It was 1994 and Paul Brainerd had just sold his software company, Aldus Corporation to Adobe. PageMaker, the desktop publishing program his company created, had revolutionized printing and publishing – and left him an unexpected millionaire.
Early retirement might have looked attractive to some, but Paul had other ideas. Drawing on a life-long passion for the environment and a concern with the health of the region’s human and natural communities, he toured the northwest, interviewing dozens of leaders in the field to figure out where he could have the greatest impact. In 1995, Paul founded the Brainerd Foundation with a dual mandate: to safeguard the region’s environment and build broad citizen support for environmental protection. The Brainerd Foundation understands the importance of funding organizations that provide long-standing leadership and vision to conservation issues; it also seeks new groups and innovative strategies to advance an ethic that cherishes the community and the land.
Two years later with the dot-com boom in full swing, Paul realized that Seattle was brimming with young, retired professionals who wanted to give back, but didn’t quite know how to go about it. Paul invited colleagues, friends, and community members to discuss another idea – this one borne of the desire to get thousands more people highly engaged in philanthropy.
More than a hundred people showed up for that first meeting, and in 1997 Paul – along with Seattle business leaders Scott Oki, Ida Cole, Bill Neukom and, Doug and Maggie Walker – founded Social Venture Partners (SVP). SVP partners don’t just give money to organizations – they also get involved with projects, helping to set goals, upgrade computer systems and improve accounting. SVP trailblazes the group philanthropy model leveraging the investments of Partners to collectively make a greater impact than any one contribution could.
This single trailblazing idea has inspired philanthropists all over the world, resulting in 2300+ partners, 29 SVP affiliates and $46 million in total grants. In 2011, King County organizations benefited from $876,000 in grants and 1,880 volunteer hours. “It’s not about charity,” Paul says. “This is a more engaged giving style. If it’s done right, both sides end up with more in the end.”
The latest project Paul has undertaken, IslandWood, was inspired by his wife Debbi who saw the need for an environmental center for children to study nature. Paul and Debbi co-founded IslandWood, a unique 255-acre outdoor learning center providing exceptional learning experiences and inspiring lifelong environmental and community stewardship. Through its flagship School Overnight Program, IslandWood’s educators combine scientific inquiry, technology, and the arts to help Puget Sound-area students discover natural connections with the outdoors.