Leveraging Expertise in Philanthropy

Here’s an example of a way that donors with knowledge about a specific area of social impact can leverage their knowledge by sharing it with other donors. This comes from Social Venture Partners Rhode Island, but it is a format that any group with domain expertise in a particular grantmaking arena could copy.

Leveraged Investments in High-Potential Social Enterprise

Want to participate in Rhode Island’s growing social enterprise movement? Consider SVPRI’s Social Enterprise Investment Fund. The fund, which will be formally announced at the SERI Summit (November 12, 2009 at Bryant University), seeks to maximize social return on investment (SROI) through qualified investments leveraged by hands-on human capital in business models that help sustain the mission of high-quality non-profits.

The fund will invest in social enterprises that are "non-profit owned, mission-driven businesses which seek to maximize the efficiency, sustainability and social impact of its non-profit parent.” An investment in social enterprise is different from a contribution in a social program. It is an investment in the long-term success of the organization and its ability to best serve its clients and stakeholders. Each investment is leveraged with a team of SVP partners providing pro bono consulting services, so that non-profits benefit from access to the growing institutional knowledge and significant social capital of the SVPRI human capital network.

Investment Units

A full investment unit – with voting privileges and a partnership for two in SVPRI — is $5000. Smaller investments, including half shares, are available. A portion of each investment provides working capital for building the team and managing the process. For more information, please contact Chuck Holland, SVPRI Board Chair.

So let’s run with this idea for a minute. There are 24 Social Venture Partners chapters and over 2,000 members. With this fund, the Rhode Island chapter is effectively unleashing their knowledge, making it available to the public and offering to steward any gifts made by the public since they are already providing services beyond the grant to the nonprofits they support.

In effect, this sets SVPRI on a path that potentially competes with community foundations. They are offering geographic specific advice on outstanding nonprofits without requiring that donors place the money with them (such as in a donor advised fund) and they are doing it for free. Why for free? Because information about social impact becomes more valuable as it spreads since the “owner” of the knowledge generates social value when other investors use their knowledge.

Of course, SVPRI’s fund will not offer personalized one-on-one consulting. They are not getting into the relationship management game. But they are “unbundling” information about which nonprofits are doing a good job from the administration and relationship management services that have traditionally been bundled within community foundations.

One of the underlying premises of Tactical Philanthropy Advisors is that high end advisors to major donors no longer need to have a geographic focus because geographic focus is only relevant in regards to grantee information and today we’re witnessing a massive trend towards sharing knowledge about grantees.

On Friday, I’ll be at the Social Venture Partners conference in Dallas. One of the session I’m leading will be on SVP’s potential role in sector-wide initiatives. I think the new fund being launched by the Rhode Island chapter is a fascinating example of how SVP (and other smart grantmakers) can leverage their knowledge and engage with the sector as a whole.


  1. Sean, SVP in San Diego provides another example of maximizing social value by sharing what they know. They have extended their impact beyond their local community by posting some of their checklists http://budurl.com/TP1020 on IdeaEncore Network.

    As a result, more nonprofits have an opportunity to understand emulate practices that will allow them to be better evaluated, other SVP chapters can leverage the work already done by colleagues, and SDSVP leads by example by making knowledge sharing a self-sustaining social enterprise.

    B Corporation (www.bcorporation.org) also does an excellent job of providing a free survey which spreads the word about what are promising practices and also influences behavior through their B Corp certification.

    Scott Bechtler-Levin
    IdeaEncore Network

  2. Jeff Mowatt says:

    Let me show you a proposal for a social enterprise investment fund of national scale for an international development strategy.


    The social outcome was this:


    And here’s how it happened


  3. Thanks Scott. Great examples!