SMITH BUSINESS Magazine
Volume 11 No. 1 SPRING 2010

60 Second Profile Eleanor Rutland

Elanor Rutland '79Eleanor Rutland ’79 did not plan for a career in the nonprofit sector – but feels incredibly fortunate to have ended up in an organization where she can give back in a very unique way. She majored in accounting and went on to a 20-year career in finance with Riggs Bank, an international financial institution headquartered in Washington, D.C. She was a senior executive for the bank when she learned through a colleague of an opportunity with the Morino Group, headed by Mario Morino—another regional, “institution”; co-founder of the software firm Legent Corporation and famous for his deep commitment to the local community. In June of 2000, when Rutland joined Morino, he was in the process of creating Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), an organization that blends some of the techniques of private equity investing with the best practices of the philanthropic sector all for the benefit of children and youth of low income families. Today Rutland serves as the organization’s CFO, putting her business experience and financial acumen to use on behalf of nonprofits in the National Capital Region.

Unlike foundations or many other grant-making organizations, VPP doesn’t provide programmatic funding. Instead they invest to build institutional strength, providing large amounts of scarce growth capital. VPP doesn’t accept applications. They identify strong leaders of effective nonprofits—those that can transform their organizations to significantly scale their results. They source their portfolio investments by quietly talking to stakeholders in the community. Often the organization doesn’t even know it is being considered for a VPP investment until adequate work has been done to determine if there is alignment with the organization’s aspirations and VPP’s approach. Rutland says “VPP looks for organizations that already do great work in the community but aspire to do more.”

“Like a venture firm, we bet on leadership,” says Rutland. “We are always looking for the best leaders in the community who have demonstrated solid performance and who have aspirations to reach more kids or have greater impact through their programs and services.

But VPP’s high-engagement model means that it doesn’t just hand out “two-comma investments”—it also helps the nonprofit clarify its goals, develop its business plan and implement the strategic initiatives they have defined for their success. VPP takes a seat on the organization’s board and provides practical, hands-on strategic assistance—anything from board development, sourcing consultants, identifying talent and building internal systems. By working shoulder-to-shoulder with nonprofit leaders in this way, VPP is providing not just funding but also vital expertise.

VPP raised $32 million in its first funding cycle and disbursed those funds to 12 portfolio organizations, all of them working to improve the lives of low income children and families in the National Capital Region. VPP is now in the midst of raising a second fund with a goal of $50 million from individual investors, corporations and foundations. VPP investors make significant financial commitments and they rely on VPP to effectively steward and invest their money for improved social returns.

“Our investors aren’t looking for a financial return,” says Rutland. “They expect us to invest wisely in the nonprofits in our community to yield better impact for kids and families of this region.”

Rutland finds deep personal fulfillment in knowing that her years of financial expertise are being used to bring much-needed funding and expertise to the organizations that are making a difference in the lives of local kids. “There’s a young woman on our video who is so excited about going to college that she just lights up the screen with a smile that warms your heart. We can’t take credit for that student going to college, but we can take credit for helping that organization help even more students just like her build their futures,” says Rutland.

Rutland and her husband Tim Lex live in Rockville, Md. She has two children, Ellie and Mazzie, and three step-children, Charlie, James and Sophie.

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