Breaking Out of Silos: LASVP’s Next Investments in Education Focus on “Collective Impact”

June 6, 2013

LASVP Hones in on Collective Impact

LASVPLASVP’s newly revised investment approach alternates between a permanent social issue (education) and a rotating social issue based on Partner interest.  Having worked with great educational nonprofit in the past, it will come as no surprise that the permanent issue chosen by Partners was education.

Taking education as the framework, the Investment Team met in late 2012 to narrow in on a more specific focus area for 2013.  The team broke up into subgroups based on Partner interest.  Different teams looked at STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, early childhood development, advocacy, and collective impact.  Each of the subgroups researched their topics then presented their findings to each other.

One approach stood out.  Collective impact was a component of many subgroup recommendations, and rose to the top as a strategic approach that appealed to the majority of the group.

Defining Collective Impact

So, what is collective impact?  Collective impact happens when diverse organizations come together to address a complex social issue.  John Kania and Mark Kramer’s article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review defines collective impact as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.”

Collective Impact Puzzle PiecesThe idea of collective impact was born out of the idea that complex social issues require a coordinated, structured, and collaborative approach.  Collective impact is defined by a variety of organizations coming together across sectors (i.e. nonprofits, government agencies, businesses, foundations, etc.) and who are all committed to a common agenda.

Want to learn more?

Why Collective Impact Makes Sense for LASVP

Alex SoschinAlex Soschin, Partner and spearhead for collective impact (pictured to the right), recalls that during the Investment Team’s discussions, collective impact seemed like a natural fit.  It provides a framework that is being utilized by nonprofits in all the areas the Investment Team explored.

By finding the organizations and initiatives that are collaborating in this way, you find players who are taking a holistic approach to tackle the issue.  Alex says that collective impact appeals to him because, “There is a focus on data, a focus on breaking out of silos. Collective impact looks at the big picture, not the individual battles.” When organizations decide to work collaboratively, they begin to share data, funding and experience, and they begin to eliminate unneeded competition.

“When you write a check to support a collective impact initiative that includes 20 or 30 other organizations, they all win from your investment,” says Alex. “Even a small strategic investment can leverage huge results.”

LASVP’s 2013 Collective Impact Investment Cycle

With this strategy in mind, the Investment team conducted research and reached out to other funders to learn who had initiatives underway that would improve long-term educational outcomes for children in Los Angeles County.  Potential applicants were invited to apply after attending a workshop on May 14th.  Applications are due June 10th.

PARTNERS:  If you would like to get involved with the application review and selection process for this Education Investment Cycle, please contact SVP staff.


Fast Pitch Success: Get on the Bus

June 6, 2013

Get On The Bus Mom and DaughterWhen asked how she became involved with Get on the Bus, community outreach director Karen Van de Laat half-jokes, “I basically called and informed them that I would be taking the job.”  She had seen a Craigslist ad for the position at Get on the Bus, and knew it was exactly what she wanted to be doing.  “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still keep doing this job.”

Karen won the $5,000 coaches’ award at LASVP’s 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch for Get on the Bus, a program that gives kids and their guardians rides to see their mothers and fathers in prison.  Parents in prison are often hundreds of miles away from their families, so the distance and expense makes the trip impossible for many children.  “As a mother, I just can’t imagine being separated from my child like that,” says Karen.  Prisons have noted the improved behavior and decreased recidivism in inmates who have visits with their children. While Get on the Bus has historically only been able to provide trips on Mother’s and Father’s Day, the success of the program is leading to additional trips.

Get on the Bus Logo“We have raised much more money than we did the previous year—this is definitely because of Fast Pitch,” says Karen.  She used to “wing it” when speaking to potential donors, and would often forget to mention important points and kick herself for it later.  The Fast Pitch helped her get her “best of the best” message down pat, and now she is able to adjust her pitch based on her audience and how much time she has to speak.  “Now we know how to talk to a whole different audience,” says Karen, who used to restrict most of her outreach to churches.  “That’s a major change for Get on the Bus.”

After the 2011 Fast Pitch, Get on the Bus received a $10,000 donation, “and the money kept showing up,” says Karen, in addition to more media attention than the organization had ever received in one year.  “The Fast Pitch has really helped us raise awareness, in addition to money and volunteers,” Karen says.  “And that’s the most important thing to us.”

GetOntheBusKaren Van de Laat (pictured at left) is the Community Outreach Director at Get on the Bus. As a participant of the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, Karen won the $5,000 coaches’ award.  Click here to watch Karen’s 2011 Fast Pitch.

For more information about the 2013 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, click here or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Partner Q & A: Stephen Groner

June 6, 2013

Stephen Groner, LASVP PartnerLASVP Partner and Board Vice Chairman Stephen Groner is the founder of S. Groner Associates, Inc. (SGA) a community relations and social marketing firm. Stephen has been an LASVP Partner since 2008.

Q: How were you introduced to SVP?
Stephen: I found LASVP by chance. I heard a lecture by the dean of the Claremont Graduate School regarding philanthropy. He talked about Peter Drucker and his work in the field of non-profit management and during the course of the lecture brought up the concept of venture philanthropy. I was so fascinated by the concept that I started researching organizations and ran across SVP. Well, one thing led to another, I got in touch with Executive Director Diane Helfrey, she invited me to the first ever Fast Pitch event at USC and I joined a few weeks later.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?
I used to be a big NPR news fan, but after the last few election cycles, I’ve more or less sworn off the news media. I now tend to shift between listening to classical music or I like to listen to podcasts of university lectures on history or science.

Q: What book are you reading right now?
I love reading, but I’m not a fast reader and am always picking up new books before I finish the last one. Currently, I’m reading Einstein: His Life and Universe, Tribal Leadership, and The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and just finished All the King’s Men.

Q: What is the most memorable experience you’ve had with SVP so far?
Coaching John Sullivan with BTS Communications in his unforgettable 3-minute Fast Pitch.  Watching an introverted reticent young man over the course of 8 weeks grow his confidence and find his voice was inspiring. But then when he went on to wow a packed audience with an emotional, inspiring and poetic 3-minute pitch, it sent chills through my body. It was certainly one of those efforts where I got so much more than I gave.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?
Running.  I especially love to take long runs early on weekend mornings. I live fairly close to the beach, so my meditation is just getting in a zone and watching the waves and the surfers go by as I plod along mile after mile.

You can learn more about our Partners here on our website.

Nonprofit Finance: It’s Not All About the 990

May 3, 2013

Board Member and LASVP Partner Amy Johnson is leading the Partner Education Team. Amy is creating opportunities for us to learn more about the nonprofit field and how we can be more strategic in our giving. This is her re-cap of our dynamic session on nonprofit finance.

Hello Fellow LASVP Partners,

SVP Partner Donella Wilson & Guest

SVP Partner Donella Wilson and a guest at the Nonprofit Finance Session

I wanted to provide an update on the wonderful Partner education session conducted a few weeks ago and share some feedback and pictures. It was a fascinating introduction to the nonprofit financial landscape. The session was led by David Greco, Vice President of the Western Region for the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) and our very own SVP Partner, Donella Wilson, Partner at Green Hasson Janks.

David’s presentation was very insightful, leading to a robust discussion. A key takeaway for many was how much critical information can be gleaned from the balance sheet when analyzing nonprofit financials. One attendee said, “Having both attended and conducted hundreds of sessions, this was one of the best I have experienced.” We want to send another big thank you to David and Donella for sharing their expertise with us!

What we learned: 

  • Balance Sheet Indicators
  • Statement of Activities Indicators (i.e. Income Statement)
  • How to Read 990s
  • How to better understand Cash Management in the Nonprofit Industry

A recent blog post (Top Indicators of Nonprofit Financial Health) from NFF’s Peter Kramer summarizes NFF’s key messages and the concepts we learned from their years of experience lending to and advising nonprofits. Additionally, NFF and Guidestar have developed a data platform called Financial SCAN, which can help you compare and organization’s financial trends and performance through user-friendly dashboards and graphs. You can also use the tool to see how one organization’s financial metrics and ratios stack up against its peers. Kramer indicates that “Not all financial indicators are created equal” and offers a short list of variables to consider.

     Income Statement Indicators

  • Revenue reliability. Rather than overly focusing on the ratio of earned to contributed revenue, we suggest evaluating revenue reliability—an organization’s track record of bringing in recurring dollars, on an unrestricted operating basis, year after year. Reliable revenue doesn’t always come from the same sources providing the same amounts of money. It does, however, suggest an ability to predict a level of income with a fair amount of certainty, based on historical performance and an understanding of market dynamics.
  • Consistent surpluses. A healthy business model is one characterized by reliable revenue that covers operating expenses and contributes to surpluses—all in the service of mission. Nonprofit is a tax status, not a way of operating: Positive operating results (unrestricted revenue consistently exceeding expenses) are an indicator of strong financial management. Aiming for break-even results doesn’t allow for the breathing room necessary for when things don’t go according to plan. Nonetheless, since 2008, when NFF began measuring the percentage of nonprofits reporting a surplus for our annual State of the Sector Survey, this measure has never surpassed 40%.
  • Full cost coverage. Nonprofit leaders are encouraged to set revenue targets high enough to cover not just their direct and indirect operating expenses but also the full costs of doing business. Though these additional costs aren’t reflected in the income statement, surpluses can provide the additional dollars needed to address these demands over time. These “hidden costs” such as depreciation on fixed assets and reduction in debt principal reside on the balance sheet and must also be covered by surpluses. Ideally, surpluses should also contribute to savings, such as for a future rainy day or a strategic opportunity. Though covering the full costs of doing business every year is aspirational for most organizations, doing so ensures longer-term sustainability and vibrancy.

     Balance Sheet Indicators

  • Ability to manage debt. Debt is a critical financial tool that can help organizations manage the ebbs and flows of cash for operations, facility purchases and upgrades, and more. But as liabilities bump up against an organization’s ability to pay off those obligations, they can become a real problem. Measuring an organization’s liabilities as a percent of total assets can show how much an organization owes relative to what it owns. As this percentage creeps up near the 50% mark, it can call into question the organization’s ability to manage debt, which could jeopardize the delivery of programs and services.
  • Ability to steward facilities. If an organization owns property and equipment, it has a responsibility to maintain and replace these assets over time. We look for reserves dedicated by the board of directors to facility improvements and replacements. Absent formal reserves, are there appropriate levels of liquidity to respond to issues such as replacing the hot water heater or complying with ADA regulations? Additionally, accumulated depreciation can be a helpful accounting proxy for evaluating the remaining “usable” life of these fixed assets, but keep in mind that the accounting value of an asset doesn’t reflect its market value. An engineer can help identify the true future costs of fixed asset repairs and replacements.
  • Appropriate liquidity. There are a number of ways to measure liquidity, the resources available to absorb risk and respond to new opportunities. NFF often measures liquidity in terms of the months of expenses that can be covered with available unrestricted cash (or access to it). This year’s State of the Sector Survey results indicated that 56% of respondents expected to have three months of cash or fewer in 2013. As a general guideline, fewer than three months of cash is often perilously tight for nonprofits, though the “right” amount of liquidity depends on several elements, including an organization’s strategic priorities, funding volatility, facility needs, and the general economic environment.

It was great to mix and mingle with so many people who want to make the most of their giving and volunteering. We hope to see all of you at the next event and will continue to try to create sessions that are engaging, fun, and educational.

Nonprofit Finance Session

Guests at the Nonprofit Finance Session

SVP & Dan Pallotta: We’re About Strategic Giving

May 3, 2013

At last year’s SVP Conference in Portland, SVP Partners were treated to a very informative and inspiring plenary session with Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable and Charity Case. Pallotta, who pioneered the multi-day charity event (think Breast Cancer 3-day Walks or AIDS Rides), contends that the way most people think about philanthropic giving is wrong.

At the SVP Conference and in his recent TED Talk, Pallotta challenges the idea of “equating frugality with morality” and says that rather than demanding unreasonably low overhead, we should reward nonprofit leaders and organizations for their accomplishments and help them find ways to grow, expand, and improve on successful programs. And yes, that includes spending money on advertising.

As an advocate for the nonprofit sector, Pallotta has spearheaded the creation of the Charity Defense Council. The Charity Defense Council seeks to be a voice for the nonprofit sector and act as an anti-defamation league. They have defined their five primary functions and are working to find ways to honor the work of accomplished nonprofit professionals and to show the true importance of the sector in the fabric of the American economy.

SVPI board member and SVP Cincinnati Partner, Tom Callinan is aiding in this effort to change minds through his position as the chair of the Charity Defense Council’s anti-defamation committee. In a recent article on, Tom points out that “There are 1.2 million nonprofits in the U.S. – and ‘yet the biggest of the watchdog agencies only looks at 7,000 charities.’ All they do is share tax information with you and maybe tell you a little about whether the charity has an adequate board of directors. None of the watchdogs – not Charity Navigator, not the Better Business Bureau, not Charity Watch – does any real research on the effectiveness of a charity’s programs.

But the overhead obsession dominates the public’s view of charities. ‘The public wants every gala dinner and walkathon to send 100 percent of its money back to the cause,’ Pallotta says. ‘But what people don’t realize is that low overhead is not a path to ending world hunger or curing cancer.’”

In his article, Tom Callinan reflects on his direct experience with some of the barriers that nonprofits encounter as he works to get a new nonprofit off the ground. New nonprofits face many of the same challenges as startup business, but rarely have the same opportunities to gain contacts, seek talent, or spread the word about their work. As we think about the level of success we would like to see nonprofits reach, we must also consider how the way we give can help organizations to build out their work and find a ways to have a greater impact on the community.

SVP Partners who attended the network conference last year were very fortunate to hear Dan Pallotta give this rousing talk. If you’d also like to get in on the great opportunities that the power of the network creates, save the date for the 2013 SVP Conference: October 17-19 in Palo Alto.

Partner Q & A: Caroline Rook

May 3, 2013

SVP Partner, Caroline RookLASVP Partner Caroline Rook is a senior level professional with 30 years of international strategic financial and operational experience. Caroline has been an SVP Partner since 2011.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?
By Bob Wright from SVP Dallas who wrote a book The Little Green Book of Venture Philanthropy with my old boss and SVP Dallas Partner, George Ellis.

Q: What is your favorite part of being involved in LASVP?
Coaching Fast Pitch and seeing the progression of the candidates through the whole process. What amazing changes we see. Being part of the process with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and watching them deliver their pitches before the audience was an honor.

Q: What inspires you to make a difference?
I am inspired by the continual effort and positive outlook of the folks at LASVP and am continuously learning from their points of view.

Q: What social issues are you most passionate about?
 The Environment and Children: LASVP’s continued efforts to support strong education programs is so important to the children of Los Angeles

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?
NPR: KPCC. News, The Splendid Table, Story Corps, etc.

Q: What is your favorite place in LA?
Any good hole-in-the-wall restaurant with great ethnic food!

Q: Who was your favorite teacher in school?
Madame Juvet, my French teacher at my European school. I was in grade school when I moved from Singapore to Europe and had never even heard of French! She was so patient with me and kind.

You can learn more about our Partners here on our website.

Partner Q & A: Amanda Sabicer

April 8, 2013

Amanda Sabicer, LASVP PartnerAmanda Sabicer is a stay-at-home mother of three who was most recently with Amgen’s Commercial Leadership Program. With her roles as an LASVP board member and Co-Lead of the Recruiting Team, Amanda has kept herself busy since joining LASVP in 2010.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?
Amanda: I discovered LASVP as a business school grad student at UCLA. I had to wait until I got a job after graduation before I could join.

Q: What project are you working on with LASVP? Why did you choose to get involved this way?
Amanda: As a board member, my focus switched last year from working on the strategic plan to building the membership of LASVP. I feel passionately that LASVP’s new strategic direction is the most innovative, daring and exciting in the SVP network. Then again, with such a talented group of Partners, many of whom are entrepreneurs, should we really expect anything other than a new “disruptive” approach to philanthropy? Since we are now working on executing our new vision, I am working with fellow board member, Marta Gazzera Ferro, to share the LASVP story with external audiences and recruit new Partners to join our tribe.

Q: What is your favorite part of being involved in LASVP?
Amanda: The people! As a busy mom of three kids (five years old and under), I make an effort to spend the little free time I have on activities and with people that energize me. LASVP never lets me down. In fact, even though I live in the Inland Empire now, I still drive out to the Westside for events and meetings. My husband jokes that I get an “LASVP high” after I hang out with members of LASVP. Where else in LA is there such an incredible, diverse, and intelligent group of results-oriented people who are committed to making Los Angeles a better place?

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Amanda: I just picked up Give Smart : Philanthropy that Gets Results by Thomas Tierney. I haven’t started it yet, but am looking forward to a new way of looking at philanthropy. I just finished David Brooks’ The Social Animal and found it fascinating. I thought Brooks’ section on emergent thinking (check out a quick summary) is especially relevant to LASVP’s foray into collective action.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?
Amanda: I look forward to marveling at how my girls fearlessly tumble around in gymnastics class, to watching my son toddle around our backyard until he finds another dangerous object to put into his mouth, to “bouldering” in Joshua Tree with my family, and to collapsing next to husband in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine on Sunday night.

You can learn more about our Partners here on our website.