Local nonprofits make their pitch for SEED20


February 26, 2024

Founding CEO Jonathan Gardner presents for GardHouse nonprofit at Seed20

Social Venture Partners provides a leg up to fledgling local nonprofits, culminating in an annual pitch competition with cash awards — and a lasting impact.

by Michelle Boudin

“It’s my favorite night in Charlotte — it renews your faith in humanity,” says Denise Burkard, the past board chair and decade-long member of Social Venture Partners Charlotte. She’s talking about SEED20, the premier annual event of SVP’s flagship program, when fledgling nonprofits have three minutes on stage in front of a packed public audience to pitch their ideas and compete for cash prizes. 

SVP is a venture-philanthropy nonprofit that supports other nonprofits in the Queen City with money, time, expertise and social capital. SVP Charlotte members — there are currently more than 125 individuals and corporate partners — typically donate at least $5,000. When choosing which organizations to support, SVP focuses on groups who are breaking down obstacles to upward mobility and promoting equality. The local SVP chapter is one of more than 40 global member organizations. The first group was founded in Seattle in 1997.

This year, on March 26, the 200th nonprofit supported by SVP will come through the SEED20 program. Before the big night on stage, the nonprofits are paired with mentors who spend months helping them craft their story and preparing them to present to a crowded auditorium.

Families Forward Charlotte took to the SEED20 stage in 2019, and they’re still seeing the benefits, according to Carrie Christian, FFC’s executive director. The nonprofit provides mentors, workshops and resources for families in need.

“SEED20 came at a great time for our young organization. I learned how to efficiently describe the mission of FFC and made a lot of great connections that I still have today,” Christian says.

SVP’s Executive Director Kristin Beck says the goal is to help nonprofits amplify their mission — and get there faster. In addition to SEED20, their investee program offers mentorship and sizable annual grants to nonprofits, with more than $1.8 million given away since SVP launched in 2005.

Alyssa Sharpe is the executive director of Digi-Bridge, a nonprofit started in 2014 that brings STEAM experiences into schools. SVP has helped Digi-Bridge in various ways over the years, Sharpe says. “As an investee, we were able to pick some important and timely projects — from succession planning when our founder was exiting, to board governance resources.” In 2023, Digi-Bridge worked with SVP on a Spark Team project — an SVP program that supports alumni by providing access to community experts in everything from marketing to fundraising. “This short-term and focused project assisted Digi-Bridge with building out the ideal staffing model to support our rapid growth.”

Despite their accomplishments, SVP leaders recognize that many people in Charlotte are unaware of their behind-the-scenes work. 

“We are one of the best-kept secrets in Charlotte,” Beck says. “We are coming alongside individuals and organizations that have innovative approaches to complex social issues, and we are helping them fill in the gaps and garner support and resources and tools they need to run their organizations most efficiently.” 

She adds, “It’s like any other small business — you have to be able to bring in more money than you spend or you won’t be around. They know their communities and their issues and how to solve them, but they don’t always have the social capital or they don’t know how to start and run a business from scratch. So we’re helping connect them to the right people, and we’re a thought partner to these organizations.”

The work they do improves the community as a whole, Burkard says. “Whether you’re a recipient of the services, a volunteer or work with the nonprofit, you feel like you’re participating and contributing to the health of the city.”  SP

SEED20: How it works
On March 26, representatives from 10 new nonprofits will present three-minute pitches before an audience at Central Piedmont’s New Theater. Guests can text to vote for their favorites, and following the pitches, cash and in-kind awards will be handed out. In-person tickets are $85 and include a post-event reception; livestream tickets are $30.

Featured image: Founding CEO Jonathan Gardner presents for GardHouse, a local nonprofit connecting students of color with internships. Photograph courtesy Social Venture Partners

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