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Supporting nonprofit growth and sustainability

Published January 2017

Social Venture Partners aligns passion and purpose through a global network of local partners that support nonprofits working to solve society's most entrenched problems. Here, MissionBox Vice President of Partnerships and Community Engagement Mila Amundson talks with Ann Herzog-Olson, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of Social Venture Partners.

How would you describe the Social Venture Partners model?

Social Venture Partners pairs engaged philanthropists with selected nonprofits — or investees — in need of business expertise or other support. We call it the venture philanthropy model.

Our relationships with investees typically last three years. During this time, we provide grants for general operating support — which can be used any way the investee chooses. More critically, we also provide functional expertise in the form of skilled volunteer consulting. These partners help the investee fill organizational gaps or weaknesses to move the needle, if you will, toward the investee's goals. For example, we might provide training in finance, development or earned revenue strategies. In other cases, there might be an opportunity to do HR work or change management or to provide back-office support.

What does the concept of engaged philanthropy mean to you?

Engaged philanthropists don't simply write a check. They have a passion for social change — and a passion for using their business acumen as a tool for that social change. Engaged philanthropy is about sharing strategic brain power, applying expertise and learning from the experience. As an engaged philanthropist, you become a civic leader. You learn about the issues facing people in your community. You become part of a network of other engaged philanthropists who want to make a difference.

If you're considering ways to step up your philanthropy, consider how you might share your time and expertise with Social Venture Partners.

How do you recruit investees?

Our chapter focuses on underserved teens in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. Rather than start-ups, we're looking for nonprofits in this arena that have known outcomes to describe the impact of their programs — as well as a vision of growth and an idea of what that growth looks like.

If your organization serves at-risk youth in our target area and you're interested in the hard work of growth and sustainability, you're invited to apply online to become our next investee.

What can a new investee expect?

We begin by asking a new investee to complete an organizational capacity assessment to identify organizational gaps and weaknesses. We involve a representative group in this process, such as the executive director, the board chair or an engaged board member, a senior-level staff member, and a front-line or administrative staff member. From there, our partners work with the investee to define the most critical gaps or weaknesses and craft a three-year capacity-building plan.

We review progress at six months and again at one year. At that point, we decide whether to continue the relationship. If so, we repeat the entire process. Ultimately, our goal is to work with an investee for a full three years. Then, we provide workshops, keynote speakers and other events to support continued development.

Is the focus, then, to support investees in their ongoing sustainability efforts?

The idea is to support both growth and sustainability by helping investees develop an operational infrastructure that allows them to better achieve their mission. Our investees are passionate about what they're doing, but they can't be specialists in everything. We help them organize the structures and processes that will result in a more effective organization. On average, we help investees double their revenue during their time with us.

A doubling of revenue is an outstanding outcome, particularly in this day and age. What's the key to your success?

We're willing to take some risks with investees to encourage growth for those at the tipping point. The real key, though, is hard work — especially if there's a change in leadership during our time with an investee. Even then, we're committed to sticking by our investees as long as they continue to invest the effort needed to advance the capacity-building plan. I've heard about typical success rates of less than 5 percent, but for us it's about 85 percent.

Beyond revenue, what metrics do you use to measure success?

Our specific success measures vary depending on the investee. Some investees might have a goal to simply serve more students, while stronger programming might make more sense for others. For instance, imagine a program that pulls boys out of gangs and helps them develop the skills to hold a job. A substantial increase in program participants might not be feasible given the recruitment pool, but we could measure success based on improvements to the program that lead to better outcomes — such as the number of men who are still holding a living wage job five or 10 years after they complete the program.

What's unique about Social Venture Partners in the philanthropic community?

What sets Social Venture Partners apart is the way we roll up our sleeves with skilled consulting. We make a plan, and we help the investee pivot if there's a detour along the way. This work gives us a deeper professional — and many times personal — relationship with our investees. As we're growing as an organization, our partners are growing as philanthropists and our investees are growing in their ability to deliver their mission.

Where do you see your chapter headed in the next few years?

Today, we have nearly 100 partner volunteers and are working with six corporations that allow their employees a certain amount of time to volunteer with our investees. By 2020, we'd like to double our revenue and triple the value of our engaged philanthropy — the number of skilled consulting hours donated to our investees. Our biggest challenge, though, will be to help investees move from an average of two times growth to an average of three times growth in three years. To accomplish this, we'll need to get out early and move faster in that first year of the investee relationship.

Know another visionary leader or organization working for social good? Let us know! Email editorial@missionbox.com.

Ann Herzog-Olson brings more than 25 years of nonprofit development and for-profit marketing communications experience to Social Venture Partners Minnesota. Ann is a native Minnesotan who has dedicated her entire career to making Minnesota a better place to live and work.

Ann's professional expertise lies in corporate relations and growing a base of sustainable contributions. Prior to joining Social Venture Partners, Ann served as director of national advancement for the Jeremiah Program. She has also played key roles in development at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Twin Cities Public Television. Ann's for-profit experience includes marketing communications at Delta Airlines and the advertising agency Colle + McVoy.

A community service activist in her own right, Ann volunteers with Treehouse for Youth and her church. She has also served on the board of the Hopkins Education Foundation. Ann received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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