Fast Pitch Storytellers: Rick Nahmias and Food Forward

June 19, 2012

Rick Nahmias of Food ForwardRick Nahmias is the founder of Food Forward and represented the organization at the 2010 Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition. Rick’s great pitch won the $5,000 Innovation and Impact Award and the $1,000 Audience Favorite Award.

The Food Forward model is brilliant in its simplicity. In Southern California, an overabundance of fresh citrus fruit growing on private property goes to waste, while thousands of people go hungry.  Rick Nahmias, the founder of Food Forward, created a fresh solution to this problem: mobilize volunteers to pick fruit and donate it to food cupboards and homeless shelters, where the hungry could have access to it. “It’s a very simple process,” says Rick. “But crazily, it’s very innovative in our world.”

This great idea made a big impression at the 2010 Social Innovation Fast Pitch.  Food Forward took home the award for Innovation & Impact and the Audience Favorite award.  One individual in the audience was so impressed by the pitch that they threw a fundraiser for Food Forward which earned $15,000 for the organization.  Rick’s Fast Pitch coaches were so enamored with Food Forward that they joined its Board of Directors.  Another spectator invited Rick to speak at the TEDx USC conference, where he reached an additional 1,200 people with his innovative idea to feed the hungry.

Rick testifies to the fact that Fast Pitch offers participants more than just a one-time pay-off.  “SVP almost feels like a new extended family,” he says.  Through Fast Pitch, Food Forward has fostered long-term connections with people who really believe in them and are willing to do all they can to help. “Having that expertise very generously offered to us is great,” says Rick.  Food Forward’s win at Fast Pitch has also served as a ‘seal of approval’ that has helped the organization be taken more seriously, resulting in more funding, which turns into much needed resources like harvesting equipment, automobiles, and warehouse space.

Since Food Forward was founded, volunteers have harvested and donated 897,488 pounds of fruit and vegetables.  To balance that scale you’d need about 80 African elephants.  That’s a hefty pile of food, all going to the people who need it most.  “It’s a simple equation,” says Rick.  “Harvesting food, fighting hunger and building community. SVP has helped us do all those things.”

You can find out more about Food Forward by visiting their website or following them on Twitter @foodforwardla.

Judge, Funder, Advocate for the Social Sector

June 19, 2012

Nike IrvineNike Irvin, Vice President of Programs at California Community Foundation, summed up her experience volunteering as a judge at the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch event in one word: phenomenal.

“I had never attended before, but I knew about the program from friends who had participated…I knew it would be special, but I could not have imagined what a spectacular event it would be for the social sector in L.A.”  Nike pointed out that people who work in nonprofit organizations are rarely afforded a chance in the limelight, and that the Fast Pitch offers a golden opportunity for social entrepreneurs and the causes they work for to take center stage.  “In a town that has an awards show for everything,” jokes Nike, “Why not have a high-profile event for the people who are filling the gap in the social sector?”

Nike said that it was a privilege to be asked to be a judge, and to work with fellow judges Warren Olney, Eileen Heisman, and Jake Winebaum.  But she also sees the program from another perspective—as a funder. California Community Foundation has been a consistent funder of LASVP’s Social Innovation Fast Pitch, helping to launch the program and benefiting the community tremendously.  According to Nike, the Fast Pitch is a good investment because it’s a great opportunity for both nonprofits and grantmakers.  “As a funder of capacity building, CCF wants organizations to be able to tell their story effectively. It’s so powerful…You should have your “elevator pitch” perfected; you never know when you’ll need it.”  She also thinks the Fast Pitch is a great place for funders—from major foundations to individuals—to learn about some outstanding organizations.

Partner Q & A: Elliot Sainer

June 19, 2012

Elliot Sainer resize_edited-1Meet Elliot Sainer! Elliot joined LASVP in 2012 and was introduced to us through our Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition. He’s moving from being a great Fast Pitch coach to being a great Partner!

Q: Why did you join SVP?

I admired the work that the organization was doing to promote social entrepreneurship, and having participated as a coach last year in Fast Pitch, I thought my background and experience would enhance SVP, and I as well could learn from others who have been active.

Q: What social issues are you most passionate about?

I have spent my career in education and education service companies, so helping those in need has been a long time part of my life. I also want to get involved with some areas in these two broad fields that I have not been actively engaged in during my professional career. For example, I am a founding board member of USC Hybrid HS, a new charter high school affiliated with USC that is opening in September 2012. We are trying to break the dropout cycle of urban high school youth and the school will open in downtown LA for this inner city population.

Q: Which nonprofit organization do you wish everyone knew about?

That would be Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena, which has been focused on reducing the numbers of homeless in Pasadena for many years. They do incredible work through services for the homeless and providing supportive and permanent housing for these clients.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?

I am an avid golfer, so look forward to hitting the links, as golf is a great way to “get away” from daily life issues. I also look forward to skiing with my son, wife, and our 19 month old grandson who all live in Denver, as we usually do this over the weekend.

Q: What is the biggest barrier to social change?

The biggest barrier is the inertia of so many people to look beyond their own lives to the lives of others and see how they can help.

You can read more about all of our Partners here on our website.

Doing Good Better: Storytelling with Andy Goodman

June 14, 2012

Andy GoodmanAndy Goodman is a nationally recognized author, speaker, and consultant in the field of public interest communications. In 2008, Andy co-founded The Goodman Center, an online school dedicated to “helping do-gooders learn to do better.”

Andy Goodman has played an integral part in the Social Innovation Fast Pitch program over the years.  In his own words, he provides the “pre-session training” that lays the foundation for the participants to create and refine their pitches in cooperation with personal coaches.  Andy helps the participants understand what makes a good pitch, and what kind of storytelling has the power to stick in people’s minds.

“The Fast Pitch is a good fit for me,” says Andy, whose business, a goodman, helps good causes communicate more effectively.  “One aspect of doing that is helping people tell their story more concisely.”  The longer Andy stayed involved with the Fast Pitch, the more he liked the motivation to give back he saw.  “It’s a win/win/win,” he says. “It’s great for nonprofits, who become better communicators.  No matter who wins in the competition, all of the participants emerge with a new skill.  It’s good for the funding community that attends the event, because they get to learn about these exciting organizations.  And it’s good for the community at large, who are interested in new solutions and who leave the event feeling energized by the good work that’s being done.”

Last year, in addition to leading the pre-session workshop, Andy also served as the moderated the Fast Pitch portion of the event at Club Nokia.  “It was an amazing experience,” he says.  “The group of finalists was the best that LASVP has assembled…each year the selection gets better and better.”

Fast Pitch Storytellers: John Sullivan and BTS Communications

June 6, 2012

John Sullivan is the Creative Director and co-founder of BTS Communications, a Social Venture of Beit T’Shuvah. He presented on behalf of the organization at the 2010 Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition and won the $10,000 prize for Best Overall Presentation and the $2,500 Coaches’ Award.

On John Sullivan’s desk at the busy office of BTS Communications, there’s a stack of pamphlets from the Jail Enterprise Unit, a new potential client. The JEU is in charge of putting prisoners to work and helping them develop job skills.  This the kind of turn-around that John has experienced in his lifetime: at one point, he worked for the Jail Enterprise Unit—as a prisoner.  John’s winning Fast Pitch at the 2010 event began with a phrase that caught everyone’s ear: “My name is John Sullivan.  I’m an Eagle Scout, an ex-convict, a recovering heroin addict, and the founder and creative director of BTS Communications.”

BTS Communications is a marketing and advertising agency unlike any other.  It is housed within a drug treatment center called Beit T’Shuvah, itself a unique organization whose recovery model blends Jewish spirituality, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step philosophy and the creative arts. BTS Communications provides on-the-job training to the residents of Beit T’Shuvah, preparing them for a successful future post-recovery.  The interns at BTS Communications aren’t just learning job skills—they’re getting another shot at life.  “We save lives,” says John.  “That’s what I like to think we do here.”

John had an amazing story to share, but he was not a natural public speaker.  At the first Fast Pitch coaching session, he faltered through his pitch, eyes glued on his notecards.   In the beginning, says John, “I didn’t believe I could do it. I looked at the competition and thought, there’s no way I could win against someone like that…there were so many amazing programs.” But John didn’t give up.  He worked with his coaches Candy and Stephen for two months, going over his pitch until it had been perfected.  “They really dedicated a lot of time and energy to helping me,” says John. “It was an amazing experience.”  His hard work with his coaches paid off: at the 2010 Fast Pitch event, he won the $2,500 Coaches’ Award and the $10,000 prize for Best Overall Presentation.

Since the Fast Pitch, BTS Communications has been booming.  According to John, “Winning the Fast Pitch really changed the way that the LA community looked at us.  People have started to take us more seriously.  Specifically, I think it changed the way the Jewish Community Foundation looked at us.”   BTS Communications received $250,000 from the Jewish Community Foundation in 2011—the coveted Cutting Edge Grant for innovation in social entrepreneurship.  They have also gained new volunteers and clients, and moved into a new office space that will accommodate their growth.

Last but not least, Fast Pitch helped John realize his potential as a leader.  “It changed my idea of who I was…it changed my capacity to understand success. It was one of the best nights of my life.”

You can watch John’s Prize winning pitch here, or follow BTS Communications on Twitter @BTSComm.

Honoring Elegant Design: LA Diaper Drive

June 6, 2012

Caroline Kunitz is the leader and co-founder of LA Diaper Drive. She presented on behalf of the organization at the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition and won the $20,000 Judges’ Award and the $20,000 LASVP Investee Award. Pictured Clockwise from Top-Right are: Caroline Kunitz, Elyssa Elbaz (LASVP co-lead Partner for LADD), Donella Wilson (LASVP co-lead Partner for LADD), and Diane Helfrey (LASVP Executive Director).

Caroline Kunitz is a cheerful, energetic, and dedicated mother of two who saw others in need and decided to take action. Over the last seven years, Caroline and the team of volunteers at LA Diaper Drive have created the second largest diaper bank in the country and the only one that uses diapers as an incentive to get low-income parents into life-improving classes.  And on May 18th, Caroline was recognized by The C.H.I.P.S. (The Colleagues Helpers in Philanthropic Services) for her dedication and service to children and families in need.

In a letter from The C.H.I.P.S. president, Cara Leonetti Esposito, Caroline was informed that each year The C.H.I.P.S. honors an individual who “exemplifies the dedication and sheer determination to assist children and families in distress.” She went on to say that Caroline “epitomize[s] the very best qualities of an individual who assists communities which manifest a deep need, often for services and products that we take for granted.” And Caroline herself says that she once took diapers for granted until she learned that one-third of all mothers in LA are struggling to provide diapers for their babies. “I had everything going for me as a mom.  I had a supportive husband, was financially stable, had taken every class and read every book, and being a mom was still the hardest thing I had ever done. I couldn’t imagine also having to worry about if I was going to feed my baby dinner or put a diaper on her. I couldn’t imagine doing all this [parenting] work and having these concerns on top of it.”

Caroline’s dedication to creating change in the lives of low-income families was honored at The C.H.I.P.S. annual spring luncheon featuring the Michael Kors Fall 2012 Fashion Show benefitting the Children’s Institute, Inc. at The Montage in Beverly Hills. While Michael Kors is known for creating minimal, sporty, and elegant designs, the elegant design of LA Diaper Drive comes from its simplicity.  Caroline says, “All I have to do is get diapers and pass them on. I just need to get the diapers. The [life skills] classes are already there.” Success for Caroline and LA Diaper Drive means, “Getting diapers to kids and getting parents to the classes they need and really want to go to.” Caroline says that some of these parents are working two jobs and using the diapers as an incentive is the extra push that gets them into the classes they want. “They’re good parents who want to be better parents.”

Caroline ended her acceptance speech saying, “On behalf of tushies across Los Angeles, thank you for all that you do for low-income families in this city.” Well, on behalf of the future of families in Los Angeles, thank you, Caroline.

You too can aid this amazing work by donating to LA Diaper Drive through their website. Thanks to connections they have made with the larger community, LA Diaper Drive receives a 75% discount on diapers they purchase. $1000 given to LA Diaper Drive can keep 29 babies in diapers and 29 parents in classes for an entire year. That works out to be less than $35 for an entire year’s worth of service to a family.

If you would like to get involved in LASVP’s efforts to help LA Diaper Drive get to the next level, contact Sarah at  Another fun way to help is to attend LA Diaper Drive’s 1st Annual Poker Tournament on June 16.

Fast Pitch Storytellers: Cathy Salser and A Window Between Worlds

June 6, 2012

Cathy Salser is the founder and Executive Director of A Window Between Worlds. She presented on behalf of the organization at the 2009 Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition and won the $5,000 Pitch prize.

“I grew up painfully shy,” Cathy Salser shared at the 2009 Social Innovation Fast Pitch event. “In the face of domestic violence, art was my safe haven, my voice.”  Cathy is the founder and Executive Director of A Window Between Worlds, an organization that helps women and children recover from the emotional wounds caused by abuse by using art as a healing tool.  What she once thought would be a one-time summer project turned into an organization that has reached over 74,000 women and children.

“They say public speaking is a lot of people’s worst fear, and for me that’s definitely the case,” says Cathy.   “Knowing I’d have to get up there and speak in front of people meant facing my worst fears…it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.” Cathy faced her fears because she knew that she needed to prepare for her organization’s 20th Anniversary that was coming up in 2011, an occasion that would call for her to speak in front of numerous groups.  Cathy worked hard with her coaches throughout the two-month training program to perfect her pitch and convey the impact that A Window Between Worlds has on survivors of domestic violence. Her efforts paid off handsomely–at the Fast Pitch event, Cathy took home the prize for Best Pitch, along with $5,000 grant for A Window Between Worlds.

The cash prize was only the beginning of the rewards the organization would reap from Cathy’s involvement in Fast Pitch.  That night, they received a $2,500 donation from an audience member and signed up new volunteers who continue to support A Window Between Worlds today.  But the real payoff came from the training Cathy received from the Fast Pitch, which drastically improved the organization’s ability to fundraise effectively.   “The Fast Pitch has changed the content I present in all of my speaking and grant writing,” Cathy says.

This change shows in the numbers.  At their annual fundraiser in 2011—the 20th Anniversary event that Cathy wanted to prepare for– A Window Between Worlds raised around 60% more money than they did the previous year.  Since 2009, their programs in LA have grown by 72%.  Cathy says that they were able to achieve this outstanding growth “through speaking out and sharing the importance of this work…and for that I’m forever grateful to Fast Pitch.”

You can watch Cathy’s outstanding pitch here, or visit A Window Between World’s website to see how they are celebrating 20 years of creativity and healing!