SVP Pittsburgh in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette!

Social Venture Partners to take a deeper dive into social issues

By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

During the past decade, Social Venture Partners Pittsburgh has invested nearly $1 million in fledgling nonprofit organizations that take a new and innovative approach to solving social problems in the region.

Among those that have benefited from the group’s money and expertise are Homewood Children’s Village Literacy Program; Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank; and Assemble, a Garfield-based nonprofit that integrates creativity and learning in the arts, sciences and technology.

The members of SVP include 35 philanthropists, most of whom pledge $4,000 each year and decide as a group where to target their grants. Beyond writing checks, the members mentor nonprofits and their leaders to help them become financially stronger and more sustainable.

For years, Social Venture Partners showcased its strategy at its annual headline event, Fast Pitch, in which eight nonprofits presented three-minute summaries of their mission as they competed for a share of $25,000 to $30,000.

While the event attracted a lot of buzz and hundreds of attendees to hip venues like the Circuit Center on the South Side, SVP last year decided it wanted to broaden its reach and impact more nonprofits in the region.

“It’s an evolution in our strategy,” said Pat Calhoun, board chair.

Beginning this spring, the group is sponsoring a cohort of 16 leaders from eight nonprofits. It will provide them with hands-on financial planning, strategy advice, discussion forums, networking and other one-on-one business consulting.

The initiative is called Full Circle and will run for four to six months, during which each nonprofit is matched with two Social Venture Partners mentors.

Prior to Fast Pitch, finalists received about six weeks of training and coaching sessions from SVP members.

“We thought if that was expanded, done more frequently throughout the year, and became accessible to more organizations, then everyone would love it and build upon it,” said Kenny Chen, a board member who consults with nonprofits. Last year, he co-founded involveMINT, an organization that helps nonprofits better recruit and retain volunteers.

By 2017, SVP plans to add a second cohort to Full Circle each year so that the partners can work directly with 16 nonprofits and 32 leaders of those organizations.

While Fast Pitch — and a smaller Fall Pitch event in which the group invested $15,000 in two organizations — successfully met SVP’s goal to support social innovation, “We felt it was really limiting our potential to have an impact in the community,” Ms. Calhoun said.

The new program “enables our partners to learn more about different social challenges Pittsburgh is facing and gives us more opportunity to plug in and add value and expertise to help solve those problems,” she said.

This year SVP won’t charge participants; eventually it will set a tuition fee of about $1,500 for participants in Full Circle.

The new format also could include speed brainstorming sessions among three to four of the cohort nonprofits, and mini-pitch nights during which nonprofit leaders could hone their communication skills.

Social Venture Partners was founded in 1997 in Seattle by a software entrepreneur who believed philanthropists should work one-on-one with nonprofits to address civic problems. The Pittsburgh organization launched in 2001 and SVP now has affiliates in 39 cities worldwide.

To provide nonprofits in its cohorts with more business know-how, SVP Pittsburgh will tap New Sun Rising, a 10-year-old organization in Millvale that assists social enterprises with business plans and helps identify the financial resources they require.

New Sun Rising has worked on projects in 40 neighborhoods in the region, including helping to develop and identify revenue streams for the nonprofit Millvale Community Library.

According to its executive director, Scott Wolovich, the organization operates “launch” incubators in Millvale, where it hopes to create a locally sourced food hub that will employ local residents; and in the Hilltop-Allentown neighborhood, where efforts include working with the Hilltop Men’s Group to restore the community through environmentally conscious cleanup projects.

The Hilltop Men’s Group will secure contracts for the projects and pay its members — many of whom have employment barriers — to do the work including cleaning up vacant lots and landscaping.

New Sun Rising and SVP “had been running in the same circles but never directly collaborated,” said Mr. Wolovich.

When he met with Social Venture Partners last fall about a partnership, “We immediately recognized some gaps in the community in terms of support for nonprofits — especially around innovation and income-generating strategies,” he said.

“While nonprofits have different goals and objectives, there are a lot of for-profit strategies that have great potential to impact the nonprofit sector.”

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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