Why Sierra Visher Believes the Definition of “Philanthropist” Extends Far Beyond the Wealthy

By Laura A. Roser


“I used to think of philanthropists only as people who give their money,” says Sierra Visher Kroha. “You know, you have so much wealth to give away and that qualifies you for the space, but I’ve been learning over the last few years that the majority of philanthropists and actors in the social change community really think of philanthropists as anyone who is giving themselves or their time or their heart and soul to a social cause and it has nothing to do with the money.” Sierra is the Director of Programs and Operations for San Diego Social Venture Partners, a nonprofit focused on accelerating social change in the local community.

They are part of a global nonprofit network (Social Venture Partners). Their model is to pool the money of local donors and use it to fund social projects within the area. But, it doesn’t stop with the money. Those who donate want to be involved in improving the community. SDSVP facilitates this by educating its donors in determining which causes are best to fund and focusing on a theme for the year. Each year SDSVP and its donor members go through a process where they vet applicants and select one or two new groups to fund and support with their time, volunteer services and organizational resources (such as HR, marketing, management, leadership development, etc.).

Co-Creators of Social Change

This model allows for a variety of benefits, but one of the most important is it dramatically reduces communication barriers. “You’re coming to them as an equal, instead of this funder from across the table,” says Sierra. “You’re co-creators in social change. When you come to them with the right attitude, you bridge that cultural gap that sometimes exists from individuals on the funding side and individuals on the nonprofit side.”

Every year SDSVP selects a different social topic their members would like to learn more about. They bring in experts to speak about the topic, thoroughly define the problem and review nonprofit groups that are dedicated to addressing the problem. Then their members select which nonprofit they’d like to award a grant to.

This year the topic is human trafficking in San Diego. “It really opened my eyes,” says Sierra. “I had no idea it was such a problem before we started researching it. It’s huge in San Diego. It’s also huge in a lot of other places in the US.” Human trafficking is whenever someone exploits another person through the use of force, fraud or coercion to do labor– the two biggest problems are sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking and exploitation is estimated to account for $810 million dollars in revenue per year just in San Diego. “It is the equivalent of what the Padres were sold for in 2012,” Sierra added.

This process of reviewing social issues, vetting nonprofit groups and working with them to bring about change creates a whole new paradigm. Many of the members branch out to address issues they are passionate about on their own. “You are embedded in a community of other like-minded people and it helps you connect to different causes – ones that might be more up your alley. And now you have a toolbox to approach them and contribute more than just writing a check at Christmas and waiting for them to ask you again twelve months later. You can actually be part of making the change.”


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Sierra Visher Kroha is the Director of Programs and Operations for San Diego Social Venture Partners. She has been working in purpose driven social enterprises and non profits for over 8 years. Most recently, she returned to the US after spending several years living in Nairobi, Kenya, helping to start, scale and then manage a national public health program with Deworm the World Initiative.

San Diego Social Venture Partners is a 501(c)(3) philanthropic membership organization that provides funding and pro-bono consulting to strengthen local nonprofits and our community. We are comprised of caring and informed San Diegans with a passionate desire to give back through engaged, strategic giving and volunteering that makes our social sector more efficient, effective, and impactful. Founded in 2001, we have given more than $2.5 million dollars and 100,000 volunteer hours to the local San Diego community. For more information about SDSVP, visit http://www.socialventurepartners.org/san-diego/