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Experts have plenty to teach about complex social problems and how nonprofits solve them. And passionate donors have plenty to learn from these experts. The challenge is bringing the experts and budding philanthropists together. The solution? San Diego Social Venture Partners, a nonprofit organization devoted to educating donors in best practices as they begin their journeys to make San Diego a better place.

Here’s what they do:

They Bring In Field Experts to Share Their Expertise with Philanthropists on a Mission

Both Erica Bouris, Deputy Director of Programs for the International Rescue Committee, and Nelli Garton, Senior Principal at LeSar Development Consultants, share guidance and resources with the 115 donors who make up San Diego Social Venture Partners.

“In addition to more traditional learning through speakers and panels, we rely on partners who are on-the-ground professionals in specific areas,” Social Venture Partners Executive Director Lakshmi Paranthaman said. “You end up with a nuanced understanding of how things really work, as opposed to how they should work in the social sector, and it makes a world of difference to have that kind of perspective.”

Why take time to teach philanthropists about the challenges and opportunities facing nonprofits? Philanthropists can make a bigger difference when they offer their own expertise and beyond-the-dollars support.

“We’re able to connect our members to opportunities where they may be able to help mission-driven organizations with their strategic plans or help them think through a business plan for a new idea,” Paranthaman said. “Understanding the intricacies of the problems we are trying to solve and the unexpected barriers nonprofit leaders face in their efforts to make change is essential to move the needle in a positive direction. ‘Viewpoint Partners,’ like Bouris and Garton, bring years of experience, education and expertise to add incredible depth to our discussions, learning and decisions. They challenged assumptions and helped us to think about aspects of the problem differently. Changing an understanding of a problem and reframing the questions involved inevitably changes the solutions.”

Viewpoint Partners Are Invited to Hold Discussions and Share Their Knowledge

Viewpoint Partner Erica Bouris focuses on giving philanthropists the full story about workforce development and the opportunities and challenges on that front in San Diego County. This helps philanthropists when they try to help organizations devoted to helping people get jobs.

Among other things, Bouris recently explained how people looking for jobs may become lost amid well-meaning but conflicting incentives. A part-time worker may receive a subsidy for child care, for instance, but lose it upon moving to a full-time job, giving her a reason to avoid making the switch.

Bouris also talked about how training isn’t the simple answer to unemployment that it may seem to be. Even if they are trained for jobs, many local residents can’t afford to live near workplaces, and public transit won’t get them to where they need to go.

“Erica really got into the complexity and articulated why things happen,” Paranthaman said. “And she knew the answers when people had questions.”

Another Viewpoint Partner Nelli Garton focuses on helping philanthropists understand the current state of funding innovation as Social Venture Partners funds on this front too.

“We’ve talked about trends in funding like loan funds and social impact bonds,” she says. “We’ve also focused on collaborations with other organizations working toward a particular goal, something that is often not funded in organizations. We’ve been helping them understand what works in collaboration and where their money and efforts can be best leveraged.”

Collaboration Plays A Key Role

San Diego Social Venture Partners is designed to promote collaboration. It’s no coincidence that “venture” is part of its name, conjuring the popular concept of venture funding.

“It’s the venture capital model of philanthropy,” Garton says, one that emphasizes involvement instead of traditional hands-off giving. “You don’t just send a check and cross your fingers. You send a check and then do what you can, given your background, to help the nonprofit accomplish the plan it’s looking to execute.”

But before you step in, you learn how things work from the people who know how things work. That’s where Garton and Bouris come in.

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