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Civic Engagement Starts Here

Social Venture Partners Executive Director Pat Landrum conducts a meeting.

A mural is the backdrop at one of Social Venture Partners' meetings.

Social Venture Partners organizes volunteers, providing much-needed structure and supervision to philanthropic organizations.

The CBCA's Leadership Arts Program has graduated more than 600 leaders from 364 companies.

The CBCA's Leadership Arts program focuses specifically on arts and culture.

JVA Consulting's  newest offering is the week-long, intensive and highly interactive Social Enterprise Academy Training.

JVA Consulting is a woman-owned  organization founded 25 years ago as a small grant-writing operation.

Engaging with nonprofits on a meaningful level isn't always easy. Enter four unique organizations, each designed to facilitate philanthropic collaboration: Social Venture Partners, CBCACityBuild and JVA Consulting are pushing Denverites to do something great.
The chief reason some folks find nonprofit engagement tricky, according to Social Venture Partners Executive Director Pat Landrum, has to do with funding -- or, rather, the lack thereof. 
 
"They run their businesses with so much less than what the for-profit sector has, and they are spread thin," Landrum explains. "It takes work to help somebody find their place and then supervise them." 
 
As such, some nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, struggle to engage volunteers effectively. That's where Social Venture Partners, or, SVP, comes in. 
 
At its most basic level, SVP organizes volunteers, providing much-needed structure and supervision to philanthropic organizations. Landrum and her colleagues are of the mind that you don't have to be a billionaire to give something substantial back to your community -- just somebody who has "passion and purpose in the heart," Landrum continues. "The caricature is rich, old people writing big checks, but philanthropy of today is that everyone has something to give." 
 
SVP, and other mediums like it, help Denverites find what, exactly, it is they have to offer. Far beyond money, this could be donating time, talent, inspiration -- even connections.
 
Don't get Landrum wrong: If somebody wants to invest, investing dollars is all well and good. But that's a small part of SVP's program, which is partially a membership organization requiring partners join by making a tax-deductible deposit -- between $3,500 and $10,000 dollars annually -- into a general fund held within The Denver Foundation, which provides office space and other in-kind support. "We are also in a strategic relationship with them and have begun to do more co-investing," Landrum adds. 
 
What makes SVP special is the level of active engagement, or the hours of time donated by member participants, averaging about five hours per month, but as high as 12 for some folks. These members learn by doing. Social Venture Partners Executive Director Pat Landrum conducts a meeting.
 
"Most of the time," Landrum says, "when somebody wants to volunteer, they do it at a staff or board level." SVP members work with nonprofits on a more strategic level. The self-funded organization does business-capacity building for those it serves, allowing area nonprofits to do things that will help them function more efficiently but are generally outside the operating budget -- like hiring a marketing strategist. 
 
"A lot of folks don't realize just how well their business or corporate skills will translate into the public sector," says Landrum, noting that most partners need not acquire any new skills.

The organization has 40 active partners working with seven nonprofits. Project Pave, a middle-school outreach initiative that addresses and prevents domestic violence by teaching about healthy dating behavior, is one project Landrum is particularly proud of because, thanks to SVP's assistance with board development and governance, it just received a multi-year grant from the Department of Justice. 
 
Connecting arts and business
 
Deborah Jordy, Executive Director for the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA), is also interested in figuring out "how really smart people in the business community can use their skills to help the cultural nonprofit community." The CBCA's Leadership Arts program focuses specifically on arts and culture; participants undergo an eight-month-long training -- from there, most go on to serve on boards of directors of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations such as Curious Theatre, Think 360 Arts, Art Students League of Denver and Swallow Hill Music.
 
Doctors, attorneys and even rocket scientists attend monthly half-day sessions at local cultural institutions where they'll learn things like strategic planning, advocacy, nonprofit governance, fundraising, and, most importantly, how to translate their talents into the public arena. Over two decades, the program has graduated more than 600 leaders from 364 companies. 
 
"We're teaching people how to be exceptional board members and advocate for and engage in the arts," Jordy explains, noting that this program is one of several CBCA programs "that links the arts and the business community." 
 
The program's parent organization, CBCA, is comprised of approximately 120 members, with an employee base of 75,000 who come together with the goal of making cultural engagement easy as watching a play. Corporate members, for example, can opt to be part of CBCA's monthly workforce benefit program that gives participating employees monthly access to free cultural events. 
 
"We want people to explore and expand their participation in the arts," Jordy says. "A company could buy gym memberships for its employees; this is another workforce benefit option."
 
The CBCA's Leadership Arts Program has graduated more than 600 leaders from 364 companies.
What's more, the CBCA helps employers develop their employees' creative thinking with a program called On My Own Time. The program highlights employees' creativity outside of the office through company-wide employee art exhibitions. Employees submit paintings, sculptures, photographs and crafts. CBCA then curates a show on-site.

Notes Jordy: "This can start a dialogue and show another side of an employee's personality to colleagues." About two-dozen companies participate in the program including Pinnacol Assurance, Kaiser Permanente and Prologis.
 
Bridging nonprofit and for-profit
 
JVA Consulting, a woman-owned  organization founded 25 years ago as a small grant-writing operation, is dedicated to training the public too, but with a focus on social change. 
 
Today, JVA, which "still does the financing side of things," according to Managing Associate for Social Enterprise and Business Planning Sarah Hidey, has become national in scope with offices in Denver and Carbondale, Colorado. It also offers a training membership. For a flat fee, businesses and other organizations -- even individuals -- can purchase 12-month training packages. The training department can even custom tailor its teachings to a particular institution's needs. 
 
According to National Training Director Julia Alvarez, JVA hosts between 100 and 150 trainings annually, mostly out of the Denver office. JVA's curriculum covers the wide array of services the organization provides, including topics like evaluation, social enterprise, board development and executive leadership. The 2014 training schedule is available on JVA's website
 
The newest offering is the week-long, intensive and highly interactive Social Enterprise Academy Training, which spans the bridge between the business and nonprofit worlds and is designed for folks who want to start their own venture, likely something for-profit but with a social-enterprise edge. 
 
"We see people who are in between careers and want to build the capacity to move into the nonprofit world," explains Hidey. "Our CEO is very passionate about encore careers in nonprofit sector," she adds before describing a partnership with Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, which recently co-sponsored a training by JVA with Innovations in Aging that trained boomers interested in transitioning into the nonprofit sector. 

An agenda for urbanism
 
"There is so much going on in the nonprofit sector, especially in Denver, that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin," says Hidey. And, according to Community Leader Brianna Borin, one of the key players behind CityBuild, one of the Downtown Denver Partnership's newest offerings, "some nonprofits can feel exclusive." 
 
Not so with CityBuild, where "everything is very open and inclusive to everybody who wants to be involved." There are no membership fees or dues -- the only requirement to join is an enduring love for the city of Denver.  
 
The organization -- a platform for engagement, really -- launched in September of this year in order to involve locals in "urbanism," as Co-Founder Borin puts it. 
 
"There are so many organizations out there," she muses. "How do you find a way to connect?" CityBuild gets people together by focusing on creativity and youthfulness. The program is open and welcoming to all ages, but Borin points out that nonprofit engagement is often lacking in Generation Y as a whole. 
 
"It's not that we don't do civic-minded things," she says, "But it is harder for Generation Y to get engaged if they don't have the right avenues." CityBuild aims to provide an avenue by teaching its constituents about city building and what it takes to create a great community. 
 
CityBuild currently delivers on its promise by connecting people. "We started talking in April and officially launched in September, so we're only two months old," Borin says. So far, her and her colleages have hosted two events: Hack-a-Happy Hour and CollaborEAT. 
 
For the happy hour, CityBuilders "brought a banner with the CityBuild logo to Sculpture Park and invited people to say why they love Denver." From there, a mural was made on the banner before happy hour commenced. "The purpose was to get people to think about what it means to be part of a community," Borin says.  
 
At CollaborEAT, the group went into Civic Center Park and created an urban, open-air dining room with two 100-person-long tables; a total of 150 people attended the dinner. 
 
"We wanted to create a sense of community in a place that is underutilized," Borin says. "There were no barriers, and we left everything completely open so people could feel what it was like to be in a park with a bad reputation at night. From there, we got ideas for how to engage that part of Denver in future." 
 
At both engagements, CityBuild presented guest speakers; one lectured on taxable urbanism and what it means to create space in community. CityBuild's first official every-other-month City Mixer was held Thurs. Dec. 5 at The Source.

This story was produced in partnership with The Denver Foundation as part of a series on giving and philanthropy. Read more stories from this series here.

Read more articles by Jamie Siebrase.

Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer who who writes about art, culture, and parenting for Westword and Colorado Parent.
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