Silicon Valley Social Ventures

The San Jose Business Journal just ran a great story on the nonprofit organization my wife started almost 10 years ago: Silicon Valley Social Ventures, or SV2.

Over the last 10 years, SV2 — which applies many of the concepts used to run for-profit venture capital firms to philanthropy — has helped fund and develop many wonderful nonprofit organizations in the Silicon Valley region, and has also helped scores of area enterpreneurs and executives become active in philanthropy for the first time.

And on to the story!

It’s the typical venture capital story: A great idea is born in a coffee shop, a long incubation period ensues and eventually, with a lot of nurturing from well-heeled supporters, the endeavor takes flight. Only this time, the product is not technology, it’s philanthropy — Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), formed in 1998 by Stanford graduate student Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen at the age of 28.

After a decade in incubation as a donor advised fund at Community Foundation Silicon Valley, SV2 will become its own separate entity under a new organization called the Individual Philanthropy Institute.

SV2 has evolved into partnership of investors, many of them lawyers, doctors, technology entrepreneurs, professors, stay-at-home parents and others who are willing to contribute a minimum of $3,000 a year as well as their time, passion and expertise to help nonprofits learn and thrive. And those partners expand their own philanthropic horizons. SV2 became a donor-advised fund housed at what was then called the Community Foundation Silicon Valley. It has grown to 140 donor partners and awarded more than $2.5 million in grants.

It will now become a program of a new organization called the Individual Philanthropy Institute. But that organization is still very young and is being developed, says Arrillaga-Andreessen. It is awaiting its 501(c)3 status form the Internal Revenue Service and when that’s granted, the institute should be more developed.

But SV2’s model will remain the same, she assures. Two types of grants are made: One is strength grants, which in 2007 began focusing on education. Organizations get $150,000 over three years and SV2 partners work with the organization to deploy the money.

Then there are affinity groups consisting of at least five SV2 partners who have chosen a focus area to learn more about, share their knowledge of and work on in the community. These groups get authority to distribute $50,000 annually.

Peter Hero, former president of Community Foundation Silicon Valley, was also in that coffee shop when SV2 was born. Hero says the Community Foundation had been looking at how to tap into business networking as a tool for increasing philanthropic giving but it was Arrillaga-Andreessen who came up with the model.

He says the idea has spread nationally and has inspired about a dozen others around the country.

He recalls that local philanthropist Jeff Skoll called SV2 “training wheels for donors.” That’s true, Hero chuckles, but he adds that SV2 is also a good mix of veterans and new donors who are learning from each other.

“People bring to it their own experience, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. It’s very Silicon Valley,” he says.

“I would say it’s exceeded all of my expectations, which were high to begin with,” says Hero, who will join the board of SV2.

It’s a natural progression, says Arrillaga-Andreessen.

“When I brought this vision to Peter Hero I was still a graduate student with no track record in the field of philanthropy and it was Peter’s belief in me and my vision and the support he gave me through community foundation that made SV2 initially possible,” she says.


If any of this piques your curiosity, please feel free to contact SV2 — or me, at pmarcablog (at) gmail (dot) com — for more information.

As a side note, all revenue generated by this blog (to date, primarily Amazon affiliate fees!) is being donated to SV2.