Partner Q&A: Cindy Jones

August 5, 2013

Cindy JonesDuring Cindy’s professional career in real estate fund development, she developed and managed a $700 million real estate fund, was named by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of the top ten rising stars and one of the one hundred most influential people in real estate.  After retiring in 2000, she turned her talents to working with non-profits, helping them develop their best practices in development, communication and funding.  She has also advanced her education in the field of photography, cinematography, computer graphics and design and uses these skills in assisting non-profits with their promotional material.

Cindy’s previous careers include working as a respiratory therapist in the post-op open-heart unit, as well as modelling and acting in thousands of advertisements, catalogs, commercials, magazines and promotional pieces.  She was educated at Kansas University in Respiratory Therapy and Biology.  Cindy became a SVP Partner in 2011, and has served as a coach in the Social Innovation Fast Pitch program. 

Q:  How were you introduced to SVP?
Cindy:
  I was introduced to SVP by Partner Ken Deemer through Tech Coast Angels, a group of 250 private investors who fund early-stage technology companies in Southern California.

Q:  What inspires you to make a difference?
Cindy:
  Because I have the funds to do so and my parents taught me generosity.  There was no other way in our house.

Q:  What social issue are you most passionate about?
Cindy:
  Kids being kids.

Q:  Which nonprofit organization do you wish everyone knew about?
Cindy:
  I wish everyone knew about the Boys and Girls Club of Mar Vista.  My husband and I are the founders, and the Boys and Girls Club of Mar Vista is uniquely located to service hundreds of kids a day (300 and growing). We are now renovating the facility and our hope is to turn it into a flagship facility for the Boys & Girls Club with both indoor and outdoor recreational activities for the kids.  The facility includes outdoor baseball field, running track, basketball courts, adult and children’s play and exercise areas, picnic tables and the indoor facility has a gym, commercial kitchen, computer center, study room, teen center and art center.

Q:  What do you think is the biggest barrier to creating social change?
Cindy:
  To really think and not just act on all emotions.

Q:  What book are you reading right now?
Cindy:
I am currently reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.


A Gift that Keeps on Giving

July 5, 2013

South%20SCAccording to 2010 Fast Pitch Presenter Meredith Curry, before going through the Fast Pitch program, “There was no way for me to explain what we did in less than 15 minutes.”

Meredith Curry presented in Fast Pitch during her tenure as Executive Director of South Central Scholars, a nonprofit that provides a support network to ensure that underprivileged students are equipped with the tools they need to graduate from college and succeed in life.  South Central Scholars is a multi-faceted organization with a diverse offering of programs and services.

After the Social Innovation Fast Pitch, Meredith could break down the essential facts about South Central Scholars in less than 3 minutes in a way that is interesting and compelling.  Meredith certainly grabbed the judges’ interest at the Fast Pitch competition, taking home the prize for Best Pitch.

South Central ScholarsIn addition to the $5,000 Best Pitch prize that they received, South Central Scholars made connections with audience members at the Fast Pitch event that led to new volunteers for the organization and a $25,000 grant to put towards STEM scholarships (science, technology, engineering and math).  Meredith also sustained her relationship with her Fast Pitch coaches, who still serve as her personal and professional mentors.  “My coaches were fantastic,” says Meredith. “They are two of the most supportive people I have met in my professional career.”

Fast Pitch also helped Meredith connect with her peers in the nonprofit sphere.  She realized that nonprofit professionals have few opportunities to connect with each other in their day-to-day work, so “the opportunity for collaboration and networking between nonprofits through the programs LASVP provides is super valuable.”  Meredith still meets with three other Fast Pitch participants regularly to share resources and offer each other support.  Inspired to keep the collaborative spirit going, she also started the College Access Brain Trust, a group for nonprofit professionals working to help all students achieve college access and success. “We can talk about how to improve what we do and build off each other’s work, and that’s been a great learning experience.”

Fast Pitch is “a gift that keeps on giving,” says Meredith. “I tell every nonprofit to apply for Fast Pitch… It’s an amazing resource.”

At the time of her pitch in 2010, Meredith was Executive Director of South Central Scholars.  Currently, Meredith is the Director of Operations at the California College Guidance Initiative.  You can watch Meredith’s pitch below:

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


Becoming a Stronger Executive Director: Professional Development through Fast Pitch

July 5, 2013

Alina Bodke Pitching“One thousand people crammed into a two car garage. This is the amount of green space a child growing up in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles can ever hope to have.” This shocking fact was delivered to the 2012 Social Innovation Fast Pitch audience by Alina Bokde, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT). LANLT’s work to secure land for future parks and gardens in low-income areas builds up communities. Opportunities for exercise, community engagement, citizen leadership, and safe and fun time outside are given in the green spaces LANLT secures. And Alina’s Fast Pitch experience helped her articulate “not just why the Land Trust is important, but why the issue of green spaces is so important.”

Working with her Fast Pitch coaches, Alina found new ways to connect with her audiences and deliver her powerful message. “I used to say a child had .01 acres of green space. Nobody knows what that is. But now I can say ‘a thousand people in a two-car garage’ and people can understand that. They can see it.” Alina continues to weave elements of her pitch into her other speaking engagements and says that having strong statements already in mind has been very helpful.

Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust LogoShe’s even getting her staff on board! “It was great for me to have dedicated time for professional development and I wanted to share that with my staff.” Alina says “you hear about elevator pitches all the time, but that was something I had never been trained on,” and now the whole LANLT staff is receiving the training. Sharing her experience, Alina asked everyone on her staff to create a 3-minute elevator speech about LANLT and how they contribute to the organization. “It really got the staff listening to each other – critiquing one another, reviewing together, sharing language with one another, learning things from each other.”

Alina says, “It’s great how the pitch and process has really translated to other areas. [Fast Pitch] made me a stronger executive director.”

Alina Bokde is the Executive Director of Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT). Watch her pitch from the 2012 competition below:

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


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.


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?
Stephen:
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?
Stephen:
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?
Stephen:
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?
Stephen:
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.


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?
Caroline:
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?
Caroline:
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?
Caroline:
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?
Caroline:
 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?
Caroline:
NPR: KPCC. News, The Splendid Table, Story Corps, etc.

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

Q: Who was your favorite teacher in school?
Caroline:
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.


Haircuts and Human Touch: A Stop on the Beauty Bus Journey

April 8, 2013

Beauty BusWe connected with Beauty Bus Foundation during the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch program. Founder Wendy Levine shared the Beauty Bus story in her outstanding 3-minute pitch at the competition (watch here). Today fellow founder Alicia Marantz Liotta, shares with us another story from their amazing journey! 

Getting to the barber takes planning and coordination, just finding a babysitter for his young twin boys can be a tough venture and that’s only the first step. Scott Lew and his wheelchair are loaded, along with his ventilation gear, into the family van. Wife, Annabel, and caregiver file in after. For the Lews, safety is of utmost importance when taking trips outside the home. All possible variables are taken into account – Scott’s head shaking loose during the car ride, a vent hose popping out, suctioning of saliva and manual breathing assistance during his barber visit. The trip is possible, but it’s not easy.

Scott Lew, loving husband, father, and avid writer, has been living with ALS for the past 8 years. The neuromuscular disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has taken over his ability to move his body (he is quadriplegic), speak, swallow or breathe. Everyday use of mechanical aids to carry out his life-supporting needs is routine and communication via a speech device that tracks his eye movements allows Scott to continue verbalizing his sharp wit.

Scott’s struggles with a luxury that is so often taken for granted – the ability to leave the house, get to the barber shop, take a seat, receive a haircut and leave feeling renewed – are more than an able bodied person may imagine. In learning of Beauty Bus Foundation, Scott’s interest was piqued at the ease of receiving an in-home haircut and a compassionate human touch.

“I still want to look my best at all times. Call me vain, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who see me, look past my wheelchair and ventilator face-mask, and say stuff like, ‘Man, your hair’s getting long.’ Either because of my partial baldness, which exaggerates my otherwise bushy hair when it goes bad, or because of the genuine goodness of people, who don’t want to comment on my obvious disabilities and are just trying to make small-talk – I’m not sure, but it’s clear – I need regular haircuts.”

Scott was unsure of what was to come in his first Beauty Bus visit, only hoping for an experience that left him comfortable and safe.

“Beauty Bus volunteer Janine exceeded all expectations. At 5 feet tall and 100 lbs. soaking wet, with her nose ring and punk-rock cute skull and crossbones sweater, Janine packed a lot of personality into her small person and, I discovered, talent. Not only did she give me a great haircut (I’m easy, just short please), she also gave my wife, who has layered wavy hair that makes styling her difficult, an excellent cut as well.”

Beauty Bus client Scott Lew

“I can’t say enough positive things about the Beauty Bus. We found their service so extraordinary and helpful. I’m sure there are thousands of people with disabilities and special needs who could use their help.”

Beauty Bus Foundation delivers dignity, hope and respite to chronically or terminally ill men, women and children and their caregivers through complimentary beauty and grooming services and pampering products. Please visit their website at www.beautybus.org for more information on their programs, services and how to give or contact them directly at (310)392-0900.

You can also purchase tickets for their annual Beauty Drive coming up on May 5 by clicking here.


Creativity, Compassion, Cardborigami

March 6, 2013

Tina Hovsepian, CardborigamiWe met Tina Hovsepian through the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch where she represented her invention and her nonprofit organization, Cardborigami. To watch Tina’s outstanding pitch, click here.

Tina Hovsepian is a textbook example of a young, passionate social entrepreneur.  She came up with a great idea while she was still an undergraduate studying architecture at USC: a collapsible, portable, recyclable shelter for the homeless.  Born and raised in LA, Tina was used to seeing people sleeping on the streets without shelter from the elements, and knew that she had the skills to provide a solution to this immediate need.  After creating a prototype “Cardborigami” shelter and testing it out on Skid Row, Tina started getting interest from buyers—people who worked with the homeless as well as groups who provided disaster relief.

But getting interest turned out to be the easy part.  Attracting funding, as is the case with many nonprofits, was a challenge.  “LA has a huge population of nonprofits and you have to really stand out from the pack to get the funding you need,” says Tina.  “Fast Pitch helped us create a very strong case for support.” Cardborigami was a finalist at LASVP’s 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and presented in front of over 1100 people.  Her experience at the Fast Pitch turned out to be incredibly useful training for a year packed with presentations and speaking engagements for the young architect, who since the Fast Pitch has presented her idea everywhere from the Pepperdine business school to the Occupy Wall Street encampment to NPR.  Tina says that since the Fast Pitch, “I know how to articulate the Cardborigami concept, and be simple and effective.  It also really helped my public speaking skills.”

In addition to the increased exposure, the Fast Pitch led to several useful connections for Cardborigami.  Tina’s Fast Pitch coaches Richard Hansen and Mark Loranger have stayed in touch, as has Fast Pitch coach and LASVP Partner Nancy Hammerman.  Nancy helped Cardborigami obtain skilled volunteers through the Harvard alumni “Harvard Serves” program, and Mark, the CEO of local homelessness organization Chrysalis, has been a useful connection to the community that Cardborigami aims to serve.  Fast Pitch also led to Cardborigami’s participation in the Annenberg Alchemy program, a major help to the organization as it started to build its board of directors.  “Annenberg Alchemy was a great opportunity that we wouldn’t have even been aware of without Fast Pitch,” says Tina.

Recently, Cardborigami has locked in a local LA-based manufacturer, and with the cost at only about $20 per shelter, it seems that we will see Tina’s invention in use very soon. You can sponsor one here. In addition to being one of the first organizations in the U.S. to receive funding from the pioneering microfinance organization Kiva,  Cardborigami is looking forward to launching with a bang through a City Council sponsored pilot program in Venice Beach.

Tina’s big dream is to use the manufacture of Cardborigami as a tool to help employ the homeless, adding a long-term strategy to this short-term necessity. “We need more compassion for each other to solve this problem,” says Tina. “Even before launching, I think we’ve accomplished something by breaking the typical stereotype of homeless people and telling their story.”

Carborigami is now seeking individuals to join their board recruiting task force. Members of the task force will nominate potential candidates for the Board of Directors and help with reviewing the organization’s bylaws. If you or someone you know is interested to be on Carborigami’s board recruiting task force, contact Tina Hovesepian at tina@cardborigami.org.


Partner Q & A: Robin Salter

March 6, 2013

Robin Salter, LASVP PartnerRobin Salter is a senior consultant at Concentric Consulting Services. Robin joined LASVP in 2012 and we’re so excited to have her on our team! 

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?
Robin: Diane Helfrey and I met through a mutual friend who had organized an “LA Salon” which was designed to draw like-minded people together into a fun, casual and intellectual discussion about a range of topics. That group no longer exists (or if it does, I am no longer involved!) but the beauty of it for me was that I got to meet Diane and be introduced to LASVP. I asked if I could be involved as a coach, since that is what I do for a living. “Time to give back!” I thought, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made, both personally and professionally.

Q: What is your favorite place in LA?
Robin: Palisades Park, between Alta and Palisades Avenues.

Q: What project are you working on with LASVP? Why did you choose to get involved this way?
Robin: Currently, I am on the Education Investment Committee and am organizing the Social Innovation Fast Pitch Alumni Program. This is a great opportunity for me to invest both time and effort in helping those who have been involved with our organization to remain involved, to learn about other ways in which LASVP can continue to help and support them, and also to create an ongoing forum in which these organizations, many of them fledgling, can learn from and support one another.

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Robin: I always have four or five books on the go at the same time. Currently, my list includes: Mantissa (John Fowles,) Finn (Jon Clinch,) You Are Here (Thich Nhat Hanh,) Rock Springs (Richard Ford,) Fortune’s Children (Arthur T. Vanderbilt II,) and The Cloister Walk (Kathleen Norris).

Q: What social issue are you most passionate about?
Robin: As a teacher, administrator and educational coach/consultant, I believe that Early Childhood experiences are key to the outcomes demonstrated in society as a whole. I know that children who are born into poverty, those whose families are affected by illness including drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness, children who grow up without loving and kind parents and role models, and others who endure adverse experiences in childhood are likely to face enormous emotional, intellectual, educational and even physical challenges later in life. Without the foundation of healthy early life, our community as a whole suffers damage. As Thomas Reid once said: we are only as strong as our weakest link. I believe that our energy and attention should be focused in great part on ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to start life in the best way possible.

Q: Who is your hero?
Robin: Victor Hugo. As a writer, I aspire to develop a fraction of the dedication he displayed to his work ethic. (After his exile to the Channel Islands off the coast of England, he used to stand at a podium to write, facing the window which overlooked the sea, and set a minimum of 4 hours at a stretch.) Hugo was a poet and writer of novels whose message of freedom from tyranny was clear and effective. I see him as one of the world’s iconic champions of social justice.

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