Do Something

Become a partner

Partners contribute $5,000 ($2,500 for young professionals under 35) annually. The funds are pooled to invest in nonprofits, using trust-based practices including providing multi-year unrestricted funding. Learn more about becoming a partner here. As a partner, you get to:

      • Participate in programming that galvanizes partners through collective action.
      • Leverage your resources to help those closest to the issues increase their impact.
      • Collaborate with like minded people committed to addressing the root causes of poverty in our city.
      • Build your leadership profile in Philadelphia through increased civic engagement.
      • Learn from the world’s largest network of engaged philanthropists and regional champions.


Delve Deeper

Read SVP's recent report



More on SVP


To this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the enhanced audio edition of Courtney’s story

And go here for more audio articles from CitizenCast

More Than Just A Check

Social Venture Partners is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in local nonprofits that fight poverty. But it’s their “engaged philanthropy” that really sets them apart.

More Than Just A Check

Social Venture Partners is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in local nonprofits that fight poverty. But it’s their “engaged philanthropy” that really sets them apart.

As a teacher and principal in Philly’s public schools, Sharif El-Mekki has seen firsthand how education and poverty intersect in Philly’s schools.

He’s helped turn around two struggling schools in West and Southwest Philly, and in 2019, he founded his nonprofit Center for Black Educator Development to help train Black teachers and place them into schools with the goal of improving educational outcomes for students of color and reducing poverty.

“The schools were struggling mightily and really letting down the communities that they were supposed to serve,” says El-Mekki. One study found that if Black students had just one Black teacher in third through fifth, they were 29 percent less likely to drop out of high school. “I had the opportunity to work with teams that were committed to turning that around. Same parents, same kids, but different staff, different expectations and wildly different results.”

El-Mekki’s organization’s on-the-ground approach in addressing root causes of poverty make it the perfect fit for Social Venture Partners Philadelphia’s (SVP Philly) first-ever grant cycle, launched this year. SVP Philly is the local chapter of the international organization—with more than 40 affiliates and over 3,400 partners in eight different countries—that provides financial and operational support to nonprofits working to reduce poverty.

“It’s a group of folks who are curious and not judgmental,” El-Mekki says. “I’ve found so many people who are judgmental about people in poverty, and not curious enough to really go deeper and try to understand what are the conditions that create poverty.”

Unlike other grant-makers, SVP takes an “engaged philanthropy” approach, offering nonprofits multi-year, unrestricted financial support, and also professional expertise, connections and free consulting through their extensive partner network, says managing director Jen Gleason.

Over the next three years, the organization is investing $600,000 in funding, plus operational support, in three local nonprofits that target a different root cause of poverty. Center for Black Educators targets education inequities; Resilient Coders provides job training through their coding bootcamps; and the Women’s Community Revitalization Project works to create affordable housing. They hope to make multi-year grants of this size to different organizations every year.

Understanding the conditions that create poverty

The leadership at United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) decided to launch the Philly chapter of SVP in 2019, using some of the organization’s own funds and a multi-year grant from the William Penn Foundation. SVP Philly is governed by United Way’s Regional Board, but has a separate advisory board that is responsible for the program’s strategic oversight.

After launching in 2019, the group worked to build a network of partners committed to reducing poverty in the area. The 52 current partners, who donate a minimum of $5,000 per year to the organization, include Shawn McCaney, executive director of the William Penn Foundation; Dalila Wilson-Scott, chief diversity officer for Comcast Corporation; Dennis Bianchi, general manager for Fox29 news; lawyers, educators, business people and other philanthropists. (SVP is continuously seeking to add new partners.)

Partners are separate from the SVP board, which includes Omar Woodard, now of Results for America; Sulaiman Rahman, of DiverseForce; and Erinn Corbett-Wright, charitable foundation program manager for TD Bank. Board members have likened the group to a startup because of the anti-philanthropy model’s innovative approach to charitable giving.


“[SVP Philadelphia] has the most amazing balance ever because it has all of the things you love about a startup, but weirdly none of the things that you dislike about being involved with a startup,” says Corbett-Wright. “What is shared amongst all of us is that poverty has to go. And it’s great to be with folks who approach this work from different lenses.”

SVP Philly’s work began with education to help partners better understand the root causes of poverty and how each organization is working to address them. That allowed them to better understand the work, the nonprofits’ needs and how they can best support them. The aim is for the grantees and donors to see each other as partners in the mission to end generational poverty in Philly.

“It’s a group of folks who are curious and not judgmental,” El-Mekki says. “I’ve found so many people who are judgmental about people in poverty, and not curious enough to really go deeper and try to understand what are the conditions that create poverty.”

Broke in Philly logoA new approach to fighting poverty is clearly what’s needed. Despite decades of work from city government and nonprofits, often working in silos, Philly has made infinitesimal progress in reducing poverty. Between 2016 and 2018 only about 14,000 people were able to work their way out of poverty, and this year, Pew reports that 23 percent of Philadelphians—nearly one in four—live below the poverty line. Among Hispanic and Black Philadelphians, the numbers are even higher, at 40.2 percent and 26.7 percent respectively, according to Pew.

Which is why SVP Philly decided to prioritize funding organizations primarily led by people of color, with the idea that those who are closest to the root causes have a unique perspective on how to end poverty in the city.

This builds on the racial justice organizing work they started in the fall of 2020 when they invested over $30,000 in funds in The Racial Justice Organizing Committee, The Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance and the Girls Justice League.

Forty-three organizations applied for the 2021 grants and SVP Philly selected the three winners through an interview process in which they considered the organizations’ missions and how they were engaging with the communities they served.

Engaged philanthropy

For Nora Lichtash, executive director of WCRP, the consistent, multi-year funding makes SVP Philly stand out from other groups that offer grants. Her group—which won The Citizen’s inaugural Jeremy Nowak Urban Innovation Award in 2019—does a mix of lobbying for public policies that support affordable housing, and building affordable housing units and childcare and social services centers.

As a result of this multifaceted work, other funders have difficulty understanding their work, which has been a hurdle when applying for grants. “Generally funders don’t really know what to do with us, because we do things that don’t normally occur within one organization,” says Lichtash.

SVP Philly’s grant application process included lengthy interviews, which made sure both the funders and the nonprofits really understood how each operates. When they were selected as one of the philanthropic group’s first grantees, “We felt understood,” Lichtash says. “It is rare that we are chosen for who we are and I think people felt seen and felt really, really good about being acknowledged.”

“[SVP Philadelphia] seemed like an effort that was centering justice and not charity, which is refreshing in this world,” says David Delmar Sentíes.

Lichtash says the funds will help WCRP identify and develop sites that they might not have pursued otherwise. “We’ve made every mistake in the book in terms of real estate development and that has been the greatest learning opportunity,” Lichtash says. “I think this kind of money just gives you that cushion to do that kind of work.”

SVP Philly’s engaged philanthropy model means that their partners are committed not just to financially supporting their grantees, but also to aiding the three nonprofits in capacity-building efforts through pro-bono consulting, professional expertise and operational support. If someone wants to partner with the organization and can’t afford to donate the $5,000 per year minimum, they can volunteer their time and skills as a contribution instead, in some cases.

In part, this is because SVP believes that if donors are involved with the nonprofits they’re funding they’ll be more likely to continue giving. That matters in Philly, which is one of the least philanthropic cities in the country. A 2017 Chronicle of Philanthropy report on giving in America’s 50 largest cities ranked Philly as 43 out of 50 for percentage of income used for charitable donations.

“The engaged philanthropy model really means that partners do more than just write a check,” Gleason says.

Each of this year’s grant winners will be assigned a lead partner to serve as a point person connecting them to other partners for idea consulting, professional connections, website design and marketing support and other services as needed on a volunteer basis.

For David Delmar Sentíes, founder and executive director of Resilient Coders, the engaged philanthropy model is part of what makes the partnership with SVP Philadelphia special. After launching in Boston in 2014, Resilient Coder’s expanded their free coding bootcamps to Philly in December of last year. The group focuses on helping young adults of color from low-income communities find work as software engineers by paying students while they sharpen their skills. Graduates of the program make an average starting salary of $95,000.

“[Aborignal Australian activist] Lilla Watson says it better than I do … If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together,” he says. “[SVP Philadelphia] seemed like an effort that was centering justice and not charity, which is refreshing in this world. And when that became evident, we became more excited about the opportunity to work together.”

Sentíes envisions Resilient Coders using the funds to support student stipends and daily operations while they continue to fine-tune their model and expand into Pittsburgh this year. And the consistent financial support will allow the organization to take more risks as they try to grow their programs.

“Being bold requires experimentation, and if you’re experimenting what that means is you’ve got a 50 percent chance of failure,” Delmar Sentíes adds. “Few are the foundations who are comfortable with the possibility of failure … Having the predictability [of consistent funding] we can rely on is absolutely huge in being able to say, alright, we’re going to give this a shot and it might blow up, but we’re gonna be okay.

The Citizen is one of 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic mobility. Follow the project on Twitter @BrokeInPhilly.


Full-Circle Support

Business for Good: Everyday Philanthropists

Green-Lighting Change

Header photo courtesy of Resilient Coders

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.