by Mario Morino, Co-founder of VPP
VPP is fortunate to have a board of directors with a wealth of experience in philanthropy, business, venture financing, and public policy. They have been very effective in stimulating and stretching our thinking. While there is a steady stream of communication between VPP and the board, our semi-annual meetings provide particularly useful checkpoints for us. At our May 9 board meeting, we gained valuable guidance on our investment approach and on the kinds of investment opportunities we should pursue as we move forward.
We began the board meeting with a detailed update on our three investments. In the case of each of these organizations, the leadership has worked hard at developing a relationship with VPP. They have availed themselves of resources we’ve been able to help them retain, including management and strategic planning consultants and executive search firms. The experience has expanded their expectations; they now view the value and possibilities of their work in new ways. And they have gained a better understanding of how VPP and its extended network of contacts can help them work through their most important management issues, attract top talent, and strengthen and engage their boards.
While VPP board members were encouraged by this progress, they also asked some important questions about our next investments. Are our selection criteria too rigid? Are we clear about how we will measure our success and that of our investment partners? Several board members stressed the importance of capturing the lessons—both positive and negative—that our partners and we are learning, for the benefit of future investment partners as well as other philanthropic and nonprofit organizations. One board member, Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, noted, “VPP’s leverage and engagement could teach the rest of us how to build capacity. This is not work we can do by remote control or mere check writing.”
As we prepare to make our next several investments, we do so with fresh insight gleaned from our initial investments and an appreciation for the inherent challenges of building partnerships. Over the next three to six months, we will continue to focus on building the capacity of our team. We will spend time reviewing our past performance and seeking feedback from our board, our investors, and others in the field to guide us in sharpening our focus, refining our approach, and assessing our effectiveness. We will also be looking at a broader variety of organizations serving children and families to find opportunities where strategic investments—in both large and small organizations—and partnerships with other funders offer the potential for strong results for the organizations and the people they serve.
As I review where VPP has been and the ground yet to cover, I am reminded of a comment made early on by one of our investors: “I came here thinking this was like taking a photograph, but I’m learning it’s a lot more like producing a full-length movie.”