Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

Newsletter: Everyman Philanthropy

Apr 1, 2009 12:19:00 PM / by Tim McCarthy

Getting started on changing the world can be as simple as joining a group like Social Venture Partners  [more]

I get a lot of questions from readers whose thoughts seem to be "OK, I get it. I want to get involved. But how?"

Since that's my favorite question, here's one of my favorite answers.

Two years ago, as I began this little journey, I joined a group called Cleveland Social Venture Partners (CSVP). Their story is an interesting one and they seemed to have the same missions and intentions of our own foundation's work.

CSVP is the Cleveland chapter of a fascinating nonprofit (Social Venture Partners) started in Seattle in 1997 by Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus Corporation, and five of his close friends and colleagues. For details on the national concept, go to www.svpi.org and to learn more about Cleveland's local effort, visit www.clevelandsvp.org. Here are some headlines:

  • First, and the thing I like best, is that the concept is focused. They invest "time, expertise, and money in innovative nonprofits to strengthen these organizations."
  • Their mission is also to teach their own "partners" how to make a difference.
  • They are an organization of "everymen." That is, most of the women and men in our chapter have everyday careers; few are what you'd see as "wealthy philanthropists."
  • Nationally, Social Venture Partners is present in 24 cities.
  • Our Cleveland group has 70+ members; each member commits $5,000 annually and, more importantly, their time, expertise and involvement. So, without any other events/fundraising, the group operates with about $400,000 annual revenue and almost zero administrative costs.
  • Each year, CSVP (along with every other chapter) reviews local nonprofits much like a venture capital firm reviews a business they might buy. At the end of that vetting process, we choose the nonprofit most likely to use our money and time most effectively to build and sustain their own organization after CSVP is "gone." (end of third year)
  • The nonprofit which is chosen by the partnership receives 1) a $75,000 three-year commitment of support and, 2) (much more importantly in my view) an assigned team of partners who are experts in the areas that nonprofit seeks support.

Once a nonprofit is chosen, the partners assign a team leader who in turn recruits the partners who will be assigned to the support team for that three-year engagement. A nonprofit whose biggest challenge has been marketing might get volunteer partners on the team who are professionally engaged in marketing. Non-profits who need financial management find their team is organized with accountants/financial planning professionals.

Again, this concept is attractive to me primarily because it allows "everyday people" to become "philanthropists." Even those who can't scrape up the $5,000 have the opportunity to be sponsored. The person who introduced me to the concept was such a person. Her employer backed her CSVP partnership cost.

I believe that the success of social ventures in the next 25 years will be achieved only if we get out of traditional thinking - planning by the "Rockefellers and Fords" of the world - and move into a grassroots social change "epidemic."

My greatest hope is that the role of business in social ventures is headed toward a "Tipping Point," the concept described by Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 book as "the moment of critical mass, the level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable."

Since I began studying social ventures (social enterprise, philanthropy, non-profits . whatever term you use) two years ago, I've become convinced that it is a movement. The movement is perhaps not yet at or past its tipping point but getting closer all the time.

So what does this mean for me and our readers who seem to care about social change?

"The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills," says Gladwell. The 20 percent of people who possess these rare skills will do 80 percent of the work needed to start an "epidemic."

Gladwell breaks the skills needed by us into three key categories:

  • Connectors are the people who "get the message out" by building networks (of 100 or more people) around the concept. I find it entertaining that his favorite "connector" example is Paul Revere.
  • Mavens are information specialists, who learn and then share what they know.
  • Salesmen are the folks behind concepts such as social ventures who "persuade" to the point that people find it easy to agree with them.

OK, the concept does get a little deeper than you or I may want to get but the point is simply this . if you want to change the world, as I do, you must start somewhere. Conceptually, you can choose what your role is - connector, maven or salesperson.

Tangibly, you can find a group like Social Venture Partners.

The movement is growing daily and hopefully soon will become an epidemic of caring, sharing and changing this broken world.

If I'm wrong, so what; I'll live a happier life by trying.

Tags: Monthly Newsletter, Communication & Relationships

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy