nothing for the services, which are provided as part of the grants.
Mark Rubin said the real value for the organizations receiving the funds comes from the in-kind services. "The investees aren't just receiving money, they're putting together a work plan. I've been able to help them with legal and fund development issues and other things I know about. My wife has a human relations background and has shared that with some of the investees."
SVPGT's current funding focus is literacy programs. An investment committee makes funding selections based on an application process. SVPGT then awards grants of $75,000 over a three-year period for each agency funded and provides assistance to those agencies over that time.
Smith sums it up well. "It's an opportunity for personal development as well as a philanthropic opportunity for individuals. It's about giving of yourself and caring about others and social transformations."