The Sky’s the Limit with Engaged Philanthropy

Nov 7, 2016 | Features, Philanthropy Journal, Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Grant-Making Foundation

All organizations can leverage the human capital and professional expertise of their supporters and create powerful opportunities for engaged philanthropy within their organizations.

dm-headshot-smSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Darcy Madden

Meet Jeff Kushner.

Jeff Kushner

Jeff Kushner

Jeff, 56, is a recently retired executive residing in a Boston-area suburb with his wife and two daughters. During his career, he held a number of leadership roles in the financial services sector, most recently serving as the CEO of Europe for BlueMountain Capital. Jeff joined BlueMountain Capital as a Partner in 2003 and played a key role in building the firm into a leading asset manager with over 150 professionals.

Since retiring, Jeff has been focused on giving back. He went back to school to earn a Master in Public Administration degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He serves his home town in local government as a Town Meeting Member. And, it is probably no surprise that he is asked regularly to donate to important causes in his local community, which he does gladly and with great generosity. He knows he is fortunate to have had such a successful career and he wants to help.

But, what Jeff wants to give more than anything is the one thing no one was asking him to contribute—his time.

“A lot of nonprofits typically ask for money and that’s all they want,” says Kushner. “I joined Social Venture Partners Boston because they asked for my time, my mind, and my passion.  The money that we contribute is secondary to our advice and counsel.”

Today, as a Partner with Social Venture Partners Boston, Jeff spends his time sharing his expertise with high potential nonprofits to help them grow.


Social Venture Partners Boston is a high-impact venture philanthropy organization helping great leaders build strong high‐performing nonprofits. The Boston chapter is part of an international network of over 3,500 dedicated professionals in 40 cities around the world who are passionate about creating change in their communities.

PrintSocial Venture Partners helps people (“Partners”) realize greater impact with their giving, strengthen nonprofits, and invest in collaborative solutions — building powerful relationships to address the local community’s social challenges.

Central to the Social Venture Partners model is that Partners contribute more than just their money. They roll up their sleeves and work closely with the nonprofit organizations they support, giving their time and professional expertise to help them grow.

Social Venture Partners calls that Engaged Philanthropy.

Engaged Philanthropy

davids-smMost leaders of promising nonprofits are talented, dedicated practitioners who are deeply committed to the mission of their organization. However, these leaders often lack the time, resources, or management expertise to build their internal organizations and thereby increase the number of clients they are able to serve. At the same time, many individuals in our communities have business skills (marketing, finance, talent development, etc.) and want to use those skills in a more meaningful way. Too often, supply and demand don’t meet. That was Jeff’s experience.

Social Venture Partners helps bridge the divide by connecting the valuable business expertise of our Partners with high-potential nonprofits – allowing each to have a greater impact than they could alone.

Partners volunteer their time to help improve human resource practices, financial management, technology and systems, board governance…all the behind-the-scenes work that is necessary for nonprofit organizations to fulfill their missions more effectively.

Why it Matters

This model of engaged philanthropy drives real, measurable results for nonprofits and the clients they serve. The nonprofits supported by Social Venture Partners Boston grow on average 40% per year, an impressive 4 times the average growth rate of peer organizations in Massachusetts.

In 2016, Social Venture Partners Boston supported a total of 7 nonprofit organizations. Jeff and his fellow Partners contributed more than 2,200 hours of their time helping these organizations create business plans, refine their Theories of Change, develop performance management systems, improve talent development practices, enhance professional development for staff, and much more. Combined those sev­en organizations served an impressive 9,800 clients in 2016 and are poised for significant growth in the years ahead.

fdu2-smAccording to nonprofit Executive Directors who have worked with SVP Boston:

“Social Venture Partners provides value-add consulting and technical expertise, giving us access to great minds with amazing backgrounds and bench strength at a critical moment of growth.”

“SVP is such a different model than anything I’ve ever seen. SVP is an extension of our staff team…not just consultants, not just volunteers, but people who are in the thick of it with us.”

“With Social Venture Partners Boston you have talented leaders who are smart, engaged, and passionate about sharing their knowledge through a long-term relationship.”  

This type of deep involvement clearly benefits the nonprofit organizations, but it is also meaningful for donors like Jeff who want to bring their skills to the table, not just their checkbooks. The higher level of engagement of donor-volunteers creates a more rewarding experience for them and leads to longer, deeper relationships between the volunteers and the organizations they serve. More often than not that deep engagement leads to significant increases in philanthropic support too.

While SVP has a growing global presence, most nonprofits will not have an opportunity to partner with a team of SVP partners. However, all organizations can leverage the human capital and professional expertise of their supporters and create powerful opportunities for engaged philanthropy within their organizations.  As Jeff Kushner experienced, very few organizations asked him for his time and talent, while that is perhaps the most valuable resource he has to offer.

Social Venture Partners Boston was founded in 2002 and will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2017. In that time, the organization has learned a lot about the conditions for success with engaged philanthropy. There are two critical factors. First, the nonprofit and the donor must have a shared belief in the importance of building organizational capacity. On the donor side that means never asking about admin ratios or requiring that your funding not be used to pay salaries. Social Venture Partners Boston provides only general operating support grants, never restricting its funding. For nonprofit leaders this means making a real commitment to spend the time necessary to build the internal infrastructure required for growth and making investments in non-programmatic areas such as technology and systems, development staff, etc.

The second condition is for both the donor and the executive director to be genuinely ‘all in’. For nonprofit leaders, that means you should only pursue engaged philanthropists if you truly want the advice and counsel of these volunteers. Don’t just do it because you hope it will lead to a larger financial contribution. The transformational power of the strategic support you will receive is that it will push your organization out of its comfort zone and force you to make sometimes difficult decisions about how you do your work. For donor-volunteers this means listening carefully and giving help where it is most needed. If you think you know the answer the day you walk in the door, you are wrong. Take time to truly understand the organization and what it is trying to achieve. That will enable you to provide well-informed advice. At Social Venture Partners Boston, our partners spend at least 6 months getting to know an organization before making any recommendations.

If these two conditions are met, the sky is the limit.

Darcy joined Social Venture Partners Boston as Executive Director in 2015. She brings more than a decade of experience as an executive in nonprofit organizations, with a focus on expanding opportunities for children, youth, and families. She previously served as Program Director, Executive Director, and Chief Operating Officer of Read to a Child and its predecessor organization, Everybody Wins! Darcy holds an Ed. M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in Mathematics from Dartmouth College.

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