The nonprofit world can be a tough, thankless place. Bearing the weight of those in need in order to make the world a better place, all the while navigating a sea of grant-writing and blue tape, can be overwhelming, draining, and, at times, hopeless.
But don’t despair! There is hope! Hope for nonprofits to find the support they need to execute the exceedingly important work they are doing in our communities. But what does that hope look like exactly?
Introducing: Social Venture Partners Los Angeles, a.k.a SVPLA.
SVPLA is one of 39 branches of the SVP network, which has locations from Boston to Bangalore, all tirelessly committed to supporting nonprofits realize their full potential and make the biggest impact in their communities as possible.
The heroic Executive Director of SVPLA, Christine Margiotta, describes the organization as a “community of people who believe that maintaining the status quo, doing things as we’ve always done them, is not going to get us to the Los Angeles that we dream of.” She elaborates, “We’re a community of business leaders, entrepreneurs, community members, nonprofit executives, people who believe LA can be a better place, and are doing everything they can to make that happen.”
So how do they make that happen?
When Margiotta and her colleagues looked at the magnitude of problems within the LA landscape, they realized action must be taken. “We see poverty, homelessness, systemic inequities around housing, education, criminal justice,” she explains. “We see millions of people suffering as a result of these problems, and we’re so clear that it doesn’t have to be that way.”
They concluded they needed to invest in disruptive ideas. “We looked at how that happens in the private sector,” Margiotta says, “and we saw that through programs like incubators and accelerators, entrepreneurs have opportunities to share their ideas, receive seed capital for those ideas, and have a supportive community that wraps around them to help them take those ideas to scale.”
They thought: Why can’t we provide the same type of collaborative process and support system for nonprofits?
So that’s exactly what they did. Margiotta says that at SVPLA, “We create a safe space to incubate and test new ideas, and to have a supportive community of people where they can dream big, be pushed, push on new ideas, and ultimately make those dreams a reality.”
The core programs of SVPLA spawned from these initial guidelines. Programs like their Systems Change Accelerator and the Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition, which provide a critical platform and resources for nonprofits in LA.
The 2017-2018 Systems Change Accelerator is the first of its kind for SVPLA. Five LA nonprofits were selected for the inaugural program, each of whom demonstrate a disruptive idea with great potential addressing issues from homelessness, to islamophobia, to voter disenfranchisement.
“We are looking for nonprofit organizations operating here in LA county who have a big idea to tackle the root cause of one of our most pressing social problems in Los Angeles,” explains Margiotta. She says they also must have a staff and board infrastructure that believes in that idea and is ready to take it to the next level.
Within the Systems Change Accelerator, each nonprofit receives an unrestricted seed grant of $10,000 to help get their work off the ground, on top of the priceless support of the SVP community. This community entails a peer network of others within the nonprofit world, and a group of strategists, thought partners, mentors, and coaches who can help them with everything from marketing to finance to brainstorming their idea.
Ann English, the cofounder of the CSH advocacy program SpeakUP!–one of the nonprofits participating in the Systems Change Accelerator–couldn’t be more grateful for the support provided by SVPLA. “SVPLA is like, just this magic platform. It’s like love,” she says. “They’re just like very loving, supportive, encouraging. I felt incredibly supported in my ideas. I felt incredibly encouraged to think big, to ask the questions, and that they would help us find the answers. Whatever it is that we wanted to do, they wanted to support us in doing it.”
Another nonprofit in this first Systems Change Accelerator is the Korean American Coalition. KAC’s Executive Director, Joon Bang, admits that working in the nonprofit sect “can be very challenging, emotionally and mentally,” making SVPLA’s mission so important. “The accelerator program is probably one of the most unique and powerful programs here in LA,” says Bang. “It’s helped me work out the reasons and the motives behind why I do what I do in serving the community. It gives us the space to consider the problems in a very thoughtful manner, and the program supports us with a network of folks who have the same vision and ascribe to the same values of community work.”
The Systems Change Accelerator is a nine month long program (October 2017-June 2018) that is broken up into three phases. “In phase one we partner with the organization to conduct an assessment of their infrastructure,” explains Margiotta. “We also focus in on their intervention, their initiative, and we work with them to ensure that racial equity is baked into the design of that initiative.” This phase involves a series of workshops in human-centered design, fundraising, and racial equity.
In phase two the nonprofits take 10 weeks to prep for SVPLA’s Social Innovations Fast Pitch competition, a program they’ve hosted for the last 10 years. They each have two coaches plus SVP partners who help them craft their three minute pitch. “This pitch is invaluable in helping them communicate the heart of what they do and inspire the masses to join them in their initiatives,” says Margiotta. The Fast Pitch program culminates in a 600-person event of philanthropic, business, civic, and nonprofit leaders who come together to learn about the inspiring work of the participating organizations and award prize money totaling over $40,000.
The third and final phase of the Systems Change Accelerator focuses on supporting the nonprofit leaders build their capital and strengthen their network. “It’s all about connecting them to the civic leaders and funders that are going to help their initiative grow, and ultimately be successful,” says Margiotta.
SVPLA doesn’t leave its accelerator participants high and dry after they conclude phase three. “Once an organization completes our systems change accelerator,” says Margiotta, “they’re part of the SVP community for life. We continue to be a touchstone, a supportive community for them as they move forward, and they know if they need a thought partner, a strategist, a brainstorm, they can always come back to this community find the supports that they need.”
Ultimately, SVPLA aims to imbue LA citizens with the belief that we actually can achieve change. “I think the biggest challenge we face is people believing that a different LA isn’t possible,” Margiotta says. “They see the tens of thousands of people are sleeping on our streets. They hear that 1 in 5 people are living in poverty. And they believe this is just the way it has to be.”
SVPLA is putting those naysayers to rest. “What we’re trying to do is instill a sense of hope and agency in our community so that people can see that not only is a different reality possible, but they can be a part of making that happen.”
Also published on Medium.