For Good: Social Venture Partners foster creative philanthropy in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay chapter of Social Venture Partners is on a mission to create connections to the nonprofit community and take a new approach to philanthropy. 

The 23-member group is the first Bay area affiliate of the national, Seattle-based organization, which has a global network of more than 3,500 partners in 39 cities. SVP brings together individuals and organizations that want to find innovative solutions to often chronic social and environmental problems in society.

Money matters but SVP's national Executive Connector Paul Shoemaker says, "They'll do this not just with money but with professional expertise. We go beyond your checkbook. The end game is we connect so we can create positive change in the community and create a deeper sense of purpose in your life."

Shoemaker was guest speaker at the launch of the local SVP at a breakfast at Le Meridien Hotel.

Debra Koehler, President of Sage Partners LLC, and Rebekah Heppner are founders of  SVP Tampa Bay. Koehler is chairwoman of the group's advisory committee; Heppner is its executive director.

Partners include bankers, real estate agents, public relations directors, technology professionals, and one local organization, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Each partner donates a minimum of $5,000 but also commits to giving in-kind resources of time and expertise to aid an adopted nonprofit.

"You get a lot of personal satisfaction from this," Heppner says.

The focus is on finding small and mid-level nonprofits that need help moving to the next level and would benefit from "human capital not just financial capital," says Shoemaker.

Community Tampa Bay is the first nonprofit identified as a recipient of a $25,000 grant. The next step is a needs assessment to identify areas where partners can provide support over the next three years. This may be advice on marketing, accounting, fund raising, social media or computer technology.

"It's time for us to grow again," says Jennifer Russell, executive director of Community Tampa Bay. "Doing the assessment will show what we are doing well and where there are gaps."

Community Tampa Bay traces its history to the late 1920s and the formation of the National Conference of Christians and Jews which advocated for religious tolerance. The agency later broadened its mission to fight all forms of discrimination and became the National Conference for Community and Justice. However,  the national agency closed in 2005. The Tampa agency then re-branded and became Community Tampa Bay.

Based in St. Petersburg, Community Tampa Bay continues to promote social justice through education and activities that promote inclusive relationships. 

Koehler says the group hopes to add more partners in future and hopefully establish a relationship next year with a second nonprofit.

"It's all a matter of growth and how many partners we have," she says. "We don't want to commit to a nonprofit unless we can help."

For information, visit the website for Social Venture Partners.

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.  
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