Think social problems can’t be solved? Stacy Caldwell doesn’t buy it. “I’m fascinated by these cultural issues that so many people say you’ll never make a dent on,” says the Dallas Social Venture Partners president, citing poverty and world hunger as examples. “I think we’ve all got the money, and we’re all here, but it’s about how we relate to one another.”

A social anthropologist by degree, Caldwell took the helm at DSVP about three years ago, and the organization—one of 26 similar Social Venture partnerships in the United States—seems to be hitting its stride. DSVP’s mission is to nurture nonprofits through donations and a venture-capitalist model. Partners give at least $5,000 annually, pool the money among a screened list of beneficiaries—typically ones serving children and families—and then do the fun part: invest their time.

In June the organization launched the bigBang! “social innovation” conference, a jam-packed symposium that was part think-tank and part pitch-stage—a positive sounding board of sorts—for philanthropists, venture capitalists, and others eager to learn about nonprofits and community-minded approaches to business.

Nonprofit presenters included Central Dallas Ministries, Rainbow Days, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas, which nabbed a $5,000 prize (per an audience vote) for a mentorship program targeting the children of state prison inmates.

Other draws were Big Dang—a tell-all forum about failed ventures—and a “virtual marketplace” stocked with vendors whose wares, earnings, or overall operations emphasize community service. Soap Hope, for instance, peddles high-end, handmade bath products, and all profits go to micro-lending groups before cycling back to owners Salah Boukadoum and Craig Tiritilli. Free Lisa Designs uses recycled billboard banners to make tote bags, then hands over a portion of the proceeds to green causes.

Lunch at bigBang! included its own little symbol of growth: vegetables tended by young men at residential/disciplinary rehab facility Dallas County Youth Village, for which DSVP partner Scott Chase provides legal counsel and strategic advice. In the end, Chase says, “You really want … to give more than just your money.”

With any luck, adds DSVP co-founder Bob Wright, that attitude will prove contagious. When he co-founded the Dallas organization about 10 years ago, Wright—then the CEO of a computer-game company—opted to “throw away the dictionary” and shed conventional approaches to philanthropy.
He hopes bigBang! sparked some momentum of its own. “The electricity is still in the air, and the feedback has been tremendous,” Wright said a few weeks after the conference. “We’re now focusing on the second piece of what we wanted to do: to make this more than just an event. It needs to be the beginning of a measurable impact.”

To learn more about DSVP, visit dsvp.org.