James Hailey – Why Helping Nonprofits and Social Innovation Means so Much to Me

Skylight’s James Hailey is a Partner and Board Member of the Social Venture Partners (SVP), a philanthropic venture fund that supports nonprofit organizations in Northeast Ohio.  The SVP is out to change the world by taking a business-minded approach to strengthening nonprofits, investing in collaborative solutions and helping build communities through social innovation; all while preserving the spirit of mission and service.

Here we catch up with James (Accountability Director, based in our Cleveland office) to find out a bit more about his involvement and why he gives of his time, energy and experience.

What motivated you to join?

Back in 2015, I had reached a career crossroad and was looking at what I wanted to do next.  At the time, I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted to do professionally but I did know what I wanted to do at a personal level and that was to return to service.  Serving others and giving to my community was instilled in me from a young age and it was something I wanted to get back to having spent lots of time raising my 3 kids.

So, I became a member of the Rotary and the Chagrin Falls Masonic Lodge.  Then I remembered SVP which I had been introduced to previously through a friend.  I had received emails from them over the years but hadn’t paid any heed to them.  I decided to explore this and met with Hilary Sparks-Roberts, the Executive Director.  Within the first 15 minutes of talking with Hilary, I was hooked on the concept of social innovation and knew I wanted to do as much as I could to help strengthen nonprofits.  I’m still hooked.  As the saying goes “you can’t get enough of a good thing!”

What does your role involve?

I’m a Lead Partner with University Settlement and board member working on sustainability.  I previously coached two executive directors on preparing a talk to raise awareness for their respective organizations; Home Repair Resource Center and HandsOn Northeast Ohio.  My role is helping them see what’s possible for their organization by providing a different perspective – in my case, particularly taking the best from my experiences of working in the for-profit sector and from corporate banking.  The key is to develop a trusting relationship with the executive so that we can both see and pursue “what’s possible.”

I led an organizational assessment process with University Settlement to help create a path forward in helping them take their organization to the next level.  I liken this to a physical examination that a doctor might give you.   Then we work together to find improvement opportunities at multiple levels of the organization which helps them grow and optimize their mission.

I also coach them through managing interpersonal relationships, particularly in working with the board and staff.

Currently, I am involved in a real-time strategic planning process which is a dynamic, fluid process which allows us to react to challenges and opportunities as they arise rather than having a plan that’s put on the shelf.  We want our organization to be around for the next 20, 30 and 100, so we are looking ahead to what that organization should look like and how we make it happen. It’s really interesting and cool stuff to be part of.

What particularly excites you about your involvement?

For me, it’s about not just being a coach or a consultant, but being someone who is an ally of the organization – that’s where the magic starts!  It’s a source of joy to see these nonprofits be like chameleons and morph into something else which is bigger and grander.  It’s almost like we hit the reset button and start a process of rediscovery.  Being in the deep end with them is amazing.

What have you learned from your time with the SVP?

My understanding and appreciation of the day-to-day challenges facing nonprofits and their need to raise money.  I’ve met with many passionate executive directors and being able to collaborate on strategic initiatives that will help address and capitalize on opportunities is incredible.  Sometimes they feel the need be good at everything while trying to navigate the challenges of reporting to a board.  I try to help them leverage their strengths and tap into the strengths of SVP to tackle their blind spots   What I’ve learned from them has without a doubt strengthened my resolve and personal interest in helping nonprofits work better so that as a community we can tackle our greatest social challenges.

I feel that the SVP has helped complete me.  I know that’s corny but it’s true!

Check out the photos below of James deep in thought at a SVP sustainability group meeting! Also, the SVP  created a wonderful video to mark their 15th Anniversary and look who plays a starring role! 


James Hailey is a Director of Accountability at Skylight.  He is responsible for the coaching and development of financial planners.  James is a strong proponent of a client-focused model that is centered on building long-term relationships and identifying and solving client needs.  To find out more about James, please visit his bio.