Understanding equity: A sit down with Social Venture Partners Cleveland

NCRP’s Power Moves team chatted recently with Emily Troia, manager of partner engagement and communications for Social Venture Partners (SVP) Cleveland. As NCRP expands its focus beyond grantmaking institutions to influence individual donors, SVP Cleveland’s story offers insight into the ways Power Moves can be adapted by donor networks to inform and catalyze new approaches to giving with an equity lens. 

Emily Troia

SVP Cleveland brings together like-minded, engaged philanthropists to collectively give and support local nonprofits. A midsize affiliate of an international network, SVP Cleveland has 70 partners and has been active for 20 years.  

NCRP: What motivated you and the network to give more attention to equity issues?  

Emily Troia: For 20 years, SVP Cleveland has been a community of donor-volunteers (partners) committed to supporting local nonprofits through what we have historically called “engaged philanthropy.”  

When we were founded, the SVP model was innovative: Our grantees received unrestricted multiyear funding plus capacity-building support through collaboration with our partners.  

Since our founding and increasingly during the last 5 years, our organizational understanding of the inherent power imbalance in philanthropy, and at a societal level, has continued to evolve.  

In recent years, as the country has faced a racial reckoning and awareness of inequity has increased, SVP Cleveland’s evolution has accelerated.  

As an organization, we continue to examine, dissect and dismantle the power imbalance in our giving model and ways we partner with community nonprofits. We also continue to individually examine our personal power and privilege. 

This process of examination and deepening understanding has been profound for me. When I joined the SVP staff in 2017, the opportunities I had to learn about equity led to what I would call a personal awakening.  

My colleagues and many partners fostered my personal commitment to equity and racial justice. When I joined the staff, SVP Cleveland was just beginning to address these issues head on; over the past several years, SVP’s organizational growth has given me inspiration and space for personal growth.   

NCRP: What has been most effective in deepening the SVP partners’ understanding and commitment to equity?  

ET: When you have more than 70 people, what works for each person is going to vary. Some people are self-motivated and participate in various sessions and conversations locally and nationally.  

Others need to have issues brought to them in the partnership space. We realized we needed to foster a shared understanding of what equity is and the concept of power. Since 2017, every partner meeting has had some equity-deepening component.  

Variety has been key for reaching people in a way that fits them. It also takes ongoing, overlapping discussions over an extended period of time to guide people with multiple perspectives and varying degrees of engagement to get everyone on the same page.   

NCRP: How has Power Moves been helpful on your journey? 

ET: I was introduced to Power Moves at Philanthropy Ohio’s Philanthropy Forward Conference in 2018. Power Moves has been transformational in my personal understanding of equity, power and privilege, and has continued to be a model I turn to.   

I  took a stack of Power Moves’ executive summaries home from the conference and handed them out to board members, other partners and friends involved in philanthropy!  

The way Power Moves explains the dimensions of power resonated with me because it gives a clear framework for understanding both the idea of power and how the facets of power translate into concrete practices (or lack of practices).  

It helped me understand ways that I had power in my role as a staff member that I had never thought of before and ways I risked being a gatekeeper.  

It gave a roadmap for dismantling the power imbalance and truly partnering with nonprofits and community members. It asked questions that really made me think.   

The questions stayed with me. We even employed the Power Moves’ “kick-off” questions (designed to be used as part of a group assessment) in an exercise at our 2019 board retreat and, again, at our fall partner meeting — a session for the full partnership.  

These discussions engaged partners and also made us realize that, though the partners had many overlapping perspectives, they lacked a cohesive organizational understanding of what “equity” is and what it should mean for SVP Cleveland. It was illuminating in showing us some crucial next steps. 

NCRP: As SVP looks forward, what’s next for the work Power Moves has helped inform? 

ET: Currently, SVP Cleveland is working diligently to clearly articulate our values surrounding racial equity, social justice and inclusion, and we are thinking about how these values play out in all our engagements and actions.  

SVP International’s CEO, Sudha Nandagopal, spoke at our annual all-partner meeting about dismantling power structures in philanthropy and doing advocacy work around racial equity and justice.  

This past winter, we piloted a racial equity group for a small cohort of white partners focused on helping them be better anti-racists by exploring white fragility, privilege and supremacist culture. We are getting ready to launch the second cohort of this group. 

It’s an exciting time for SVP Cleveland. We stand at a turning point. We have laid the foundation and built tremendous momentum over the past 5 years.  

And, now, we are moving from an organizational shift to a transformation. Our partners and staff are continuing to grow personally and embrace collective action.   

We know there is much more work to be done, and our partners are committed to the long-term journey. 

NCRP: What advice do you have for other organizations that educate and engage donors? 

ET: It is valuable for boards and staff to read Power Moves. Even if you cannot use the tool as a whole, it offers a framework and deeper understanding.  

Also, stay hopeful. I have been so excited by people changing their perspectives who I was not sure ever would. It is the only way to bring folks through a transition.  

Seek outside advice from diverse voices. Listen to your grantees and members of the communities they serve. It’s so common for philanthropic organizations and donors to turn inward, but the value of outside perspectives from those whom your dollars are meant to support is immeasurable and can bring the most meaningful change.  

Lastly, meet people where they are. You may have to offer a diversity of opportunities to engage.  

Wynter Moore is NCRP’s program administration intern. 

The post Understanding equity: A sit down with Social Venture Partners Cleveland also appears on National Committee For Responsive Philanthropy.

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