Community leaders and local Social Venture Partners members hear from President of SVP International President Paul Shoemaker.
Community leaders and local Social Venture Partners members hear from President of SVP International President Paul Shoemaker. Credit: Courtesy / Social Venture Partners

The newest grant-making organization in San Antonio, Social Venture Partners, is preparing to turn double negatives into a real positive for causes dear to its members’ hearts and people in need. But they won’t stop at giving money.

“It’s not about just writing a check,” said Harriet Marmon Helmle. “It’s getting in and rolling up our sleeves to work side-by-side with the nonprofit.”

At nearly a year since its founding, SVP San Antonio (SVPSA) members recently met at the home of former AT&T leader Ed Whitacre to hear from President of Social Venture Partners International Paul Shoemaker.

As the author of Can’t Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World, Shoemaker talked about SVP and how the organization is helping members find “the difference between a happy life and a meaningful life.” The title of his book was born of interviews with philanthropists who expressed their commitment to serve others as a passion and a calling they couldn’t ignore.

SVP International got its start in Seattle 17 years ago and has grown into a network of social innovators, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and other leaders in eight countries and 40 U.S. cities. They call it “entrepreneurial philanthropy,” and their goal is to build stronger social service organizations that have innovative approaches to solving problems as well as create stronger philanthropic leadership within a community.

Founded by John Eadie and Justin Pawel of Covenant Wealth Management, the San Antonio chapter, which will make its inaugural grant this spring, is made up of 25 members of all age ranges and a variety of backgrounds, including retired IT executive Billy Cox.

“The idea of giving away money through philanthropy has always been insufficient in my mind,” Cox said. “It’s got to be about more than just money. We’ve got skills that have to be valuable to small nonprofits, things around strategic planning and building long-term connections in the community. So it seemed to me, we learn all this stuff, do you want to just capture it as money and give it to them or do you want the skills? That’s what SVP embodies so that’s why I thought it was intriguing.”

With Helmle managing administrative duties from her office at Covenant, SVPSA is requesting letters of inquiry by March 10 from organizations that are focused on vulnerable children in the community, especially those that are helping solve the serious problem of human trafficking in Texas.

She and Cox are putting in extra hours to organize the group, and Cox expects the time commitment to grow once a nonprofit has been selected for the grant and members get involved in providing guidance to the recipient — the real purpose of SVP.

“We’ve chosen to focus on children and youth-at-risk in the San Antonio area. That’s certainly an interest to me,” said Cox, who also volunteers with VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. “How do kids grow up, and how do they find a path that they can make a difference on? When you look at the numbers and realize how many kids fit that model and look at how many are being served, it’s not clear to me how we correct that. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s about throwing money at the problem. We’ve got to find some clever and innovative ways to help children.”

That aspect is of particular interest to Priscilla Hill Ardoin, a retired AT&T executive and SVPSA’s first member, who also has established a foundation in her deceased son’s name, the Aaron Ardoin Foundation for Sickle Cell Anemia.

“We are not coming in, most of us, with expertise [about a social issue] — we’re bringing a transferable skill-set,” Ardoin said. “We can really help you with beefing up your marketing, developing a comprehensive communication strategy, developing a strategy that helps you leverage your resources, and address a broader base of end-user need, asking strategically, ‘How do we get there?’”

SVP San Antonio members meet regularly at space provided by the San Antonio Area Foundation, which also is holding SVPSA funds and providing support and advice to the group as it gets off the ground.

The Austin SVP group, formed with three members in 2011, has grown to 118 members today, according to entrepreneur and community activist Dennis Cavner. He said the growth is due in part because the group realizes, “I can go out in my community and make a difference, but if we join together, we can change the world.”

Cavner also attended Shoemaker’s presentation this week where the author pointed to Ardoin as an example of how SVP engages people to work together in service to their community.

“Out of her pain, she gave a gift to the world,” Shoemaker said. “That’s as profound as it gets.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.