1. Social Venture Partners, a group of engaged philanthropists, draws on the passion and the entrepreneurial spirit of the venture capital, start-up community model. For example, SVP donors, known as “partners,” don’t just give. They “invest” in nonprofits, known as “investees.” Most significantly, partners volunteer their time and skills working with the investees.
An international giving network founded in Seattle, SVP came to Cincinnati in 2007 and became an immediate hit, attracting people who want to do more than write a check.
Partners make an annual contribution: $6,000 for families, $3,000 for individuals and $1,500 for young professionals. Each year one nonprofit is selected to get $20,000 a year for three years. The partners then volunteer their time.
“It’s whatever the need is—strategic planning, marketing, communication, finance—any kind of business skill our partners can bring to the table,” says Lauren Merten, SVP executive director. “It’s amplified giving for people who want to collectively invest time, talent, and grant money in innovative ways to strengthen local nonprofits. They help these nonprofits be successful and sustainable beyond what just a grant might do.”
Among the investees during the last several years are a Lawn Life Skyward, Family Nurturing Center, the Civic Garden Center, Imago, and Gorman Heritage Farm. “Our investees all say the money is nice, but it was the connections and expertise they received that helped them get to the next level,” Merten says.
2. People’s Liberty is a self-described “philanthropic laboratory” launched in 2014 with the professed goal of testing the basic model of foundation philanthropy. Instead of giving to nonprofit institutions, it gives money only to individuals. CEO Eric Avner hopes that subtle change will lead to game-changing results.
According to Avner, the experiment will test the theory that leveraging small grants to individuals with clever ideas will ultimately unleash a core group of civic change agents. As he puts it: “Can we build a community of doers by investing in place and people?”
People’s Liberty is an offshoot of the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr. /U.S. Bank Foundation and has an annual grant budget of just under $500,000. People’s Liberty gives out three types of grants each year: 16 Project Grants of $10,000; three Globe Grants of $15,000 for installations in its storefront; and two Haile Fellowships of $100,000 each, similar to the MacArthur Genius Grants.
The Haile Fellows have already started some intriguing initiatives. For example, one local musician has set up a project connecting local advertisers with the work of area musicians for use of their music in ad campaigns. Another is connecting millennials rehabbing their homes with retired building and trade craftsmen to learn about home repair and remodeling.
The Project Grants have ranged from quirky to utilitarian. There are urban gardens, public art, and science projects. There is the plan to place giant beanbags at public buildings, and one recipient has built a ¾ mile–long scale model of the solar system in Salway Park.
Avner says People’s Liberty is set to end in 2020 and be evaluated on how effective it was in its larger goal of nurturing individual ideas and passion to drive civic change and betterment.
“A $10,000 grant may not change the world, but that person could be set on a path to make a difference in this community,” Avner says.
3. The giving circle may be one of the oldest forms of charitable work dating back hundreds of years, usually in the form of aid societies founded by women. The power of that concept lives on with Impact 100, a Cincinnati collective giving network founded in 2001 by Wendy Steele. She started asking others to make a $1,000 donation, pooling resources to give grants in $100,000 chunks.
“The model resonates with women—it enables an individual to make an enduring difference in the community…,” says Clare O’Brien, an Impact 100 board member. “Our…process builds trust between our members and provides assurance that…donations will be used efficiently for a compelling purpose.”
Recently celebrating its 15th anniversary, Impact 100 now has more than 400 Cincinnati-area donors with diverse backgrounds and ages.
In 2016, four nonprofits each received $101,500. They include Cincinnati Therapeutic Riding and Horsemanship, the Women’s Crisis Center, Greater Cincinnati Construction Foundation/Woodward Career Technical High School, and St. Francis Seraph Ministries.
The concept has spread nationwide and abroad with chapters donating $40 million collectively, and the Cincinnati chapter raising $3.6 million since its founding.
4. Transform Cincinnati, one of the newest efforts in the region, will itself raise no money and fund no projects. But it has the potential to have a major impact on the area’s most pressing needs, hoping to cultivate the next generation of mega-donors.
The brainchild of former publisher Richard “Dick” Rosenthal, Transform Cincinnati is an effort to attract large donors to fund big ideas. The group acts as a facilitator, identifying and linking those capable of giving multimillion dollar donations to worthy projects.
Rosenthal thinks the community needs to have a new generation of high-net-worth donors step forward, replacing Cincinnati’s greatest generation of givers, many of whom have passed away in recent years— philanthropic luminaries such as Patricia Corbett, Carl Lindner, and Louise Nippert.
Rosenthal and his late wife, Lois, have made game-changing gifts to the arts, and most recently, Rosenthal ensured the future of UC’s Innocence Project with a $15 million endowment. His pitch to a younger generation of donors: “I find great joy and rewards in doing this. I explain to folks that maybe they don’t need a third vacation home or a second airplane and could get a great deal more joy out of making a real difference in the community.”
Transform Cincinnati has vetted several big ideas aimed at attracting major gifts of $1 million–$10 million. They include projects to fight teenage unemployment and homelessness, fund the preschool promise, spur Walnut Hills development, and boost research at the UC Cancer Institute. In the spring of 2017, Rosenthal will announce another round of vetted projects as Transform Cincinnati partners with the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
“Sometimes folks want to make a difference, but don’t know where to really look or start,” Rosenthal says. “That’s the key reason for Transform Cincinnati, where we can give them a menu of ideas, and hopefully, something will click for them.”