John Watson, #20StoriesFor20Years

“I got involved with SVP Minnesota as a partner four years ago. I was mainly a new business guy when I worked for money. I did product development, startups, that kind of thing. So that fits beautifully with SVP’s mission because so many nonprofits are trying to do exactly that. They’re not starting from the beginning. They have a concept and it’s proven, but they want to make it bigger and better.

I love the fact that there’s clarity on what the nonprofits are trying to accomplish. They’re right at that inflection point where if they could figure out a couple of things, they’re gonna blast forward. And in fact, they do. We multiply the size of organizations, on average, in a few years. I love the personal contact that you have with the leaders and working as part of a team. And I love that it’s not a long-term commitment. You know, if you join a nonprofit board, they expect three years and a lot can change in three years. So, I love to be able to come in and contribute where it is needed. It’s a wonderful concept.

I think there are cultural challenges that we need to figure out while doing this work. Many of the partners are privileged old white people and the people we work with aren’t. So, there’s issues of trust when we’re trying to make it a team of equals. The nonprofits might say, ‘You don’t understand, you’re from a business culture. We don’t have plans and strategies in the same way you do, and we’ve been pretty successful. Why do you wanna change who we are?’ And they don’t have to change, but they could be more effective. So slowly and with patience, that relationship develops.

I’d encourage people to become SVP partners because no matter what your skillset is, we can find a place for you. We have some introverted people that love to work on computers by themselves, we have other people who love the connection, and there’s everything in between. I love the flexibility to go in and out and find new opportunities where you think you could add. And when you do that, you pick up a whole lot of skills that you didn’t have before. It’s kind of a step at a time, but when you look at what you can accomplish, it really adds up.”

John Watson, SVP Partner

Darrell Thompson, #20StoriesFor20Years

“I’m President and CEO of Bolder Options. Our goal is to introduce youth to a healthy lifestyle through physical activity, education, and goal setting. We match kids 10 to 14 years old with a mentor and they get together every week. We set one physical goal, one educational goal, and one social emotional goal that they work towards over the course of a year. They do 5K and 10K bike rides on weekends. They also get a YMCA membership, so they’ll have physical activity opportunities during the wintertime.

We got selected by SVP Minnesota through their grant writing process. We’re just in our first year, so we’re lucky, we have a couple years left of advice and support. There’s just a benefit to SVP being flexible, listening, and then getting their expertise and sometimes their contacts as well. Like, ‘I know someone over at XYZ, let me give them a buzz and see if they’re willing to spend some time with us.’ So there’s value in people who know people, because sometimes when you’re in our sector, you can get a little siloed.

Our SVP impact team is helping us develop our recruitment process for mentors of color. With everything that we have going on in our world right now, people are tapped out, and a lot of times people of color can be even more tapped out. But there’s this opportunity for people to get engaged and make a difference. So the partners have been talking through it with us, coming to some of our events, and watching what we do and say. They’re helping us think about how we follow up, who follows up, all those things. It’s good to have someone like that right in your shop. Even though it’s just one meeting a month, it’s valuable time when they’re here.

I’ve been at Bolder Options for twenty-seven years and I’m still amazed. There’s one young man who graduated probably fifteen years ago and now he’s a banker. He sends me pictures of his daughter, talks to me about his wife. So he’s a grown man now, but he wasn’t going that direction. He was going down a bad route. We have another young lady who graduated ten years ago that works here now. So those types of stories make me fired up to come into work every day.”

Darrell Thompson,
President and CEO Bolder Options
SVP Organizational Leader

Christi Strauss, #20StoriesFor20Years

“I retired early and wanted to make a difference. Social Venture Partners Minnesota gave me a place to use the skills I had accumulated over a long business career. My first project was on Cookie Cart  and having come from a General Mills  background, it was perfect. Now I’m working with Bolder Options , a youth mentoring organization, and we’re helping them think through ways to recruit more mentors of color so their mentees of color have folks who relate to them and understand where they’ve come from. Half the time, I think the nonprofits have all the answers, it’s just bringing fresh eyes to a problem. So sometimes it’s not that your skills make a difference, it’s that you ask questions that allow them to step back and rethink things.

It’s been fun to collaborate and hopefully build relationships where we feel like we can all be vulnerable with each other. Over time, you develop that trust by listening, not by going in and pretending you have all the answers. Then everyone is more comfortable sharing what they don’t know or aren’t doing well. It’s always hard in the early stages when the nonprofit leaders might want to feel buttoned up about everything, but we get a lot more done if we all open up and share the stuff that’s buried away.

I’ve watched the SVP organization change and grow over these past few years. We’ve worked a lot on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’ve added SVP fellows and found other ways to diversify our group and include other voices. We’ve made the grant making process much less onerous and better for the applicants. We’ve done anti-racism training and provided programming anyone can take part in, whether it’s hearing a Native American woman talk about her family’s history in this area, or touring a Somali mall. I think SVP feels like a little gem that we just need to get the word out about. So for folks who are saying, ‘I need to learn more on this social justice journey, but I feel like it’s a vocabulary I don’t know and I’m worried I’ll say the wrong things,’ I’d say, ‘Come join us.’”

Christi Strauss
SVP Partner and Board Member #communityimpact #nonprofit #SVPmn20StoriesFor20Years #collectiveaction

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