Kathryn Kaczmarski's Founding Speech
How CSVP was Founded:
Kathryn Kaczmarski, speaking at CSVP's 10th Anniversary Dinner
March 12, 2011
It is such a privilege to be here this evening. I keep wondering whether this little talk will become my own version of “The King’s Speech” or if I’ll just break down and cry my way through. For any of you who know me, wanna place any bets?
Linda asked me to tell you the story about how Cleveland Social Venture Partners came to be. It’s a very personal story: I have been known to refer to CSVP as “my baby” – a bit arrogant perhaps as this partnership is so clearly about all of us – past, present, and future – who chose to get involved. But that’s how much it meant to me, being a part of creating this organization. So here we go.
In 1999 I was living in Cleveland and had recently completed a doctorate at Case Western. Unlike most of my colleagues who took academic jobs at various universities across the country, it became evident to me that I was to remain in Cleveland and morph my part-time consulting practice into a full-time business. Having now made a commitment to remaining in the community, I began wandering around wondering what else I might do to make a difference in my “home city.” Before coming to Cleveland I had worked extensively in the private sector – but my grad school experience exposed me to the world of non-profits and passion- and mission-driven leaders and organizations. Striving to bridge these two sides of my experience – the for-profit and the non-profit – I decided that giving back to the community was the means to do this. I had experienced both and thought they had something to offer to each other. And beyond that, even though I had no wealth so to speak of, I had always wanted to be a philanthropist.
I explored some of the options offered by the foundations in Cleveland, such as creating a donor-advised fund at The Cleveland Foundation. But the idea of only giving money just wasn’t enough for me: I had worked too closely with US and international non-profits (or non-governmental organizations) by this time. I wanted to help build the bridge as well as provide funding for the construction.
Right around this time, I met Bob Crumbaker and his wife Carol at a church I attended in the city. Bob and I became fast friends when we realized during a casual conversation that we were both looking to be more connected to the community, and were striving to find the right way to do that. We compared notes on the various organizations and volunteer opportunities we each explored, and at first there was no real connection for either of us. But somehow, the idea of an extended form of philanthropy that made a difference beyond grant-making or giving money began to take root. I can’t recall exactly how our thinking came to be aligned, but somewhere along the way the notion of “engaged philanthropy” emerged.
Bob was the first to discover the burgeoning Social Venture Partner network surfacing out of Seattle – and he immediately contacted the then-Executive Director, Paul Shoemaker. Right away we knew we had our model – the kind of philanthropic and business-oriented engagement with the non-profit sector that appealed to both of us. But that was the dilemma: it was just the two of us with an idea and a lot of passion. Still, we knew we were onto something and we began to speak with others.
Over the next year, we talked to everyone in our networks. (This was before the time of Facebook and other online applications that would have expedited and expanded our reach.) Slowly we began to form a small group of individuals who were like-minded and philosophically aligned with us – who also seemed to be searching and not quite satisfied with the existing channels in the community. We created our first board with John Johnson and Stacy Condon joining us to incorporate Cleveland Social Venture Partners. The four of us continued to conceptualize the strategy, structure, and function of the organization, holding endless meetings as only people involved in start-ups do. Along the way, Bob masterfully created a business plan for us, and having planted seeds through our networking in the community, we were successful in obtaining start-up funding from the Gund and Cleveland Foundations. It was a joyous time, to witness the seed of an idea begin to sprout…
The next turn of events is a bit fuzzy, as things began to unfold quickly. Bob, Stacy, John and I joined as partners and began recruiting interested others to do the same: Lin Emmons, the Rourkes, Bronwyn Jones, Heather Sherwin, Pete Rainey, Mary Bright, the Pattersons – just to name of few of the early partners. With foundation funding underneath us and partners beginning to climb on board, we realized it was time to hire an executive director and formally set up shop with an office. Many applied for the position but only one individual fit the bill – Dave Wittkowsky. We knew he was the man who could help us launch this enterprise, and that’s exactly what he did.
Over the next 2 years, we completed our first two investment cycles and established ourselves with non-profits in the community. We became a complementary and alternative approach to philanthropy in Cleveland. We offered then – and I believe CSVP still offers now – to engage partners fully: to use their talent, time and treasure to make a meaningful difference with organizations desiring to grow and expand and become more sustainable. The return on investment in my mind is the bridge that is built between our heads and our hearts. As these things happen, life circumstances beckoned me to leave Cleveland in 2003 and I was distressed to leave Social Venture Partners when I moved. It remains to this day one of the highlights of my life.
What Cleveland has is very special: in those early days there was such a strong sense of being in philosophical and even spiritual alignment with one another – I haven’t experienced an organization like this since. It is a very special social venture fund that has been created here, and I trust that will remain for a long time
Thank you for allowing me to tell my story. I continue to watch the unfolding of this organization and wish it every possible success in transforming the community and those of us involved to become better citizens and human beings. As I said in the beginning, it is a privilege to be here and I wish all of you – partners, investees, employees – involved with this most special organization the very best.