Breanna Cahill works daily with local nonprofits to help them improve their impact, but what about her impact and that of the philanthropic fund she oversees at Social Venture Partners of Sacramento?
Cahill loves to field this question because she and her donors have collected an array of data into what they call an impact report. Venture capitalist Jack Crawford, marketing executive John Finegan, money manager Scott Hanson, packaging industry businessman Tom Kandris and tech industry leader Michele Wong got the local chapter of Social Venture Partners off the ground in 2008, and since then, they and their partners have donated more than $1.2 million to nonprofits working to improve educational opportunities for underserved students.
Social Venture Partners is perhaps best known for the Fast Pitch program it launched in 2014. If selected to participate in the three-month training and mentoring program, nonprofit leaders get paired up with proven business leaders and potential donors who will help them assess their organization and craft the all-important marketing pitch that they must give regularly to potential donors, board members and volunteers.
“Most nonprofits don’t receive constructive criticism on their pitch. They either get funded or they don’t,” Cahill told me. “Business people are quite used to getting feedback on whether or not their pitch is working and whether they’re hitting sales goals. We wanted to put together those two sectors and let people who are used to getting constructive criticism to interact with nonprofits who aren’t. That allows the nonprofits to make their pitches in the best way possible.”
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Social Venture Partners just finished selecting the 20 nonprofits that will compete for prizes of as much as $10,000 next year, Cahill told me, and the list includes such organizations as College Track, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Sacramento County, Crocker Art Museum and Families NOW. Ten finalists will make their pitches for funding at a public showcase at Golden 1 Center, Cahill said, but the money is not the sole payoff for participants. They establish relationships with strategically placed community leaders and gain confidence that their elevator pitch will resonate time and time again.
Elfrena Foord, a partner and wealth adviser at Sacramento’s Foord Van Bruggen & Pajak Financial Services, told me that she hears a lot of nonprofit pitches because of her affiliation with the Arata Brothers Trust. She’s worked closely with Cahill on Fast Pitch, she said, because nonprofit leaders simply must be able to communicate their stories effectively and succinctly.
“Through Fast Pitch, we’ve been able to see educationally oriented nonprofits that we didn’t know existed,” Foord said. “We think it’s the absolute greatest way for philanthropists to be exposed in one evening … to at least 10 nonprofits that are doing great work. It’s helped us to give grants in places that have been satisfying for us.”
One example, she said, was Teach for America here in Sacramento. That group had the chance to secure $50,000 in funding from the Meg Whitman Foundation, Foord said, but they needed to quickly raise $50,000 in funds to match the gift. Foord had established a relationship with the organization’s leaders because of Fast Pitch, and she was able to recommend that the Arata Brothers Trust provide $25,000 to help. Armed with those funds, Foord said, Teach for America was able to go out and raise the remaining $25,000 match within a few weeks.
There are other stories like this one: B Street Theatre received a $50,000 gift from a donor on the night of the showcase event. Leaders of A Touch of Understanding met a donor through Fast Pitch who ended up giving that group $50,000.
When the leader of Chico-based SAGE Global got accepted into Fast Pitch, his organization was working with schools in 19 countries to train the next generation of entrepreneurs, but he didn’t have funding to do the training at one school in Sacramento.
Fast Pitch changed that for SAGE founder Curt DeBerg, a professor of entrepreneurship and accounting at Chico State. He raised enough money to go into five Sacramento schools, and one of them, San Juan Unified’s Del Campo High School, won the national SAGE competition this year.
Fast Pitch “taught me the importance of extreme preparation because, as a college professor, you can go in and give a good lecture every other day and you can be well-prepared,” DeBerg said, “but when you’re competing with the CEOs of nine other outstanding nonprofits and you’re given a three-minute time limit, you’ve got to make sure that every word counts. Preparation of a good script and delivering it persuasively was something that SVP helped me with.”
Fast Pitch garners lots of attention for Social Venture Partners, but Cahill said the organization works year-round to develop and expand the services that education-focused nonprofits can offer locally. The partners in Social Venture Partners agree to contribute anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000 to further this work.
“We provide unrestricted funds for three to five years to a portfolio of educationally focused nonprofits in the region,” Cahill said. “It takes about six months to select them. … It’s a very long process that we talk through with our partners. We want philanthropists to feel they can come to use if they’re interested in funding education.”