Venture philanthropy

San Diego duo give back to community by donating time, money with partners

By Bruce V. Bigelow

May 14, 2002

Imagenes de la ceremonia de SDSVP
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When Darcy Bingham and Carrie Stone started talking about charitable giving, they agreed that philanthropy should involve something more than just writing a check.

"I wanted to find a more meaningful way of giving back to the community," said Stone, a San Diego business consultant who has worked as a venture capitalist and marketing executive.

Instead of thinking in terms of making donations, the two women began to think in terms of making investments. Such a distinction would require donors to contribute their time and expertise, as well as their money.

A venture capitalist, for example, actively supervises an investment in a startup company and often serves in a mentoring role for the entrepreneur. Such a concept has worked in Seattle and other high-tech capitals, they reasoned, so why not San Diego?

Their idea crystallized a year ago when the duo founded San Diego Social Venture Partners under the auspices of the San Diego Foundation.

They call it venture philanthropy, and they say it's a new paradigm for hands-on giving. Their organization has signed up more than 50 donor "partners" in San Diego, who agreed to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars.

To Bingham, who is in her 30s, "the venture philanthropy model is exciting" for younger, entrepreneurial-minded donors. "The idea of giving time as well as dollars really appealed to us," she said.

Tonight, Bingham and Stone will announce the first two recipients of their new way of giving. Both are nonprofit groups that identify highly gifted children from low-income families and provide tutoring and other educational assistance.

One recipient is the Human Development Foundation, which created a program to help the non-English-speaking parents of gifted students in the San Diego Unified School District facilitate their child's academic success.

"We felt that one of the best things we could do is bring in the parents so they could learn what their children are learning," said Marjorie Fox, who oversees the Encinitas-based group.

The other is Excellence and Justice in Education, which has been helping Latino students in El Cajon attain higher academic goals since 1991.

"This money is going to help us extend the training," said EJE's Eva Pacheco. "Most important for us was that they wanted to invest in education because for us, education is the key to success."

Each nonprofit is eligible to receive about $90,000 over the next three years, Stone said. Each donor who participates in the program agrees to donate $5,000 a year until 2005.

But perhaps more importantly, more than 50 donor "partners" have agreed to participate in both programs by providing their expertise in technology and business.

Jerry Hoffmeister, the lead donor for EJE, said school districts in Lemon Grove and Escondido have asked to duplicate the nonprofit in their communities, but EJE was unsure how to negotiate such "franchise" deals. It also needs help in marketing and computer training.

At the Human Development Foundation, Fox said donors will help design a secure Web site that will enable tutors to post student assessments and other data used to monitor the program's success. Donors also will help refine the accounting system to develop better financial reports.

To Fox, such assistance can be more valuable than funding.

"They're bringing the kinds of skills that will help us cut down on our administrative time, and that's a blessing," Fox said. "From our end, as a nonprofit, some of these problems can seem insurmountable. The high end of our needs are really at the low end of their capabilities."

San Diego is the latest city to adopt the Social Venture Partners. Similar programs have been established in more than 20 cities, including Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, New York, Kansas City, Mo., St. Louis and Calgary, Canada.

The first was developed five years ago in Seattle by Paul Brainard, a software entrepreneur who admired the way venture capital firms help develop new technologies by making investments in start-up companies.

"Social Venture Partners tries to do two things," said Paul Shoemaker, executive director of Seattle Social Venture Partners. "We try to help nonprofits build their corporate infrastructure and capacity. So we help them with business skills and accounting skills. But we also try to be a stimulus, or a catalyst, in stimulating philanthropy."

Bruce Bigelow: (619) 293-1314;