Volunteer group celebrates 15 years, ending first cycle of new strategy

When a small group of Cincinnati area residents came together in 2007 to start a new philanthropic organization, they couldn’t have predicted that only months later the banking and housing crisis would cause the stock market to plunge 30 percent and drag the nation into the Great Recession. 

It didn’t stop them, though. They persevered and coalesced around a new idea – that philanthropy is about more than simply writing a check. By sharing their extensive business and professional skills with nonprofits as well as pooling their donations, they could really make a difference. 

Thus, Social Venture Partners Cincinnati was formed.

“It was pretty daunting at that time to start something new like this,” said Lynn Hailey, one of SVP’s founding partners. “But we realized it wasn’t just about a monetary investment for us. It was about our long-term commitment to the community.”   

SVP Cincinnati founders who remain active, from left, Susan Ingmire, Lynn Hailey, Garen Wisner and Mary Beth Young. (Not pictured, but an active founder is Craig Young.)

Fast forward to today, and SVP is thriving.

Its 15th anniversary celebration on April 28 at The Summit Hotel will highlight the finalists in its enhanced community impact and investment program, Project XLR8.

SVP has grown from the original dozen or so partners to 60 currently. Its funding, training and other programs have helped more than 150 local nonprofits improve the community in areas such as ending the cycle of child abuse (Family Nurturing Center) and supporting historically marginalized entrepreneurs (Mortar). All told, SVP has invested more than $2.5 million in funding and volunteer time, providing 50,000 consulting hours to expand nonprofits’ capabilities and processes.

Going beyond giving alone  

Originally started in 1997 by retired technology executives in Seattle, the SVP model was brought to Cincinnati 10 years later by Susan Ingmire and Penny Friedman. Garen Wisner and Marcy Wydman were the first SVP Cincinnati board chairs.

Partners work for small or large companies — Google, Procter & Gamble, Fifth Third Bank, E.W. Scripps, Accenture, Kroger, ConstructConnect, Spark Philanthropy and others — or for themselves as entrepreneurs with their own businesses. They range in varied age and experiences, and live throughout Greater Cincinnati. All share with nonprofits their own sets of skills in fields such as strategic planning, financial management, fundraising, human relations and organizational development, program management, market research, law, marketing, communications and more. 

“What makes SVP special is the partners are not all alike,” said Cliff Peale, senior writer and media relations specialist at Mayfield Brain & Spine. “That’s a very good thing. We each bring our unique experiences, expertise and points of view to the organization and our nonprofit investees. And we learn from each other.” 

Promoting social innovation

The April 28 event will not only celebrate 15 years of philanthropy, but also the culmination of the eight-month long Project XLR8. The new accelerator model combines elements of SVP’s Fast Pitch storytelling competition and its multiyear general operating support funding to advance socially innovative ideas.

The four finalists were chosen from a field of 10 in the first phase of Project XLR8, during which SVP partners worked closely with the nonprofits to brainstorm and refine their ideas. During the second phase, SVP partners used their decades of expertise to work with the nonprofits to develop a business plan for their ideas. Later this month SVP partners will select one idea as the focus of a sustained, multiyear community investment. The finalists are Refugee Connect, Rise News, Stitched – St. Francis Seraph Ministries and Transform Cincy.

“SVP wants to encourage nonprofits to bring forward new and fresh ideas that might not receive conventional funding because they are untested or seem risky,” said Chris Shroat, head of consumer support at Fifth Third Bank and SVP’s current board chair. “We want to move from supporting ‘what is’ to driving ‘what can be.’ ” 

SVP’s 15-year anniversary and Project XLR8 celebration will be held 5:30-8:30 p.m., April 28, at The Summit Hotel, 5345 Medpace Way, Cincinnati, OH 45227. Tickets cost $75 and are available at https://bit.ly/3E3qdq7. To learn more about SVP Cincinnati, visit www.svpcincinnati.org or contact Executive Director Lauren Merten at lauren@svpcincinnati.org or 513-739-5530.

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