Back in the 1990s, when I retired from my career in finance, I wanted to help the community, but I felt frustrated and disconnected because I had no idea how my donations were being used. For people in my social circle, philanthropy simply meant giving to their alma mater or to their kid’s school. I couldn’t find anyone who could give me advice about strategically using philanthropy to improve the community as a whole.
I thought, “Maybe if I visit a nonprofit before writing a check to them, I’ll feel more of a connection.” So I jotted down the names of two nonprofits that had been in recent newspaper articles, looked up those organizations in the phone book, and called them to make appointments. I couldn’t think of anything else to do! I visited both the nonprofits and made $500 donations to each one – these were the biggest checks I’d written thus far. One nonprofit wrote me a nice thank-you letter, but never reported back to me on what had happened with the project. The other nonprofit lost my check and took six months to get in touch with me about it. I was left feeling completely inept and more isolated than ever. I felt like I was the only one in the world having this struggle.
Soon after, my husband’s company gave him a bonus for his years of service, which prompted us to set up a donor-advised fund at Community Foundation Silicon Valley. A few years later, after taking almost every class offered by CFSV, Peter Hero, the Director of the Foundation, told me a new group called SV2 was starting up. “I think you’ll like SV2,” he said. “You should go to their open house.”
I remember arriving at the open house. It was February, but it was still light outside, and such a lovely evening that most people were in short sleeves. There were about 60 people there socializing, and I soon found that every person I met had my same level of enthusiasm for getting involved in the community beyond our local PTA. We all wanted to learn how to do philanthropy well. So many of them echoed my thoughts: “I felt like I was the only one struggling with these questions!” They could relate to my feverish searches through the phone book and my botched attempts at site visits. The whole idea of having a community of philanthropists was so appealing that I signed up on the spot to be an SV2 Partner.
From that moment, my isolation ended.
In SV2’s workshops, I started learning how to understand grant proposals, how to conduct effective site visits, and how to evaluate outcomes. I started meeting Executive Directors from the nonprofits SV2 considered funding. I became involved with two of SV2’s early grantees: I joined the board of Downtown College Prep, and I was part of an ad hoc team that helped Child Advocates come up with new ideas for generating revenue. Through these two grantees I became acquainted with several other nonprofits doing similar work. And my fellow SV2 Partners continued to introduce me to even more highly-effective nonprofits.
That ripple effect has continued for all 13 of my years at SV2, so that today I feel very connected to the entire landscape of nonprofits and schools in the Bay Area.