Two Santa Barbara nonprofits received not only some crucial financial help Monday, but invaluable expertise from an organization that seeks to leverage the connections and gifts of donors.

Homeless shelter Casa Esperanza and transitional housing program WillBridge received checks for $31,000 and $25,000, respectively. But leaders of both organizations were eager to take advantage of the expertise that comes with the partnership.

That’s because the project is part of Social Venture Partners Santa Barbara, a field of interest fund of the Santa Barbara Foundation, which includes 40 individuals who combine their professional skills with philanthropic efforts.

Casa Esperanza’s contribution will be geared toward social enterprise and developing a commercial cookie business, which will help generate the income for another case manager. By using an underutilized kitchen that was largely vacant between meals at the shelter, the new enterprise also will serve as job training for Casa residents, in addition to a much-needed revenue provider.

The partnership’s aim for WilBridge, which began in 2005, is to help strengthen the nonprofit with expertise to support the organization’s growth and infrastructure. 

“We use the word investment,” SVPSB Director Joan Young said of the group’s approach to giving not only money, but time and expertise.

The group began organizing last September, and by the time it met in January to decide focus areas for the grants, “the world had changed all around us,” said Paul Gertman, chairman of the group’s Investment Committee. The group realized it needed to focus on “safety net” issues, where there was the greatest need, instead of making contributions to things such as arts and the environment, he said.

SVPSB decided in April to focus on homelessness and low-income housing, which the group will focus on for the next two years.

“Our principal investment is our expertise,” Gertman said. “Our goal is that when our process of investment ends, they will be stronger on an ongoing basis,” instead of just a one-time monetary grant.

Gertman estimated that 2,000 hours of partner time already had be expended into the project. “We expect to invest $4 of partner time for every dollar invested,” he said.

The legal skills and management expertise that functioning nonprofits need but often fall short of are just a few examples of skills the project is hoping to supplement.

Claude Case, one of the founding partners of SVPSB, said the movement was put together by a group of entrepreneurs wanting to donate money in the most effective way they knew how: by utilizing venture capitalism. 

Twenty-five SVP chapters exist worldwide, including two new affiliates launching in Australia and Singapore, and has invested more than $32 million in nonprofits since its inception.

Mike Foley, Casa Esperanza’s executive director, said the group probed the nonprofit by looking at every area of the organization, and when the backing of SVP came in, it was a “huge vote of confidence.”

“It’s a huge victory for the fight to end homelessness,” he said. “Just imagine our response, every single thing we need was laid out in front of us.”

Foley also emphasized that the project not only would help raise much-needed dollars for the shelter, but would provide valuable job training.

Plus, the public can expect high-quality baked goods complete with creative titles such as “oatmeal raisin-awareness,” he said.

WillBridge provides transitional housing for people in the community, many of whom are mentally ill, homeless or both. “We are the bottom rung of the stepladder” as people begin to transition back into society, founder Lynnelle Williams said, adding that she’s grateful for the insight the group will provide her nonprofit.

“In the Santa Barbara nonprofit community, we’re in the toddler stage,” she said of the fledgling group, which began as an outgrowth of Police Chief Cam Sanchez’s restorative policing workshop in 2003.

Going forward, Gertman said the SVPSB is planning to award two more grants to the areas of homelessness and housing for 2010. For 2011, he said the group will look for where it can make an impact in areas of the greatest need.

“We’re not locked into a certain bequest that says money has to be used for a certain thing,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

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