Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Giving your money, and expertise, to charity

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IF you've ever wanted to get more involved with a charity than merely writing a cheque, the Canadian Association of Gift Planners might have just what you're looking for.

Delegates at its annual conference this week are going to hear about a unique group called Social Venture Partners, a Seattle-based organization that combines elements of a venture capital firm with social enterprise. So, instead of just handing over your money, you offer your skills and expertise to help fill the gaps at your charity or charities of choice.

Brad Zumwalt, president of Zinc Ventures, a Calgary-based investment company and a founder of SVP's Calgary operation, said he and his nearly 50 partners look for charities that are running far from smoothly.

He will give a keynote address at the conference, which will be held at the University of Manitoba on Thursday.

Usually, executive directors of charities feel compelled to tell potential donors everything is fine because they're afraid the money will come off the table if they admit to any problems, he said.

"What funder is going to hang around if the executive director says, 'Our books are messed up?' " he said.

But when they come clean and admit to accounting problems or they have issues with governance or there's absolutely no marketing plan, Zumwalt and his partners typically have one response -- "fantastic!"

"We can bring people in and work on this so we can improve the organization. It's working through the power imbalance between the funder and the charity.

"Nobody in a small, growing business has everything running perfectly at the same time. There's no reason why a charity would," he said.

Patrick O'Connor, president of Blackwood Wealth Planning in Winnipeg and co-chairman with CAGP, said there are only a handful of SVP chapters in Canada, but he'd like to see one start up in Winnipeg.

"This is fundamentally a different way to look at philanthropy. It's a growing concept, where people want to be engaged with the charities they're supporting. They want to be involved with the programming," he said.

Other areas where SVP typically feels its partners can be of assistance include fundraising, technology, strategic planning and human resources.

The philanthropists at SVP in Calgary are professionals in fields such as oil and gas, law, accounting, finance, technology, real estate and medicine, Zumwalt said.

They have deployed a couple of million dollars since SVP was formed in Calgary in 2000, but the consulting services and expertise they have provided are probably worth 10 times that amount, Zumwalt said.

Rick Frost, CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation, who will also attend at the conference, said he would consider lending support to SVP.

"We're sympathetic to its aspirations. Anything that makes Winnipeg a more vibrant place is a good thing from our perspective. We want to see what role we could play," he said.

Frost said between 30 and 60 philanthropists would be required for an SVP chapter to make a go of things in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2013 B1

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