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The Price of Clean Water

5 May 2011 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

NAME: Aaron Contorer

WHAT HE DOES: Full-time philanthropist, former Microsoft manager

CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION: Social Venture Partners, a philanthropy group founded by former Microsoft employees, with 1600 members worldwide, including 130 member sin San Diego

WHAT IT DOES: Pools funds to invest in charitable causes, while holding the non-profit groups accountable for hitting targets.

CONTRIBUTION: Each member contributes $5,000 a year for 5 years

CONTRIBUTIONS FISCAL 2005-6:$320,000, leveraged into “social value” of $2.3 million

NEW FUND LAUNCHED: $1 million to fund non-profit organizations working on the issue of clean water

WHAT HE LEARNED AT MICROSOFT: Contorer said, “Many of us employees were lucky enough to have stock options in Microsoft, so a lot of us ended up with extra money that we weren’t expecting. I was personally fascinated by how some people became very generous with extra money and others did not at all.

Some people believe you can never have enough and some people believe you always have enough. And the question is: what are you going to do with the next thing you get?”

“When you see the pleasure in helping an organization to help hundreds of other people, it feels like, buying an extra plasma TV or another car isn’t gratifying at all compared to that.

I now believe that spending my money to help people and improve the world is so much more gratifying.”

SVP holds grantees accountable, requiring quarterly targets and updates. SVP also puts a member on the non-profit group’s board, to advise them during the three-year term. SVP members also volunteer, typically 1,000 hours per year. If the group does not hit its targets, funding stops. “We really follow up again and again and again during the period of the grant,” said Contorer. “People tell us our time and management skills are worth more than
the checks.”

CLEAN WATER: SVP’s new $1 million fund will work with several groups on the issue of clean water in San Diego. “It is an issue everyone agrees is important,”said Contorer. “We love our home. We love San Diego. We need to find out what is required to keep this place great.”

This fund will support several groups spanning environmental, scientific, academic, military and government groups.

“Philanthropy is at a minimum about teaching them how to fish, and at the maximum it’s about restructuring the entire fishing industry to feed the whole world much better than it ever did before,” said Contorer.

The fund help various groups asses the community’s needs on several issues, including: air, land, energy, global warming, and development. The means understanding the issues and its cost to society, said Contorer, then creating solutions and working together to achieve those goals.

“Environmental groups don’t fix the environment alone. They work with businesses to change how things are done. They work with government to change how regulation and spending are done.”

“We’re not the experts on the environment. Our goal is to support them. What are we experts on? Management and writing checks.”

ROI: “What price tag do you put on finding a home for a foster child?” asked Contorer. “What price tag do you put on not polluting our water systems, so that the beaches don’t close? You can do an economic impact analysis on any of these and show in the first case that they are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. And to avoid a beach closure is worth millions.”

“Normally, I get a profit back directly” said Contorer. “In this case, we’re talking about social profits. We want to invest in organizations that are doing something so good for our society that the benefits are worth the cost. That is social profit. We live here, so we want San Diego to get the profit.”

“But we don’t really look at it that way. We look at what people are passionate about. People are passionate about helping our children. People are passionate about protecting our homes and our environment. You can’t just put a price tag on those. “

WEB: sdsvp.org


Follow Helen on Twitter @helenchang.

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