The Catalyst to Give Back
Kelly’s parents were generous, but giving back wasn’t necessarily instilled in Kelly as part of her upbringing. Kelly was a typical teenager. She graduated high school. She graduated college. She married an entrepreneur named David. Kelly had a long career as a software engineer and over the years, climbed the ranks in tech. If one adjective described Kelly and her husband, it was active. She and David were avid cyclists. They enjoyed traveling to far-off destinations. They had a wide circle of friends. Now, in their second-act years, they had more time for all of the things that they loved to do. Life was good. Theirs, in fact, was the American dream. That is, until it wasn’t.
On October 19, 2003, while the dew was still on the grass, the handlebars on David’s high-tech carbon-fiber bicycle broke loose from the frame while he rode his bike, as so many other cyclists do, down Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, California. EMTs arrived shortly and rushed David to Stanford hospital. After a touch-and-go first 5 hours, not knowing if he would live or die, he was diagnosed with five brain hemorrhages among other serious injuries. David suffered acute traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident. Kelly put all other activities on hold to work with David on his recovery. It was a grueling 24/7 commitment on both their parts. Despite the odds and 10 years of hard work, eventually—and miraculously—David made a 100% recovery.
Kelly brushed up against something profound in that accident and through the years immediately following it—it was life changing, but in an unexpected way. A slew of existential questions kept arising in her that she could no longer quell, chief among them: “How can I make my life more purposeful?”
The Strategic Giving Journey
By 2008, Kelly knew that she wanted to live more purposefully, but she wasn’t quite sure how to begin. Kelly was serving on a couple of small non-profit boards, and had been involved as a citizen teacher, teaching video game design at a local middle school.
A staff member from one of the non-profits she was involved with told Kelly about Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund – SV2. Kelly calls SV2 a “citizen school” for philanthropists, and she and David joined it in 2011. SV2 has had a huge influence on her philanthropic journey. SV2 is a community of more than 200 individuals and families who have come together to learn about effective giving and to pool resources to support innovative social ventures. She has done a stint on its board and after eight years, she is still very active in the organization. SV2 gave her a peer group of like-minded givers—action-oriented doers—who are working to make a tangible difference for others in the Valley.
Kelly’s first encounter at SV2 was at an event where Partners heard three current SV2 Grantees speak. “Everyone was so welcoming,” Kelly says of the Partnership. “the authenticity of the membership and the stories that the Grantees told left me very inspired. The Partners all really wanted to be there and to learn. And there was great stewardship because of SV2’s follow up with the organizations they were supporting. Everything about the SV2 environment is personal, and it fosters authentic relationships that matter.” Early in Kelly’s career, she hadn’t had many networks nor understood their value. SV2 taught her just how important the network is in philanthropy. “The network helps individuals amplify their impact for social causes and helps accelerate their learning,” she says.
In 2013, SV2 made a strategic decision to have a year-long learning program on education to go deeper in understanding issues. Kelly believes that the experience up-leveled her abilities as a philanthropist. “From that experience, I learned to see things from a systems point of view. That’s important when you are working to maximize impact.” Today, Kelly is also learning more about advocacy as part of her philanthropic toolkit and is getting more involved in that all the time.
“There is something to be said for learning as a group,” Kelly says. “Maybe I would have come to it eventually on my own, but it would have been a much harder, longer route. The network at SV2 has accelerated my journey. The reason for this is that at SV2 people come first, there is power in the Partnership. The staff and the partners are forward-thinking and have open minds. So it’s partly the process and the culture, but it’s also the people.”
The Journey Today
While Kelly’s goal has been helping others through nonprofit work to make her life more purposeful, the learnings along the way have furthered her leadership abilities. Since beginning her philanthropic journey, the time she has taken to learn about philanthropy, coupled with the extended network she is now tapped into, has paid off. Through the years, Kelly has held progressive levels of responsibility as a community leader and nonprofit board member. She has been engaged in leading SV2 grant rounds and advising cross-sector social impact collaboration initiatives such as The Big Lift to transform early learning. In 2016, Kelly was recognized for her philanthropic work by receiving the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Social Impact Award, given to an SV2 Partner who has gone above and beyond in their service for Grantees and Investees. Today she sits on several boards concurrently, some of them quite large, including The New Teacher Center and Teen Success. So when it comes to her endgame of living into her purpose, Kelly has indeed been successful in accelerating and amplifying her impact. She gives credit for that to taking a strategic approach to her giving.
For emerging philanthropists who want to give back but aren’t sure where to start, Kelly recommends laying the groundwork first by expanding their philanthropic network and getting into learning environments geared toward philanthropic education, such as the SV2 community. SV2 has been foundational to her philanthropic trajectory—which has been, and continues to be, up and to the right.
Kelly is grateful that she has been able to travel this philanthropic journey together with David. They started with getting educated about philanthropy and then they were able to grow their knowledge and impact through all the support they had along the way. Kelly’s giving journey models that you must walk before you run, but beyond that—by working with others—it is indeed possible to fly.
In her own words: Kelly Pope accepting the 2016 Laura Arrillaga-Andreesen Award for Social Impact.