Partner Q&A: Bettina O’Mara

July 5, 2013

Bettina O'MaraSVP Partner and member of the Social Innovation Fast Pitch Planning Committee, Bettina O’Mara started in the Publicity and Promotion department at Castle Rock Entertainment. She founded their Product Placement division and then became a consultant to them when she created her own company, Visualeyes Productions. She moved from Placement and Promotions into full time Producing of independent films. Bettina has been a Partner since 2011.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?
Bettina: Through my brother, SVP Partner Lance Tendler.

Q: What project are you working on with SVP? Why did you choose to get involved this way?
Bettina: Helping with planning the Social Innovation Fast Pitch. Early in my career, I planned the large premieres for Castle Rock Entertainment and loved it. I am hoping those skills help SVP!

Q: What is the most memorable experience you’ve had with SVP so far?
Bettina: I love learning about the nonprofits that we work with as well as those that apply for our programs, but I have to say my first Fast Pitch event was my favorite. I enjoyed it immensely. While I really don’t have a favorite Fast Pitch organization, I have found quite a few organizations that I am so thrilled are out there helping those in need.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?
Bettina: I listen to comedy! It makes me laugh the whole ride.

Q: What social issue are you most passionate about?
Bettina: There are a few causes I am deeply connected to: animal rescue, children in need, and medical research.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?
Bettina: Sleeping in! Although with a two-year-old golden, it’s not easy.

Q: What inspires you to make a difference?
Bettina: I feel that I have been very lucky in life and I think it’s important to give back and pay it forward whenever we can.

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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 Cincinnati.com, 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: Betsy Densmore

December 4, 2012

Betsy DensmoreBetsy Densmore is the President of the Academies for Social Entrepreneurship and has been an SVP Partner since 2010.

Q: How were you introduced to SVP?
Betsy:
In 2006, SVP partnered with my employer to organize monthly Leadership Forum meetings for the executives of local Charter Schools. In 2008, we also joined forces again to host the first Social Innovation Fast Pitch.  In both cases I was struck by the grace, talent and commitment of SVP members.

Q: What is your role with SVP?
Betsy: I serve on the Board as Secretary and am a team leader for this year’s Fast Pitch. Generally, I do what Diane asks me to do.

Q: What did you dream of being when you were a kid?
Betsy:
A ballerina

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Betsy: Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Shuman– a great book about tactics for moving money from Wall Street to Main Streets.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?
Betsy:
Dates with my husband—still romancing after 33 years.

Q: If SVP could solve one problem in LA, what would you pick?
Betsy:
I think the problem we are best suited to solve is the need for an army of undauntable, thoughtful philanthropists who make “change” happen (to a world that works for everyone).

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


Partner Q & A: Karen Robertson-Fall

July 27, 2012

Karen Robertson-FallKaren Robertson-Fall is an LASVP Partner who has dedicated more than 15 years of her life to serving vulnerable and underserved people. She is currently a Program Officer in the Planning & Development department at First 5 Los Angeles. 

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?

Karen: I found out about LASVP in 2006 when I was doing some research for our social venture fund at First 5 LA.  That was my first exposure to SVP, and after exploring the organization a little bit more I was able to come on as a David Rimer Fellow Associate Partner.

What inspires you to want to make a difference?

Karen: During a post graduate school trip to Jamaica, I began having difficulty seeing in one eye. After an MRI, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Back then the prognosis was very grim—the doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to have children, that I wouldn’t be able to walk.  With the prospect of a shortened lifespan in front of me, I realized that I wanted to spend my life doing something that mattered, something that would make as much of an impact as possible.  I’ve now lived with MS for 22 years, made a career in philanthropy, and with the improved treatments and technology, my disability hasn’t stopped me from doing everything I can to make an impact.

What is your favorite part about being involved in LASVP?

Karen: I love reading the proposals we receive, both the applications for the Fast Pitch program and from organizations applying to be our next Investee.  It’s great to be exposed to all the creative problem-solving that people are doing—usually you only hear about the problems.

What did you dream of being when you were a kid?

Karen: A Supreme Court Justice.  When I was little my dad told me that the most powerful thing a President can do is appoint Justices to the Supreme Court, because they do so much to shape the law and the country.  I thought that would be a great way to do something important.

What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?

Karen: My husband and I are big Christian music fans.  We listen to a lot of Gospel and Christian Rock on Pandora.

Who was your favorite teacher in school?

Karen: My 5th grade teacher really changed my life.  She was totally committed to me becoming an A student.  We had this astronomy class that I was really into—and I was the only person in the class to get all A’s on the tests.  She really praised me and encouraged me for that accomplishment, and it changed my way of thinking about what I could be.

You can find out more about all of our Partners by clicking here.


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.


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.”