SVPAZ Partner Profile: Philanthropy is all in the family for the Armstrongs

Jan 28, 2016

Giving back is an Armstrong family value. Parents Jim and Jo-Ann instilled their child Patrick, and his wife Amy, the value and satisfaction of helping others, both through their own private family foundations and their involvement with Social Venture Partners Arizona (SVPAZ)

When and how did you get involved with SVPAZ?

Jim Armstrong:  I was lucky enough to take my company, JDA Software, public in 1996 and put aside a substantial amount of money. We had our foundation prior to joining SVPAZ, and it was always our plan to get our children involved in it as they got older. We moved to Phoenix in the late 1980s. I knew one of the original SVPAZ founders, Jerry Hirsch, from the philanthropic circles we both ran in; he asked me to join.

Amy Armstrong: Starting in 2008, when we returned from Boulder, Colorado, to Phoenix, Patrick and I got involved. Just as Jim and Jo-Ann started scaling back their involvement, my husband and I began ramping up. We were among the youngest members of SVP Arizona when we joined and loved that it was a “roll-up-your-sleeves” opportunity. It was a good entry into philanthropy and being newly back into town, it was a great way to meet people.

What roles do you each play in SVPAZ now?

Jim: Jo-Ann and I are in our mid 60s now and we just don’t have as much energy as we used to. So we are looking forward to doing less in the way of hand-on service. We have turned ourselves into enablers; we are able to financially support some of the investees the organization was developing.

Amy: Patrick is on the Board and the Vice Chair of Revenue Development, and we have both chaired areas of Fast Pitch since it began five years ago. I have also been on the Education Affinity Group for several years, and the engagement and inspiration that came with that experience changed my professional and personal life. With such amazing opportunities to support our community through our foundations and SVP, I closed my interior design business to focus on philanthropy. It was also through SVP and our work with Camelback High School that led me to start my own non-profit, Support My Club, which focuses on equipping high school clubs and teams.

Writing a check is an essential part of the SVPAZ equation.

 Jim: We’re from a relatively poor mining town in Canada; I couldn’t envision the success we’ve achieved. Though we are not as active as we once were in the programs, we are able to promote the mission of SVPAZ with our financial support. We’ve encouraged a number of our friends to become Partners. And because we have the financial wherewithal, we can help pay the dues for younger professionals who have the energy, but maybe not the financial resources to get involved with the organization.

Amy, you’ve gotten a third generation of Armstrongs involved in philanthropy, right?

 Amy: My daughter Emily, age 10, and son Taylor, age 8, have become more engaged and more hands-on as they’ve gotten older. Each has three jars for their allowance or birthday money: save, spend and give. They’ve also donated toys and new gifts to domestic violence shelters and the Salvation Army. This summer, they and their friends created a neighborhood smoothie shop and gave half of the money they made to charity.

What do you think differentiates SVPAZ from other nonprofits?

Jim: I like the venture capital approach to philanthropy; I’m motivated by seeing my money at work. With SVP Arizona, a dollar goes a long way. Take an event like Fast Pitch: the excitement of the participants, the amount of press, the exposure to the right people who can help grow their charity. SVP Arizona does things in a smart way. We are absolutely thrilled to see the impact it has.

Amy: It not only financially supports nonprofits and their critical missions, but teaches them valuable skills, provides mentors and makes the staff and board of the nonprofits think of it more like a business – a mindset that is truly needed in order to be successful. After all, 501(c)(3) is simply a tax code; all other aspects of a nonprofit are the same as a for-profit business.

What would you say to those contemplating giving of themselves to SVPAZ?

Jim: We definitely get more out of it than we give. That’s something we passed onto our kids.

Amy: Working together as a well organized and motivated group absolutely elevates the value of each partner, each dollar and each beneficiary. The positive impact and outcomes reach further into the community and provide lasting effects to not only the people served by the nonprofit, but also by the people who run the non-profit. There are no words to describe the feeling of seeing other people succeed.