Transforming Philanthropic Transactions

An Evaluation of the First Five Years at Social Venture Partners Seattle

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 14, No 3 (Fall 2003)

Kendall Guthrie, Alan Preston, and Lucy Bernholz. Blueprint Research and Design

2003, 53 pages. Blueprint Research and Design, 415-677-9700 or 206-324-4999, www.blueprintrd.com; Social Venture Partners Seattle, 206-374-8757, www.svpseattle.org. Report available at www.svpseattle.org

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Social Venture Partners was born in the philanthropic boom years of the late 1990s. That timing contributed to its rapid growth, but it is not essential to SVP's future success. SVP's effectiveness stems from its successful execution of programs in building capacity and inspiring philanthropy, its innovative intertwining of the two core fields of operation and an exceptional ability to learn from its experiences and adapt to changing times.

So concludes the fifty-page report written to assess the impact that SVP has had on the philanthropy of its partners and the capacity building of its investees. The report is a clearly written, thoughtful accounting of SVP's strategy and the execution of that intent. It was funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The report is organized into chapters that focus on:

  • SVP's work in inspiring philathropy in its partners,
  • its work in expanding the capacity of nonprofits, and
  • the means by which it fuses the two.

Included in each chapter is a description of how SVP achieves its goals and an assessment of the degree to which its methods have led to reaching the goals. The authors offer key observations for the field of philanthropy and recommendations to SVP in each focus area. Accompanying the report is a series of appendices detailing the research methodologies and data collection tools employed by the authors in conducting the assessment.

The chapter entitled “SVP's Work in Inspiring Philanthropy and Volunteerism” defines the characteristics of SVP Partners. This definition is included because the success of SVP's effort is seen as arising, to some extent, from a high level of engagement by the partners. Four of the eight named characteristics of partners include: 1) experience with service-oriented volunteering, 2) a “hyperagent” mentality, 3) experience of a life transition, and 4) a desire for greater involvement than simply writing checks. These characteristics are stated to be in keeping with industry research on why people become philanthropic.

Recommendations closing this chapter advocate for developing both criteria for being an “engaged philanthropist” and a path to follow to reach that point. The authors further suggest that SVP move beyond a quantitative measure of philanthropy to a means of tracking the outcomes of its partners' philanthropy.

The chapter “SVP's Work in Non Profit Capacity Building” gives an extensive description of how SVP increases organizational capacity. A key observation is that the investee organizations gained the most from their SVP partners in strengthened strategic planning and leadership development. This was counter to the expectation that the greatest value of the SVP volunteers would be in technical skills and new grant money.

The report concludes by positing that the goals of SVP can be best met going forward by fusing donor education and nonprofit capacity building. To date, SVP has pursued donor education and capacity building as two parallel, but separate activities. The authors express the opinion that the greatest impact on partners and on non¬¬profits comes from the extended experience of working directly together.

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