San Diego Social Venture Partners: Building a better community

San Diego Social Venture Partners members assist with packing gift baskets for the Community Resource Center in 2010. In front are partners Robin Parker and Louarn Sorkin; rear, CRC Executive Director and ‘investee’ Laurin Pause and Julie Pardee.
San Diego Social Venture Partners members assist with packing gift baskets for the Community Resource Center in 2010. In front are partners Robin Parker and Louarn Sorkin; rear, CRC Executive Director and ‘investee’ Laurin Pause and Julie Pardee.

By Kathy Day

San Diego Social Venture Partners members say their organization is all about looking at philanthropy in a different way.

The 130 individuals, known as partners, come from all over the county but there’s a strong contingent of people from the North County area, including outgoing chairman Ray Ellis and his successor Tuck Forsyth.

“We really roll up our sleeves with our partners and get to know them,” said Ellis, noting that it‘s all about leveraging their collective skills. “It’s a three-year relationship – we don’t just walk away.”

The San Diego group, headquartered at 12555 High Bluff Drive, is part of an international organization. Around the world and locally its members not only invest money – a $5,000 contribution each year for three years is required – but they also invest their time and expertise to improve the community.

In addition to providing unrestricted cash grants, SDSVP provides skilled volunteer expertise to the targeted nonprofits, as well as other groups in need of a helping hand.

“We put the funds and human capital into an organization,” Ellis said. “A little of our expertise goes a long way.”

The strongest attributes of the group, Ellis said, are its “collective impact” on local nonprofits and in how much partners learn from each other about how to be better philanthropists.

Their efforts recently gained them recognition from the Association of Fundraising Professionals as San Diego’s Outstanding Philanthropic Organization for 2011.

Each year Social Venture Partners picks a special focus and carefully selects at least two nonprofits, which they call “investees,” explained Ellis, principal of the investment firm Ellis & Associates, LLC, who previously was president of the Marketing Services Division of Protocol Communications, a marketing services firm. He serves on several other boards and has announced he will seek the City Council seat now held by Sherri Lightner.

In 2011, the focus was on the military, a particular passion for Forsyth, who in October completed a four-year “phase out” from his career as a sales executive. He spent the last 20 years with Lee Hect Harrison and became involved with Social Venture Partners four and a half years ago after his wife died.

“I went from working for pay to working for the community,” he said, noting that he was introduced to the group by a friend. “I was always a sucker for a $200 phone call but never knew what my money was doing. This enables me to have a say.”

His most recent “say” has been as lead partner with REBOOT, a local initiative of the National Veterans Transition Services, Inc., that assists veterans in moving back to civilian life and finding meaningful employment. The partners also teamed up in 2011 with the Armed Services YMCA at Camp Pendleton

For 2012, the partners have picked education as the target, although they will stay connected to their military investees and others.

Look at the list of groups they’ve supported and you’ll see that children and youth programs have always been interesting to the organization, Ellis said, making this year’s focus on education a natural choice.

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