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CNote's impact metrics for Q2 2020 -- 351 jobs
By Impact Metrics

CNote’s Q2 2020 Impact Metrics

We know one of the main reasons you invest with CNote, is because of the impact your investment has.

We’re proud to share CNote’s Q2 2020 impact data.

CNote's impact metrics for Q2 2020 -- 351 jobs

In Q2 2020, our members helped create/maintain 350 jobs!

Over half of all invested capital was deployed with minority-led businesses and we deployed nearly half of all dollars to female borrowers!

If you’d like to see our annual impact data, along with an explanation of how we map CNote’s impact investments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Our 2019 Annual Impact Report is also available if you’d like to learn more about the impact CNote is having on communities and individuals across America.

By CDFIs, Small Businesses

Why CDFIs Often Create Better Lending Outcomes for Small Businesses

Small businesses that need financing often find themselves at a crossroads: apply for a traditional bank loan that’s difficult to get but has lower-interest rates or an online loan that’s quickly approved but can end up being inordinately more expensive in the long run. But some business owners don’t realize that there’s an additional option: a small business loan from a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

As mission-driven lenders, CDFIs are focused on helping communities that are underserved by traditional financial institutions become participants in the economic mainstream. CDFIs inject capital into these communities by financing small businesses, nonprofits, microenterprises, commercial real estate, community facilities, and affordable housing with low-interest loans from public and private sources. The CDFI Fund at the U.S. Department of the Treasury certifies CDFIs and mandates that at least 60 percent of CDFI financing goes into low- and moderate-income (LMI) populations and other underserved communities.

Clara in front of CIC Floors storefront

Clara Richardson-Olguin, Entrepreneur, Received a loan from a CNote CDFI Partner

CDFIs also provide the borrowers they serve with technical assistance, financial guidance, and add-on loans for business expansion. They seek to minimize risk for borrowers with simpler and more straightforward loan products than other lenders. CDFIs offer business loans on terms that aim to create the best possible outcomes for both their borrowers and investors.

Here are some important ways CDFIs are best equipped to help close the credit gap for small business owners in low-wealth communities who seek capital. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, business lending from CDFIs is now more essential than ever.

Pre-loan services: Business coaching, educational resources, and straightforward financial products

Business loans from CDFIs are more flexible and better designed to meet the needs of small business borrowers than those from traditional banks and online lenders. CDFIs have developed innovative underwriting standards to meet the needs of borrowers considered “risky” by other lenders while maintaining their strong financial track record. In addition to their business loans often being easier to qualify for and having lower interest rates, CDFIs offer business coaching and educational services for first-time business owners. They also provide refinancing for businesses struggling with high-cost debt (often from online lenders).

Some CDFIs even tailor their loan programs and financial products specifically to women- and minority-owned businesses (WMBEs) that continue to face a high level of lending disparity. Given the countless barriers the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan required WMBEs to navigate, these businesses were the “hardest hit by the structural limitations built into the program,” according to The Center for Responsible Lending. CDFIs are much more responsive in providing the assistance and tools needed to connect small businesses with PPP loans.

Nonemployer firms and those with under 100K in revenue also often struggle to receive funding. CDFIs offer flexible borrower qualifications and straightforward loan packages for these businesses as well. Some CDFIs will even consider applicants without collateral and who have low (or no) credit scores. The 2016 Federal Reserve Small Business Credit Survey reported that CDFIs’ approval rate for small businesses with less than $1 million in revenue is more than 75 percent.

CDFIs partner closely with business owners to support their needs as they expand and typically work with the cash flow of a borrower. For instance, seasonal business owners might need to pay interest-only payments during low cash flow months. Since small businesses play an essential role in uplifting the communities they serve, CDFIs are dedicated to ensuring they get the funding they need.

Loan services: Clear terms, greater access, and flexible repayment

Many small business borrowers are unaware of CDFIs as a resource for loans. But small businesses often don’t qualify for the business loans they need from traditional banks and instead turn to online lenders for capital. This doesn’t always result in the best lending outcomes for borrowers because online lenders typically have higher interest rates and shorter repayment terms compared to conventional bank loans.

Online lenders are increasingly competing for small business loans due to a number of structural barriers that continue to impede bank lending to small businesses. These include the consolidation of community banks by bigger banks, high search costs, and higher transaction costs associated with small business lending according to The State of Small Business Lending report by Harvard Business School.

The report also outlined that small business loans are less appealing to banks because they are less profitable than large business loans. With more than 60 percent of small businesses looking for loans under $100,000, it is difficult for many borrowers to find willing traditional lenders. This is partly why so many are now turning to online lenders.

But many small business borrowers have discovered that online lenders are not always the best option to fill the void left by traditional bank lenders. Predatory online lenders sometimes take advantage of these small business owners’ urgent need for capital and their businesses end up paying the ultimate price for lack of financial access to quality business loans.

Online lenders make small business loans easier to access but often with high-interest rates and impractical repayment plans. These risky lenders may also use linked bank accounts to collect repayment of loans and extract daily payments. And since the lender is not attached to the success of the business they typically won’t offer flexible terms of repayment. Some small business owners get to a place where every dollar of revenue is committed to repaying the principal and interest on a loan, trapping their business in a cycle of debt that’s almost impossible to escape.

Plus, borrowers who can pay off the loan in full are often discouraged from doing so by pre-payment penalties that serve to increase the borrower’s debt and the online lender’s profits. If the borrower can’t pay back a loan, lenders have obtained judgments and seized assets sometimes worth more than the loan itself. The borrower is then forced to declare bankruptcy as occurred in the case of small business owner, Natalie Bobak.

Needless to say, taking advantage of online lending can become a high-risk situation for small business owners. These concerning practices and an increasing amount of “bad actors” have resulted in investigations of the online lending marketplace by regulatory officials. With the current oversight of the online lending market not being clearly unified and defined, small businesses are forced to take on higher risk and the lending outcomes can be disastrous for both small businesses and their communities.

Conversely, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has found that CDFIs have been able to save business owners an average of more than $2,700 per loan compared to market rates. CDFIs are also creating or joining forces with the fintech industry to improve efficiency and boost the speed of their loan origination and underwriting processes. Fintech offers new ways for CDFIs to create partnerships that improve operating efficiencies, customer service, access to capital, and the development of marketing channels.

For example, institutional investors like community foundations can target thematic and place-based investment goals through CNote, a platform that simplifies the deployment of capital across a pool of CDFIs. Investing in CDFIs creates positive outcomes for foundations who don’t want to deliver loans and manage risk, as CDFIs have all the built-in systems required to manage a loan portfolio.

How CDFIs help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic

CDFIs are stepping up to the challenge when it comes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for small businesses. As business lenders based in their communities, they’re able to be much more responsive to small businesses’ needs in offering pandemic relief to borrowers than other types of lenders. This is especially true for underbanked communities without access to mainstream financial services such as low-income, minority, and immigrant populations.

Luz Urrutia, CEO of Opportunity Fund recently stated that “stimulus dollars don’t normally make their way down to minority-owned businesses. Sometimes CDFIs are the best conduit to get that funding to those communities.” Small businesses that need a lifeline to survive extended closures due to the pandemic are also receiving assistance from contributions made by traditional bank lenders to CDFIs.

With most state and federal grants or loan programs taking months to implement, there’s an urgent need for lending small businesses the capital they need to avoid mass layoffs and defaults. CNote’s Rapid Response Fund was created to quickly extend capital to CDFIs so they can fill the critical lending gap for small businesses that may otherwise fail.

Post-loan services: Additional resources and business expansion loans

Besides connecting small business owners with the capital they need, CDFIs also provide mentoring, training, technical assistance, financial education, and capacity-building support. This in turn bolsters the local economy through job growth and retention in underserved communities. Increasing access to capital for minority and low-income communities provides more economic opportunities for those who would otherwise be left behind.

According to Common Capital, “community organizations are invested in the growth of the community, and therefore will ensure that their lending is responsible and supportive of the borrower.” CDFIs continue to meet the needs of business owners as their organizations grow because the community prospers as they expand.

While many traditional banks offer loans that are guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), they cannot offer business assistance services. Banks are not able to be directly involved in the guidance of business operations due to lender liability regulations and online lenders are not attached to the success of the small businesses they’re lending to. Therefore, online lenders don’t typically renegotiate terms or offer expansion loans.

In contrast, CDFIs can offer small business owners assistance with business coaching and with marketing, accounting, and other legal matters. And if small businesses need to expand their operations, CDFIs can easily adjust their lending terms to accommodate this.

Final thoughts

As employers of about half of the nation’s private-sector workforce, small businesses are the backbone of America’s economic well-being. The Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that since 1995, these businesses have created over 60 percent of net new jobs in America.

Since 80 percent of small businesses are nonemployer firms and 40 percent having under $100K in revenue, many are locked out of traditional funding sources. WMBEs still must overcome significant barriers to accessing capital as well. This forces many business owners into high-interest loans from online lenders that can have negative outcomes for both the business and the community its economic activity affects.

CDFIs are stepping in to fill this critical lending gap by adopting online technology to increase efficiency in core operations and underwriting so they are able to get loans more quickly to those in need. Some have even begun partnering with online lenders such as Lending Club and others to process small business loans quickly and with better terms.

For institutions like community foundations that seek to seamlessly scale investments into communities across America, investing in CDFIs gives the next generation of minority and female entrepreneurs the opportunity to support themselves and their communities through fairly-priced small business loans. And with about half of small businesses facing failure due to the business closures of the pandemic, there’s never been a better time to leverage the community-based insights and low-interest small business lending products of CDFIs.

By CNote, Impact Investing, Impact Metrics

CNote’s 2019 Annual Impact Report

CNote is proud to share our 2019 annual impact report.

In 2019 CNote investors helped to create or maintain over 1,100 jobs!

Additionally, of every dollar invested

  • 58% of funds supported minority-led businesses (MLB)
  • 38% of funds supported women-led businesses (WLB)
  • 56% of funds supported LMI communities

*Note, there can be an overlap where a borrower fits into multiple of the above categories!

In the report, you’ll also find details about CNote’s 26 new impact themes. These very targeted investment themes allow investors to achieve a more specific match between their investment activities and the social outcomes they want to target. Additionally, you’ll be able to see some highlights of CNote’s 2019 annual impact!

 

By Borrower Stories

Meet Dr. Ira Mandel, The Retired Physician Opening Up Recovery Residences Along Maine’s Midcoast

Dr. Ira Mandel self identifies as “the nut” who runs into a burning building to help people when everyone else is running in the opposite direction.

That’s exactly what happened in 2006, when Ira moved to Maine to take over the Pen Bay Medical Center’s hospice program. During his first week on the job, a colleague asked him if he was aware of the severe drug addiction epidemic facing Mid-Coast, Maine. Ira was not.

“He pointed out that there were no doctors at the hospital who were willing to help people with addiction,” Ira said. “He asked if I would be willing to help. I said that I didn’t know anything about addiction, but if there’s a need and I’m here, sign me up.”

Dr. Mandel addresses the community at the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition Dedication Ceremony

For the next eight years, Ira juggled three jobs. He maintained his position directing the medical center’s hospice program, he ran a private practice as a family physician, and he treated hundreds of patients struggling with drug addiction. During that time, he learned that medication isn’t itself an answer to addiction, but rather, it’s part of an overall approach to help people get their lives back on track and to break the cycle of addiction.

By 2016, Ira had left the medical center and retired from his private practice; however, his work with addicted Mainers was far from over.

Running Deeper Into The Burning Building

Addiction isn’t a new concept to Knox County’s 40,000 residents. After all, at least 2,000 of their family members, neighbors, and coworkers struggle with an opiate drug addiction.

Rockland and Mid-Coast are concentrated areas for fishing, which is an industry steeped in long hours, grueling work, and boom and bust cycles. Ira compares the lives of fishermen to those of professional athletes, who, for a short three to four-month season, must be at the top of their games. That often means relying on drugs to push through the pain, the injuries, and the sleep deprivation, not to mention poverty, trauma, and mental health disorders. When Ira was seeing patients, half of them were either fishermen or from fishing families that sometimes could trace their addiction back three generations.

Given the prevalence of addiction in the community, coupled with the overall lack of resources to combat it, it wasn’t surprising that people came together in February 2016 to express their outrage and to publicly acknowledge that addiction was a serious problem. What was frustrating, however, was the lack of collective action that ensued.

That’s when Ira decided to run farther into the burning building. He started the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition (MCRC), a nonprofit that supports individuals and families struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

“It was tough sledding to get started,” Ira said. “There was no roadmap, and there wasn’t a lot of guidance out there for a nonprofit like us. We stumbled and we crawled through the wilderness with no paths, and we hit a lot of deadends and tried a lot of things that didn’t work.”

After two years, the planets seemingly aligned for Ira and MCRC when a major donor stepped forward to purchase a former boarding house in Rockland so that the nonprofit could turn it into a recovery house. The house needed a lot of work, but it was too good of an opportunity to pass up: a recovery house can be a foundation for people struggling with addiction to get the employment, support, and sense of purpose they needed to stay sober.

Making A House A Home

Although the Rockland house was big enough to sleep 16, both its front and back stairs weren’t up to code, and MCRC was only given a certificate to host up to four unrelated adult men at a time until the nonprofit could afford renovations. Still, Ira signed the papers, completed the purchase, and opened the recovery house. Four days later, his house manager quit.

“He had 22 years of experience running a sober house in Yonkers, New York,” Ira said. “He was the knowledge base. So, for the next year, we visited a lot of other places and learned what we could, but it was like the blind leading the blind.”

Although MCRC was plagued by staff turnover during its early years as an organization, Ira says the nonprofit slowly turned a financial corner in 2019 and became more stable. Still, it didn’t have the necessary funds to begin a building renovation and attempts to raise funds from the community were unsuccessful.

That’s when Ira connected with a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) called the Genesis Fund. Since 1992, the Genesis Fund has been working to develop and support affordable housing and community facilities across Maine, mainly by providing both financing and technical assistance to increase the supply of affordable housing. CNote partners with CDFIs like the Genesis Fund in communities across the country, channeling capital to fund social missions like affordable housing, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurial funding, and more.

“The Genesis Fund was wonderful right from the very first contact,” Ira said. “They were very encouraging and supportive, and they led us through the process fairly painlessly and gave us $100,000 to start the renovation.”

Those renovations are now complete, and one of the stairways is dedicated to Ryan Gamage, a member of the community who personally wished to help complete the renovations but wasn’t able to because he lost his battle with addiction. That staircase is now dedicated to him that “his memory inspire all to thrive in their recovery.”

During this same time, MCRC raised the necessary $200,000 to purchase a second home in Camden, Maine, to serve as a recovery house for women. Better yet, earlier this year, the nonprofit hired its first full-time executive director to grow the organization, thus taking some pressure off of Ira, who had been doing the jobs of the executive director, board chair, chief development officer, grant writer, bookkeeper, and site supervisor.

“It’s been a rough road to get to where we are,” Ira said, “and it was getting very exhausting; but, for the first time, we have a foothold, and we’re positioned now to fully realize our mission. We’re grateful for the support of the Genesis Fund and of the entire community.”

Iain (Men’s house manager) & Theresa ( Woman’s House Manager and Volunteer Coordinator)

To date, MCRC has helped about 20 individuals in its recovery houses; however, over time, that number will hit 25 per year, and it will continue to increase as the nonprofit gets more and more capacity. Whereas Ira likes to think about the impact of MCRC’s future work, he’s presently focused on shoring up the nonprofit’s foundation.

“Not everyone needs recovery residences, but hundreds do,” he said. “We’re hardly scratching the surface, but we’re making a difference for the people we’re helping now. We know we need to expand our operations, but we need to get a firmer foundation first, because we’re going to be an organization that’s going to be around for a very long time.”

Learn More

By CNote, Impact Metrics

CNote’s Q1 2020 Impact Metrics

We know one of the main reasons you invest with CNote, is because of the impact your investment has.

We’re proud to share our Aggregate Q1 2020 impact data.

In Q1 2020, our members helped create/maintain 173 jobs!

Over half of all invested capital was deployed with minority-led businesses.

If you’d like to see our annual impact data, along with an explanation of how we map CNote’s impact investments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Our 2019 Annual Impact Report will be published soon, we apologize for the delay which was caused by the ongoing pandemic.

By CDFIs, CNote, Impact Investing

Webinar, Foundations and CDFIs: Creative Solutions for Crisis Response and Recovery

The webinar is now available for on demand viewing using the link below or via YouTube:

 

We’re proud to announce that CNote is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, June 17th 2020 – 11:00 AM (PDT). 

The overarching goal of this webinar is to highlight creative ways foundations are deploying investments and grant dollars to support the economic response and recovery in light of COVID-19.

We’ll have a strong focus on the intersection foundations and CDFIs to support communities. The content will be focused on case studies and real-world examples. Our aim is to empower foundations and philanthropic organizations with examples that they can use to drive new investment and grant activity at their organizations.

Register Here

Title:

Foundations and CDFIs: Creative Solutions for Crisis Response and Recovery

Brief Summary:

Have you wondered what other foundations are doing to address the growing economic crisis? Is your foundation looking for ways to invest locally or make new investments outside of your typical mandate or mission?

This webinar will share practical and tangible examples of how foundations have effectively mobilized local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) resources to address the economic impact of this pandemic. You’ll hear from two leading foundations about the creative investments they’ve deployed to address this crisis, along with lessons they’ve learned along the way.

You’ll also learn about how CDFIs serve as an option to deploy mission-aligned investments into your community or across the country rapidly and with compelling impact. This is relevant for foundations who are both new to working with local CDFIs and foundations who have some experience but are looking to deepen that effort during this crisis.

Speakers Include:

  • Cat Berman, Co-Founder and CEO – CNote
  • Avo Makdessian, Vice President and Director, Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships – Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  • Michelle Nelson, CFO, Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond
  • Caroline Nowery, Vice President, Director of Investor Relations – Virginia Community Capital
  • Lisa O’Mara, Solutions Consultant – LOCUS Impact Investing

Register Here

By Borrower Stories

How A Canoe-Building Small Business Switched To Making Face Shields To Weather The COVID-19 Storm

If there’s one thing Kamanu Composites has done well over the past 13 years, it’s been finding a way to stay afloat as a small business. The O‘ahu-based company, which specializes in outrigger canoe manufacturing, is one of the last of its kind on the islands. Most of Kamanu’s competitors have packed up and taken their businesses to China, where labor costs, materials, and rent are less expensive. However, despite the gradual decimation of the local industry, Kamanu has always found a way to persevere.

Photo credit: Kamanu Composites

“We’ve barely been surviving,” said Luke Evslin, one of the company’s co-founders. “Every year, we wonder if it’s going to be our last.”

Not surprisingly, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the islands, Luke saw the end in sight. On March 21, O‘ahu’s mayor issued a stay at home order, effectively giving Kamanu one day to close up shop. Luke and his business partner, Keizo Gates, went through the difficult process of telling their employees that the next day of work would be their last. They encouraged their 17-member team to go on unemployment. 

“We thought we were done for,” he said. “We weren’t going to make payroll if we couldn’t get canoes out the door that were in stock, and we certainly weren’t going to make rent or be able to pay the insurance companies. It was pretty devastating to write those emails saying ‘sorry, we’re not going to be able to pay you.’”

Kamanu’s owners donated all of the company’s personal protective equipment — gloves, paper suits, and special masks with respirators — to local hospitals and did their best to mentally prepare for the uncertainty of the coming months. Instead, they stumbled upon something that would allow them to help keep people safe and potentially save their small business. 

Seeing that there was a need for protective face shields in his broader community, Luke’s business partner used materials lying around the shop — foam for the canoe seats, bungees, and Mylar — to try his hand at making one. He posted the prototype on Instagram, saying that Kamanu could probably make “a couple hundred” if anyone was interested.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Kamanu Composites (@kamanucomposites) on

The response was overwhelming.

“We had no idea what the demand was for shields in Hawaii,” Luke said, “or that there was such a lack of shields on the islands.” 

Now, Kamanu is making more than 3,000 face shields per week, and the company has been able to hire back most of its employees, who are able to assemble the masks at home. Kamanu is selling most of the shields at cost with small margins for some sales, and Luke says the company has met the demand in Hawaii and has started to fill mainland orders. Additionally, Kamanu set up a program where people can purchase masks to donate. Thus far, it has donated over 2,000 face shields to local frontline workers and hospitals.     

For the foreseeable future, Kamanu will continue to make face shields to subsidize its business while the stay-at-home order remains in place; however, Luke doesn’t expect it to be a long-term solution. Like any high volume, low-margin product, face shields can be made more cheaply in China. Kamanu’s pivot is simply to meet the demand spike in the short-term. And to give their employees flexibility during the shutdown, they come in and pick up the parts for the face shields and assemble them at home on their own time. 

“We still don’t know if we’re going to be able to build canoes, but at least we have the certainty of some cashflow coming in,” he said. 

Because Kamanu is technically open for business, with cashflow coming in and payroll open, Luke and his business partner were able to apply to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which authorized hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses across the country to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. However, the two co-owners decided not to apply for the loan through Hawaii’s largest bank, where they’d been customers for the last 13 years and have “done everything.” Instead, the two reached out to Kauaʻi Government Employees Federal Credit Union (KGEFCU), a local credit union and CNote partner that has been very responsive to their needs. While Kamanu is based on Oahu, the three founding partners: Luke, Keizo and Kelly Foster all grew up in Kauaʻi, which also remains a significant source of their sales. 

“I had an existing relationship with KGEFCU, because they’re in my community and I know them,” said Luke, who serves as a Kauaʻi County Councilmember. “I thought rather than going to the bank where I’m anonymous and have no relationships with anyone, even after 13 years, we should go to KGEFCU.”

They made the right choice. Kamanu received a PPP loan through KGEFCU. Luke received a response to his initial PPP inquiry, on the same day, from KGEFCU’s CEO. Luke said he feels “lucky,” given that most of the other small business owners he knows, including his mother, who has a small retail store, didn’t get a PPP loan. 

“Small businesses are always in a similar position,” he said. “Most owners don’t have the margins or the savings or equity to make it through a little crisis. What we’re going through now is unprecedented. You have companies that have survived a long time, and they don’t know how they’re going to cover costs. You hear that story over and over and over again.”

Kamanu Headquarters, photo credit: Kamanu Composites

Even though Luke and his business partner received a PPP loan, they still haven’t received any money. More so, many in Luke’s community have struggled to navigate how to even apply for assistance set up by The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That has a trickle-down effect, he says. If small businesses and individuals can’t pay rent, then property owners can’t pay their mortgages. 

“We feel blessed to have gotten this PPP loan,” Luke said. “It enables us to survive, but it really seems like those who need it most aren’t even really eligible for it. If we lose these small businesses from our communities, they’re the backbone. The PPP loan coming through for us has been such a big burden off of our back, but we need to do everything we can to try and keep these other businesses afloat.”

Luke with his family, photo credit: lukeevslin.com

As entrepreneurs like Luke and Keizo come up with innovative ways to keep their small businesses open during the COVID-19 crisis and the resultant economic downturn, it’s small lenders across the country like KGEFCU that are on the front lines of responding to small business’ needs in these uncertain times, ensuring that “the backbones” of these communities have the resources, funding, and support they need to weather this storm. 

Learn More:

By Borrower Stories

Impact Story: Mountainside Community Cooperative

How Capital and Coaching Allowed Mountainside Residents To Purchase Their Park and Control Their Own Destiny

Margaret Jones grew up and went to school in Camden, Maine; however, that didn’t make things any easier for her when she moved back to the idyllic town of her youth after 30 years of being away.

Although Camden is a town of less than 5,000 people, it is a well-known summer colony in Maine’s mid-coast and the town’s population more than triples during the summer months due to tourists and wealthy out-of-state summer residents who come to enjoy Maine’s scenic coastline.

“When I finally had the opportunity to come back,” Margaret said, “I couldn’t afford to buy here. I rented, but that was getting to be ridiculous.”

Margaret, President of Mountainside’s Board

Like many small towns and big cities across the country, home prices in Camden are increasing. Depending on which real estate website you look at, average home prices hover between $300,000 and $400,000, and a robust short-term vacation rental industry continues to drive up rents. For people like Margaret, there are few — if any — truly affordable housing options left.

Therefore, like approximately 22 million other Americans, Margaret decided to buy a manufactured home. Given that median-priced homes are unaffordable for average wage workers in roughly three quarters of the country, the number of Americans relying on these prefabricated homes is expected to increase, especially with young people, older individuals on fixed incomes, and renters.

When Margaret bought her home four years ago, she was fortunate to find a plot to rent in Mountainside Park, one of two manufactured housing communities in Camden. She loved living in Mountainside, and she appreciated how her neighbors took care of their yards and how the property owner treated the park’s 52 renters. However, all of that changed last August, when Margaret received a letter from Mountainside’s owner informing her that he and his wife were retiring. “There was a lot of nervousness,” Margaret recalled.

She had good reason to be worried. That’s because big investors are gobbling up manufactured home parks across the country.

As the Financial Times reports, manufactured home parks are enticing to investors because they offer a reliable annual rate of return: usually 4% or higher. However, these profit-driven investors, typically based out of state or overseas, rarely care about those living in these long-established communities. Some investors either dramatically increase rents or they evict renters and redevelop the land. Either scenario is a nightmare situation for individuals like Margaret who live on a fixed income.

Because it costs tens of thousands of dollars to move one of these manufactured homes, most residents can’t afford to transport their homes elsewhere. However, staying put after the property changes hands means having to pay more and more on rent, even as the state of the community deteriorates due to lack of regular maintenance, oversight, and upkeep. Sadly, in some cases, people who can’t afford to transport their manufactured homes and who can’t keep up with rising rents are forced to abandon their homes, because the land beneath is too expensive to stay.

That’s why Margaret was so nervous when she learned that Mountainside’s owner was looking to sell — she owned her home, but she didn’t own the land underneath her. Therefore, Margaret’s future at Mountainside, not to mention her very financial wellbeing, hinged on what was about to happen next.

Trust The Process

Jeanee Wright knows this story all too well. She’s the cooperative development specialist at the Cooperative Development Institute’s (CDI) New England Resident Owned Communities (NEROC) program. Through its ROC Program, CDI helps owners of manufactured homes to preserve and protect their homes by helping these communities purchase and secure the rights to the land.

Jeanee of CDI pictured at Mountainside Board Meeting

Jeanee’s work is centered around communities in Maine, so she was already familiar with Mountainside Park even before she heard that the owner was looking to sell. In early 2019, she worked with a nearby manufactured home park in Arundel. There, she also helped organize the residents to purchase their park leading to a similar positive outcome.

Fortunately, Mountainside’s owner didn’t want to sell to an outside investor. Instead, he wanted to work with a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) called the Genesis Fund. Since 1992, the Genesis Fund has been working to develop and support affordable housing and community facilities across Maine, mainly by providing both financing and technical assistance to increase the supply of affordable housing. CNote partners with CDFIs like the Genesis Fund in communities across the country, channeling capital to fund social missions like affordable housing, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurial funding, and more.

 

“The reason the Genesis Fund and CDI got involved is because Mountainside’s owner was familiar with the Genesis Fund’s work,” Jeanee said. “He wasn’t sure exactly how the model worked, but he liked it, and he was interested in it. Once he reached out, we brought everybody else to the table.”

Jeanee provided technical support to the residents to create a nonprofit cooperative and assisted the coop and Mountainside’s owner in negotiating a deal.  The Genesis Fund provided the loan that allowed Mountainside’s residents to officially purchase the park in December 2019. 

Financing from CDFIs like the Genesis Fund is often essential to making these deals work, because traditional banks may be hesitant to finance an inexperienced member-owned cooperative making such a large purchase. 

But Liza Fleming-Ives, Executive Director of the Genesis Fund, says this type of financing is central to their mission. “The Genesis Fund actively seeks out opportunities to invest in Maine communities and ensure that they are accessible to members at all income levels. The Genesis Fund exists to go where others won’t and meet the needs of underserved communities.”

For Fleming-Ives, mobile home park cooperative financing is one of the best examples of what Genesis can do to build equity in Maine communities. “To date we have financed 10 mobile home park cooperatives, collectively preserving over 500 units of housing for Mainers, and each of them is successful and thriving using their cooperative governance model and ensuring access to that affordable housing for their residents into the future.” 

Now named Mountainside Community Cooperative, the strictly 55-and-over community operates the park. More importantly, they own the land. Better yet, because rents in resident-owned communities are proven to remain stable, residents have the comfort knowing that they’ll never be forced out because of redevelopment, evictions, or rent spikes. They literally have a vote on what direction their community is headed.

Better Than Before

Because many of Mountainside’s inhabitants were content prior to the formation of the cooperative, they didn’t want things to change. As Jeanee put it, “they wanted to keep on loving where they lived.”

It turns out, the only changes have been for the better.

Paul, a Mountainside resident

Paul Harding moved into Mountainside last summer, just a few weeks before receiving the letter telling him that the property was going to be sold. Paul says that before the co-op was created, people barely spoke to each other. Today, he says, that’s a different story. “Now that we have a co-op, people know each other and communicate with one another. It’s a much better atmosphere. People are always reaching out to each other to see if they can help one another. It’s been very beneficial.”

Phil Amoroso, another resident, agrees. Like Margaret, he and his wife, Anne, live on a fixed income and were priced out of Camden’s housing market. Initially, he viewed the co-op as “a lesser of two evils.”

Phil & Anne outside their home

“When I heard that Mountainside’s owner was selling, I was disappointed, because I liked the way the park was being run,” he said. “But I knew we’d probably be a lot better off trying this co-op thing rather than taking a chance on somebody from outside coming in who could either raise rents outrageously or evict us so they could put in condos or houses. This was the only way we could do it.”

Phil said that over time, he’s warmed to the co-op model, and he’s happy with the outcome. He said that without Jeanee, it would have been “next to impossible” to have navigated the mechanics of it all. Margaret echoed his sentiments. “We’re grateful to The Genesis Fund for stepping in to help us make this possible.”

Jeanee, however, was quick to redirect all praise to every one of the involved stakeholders. “We use the same process time and time again,” she said. “That’s the value.”

“These folks would probably not be able to stay in Camden if it weren’t for this co-op,” she continued. “What they have created is not just long-term affordability, but many empowered people who live here and build community. Together, they’re building a beautiful community.”

Learn More

By CNote

Webinar: Investing in Indigenous Communities through CDFIs

CDFIs have a strong history of providing economic resources to financially underserved communities across America, helping to create jobs, fund small businesses, and support affordable housing development.

Often, many of the success stories you hear about CDFIs relate to urban or rural development projects and small business lending.

This webinar will focus on CDFIs that have been formed specifically to serve the needs of their local indigenous communities, providing economic resources, coaching, and other support to increase economic mobility and resiliency.

You’ll hear from two experienced practitioners who have been working in these communities for decades. You’ll learn about the common challenges they face, the work they do, and how you can get involved in investing in and supporting their efforts!

Please join us for this hour-long webinar dedicated to CDFIs working to empower Native and Indigenous Communities across America.

You can watch using this link or via the youtube video below.

Click here to download the slides.

This presentation was co-hosted by:

This webinar is co-hosted by the First Nations Oweesta Corporation and the Native American Community Development Corporation Financial Services, Inc. (NACDC) Candide Group and CNote.

 

By Change Makers Series

Change Makers Interview: Mary Houghton, Community Finance Pioneer

When Mary Houghton partnered with Milton Davis, James Fletcher, and Ron Grzywinski to purchase what was then South Shore Bank in Chicago in 1973, she had no idea that she was shifting the course of community finance in the U.S. The quartet of “mutually respecting” entrepreneurs created ShoreBank, which was committed to fighting redlining and economic inequity in Chicago and across the country until the bank went under in 2010.

Mary has, in many ways, become the godmother of community finance and community development financial institutions (CDFIs). Aside from ShoreBank, Mary served on the Board of Directors of Accion International and Calvert Foundation and she currently serves as a director of Craft3, Northern Initiatives, Grassroots Business Fund and Rapid Results Institute.

We sat down with Mary to talk about ShoreBank’s origin story, and we got the chance to hear more about the history of community finance, the biggest challenges we face today, and her advice for other social entrepreneurs.

CNote: Can you talk about the genesis of ShoreBank?

Mary Houghton: The turmoil of the ‘60s and the riots in ‘68 created more interest in economic empowerment and in the problems of access to capital in black communities. So, I hooked up with a group of three other people who were all living in Chicago and who were interested in a big idea. It was two African American guys, one Polish-American guy, and me. We found each other when the Polish guy had the big idea of creating a minority small business lending department at the bank he ran in the University of Chicago community and hired us.  We went to town doing a lot of lending. After a while, we said, “Why don’t we try to do something even bigger?” And that something even bigger was to see if we could raise the capital to acquire an existing community bank and use that platform in one Chicago neighborhood suffering from racial change.

That idea evolved into creating some affiliated non-bank companies alongside the bank and then the four of us raised $800,000 in capital from eight sources, got a bank stock loan and acquired South Shore Bank of Chicago, which was then a $43 million asset bank, having lost half of its deposits when its neighborhood suffered rapid racial change. That became the base of our activity. It grew steadily to the early 21st century, and we operated in Chicago’s South Side and West Side, as well as in four other locations around the country. We were an early proponent of the idea that investors might invest for a social purpose to build the bank.

CNote: When you took over ShoreBank, were you following any certain models or examples, or were you building the blueprint in real time?

Mary Houghton: During our research phase, we looked for models, and we looked at credit unions as an alternative to banks. We were observers of the community development corporation (CDC) movement, which were by and large nonprofit economic change agents in communities. However, I think that we were innovating, particularly in the idea that a bank itself could be the base of a strategy and that that would be more powerful than the existing nonprofit base of community development corporations. We believed that by having access to a regulated bank, that could raise deposits to fund itself and that could grow larger than most not-for-profits could grow. We believed that might be a stronger vehicle for community change.

CNote: Was there a turning point at ShoreBank where you realized that what you were doing was working?

Mary Houghton: The first 10 years were all kind of a slow progression. We had acquired an existing bank, and the economics of running a high volume retail deposit operation were daunting. Although we had early successes in finding good loans and good investments, just getting the basics of building the bank took a while. We bought the bank in ‘73, and in about ‘76 or ‘77 we started raising out-of-market institutional deposits essentially as a more profitable source of deposit growth, and we had early success with that. But, there really was no one time when we all said “a-ha, we made it.” It was always just sort of evolving and growing.

CNote: What progress do you think we’ve made since ShoreBank was founded in 1973?

Mary Houghton: Probably the most important thing that’s happened in a while was the Community Reinvestment Act, which passed in ‘77. It was a huge step in the right direction, but it hasn’t been enforced very aggressively for quite a long period of time now.

If you look at history, what you will see is that certified community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, essentially took over from the CDCs of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and they had a more business-like model because they were trying to be self-supporting and not just project focused and grant dependent. Then Clinton came along and created the federal CDFI Fund, which is now 25 years old and has been consistently a good source of capital.

There is now an industry of 1,200 CDFIs, and they’re growing slowly. They’re not big enough, but they’re the only mission-focused, community-focused financial institution vehicle that exists, because the banks have consolidated and withdrawn. You can’t go to your local bank for a small business loan, and the mortgage market has become much more national, so you don’t go to the bank for that either. So, I would say the original growth of the Community Reinvestment Act was significant, and then it was the subsequent growth of the CDFI industry that essentially grew out of ShoreBank and the other early organizations like ShoreBank.

CNote: What is your view between the relationship between access to capital and inequality?

Mary Houghton: Well, the only way that people who do not have much in the way of assets can build assets is if they can borrow them, because in the beginning, they don’t have the ability to attract equity investments. So, access to capital, particularly credit, is crucial to begin the process of creating personal wealth. People do bootstrap entirely without access to capital, but it’s more typical that you need to be able to invest some resources, in addition to your own labor, in order to be able to make enough money so that you can pay it back. So that’s central.

CNote: What do you think is the biggest challenge CDFIs face?

Mary Houghton: Often the people that fund CDFIs think that they should not be able to leverage their capital more than three or four times, whereas a regulated bank can leverage its capital eight to 10 times. So, the funders want them to be very well capitalized and leveraged not more than three to four times, but the sources of that capital are very modest. The market of mission-driven equity investment or grants that can fund net assets are very modest.

So, most CDFIs are constrained by not having enough capital to leverage the debt that they can rationalize and pay back. The debt financing, which you guys at CNote are delivering, is more plentiful than the net asset grants or equity. And so the constraint is kind of a balance sheet constraint. The value of what CNote is doing is that it is helping these CFDIs to diversify their debt so that they’re not dependent on the same five or six big banks, but in fact they can attract a broad and diversified group of supporters who will stick with them through thick and thin.

CNote: From a policy perspective, are there any particular things that relate to inequality in America that we should be paying closer attention to?

Mary Houghton: There’s an effort being made right now to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act. There are some relatively conservative suggestions by two of the regulators, and some much more progressive recommendations from the Federal Reserve Bank. Modernizing the CRA is a good idea, but it’s important to modernize it in a way so it still affects the behavior of the banking system.

I’m also part of an effort to support lending to black-owned businesses: that may be the very best way to deal with the racial wealth gap. If you think about it, the black racial wealth gap explains an enormous amount of why we have the race problems that we have in this country. If there were more successful business owners in black communities, there would be more families who are accumulating personal assets and net worth, and the racial wealth gap would be improving more quickly than it’s going to improve given wage disparities in this country. It’s pretty hard to build up personal assets if you’ve got a $15 an hour job.

The average white family has 10 times the net worth of a black family. If you compare black and white entrepreneurs, the wage gap is only three times. It makes logical sense that if you can own a business, you can build more wealth for your family. So, I think dealing with all the issues surrounding financing black-owned businesses is really an important issue.

CNote: What advice do you have for the next generation of social entrepreneurs?

Mary Houghton: ShoreBank succeeded because it was not just one person. It was originally a group of four people, and it kept evolving into a larger team of people who were talented and high-performing. My advice would be to find a group of people who you respect and who complement your skills, and then just never give up. It really starts with a mutually respecting small group.

By CNote

CNote Named to ImpactAssets 50 List

We’re proud to announce that CNote was listed as an Emerging Impact Manager on the 2020 Impact Assets 50 list of fund managers.

About The List

The ImpactAssets 50 2020 (IA 50), a publicly available, online database for impact investors, family offices, financial advisors and institutional investors that features a diversified listing of private capital fund managers that deliver social and environmental impact as well as financial returns.

To continue to shine a light on impact fund innovation, the IA 50 added a new Emerging Impact Manager category, which spotlights newer fund managers that demonstrate potential to create meaningful impact. The inaugural list includes 16 emerging fund managers across a variety of themes and geographies.IA 50 - CNote named emerging impact manager

“With record applicants and assets under management, the IA 50 continues to reflect the rapid growth and interest in impact investing,” said Jed Emerson, ImpactAssets Senior Fellow, and IA 50 Review Committee Chair. “This year’s showcase includes eleven impact funds with more than $1 billion in assets under management. And to ensure we’re capturing the best future ideas, we’ve added emerging impact managers, who have the hunger, creativity and a willingness to explore alternatives that more seasoned fund managers may not.”

The IA 50 is the first publicly available database that provides a gateway into the world of impact investing for investors and their financial advisors, offering an easy way to identify experienced impact investment firms and explore the landscape of potential investment options.  The IA 50 is intended to illustrate the breadth of impact investment fund managers operating today, though it is not a comprehensive list.  Firms have been selected to demonstrate a wide range of impact investing activities across geographies, sectors and asset classes.

Additional coverage

By CNote, Impact Metrics

CNote’s Q4 2019 Impact Metrics

We know one of the main reasons you invest with CNote, is because of the impact your investment has.

We’re proud to share our Q4 2019 impact data.

In Q4 2019, our members helped create/maintain 260 jobs!

Over half of all invested capital was deployed with minority-led businesses.

If you’d like to see our annual impact data, along with an explanation of how we map CNote’s impact investments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, read our 2018 Impact Report.

Our 2019 Annual Impact Report will be available soon.

By CNote, Impact Investing

CNote Launches Promise Account

Today, CNote has officially launched The Promise Account, a cash solution that optimizes for impact and return, while being fully insured. You can learn more on the product page and read pre-launch coverage from Impact Alpha.

CNote’s Promise Account Taps Power of Cash for Competitive Returns + Social Impact

New insured cash solution shifts capital to financially underserved communities

OAKLAND, Calif.Feb. 19, 2020 — Driven by the conviction that cash holdings are an underused tool for social good, CNote has launched the Promise Account, a cash solution for foundations and other institutional investors that’s optimized for returns, impact and insurance.

The Promise Account targets a big portion of the nearly $20 trillion in cash and equivalents sitting in the market. CNote places account holders’ dollars in competitive deposit products, such as money market funds and CDs, available from vetted FDIC- and NCUA-insured community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and low-income designated (LID) credit unions. CNote optimizes this basket of products to achieve the highest returns with liquidity of 90 days or less.

A one-stop shop for cash with impact

“We see cash as the final frontier of impact because traditional cash solutions sacrifice impact, returns or liquidity,” said Catherine Berman, CEO and co-founder of CNote, a fintech platform whose mission is to close the wealth gap in the U.S. “The Promise Account fills a gap for institutional investors that want to support financially underserved communities while generating competitive returns.”

The Promise Account is a one-stop shop for cash with impact. The fee-free accounts are fully insured up to $3 million per investor through the FDIC and NCUA. Investors can sign up and manage their accounts online, with a minimum deposit of $250,000. Their money grows the deposit base at U.S. community institutions, allowing them to increase lending activity and deploy additional financial resources: CDFIs fund female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development, and LID credit unions serve communities where most people have household incomes well below the national median.

To replicate the Promise Account, investors would have to research mission-aligned investments across multiple financial institutions and manage multiple accounts to receive more than $250,000 in insurance coverage, maximize returns and maintain relative liquidity—a burden few would take on.

Reduced risk with enhanced reporting

“The Promise Account eliminates the barriers for accredited investors that want to invest for positive impact and need to park their cash where it’s safe and easy to access—we think it holds particular appeal for foundations,” said Berman.

“CNote provides more than deposits when we work with CDFIs and credit unions,” she added. “We act as a partner, providing technology that enables them to accept deposits more readily and efficiently. That means we get greater visibility into the impact they are creating, so we can go beyond vague assurances of community benefits and give Promise Account holders clear impact measurements.”

About CNote

CNote is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind financial platform that allows anyone to make money investing in causes and communities they care about. With the mission of closing the wealth gap, CNote directs every dollar invested toward funding female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development through its nationwide network of community lenders.

Read The Full Release:

By CNote

CNote CEO Catherine Berman Selected for InvestmentNews’ 2020 Icons and Innovators List

The entire CNote team is proud to announce that Cat Berman, our brave and inspiring leader, was selected as one of ten innovators driving change in the financial services industry!

Read the full release below.

 

​​​​InvestmentNews has recognized Catherine Berman as a 2020 Icons and Innovators honoree. Catherine was chosen from several hundred nominations to make the list of 10 Innovators and one Icon, Jud Bergman, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Envestnet.

“It is energizing to be recognized for our work unlocking the opportunity for foundations, institutions and individual investors to earn returns while investing in underserved communities across America,” Catherine said. She added, “I am honored to be among this select list of innovators who are driving positive change in the financial services industry.”

Each of the advisers and executives who made the fourth annual InvestmentNews Icons and Innovators list was chosen from a rigorous selection process designed to identify individuals who contributed profoundly and consistently to the advancement of the financial advice profession and for conceiving new ideas and tools that have propelled the industry forward.

“The 11 individuals recognized as this year’s Icons & Innovators have led significant changes that are transforming the financial advice industry,” said George Moriarty, Chief Content Officer of InvestmentNews. “We hope their stories will inspire others to bring forward the next big ideas.”

Catherine will officially receive the award at the InvestmentNews 2020 Innovation Summit and Awards Dinner on April 30 in New York City. The half-day Summit will include panel discussions, TED-style talks, and one-on-one interviews followed by an awards dinner gathering the industry’s biggest names and brightest minds.

InvestmentNews also recognized 18 firms as finalists in its Innovation Awards in six categories: educational materials, investing solutions, practice management, retirement solutions and adviser fintech, which has both small-firm and large-firm finalists.

“The 18 Innovation Award firm finalists are introducing creative and effective solutions to some of the industry’s most challenging questions,” said Mr. Moriarty. “As our profession continues to evolve, it is more important than ever to embrace the power of innovation.”

To learn more about Catherine Berman, the 2020 winners and the Innovation Summit, please go to https://iconsandinnovators.com/.

About InvestmentNews

InvestmentNews is the leading source for news, analysis, and information essential to the financial advisory community.

About CNote

CNote is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind financial platform that allows anyone to make money investing in causes and communities they care about. With the mission of closing the wealth gap, CNote directs every dollar invested toward funding female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development through its nationwide network of CDFI community lenders.

 

View Press Release

By Impact Investing

What You Need to Know About Social Investment

Social investment, also known as socially responsible investing, social investing, and impact investing, allows investors to align their values with investment strategies that positively impact social issues while generating a financial return.

Social problems such as natural resource preservation, better education and healthcare, animal welfare, corporate responsibility, inequality, and climate change are attracting those that want to invest in effecting social change.

The growth of social investment

In the past, the social investment market suffered from a lack of interest largely due to its association with lower financial returns.

Measuring the impact of social investment was also challenging without systematic reporting standards and the confusion around sub-optimal offerings that conveyed a false impression of creating real social progress (also known as greenwashing).

In recent years, social investing has increased in popularity as the scale of the funding needed to improve the world’s social issues has outpaced traditional sources of capital, mainly government aid and philanthropy. The growth of socially responsible investing is also being driven by Millennials, women, and an ever-increasing global economic inequality that promotes an increased interest in values-based investments.

small green shoots out of a pot

Now we are experiencing an explosion of new products, tools, and strategies that are contributing to the disappearance of the stigma around social investment while helping to establish it as the future of profitable investing with a conscience.

The different types of social investment

Within the social investing space there are many specialized approaches to achieving economic, social, and environmental goals. Some of these include impact investing, socially responsible investing (SRI), social enterprise investing, CDFI investing, and much more.

Impact investing

Impact investing seeks to generate positive social and environmental impacts and a financial return that is intentionally measured. Typically, investors require that projects or companies report evidence that the intended impact has been generated. This investment space is focused on efforts to build markets in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, cleantech, and other important sectors that demonstrate a direct impact on society. These investments are run by a range of specialized asset managers as well as mainstream financial institutions.

Renewable energy windmills on a windfarm

Socially responsible investing (SRI)

SRI investing is an umbrella term for any investment strategy that seeks to generate a financial return while using environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) criteria to fund sustainable and ethical businesses. SRI is also referred to as sustainable, responsible and impact investing by US SIF. Usually, SRI investing rules out investments in companies that produce and sell harmful substances (such as tobacco) and those that take part in detrimental activities (such as environmental pollution and human rights abuses).

Industrial air pollution billowing from smokestacks

An example of the kind of activities that may be excluded through an exclusionary screen

SRI includes an ever-widening range of products and asset classes such as stocks, cash, fixed income, private equity, venture capital, and real estate. Investors can invest in individual companies or socially conscious exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds.

Social enterprise investing

Social enterprise investing gives capital support to socially conscious nonprofit and for-profit businesses, for example in renewable energy, to generate returns that blend social benefit with financial revenue. It often involves short-term loans to early-stage businesses and individual entrepreneurs along with grants and other forms of philanthropic support. Like traditional businesses, social enterprises need to make money to sustain themselves but they measure success by more than just profits.

CDFI investing

CDFIs offer investors the chance to directly invest in the small businesses of “Main Street America.” CDFIs are lenders that provide business or development loans to women and minority business owners, small businesses, affordable housing development projects, not-for-profit companies, and local governments.

Most often a CDFI investment is placed in a community development loan fund. Loan funds pool capital with other investors and spread risk across a diversified portfolio of community-centered loans from small business to affordable housing. CNote makes it easier for individuals and institutions to invest in loans issued by community development financial institutions (CDFIs).

How social investment works

For many investors, socially responsible investing is now a fundamental imperative along with the expectation of a competitive financial return. How an investor chooses to invest will depend on what type of investor they are, their goals and return expectations, and their acceptable level of risk exposure.

For example, social investing allows foundations to leverage their assets in ways beyond traditional grants and to support markets underserved by the private financial sector. They can accelerate change by expending capital to borrowers doing business in economically-distressed communities, encouraging growth, public services, and innovation.

Image of Poverty in Shanty-town like setting

Social Investment provides an opportunity to help bring millions of people out of poverty.

As an individual investor, social investment can help increase portfolio stability with mutual funds that may have lower volatility than comparable non-impact based funds. And financial advisors can add impact investment strategies to the offerings available to their clients, guiding them with investing in specific mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or private funds that invest in companies based on social, environmental, or governance criteria.

The benefits and challenges of social investment

Those who take part in social investing want to know that they’re making a difference. But like the private investment market, social investment is refining its practices and standards as it grows. Some of the issues that highlight the current benefits and challenges of social investment are the rate of return, how easy it is to invest, and consistent measurement standards.

Rate of return

Social investors generally aim to preserve capital across their portfolio in order to move it through different investments. Based on the level of risk adopted, a social investment return will be below, above, or on par with various market benchmarks, such as the Impact Investing Benchmark.

But many social investors are driven by the societal impact of the social enterprises they support and not only by financial returns. Therefore some investors may tolerate a below-market rate of return. For investors who want market-rate returns or better, there are ways to invest that ensure the social investment makes sense for their goals.

Ease of investing

Some organizations have their own retail platforms where individuals can invest directly, like CNote, while many others are only available through brokers or direct offerings. And with all the new products available it can sometimes be difficult for individual investors to understand what solution makes the most sense for their needs.

Investor viewing accounts on iPad

Simple access to social investments is critical to scaling efforts

This is where a qualified advisor can step in to help with an individual’s choice of investment products, whether that’s mutual funds, ETFs, fixed income, or other offerings. And with the rising interest in social investing, it’s important to investigate funds to make sure that they’re credible and truly committed to increasing social impact.

Measuring impact

Measuring an investment’s social impact is important and can help organizations make better decisions and communicate their value. But there are many specific methodologies that are used to measure different objectives in different parts of the investment cycle.

In the years ahead, as socially responsible investing becomes the mainstream investing standard, the continued development of impact measurement frameworks and consistent reporting standards, such as the Global Impact Investing Network’s (GIIN) Impact Reporting and Investing Standards (IRIS) metrics will help to unify how the effectiveness of a social investment approach is measured.

The future of social investment

According to the most recent US SIF Foundation Report on U.S. Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact Investing Trends, sustainable, responsible, and impact (SRI) investing assets now account for one in four dollars (26%) in total assets under professional management in the United States.

In the first half of 2019, an estimated $8 billion in net flows have gone into sustainable funds, massively outranking the $5.5 billion for the entire year of 2018. Institutional and individual investors alike are realizing that the quickly maturing social investment market is an essential way to finance social ventures that support global and local economic prosperity for everyone while making a solid return on their investment.

Flower growing despite drought conditions

Besides rational arguments of benefit and return, more investors are also adopting the moral justification that investing sustainably is ethically the right thing to do. With a growing emphasis on the value of not only shareholders but also stakeholders in shaping the distribution and utilization of wealth and resources, barriers between public and private capital are breaking down to promote collaboration and engage new investors.

Conclusion

The interest in social investment shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s becoming more and more accepted as the way forward towards achieving progress on the social issues that impact us all, such as climate change, energy efficiency, economic inclusion, healthcare, and education while giving investors the chance to achieve profitable returns. As digital transformation continues to change the investing landscape, the current divisions between investing and philanthropy will continue to merge as complementary strategies, increasing the power of social investment to create social good.

By Change Makers Series

Change Makers Interview: Sonya Dreizler of Solutions With Sonya

Sonya Dreizler has made a career of helping people and institutions align their investments with their values. The speaker, author, consultant and all-around subject matter expert is the founder of Solutions With Sonya, a company that helps financial services firms to drive successful rollout and adoption of impact investing, SRI, and ESG solutions. Sonya is a regular and sought after speaker at national financial services conferences, and she’s the writer behind Connected Investing, a weekly educational newsletter covering the latest trends in impact and ESG investing.

Prior to launching Solutions With Sonya, Sonya spent 13 years with Protected Investors of America, a boutique broker dealer and SEC registered investment adviser, where she rose up the ranks from executive assistant to COO to CEO.  Sonya’s been honored with Investment News 40 Under 40 award and a 2018 LinkedIn Top Voices Recipient, and she serves on the advisory board for the Investment News Women Adviser Summit.

We sat down with Sonya to not only talk about impact investing, but also to hear more about Sonya’s Do Better series, which highlights women’s stories in a predominantly male-dominated field and offers solutions pushing for systems-level changes across the financial services industry.

 

CNote: In your opinion, what are some of the challenges advisors face when talking about impact investing with other advisors?

Sonya Dreizler: First, is making sure we’re talking about the same thing when we say “impact investing.” That’s a hurdle that I see for a lot of people. Professionally, we need to have this vocabulary conversation. When you say “impact investing,” are you talking about ESG, and what does that mean? Are you talking about SRI?

I think advisors worry that that vocabulary hurdle will translate to clients, and it doesn’t. Clients put their trust in the advisor, and the advisor can choose the terminology that works best for them and stick with it. But this whole “what are we talking about when we’re talking about impact investing?” That conversation is a hurdle to any initial professional conversation in the space.

Aside from the vocabulary challenge, I often see advisors that are unwilling or not ready to bring up impact investing with clients.

 

CNote: Where do you think that reluctance comes from?

Sonya Dreizler: It’s different for each advisor, and to be clear, some advisors are adopting and embracing impact investing in tandem with their traditional practices. But, I think some advisors are worried that impact investing is more feelings based and less numbers based, which gives them pause.

Let’s take each of those separately. Regarding the numbers side, advisors can evaluate impact investments in the same way they evaluate traditional investments. The impact investments have the added value of being able to do social or environmental good. And now for the feelings part; I think advisors should embrace talking about feelings and values with their clients.

Clients are like all people—they want to be known, understood, seen and valued for their whole person. So, if you can have a conversation with clients about what’s important to them in addition to their  financial goals, it can deepen the relationship.

Another factor I see that contributes to reluctance to talk about impact investing is that when financial professionals and advisors present something to a client, they want to be the smartest person in the room. They want to know everything and have immediate solutions for what clients are asking for. Impact investing is an evolving area, so that can be a little bit tricky. If a client asks for something like a values tilt on their portfolio and it’s not something that the advisor is prepared to offer, that is a challenge. But as long as advisors are setting appropriate expectations about what values can be reflected in a portfolio, it’s OK to have that discussion.

 

CNote: What do you have to say to an advisor who says she or he isn’t hearing any interest in impact investing from clients?

Sonya Dreizler: It’s the advisor’s job to educate themselves and to find out what’s best for the client’s financial and personal goals. If advisors are waiting for clients to approach them about the topic to indicate interest, that’s not something that they’d do with any other type of investment. Advisors don’t expect a client to come in and ask for a 10 percent allocation to emerging markets.

Advisors should want to be the first ones telling their clients about impact investing or ESG. They should let their clients know that they’re thinking about impact investing, they’re knowledgeable and they’re ready to have the discussion if the client is interested.

One of the pieces of pushback I hear from advisors is, “well, my clients are not asking for this, so I don’t think that there is the same level of interest as all of those surveys show.” The recent Morgan Stanley survey showed that 85% of people surveyed were interested in sustainable investing. However, the thing with those surveys is that before the surveyor asks questions to the participant, the surveyor explains sustainable investing. They are explaining what it is first before they’re asking if there’s interest.

Advisors can do the same thing as those surveyors. They can even do it before they have impact investment solutions rolled out in their business. If they’re worried about the chicken and egg situation — that they don’t want to talk about it until they have something ready, but they don’t want to do all the work to create a solution until there’s interest — they can have the conversation before they have a solution ready. It might sound something like, “sustainable investing a quickly developing area, and is a topic our firms has been researching. We’re considering adding this if we have interest from our valued clients. Is this something you’d like to discuss?”

 

CNote: Do you have any ideas as to why people don’t feel empowered around investing?

Sonya Dreizler: There have been so many advances and tools that make investing easier, more accessible, and more democratic.For example, mutual funds, and being able to buy a basket of stocks instead of trying to buy one share of this and three shares of that and having to manage all the separate investments. Then ETFs allowed people to invest, inexpensively into indexes.  These vehicles have been great in many ways and benefited investors, but they’ve also obscured the process of what investing and many investors are disengaged from what they own. How can you feel empowered if you have no idea what’s going on inside that your portfolio? And then there’s the terminology. It can feel technical and overwhelming.

 

CNote: If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you’d change about the industry?

Sonya Dreizler: Pass through shareholder voting rights in mutual funds, ETFs, and SMAs. I would love to see a way that proxy and shareholder engagement proposal voting could be opened up to the actual end shareholder in an easy and democratic way, and then the funds or managers can vote proxies if the end shareholder has chosen not to vote. That would allow the dentist with a $400,000 401k to vote and become more engaged and be more interested in what they’re investing in. They might push for change at a more rapid clip than mutual fund management would. I would love to see that.

Voting would remind a lot of people of what investing is. It’s Investing is owning a share of a company. You give your hard-earned money to that company to run their business in whatever way the management sees fit. As a shareholder, you  get to have a vote on some issues, and that vote can be powerful.

 

CNote: What has you most excited about impact investing in terms of innovation and future developments?

Sonya Dreizler: Impact investing can generally be broken down into these three categories: the E, the S and the G. As a community, we’ve done a pretty good job on pushing the E and an okay job on the G. We really haven’t pushed as hard on the S, and that’s the part that drives me.

I mean, you can’t really disentangle the E, S and G, right? But I want our investing community to really care about people. So even though we can’t disentangle them, looking at impact investing with a lens of S first and trying to focus on making the companies we invest in and the financial services companies we work in reflective of the communities that we live in, work in and serve is important to me.

 

CNote: Any ideas of how we can make that happen?

Sonya Dreizler: I don’t think most firms have put this on the front burner for a number of reasons. One of them being that it is hard to talk about gender, race, citizenship, class and personal inequities without feeling like maybe your own position as a fairly well-to-do person working in financial services is under attack.

I think the best thing we can do is be reflective and look in the mirror. We can start at our own companies first and work on creating inclusive workplaces that make financial services a better place to have a professional career for women, people of color and all other underrepresented groups. That means the workforce at all levels: employees, managers, VPs, executives and board members. Once we create diverse and inclusive workplaces in the financial services community, we’ll request and demand that of the companies we invest in. Overall, we’ll do better across the board because we’ll have so many different opinions represented.

 

CNote: Thinking about getting more underrepresented groups in the financial services industry, what are some of the successes you’ve seen in breaking down barriers?

Sonya Dreizler: It’s tough, and I can’t point to a ton of successes. Diversity programs have benefited women, but mostly white women. Those programs haven’t been representative of real diversity. I think white women need to do better at acknowledging our privilege and then focusing on advancing racial equity.

 

CNote: Why do you think financial services has remained a primarily male-dominated industry?

Sonya Dreizler: Two reasons come to mind. First, forced arbitration and NDAs keep a lot of sexual harassment and discrimination stories private and hidden, which means that women cannot work together and discuss what happened and identify where there are problems. That same secrecy protects companies that have regular ethical problems, and it protects the harassers. When harassment has to be kept a secret, the harasser can then go on to get a job at another company where nobody will know why they had to leave their last employer, which means they can go and harass somebody at the next company and the next company after that. That’s the pattern.

 

CNote: That’s a great segue to talk about the Do Better Series you started. Can you tell us about how that got started?

Sonya Dreizler: About a year ago, I was reading articles that had statistics about professional’s perspectives on the prevalence of gender-based harassment and discrimination in financial services. There’s a huge delta between how prevalent women think harassment is and how prevalent men think it is.

So many women who have these stories of harassment and assault and discrimination tell them to each other, but we don’t tell them publicly. The harassers are a minority of men and so most men are not harassing women or hearing about the harassment. So if not that many men know about it or have personally witnessed it, and women are experiencing it, but not talking about it, most men won’t know it’s happening. We women stay silent for our safety, or because we legally have to, or because we’re worried about career repercussions.

So, I thought that I wanted to write an article that explains why we don’t tell our stories and I put a request out on social media asking if any women would share their stories with me to share anonymously on their behalf. I was hoping to get two stories and I got 40 stories in 24 hours. That’s when I realized that this was something much bigger. Once I started to read all the stories, there were patterns and themes that came out over and over. I divided them into a series of articles focusing on the different issues that I saw, like how harassment and even assault run rampant at financial services conferences.

 

CNote: What do you hope men working in the financial services industry get from your Do Better campaign?

Sonya Dreizler: I want men to be more aware and to be better allies. That’s one of the goals, to have that sort of bottom up effect. I  want women to feel heard, and I want men to listen and really take in these stories. My other hope is that the series brings more systemic change. Financial services is a male-dominated industry and change will have to come from men. I’ll push for it, but I can’t make the change myself. I have to convince men to help me convince other men to change.

 

CNote: Pivoting slightly, but whom do you most admire in the financial services industry?

Sonya Dreizler: There’s a number of people really pushing the envelope on impact, particularly on the S part of ESG. Most of my professional experience is in the public equity space, so my heroes are from there. I really admire Geeta Aiyer’s work at Boston Common Asset Management, and Lisa Hayles, also of Boston Common. Rachel Robasciotti and Maya Philipson at Robasciotti & Philipson have an impressive way of thinking about screening, where they’re  gathering insight from the most impacted communities. Of course, CNote’s Cat Berman is someone I admire. And Rianka Dorsainvil for her excellent use of social media to engage clients. She’s a financial advisor, so her business and my business are very different, but I love her approach.

 

CNote: Last question: What are the top challenges and opportunities for advisors in impact investing?

Sonya Dreizler: Have the conversation if you’re not already having it, even if you don’t have solutions yet. I have tips and scripts on my website because it’s something that comes up often.

The other opportunity I see is with existing clients. When you’re doing SRI or impact investing, you can really deepen that client relationship, which in turn might foster referrals. By understanding the unique values that drive clients and tracking those values in a scalable way (I suggest a CRM field with the top 10 values you hear from clients), then when you see an event or an article or anything of interest pop up in one of those areas, you can send it out to clients who’ve expressed that value, even if you can’t invest precisely along those values.

So for example, if a client is really interested in ocean health and you see an article about ocean health, you can send it to them and say, “I saw this, and it made me think of you. I hope you’re doing well.” It’s showing clients that you’re listening and that you care and that you see them as a person, not just a portfolio. It might feel a little weird to do personal at a scalable level with CRM or email software, but it doesn’t have to be. The way you’re tracking values and sending it out is scalable, but the personal connection you’re fostering with the client is real.

One last thing is to take advantage of social media to the extent that you can under compliance and regulatory guidance. That might mean talking about some of the causes that are important to the advisor and those that are important to clients. Advisors can also share success stories showcasing the impact of an investment company. Those are especially nice pieces that advisors can share with clients so that clients can understand what’s in their portfolio. If advisors can  share those on social media, prospects can understand that deep connection possible between their money and their values.

 

By Change Makers Series

Change Makers Interview: Marco Vangelisti

When Marco Vangelisti, a member of a successful investment management team, peeked under the hood of the investment portfolio the team was managing, he was shocked to learn that some of the best-performing stocks in the portfolio were funding the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of orangutan-inhabited rainforest in Southeast Asia. Marco left his job in 2009 and began the process of liquidating his personal Wall Street portfolio. He reinvested in local and sustainable investments, and he started to learn more about the large systems that shape our society and shared what he learned.

Today, Marco is a highly sought after speaker, lecturer, consultant, and coach. He is a founding member of Slow Money and the founder of Essential Knowledge For Transition. As a self-identifying 100% impact investor, Marco is as equally passionate about aligning dollars and values as he is educating individual investors and financial advisors.

We caught up with Marco to talk about his journey, and we got a chance to discuss his thoughts on the future of impact investing, the power of individual investors, and the growing role of millennials.

 

CNote: How did you first become interested in impact investing?

Marco Vangelisti: I was part of a team that was managing a quantitative fund investing in emerging markets equities. We had developed quantitative models to predict returns and to control risk, and we were using an optimizer to build a very diversified portfolio. We were doing great — we had $20 billion under management, and one year we outperformed the MSCI emerging markets index by more than 10%. Most of our clients were foundations and endowments, including environmental foundations and they were very happy with our performance.

The interesting thing is that because we were managing a very diversified portfolio built in a quantitative way, we were not really focused on the individual stocks in the portfolio. When I looked at the best-performing stocks, I found a Malaysian palm oil company that had just destroyed a large section of the habitat of the orangutan in the Borneo. At that moment I realized there was this big disconnect between my livelihood and my personal values since I have always been a passionate environmentalist. What I realized is that we are trapped in a system that collectively provides us with the incentives to do things that we might not be aware of, and in the long term, might even undermine our long-term survival. It was very hard to connect those dots, even for an insider like me.

So, I actually left the industry and started looking at the large systems: how money and banking and economics and finance work. My belief is that we need to democratize the understanding of the functioning of those large systems because they act as the operating system of our society. I think everybody should understand enough about the design of those systems to be able to critique them and to feel empowered to demand changes.

 

CNote: How does that translate into your day-to-day work now?

Marco Vangelisti: In the last couple of years, I’ve been focusing on investor education and trying to convey to people that investments are not just generating returns, they’re shaping the world we live in. I developed a website that has a lot of free content for people to understand how those large systems work, and I also have a fee-based webinar series called Align Your Investments With Your Values, where I’m sharing my understanding of the financial system with individual investors looking to move towards non-extractive investments.

I’m also collaborating with a nonprofit called Money Quotient up in Portland, Oregon. They’ve been around for 20 years and are helping financial advisors become life financial planners, which is basically a blend between a life coach and a financial adviser. The idea is to work with clients to help them envision their best life, and then see how they can use their financial resources to bring it about. Together, we launched an online, self-paced course called Towards Aware and Values-Centered Investing.

 

CNote: How long did it take you to rebuild your portfolio to better align with your values?

Marco Vangelisti: It took me three years from the time I left the finance industry to actually get around to liquidate my positions and rebuild a portfolio that does no harm. That was my goal, but it’s not an easy task. Still, it’s something I embarked on, and it’s something I encourage others to do as well. In order to say I’m doing no harm, I need to know who is using my capital. Therefore, I’m not in the stock market and I’m not in mutual funds since it is very hard to assess the worldwide operations of publicly traded companies. This requires more work than simply hiring a financial advisor and putting your money in the usual mutual funds everybody knows about, although the financial advisers that took my course have embarked in the process of moving towards no-harm investing.

 

CNote: How would you frame the current status quo of our financial services industry?

Marco Vangelisti: I believe that if we avoid destroying the planet and go extinct as a species, we will look back at this time as we look back at slavery now. If you think about 200, 300 years ago, many of the wealthy people in society, many of the US presidents and those funding the Ivy League colleges were slave owners. People had a sense that it wasn’t ideal, but that’s how business was done, especially in the South, and slavery generated nice returns for plantation owners and their clients.

I think the same thing will happen when we look back at 2000, 2010, 2020, and ask how it was possible that capital was used to extract from and destroy the natural environment and communities around the world for the purpose of enriching the people that already had a lot. I think eventually if we learn to live in balance with nature and we change the course of society, we’ll get to that realization.

 

CNote: What are the trends you’re seeing in impact investing or changes you’ve seen over the last year or two that stand out to you?

Marco Vangelisti: The socially responsible fund was the first wave. Now I think we’re ready for the second wave. Maybe that’s community funds or more local funds and investments. I see a lot of potential thanks to the transfer of wealth to millennials. This young generation is very idealistic, and a number of millennials want to do the right thing. They’re not interested in finding a corporate job. They’re interested in starting a social enterprise to solve societal challenges through businesses, which is great. A number of them recognize that investing in large multinational corporations is something that they wouldn’t want to do, and so a lot of them are holding most of their money in cash.

Whatever money they save, they don’t know what to do with it. They don’t trust Wall Street. They don’t want to put it in the usual mutual funds or with the large multinational corporations and are asking for better options. I see a lot of hope because millennials who are either earning money or receiving inheritances tend to be conscious about what their investments are doing out there in the world. I think that there’s a growing pool of potential clients for financial advisors to tap into, especially if they develop some expertise in this area of no-harm and impact investing.

 

CNote: Do you think impact investing is a means to address inequality?

Marco Vangelisti: Traditional impact investing where people say they want their 8% return or that they want a market-rate return while doing good, will clearly not address the problem of inequality. If the economy is growing at 3% and the financial capital demands to grow at 5%, 6%, 7%, or 8%, what you’re seeing is more and more of the economic value being produced in society being sucked up by the owners of capital, regardless of whether you call that a mutual fund or you call that an impact fund. An impact fund that generates an 8% return is aggravating inequality because the people that have the money to invest in that are going to get, percentage-wise, more than the economy is growing. That means a larger share of the economy goes into the hands of those that have the capital. Actually, investing through the Kiva platform is a way to address inequality since those are zero-interest loans to people at the bottom of the pyramid internationally or to mostly minority or women entrepreneurs in the US.

 

CNote: How would you describe people’s awareness of the socially responsible investing movement?

Marco Vangelisti: In general I think people have a sense that the socially responsible investing movement started with people who were against the war, and who didn’t want to invest in weapons manufacturers. So a number of funds were created at the time, which was a good first step. Later funds were created to cater to investors concerned about the environment and those who did not want to invest in fossil fuels.  I think the demand for socially responsible funds has created some transparency and some reporting on the part of companies and maybe slightly better corporate behavior. But I think we need to go way beyond that.

The challenge is that most socially responsible funds (or ESG funds) hold stocks of publicly traded companies that need to deliver growing profits to support their stock price. There’s this imperative to continue growing profits; it is not sufficient to just be profitable. So, of course, this imperative leads to squeezing out or externalizing costs and eventually to cut corners.

Taking full responsibility for our agency in the world expressed through our investment is not easy, yet the time has come for us to do so. And I understand that that’s hard, given the level of opacity and intermediation in the finance industry – just finding out all the companies we are invested in through a single ESG fund might be quite a task. But the reality is that, if you look outside at the state of the world and where the environment or our society are going, it is clear that things are still deteriorating. That’s because we haven’t done enough to move the capital away from destructive activities.

 

CNote: Given how difficult it is to successfully “move capital away from destructive activities,” as you said, what’s some advice you have for financial advisors and investors who want to do better with their investing?

Marco Vangelisti: First of all, we have to recognize that we live in a system that makes it really easy for us to do the wrong thing. It’s almost impossible to be pure and not do any harm. What we’re trying to do is challenging and it is very had to be perfect. That’s why I like CNote because I know and approve what  CNote is investing in – CDFIs providing funding to people that have difficulty obtaining funding from the regular channels, such as minority and women entrepreneurs.

One thing you have to think about are the trade-offs. How strictly do you want to implement what you really believe in? In my case, I took an extreme position. I said I’m going to invest only when I know I’m doing no harm and it’s generally aligned with my values. It’s been a long process and it has not been easy. I’ve been at it for the last seven years. But, I can say now that 100% of my portfolio is aligned with my values and it’s doing no harm out there.

Moving to aware and no-harm investing is challenging for financial advisors to do that because it requires some new learning and possibly a rethink of their business model. Currently, they have a platform like Schwab or Fidelity, and they have access to all the funds and individual stocks through that platform which integrates their clients’ assets, generates reports and allows them to collect their management fees.  The investing options I’m talking about like RSF Social Finance and CNote aren’t seamlessly integrated into those platforms. Even though it’s not difficult, it’s still something new for advisors to have to familiarize themselves with. Yet  I see financial advisors as the agents of change in the finance industry. Through the demands of their clients, I think they can go to the next level and start demanding products and investments that are non-extractive and transparent.

 

CNote: Do you think that consumers really have to drive real, sustainable, prolonged change, or do you think advisors or asset managers can lead in this space? 

Marco Vangelisti: The type of changes that are required are very hard to implement for financial advisors and wealth managers alone. Financial advisors and wealth managers are not going to be the ones that initiate the change – the demand for no-harm investing has to come from the owners of capital, whether individual investors or institutions, saying, “I want to be mindful of what this capital is doing out there in the world, and I want to make sure that it does no harm.” But they have a key role in facilitating that aspiration of their clients.

For the last three years, I focused on educating individual investors, because they were the ones that really needed to know. The learning curve can be steep for someone who isn’t experienced in finance, and taking responsibility for one’s investments is something that only a few people are willing to do. But, by educating both the investors and the financial advisors that get it, I think that’s the ticket.

 

CNote: When you talk to younger folks or people that are maybe just starting to think about investing, what sort of advice do you give them?

Marco Vangelisti: Usually, what I suggest is to invest a small amount of money in CNote and in RSF Social Finance, and most importantly, to read the communications put out by those two funds. This is really to get their juices flowing and to say that there is a way to invest money that is positive for the world, and to encourage them to do more of that. Another reason why I send them to those two places is because I think the probability of losing principal in those two investments is very low. But not all impact investments are like that.

 

CNote: What’s your vision for socially responsible investing, and where do you think we’re heading long term?

Marco Vangelisti: My hope is that we are going to move toward more local and aware investing. In the next decade, I think we’re going to see a massive realignment of financial values. I do believe that financial markets are completely manipulated at this time and that there is way too much in actual capital out there. A lot of people are not aware, but basically a lot of it is fictitious capital that is going to go away, and I think that will awaken people to the fact that maybe they need to invest in things they really understand. That means investments that are closer to home or through trusted intermediaries like RSF Social Finance and CNote, not Wall Street and large corporations. And I think there will be a lot more innovation to bring about more opportunities to invest in a way that is transparent and is more local and does no harm.

 

By CDFIs, CNote

CNote Partners with Natural Capital Investment Fund

Fintech firm focused on financial inclusion partners to become new capital source for loan fund serving central Appalachia and the Southeast.

CNote has entered into a partnership with the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIFund) that will allow NCIFund to access new investor capital aligned with NCIFund’s mission of catalyzing environmentally and socially responsible business development, sustainable jobs, and wealth creation in rural, minority and low-wealth communities.

This partnership builds on CNote’s mission to create a more inclusive economy for everyone by enabling investors of all sizes to deploy capital with mission-aligned organizations while generating competitive financial returns and measurable social impact.

As CNote aggregates increasing investor demand seeking socially responsible investment opportunities, it partners with leading Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) like NCIFund. CDFIs are federally-certified community-focused lenders that enable transformative economic development in their communities, providing funding to small businesses, affordable housing development, and other projects in communities that often lack adequate access to financial resources.

NCIFund’s focus on locally owned triple-bottom-line (TBL) small to mid-sized businesses in central Appalachia and the Southeast aligns with CNote’s mission and matches growing investor demand to support rural communities. CNote co-founder Yuliya Tarasava remarked, “We’re excited to have NCIFund as a partner; they have an amazing pedigree of driving measurable change in the communities they serve. As more investors look for ways to invest in rural America, NCIFund presents an opportunity to do that in a very intentional and sustainable way.”

Founded in 1999 by The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), NCIFund was created to address the lack of access to capital for small businesses and farms that responsibly steward natural resources and provide vital community services. NCIFund now serves West VirginiaNorth Carolina, and the Appalachian regions of surrounding states, where it has lent over $70 million to 400+ companies, generating more than 5,300 jobs. Over 50% of NCIFund’s borrowers are women or people of color.

“We rely on capital from impact investors to help us increase our support for women business owners, entrepreneurs of color, and the underserved and rural communities we work hard to serve,” said Marten Jenkins, CEO of NCIFund. “So, we’re very pleased to become a CNote partner. CNote is an exciting way for NCIFund to connect with investors who share our mission.”

About CNote

CNote is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind financial platform that allows anyone to make money investing in causes and communities they care about. With the mission of closing the wealth gap, CNote directs every dollar invested toward funding female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development through its nationwide network of CDFI community lenders.

About The Natural Capital Investment Fund

The Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIFund) invests in enterprises that promote a healthy environment and healthy families in Central Appalachia and the Southeast, catalyzing environmentally and socially responsible business development and wealth creation in rural, minority and low-wealth communities. The fund meets its mission as a federally certified community development financial institution (CDFI) by lending to and assisting triple-bottom-line enterprises that promote equity, protect the environment and grow the economy, including: healthy local food and specialty agriculture, renewable energy and energy efficiency, eco- and heritage tourism, child and adult day care, primary care providers, and small town main street redevelopment.

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By Borrower Stories, Wisdom

Meet Tysh Billingsley, The Cancer Survivor Who Brought Her Dream Business To Life

Before Tysh Billingsley was an entrepreneur, she was a dreamer.

Literally.

Tysh’s idea for her business, Finale, a popup wine and food experience centered around local art and music, came to her in a dream. According to Tysh, her dream was so vivid and full of sights and sounds that as soon as she woke up, she wrote it all down. It captured everything: her eye for detail, her appreciation for fine food and drink, and her desire to create memorable experiences for others.

Never in her wildest dreams did the Birmingham, Alabama native and long-time flight attendant expect to become an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, that’s when something else unexpected happened.

Two days after her business dream, Tysh was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“As a spiritual woman, I said ‘oh my God, why would you give this great, amazing dream to me, only to snatch the feeling and excitement out of me two days later?’ I realized that I needed something to live for, and I had to fight for that.’”

According to Tysh, unlike others who are diagnosed with cancer, she didn’t have children or parents or a spouse “to live for,” as she put it. Instead, Tysh had the dream of her business, and the desire to make that dream a reality.

 

A Dream Worth Fighting For

Luckily for Tysh, she wasn’t alone in her fight to get Finale off the ground. She started to ask business owners she knew in the community about how they got started, and about what she needed to know.

That’s how she got connected with CO.STARTERS, a program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools they need to turn their business ideas into action. Tysh completed the 10-week program, which she said helped her to network and to get on the right path as a business owner. Reaching out to her local business community is also how Tysh learned about TruFund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that invests in small businesses in Alabama, Louisiana, and New York. CNote partners with CDFIs like TruFund in communities across the country, providing business coaching to local entrepreneurs like Tysh.

Tysh completed TruFund’s six-week EmpowHERment Program, an initiative to provide women with the requisite financial solutions, education, and hands-on business advisory services they need to succeed as entrepreneurs. For Tysh, the business coaching was invaluable. “They showed me there were other ways of doing something,” she said. “They gave me ideas, helped me with my business concept, and they got the ball rolling on my thought process. They’re showing female business owners how to take our businesses to the next level.”

Once participants complete TruFund’s program, they’re encouraged to seek a loan through CNote’s Wisdom Fund collaboration, an impact investment opportunity that increases capital access and lending for women-owned businesses. That’s where Tysh is today: determining what she needs to do to get to a place where she’ll be eligible for a small business loan. That included taking a branding, marketing, and technology class hosted by TruFund.

“TruFund showed us how to do everything from A to Z when it came to business,” Tysh said. “That includes motivation. They really encourage us to continue doing what we’re doing, because being a business owner gets hard. Your heart gets heavy and you want to throw in the towel and say ‘this ain’t worth it.’ So having that support is really important.”

Just The Beginning

Tysh didn’t throw in the towel on Finale after her diagnosis. Instead, she launched her business in 2016, and she’s been steadily growing her company ever since. Better yet, today, she’s cancer free.

Over the past few years, Tysh has hosted more than 10 ticketed Finale events in Alabama, Ohio and New Jersey (because she still works as a flight attendant, she’s able to host pop-up events in cities other than Birmingham). The events typically last for three hours and include curated wine and food pairings alongside live music or art. To make each Finale popup happen, Tysh works with local chefs, servers, musicians, artists, and venues. Creating a cascading effect on the host communities that reaches beyond Tysh and Finale.

Although Tysh faces challenges like any small business owner, those struggles haven’t dampened her enthusiasm. Her long-term goals include having a brick-and-mortar tasting room in Birmingham where “everybody can walk in from the street and feel a little bit of luxury every now and then,” as she puts it. She’d also like to be able to host events in the space, and one day, she wants to have multiple Finale locations across the U.S.

It’s not an unattainable dream, especially considering how far she’s taken Finale already. However, to solidify her driving force, Tysh baked her mantra into Finale’s tagline: “where the end is just the beginning.”

“When people get breast cancer, you think this is the end. Nothing else is left. But for me, it was just the beginning of my life. That slogan not only represents desserts and the end of the night. It means much more to me. Cancer catapulted me to the next phase of my life. I thought it was my end, but it was just my beginning.”

Learn More

  • Finale 
  • TruFund – is a 501 (c) 3 certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) headquartered in New York City with field offices in Alabama and Louisiana. TruFund tailors its financial and technical assistance to the unique needs of each site—from contractor mobilization lending in New York and Louisiana to rural Black Belt initiatives in Alabama.
  • CNote – Interested in helping create another story like Tysh’s? CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like TruFund, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By CDFIs, CNote, Impact Investing

Making an Impact: How to Invest in Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)

Stacked coins growing a return

Large banks and foundations have been investing in community development financial institutions (CDFIs) for decades. But until recently, investing in CDFIs was challenging and usually limited to all but experienced large banks, foundations, and some high-net-worth investors. Now technology platforms like CNote are allowing investors of all types to easily deploy capital across a diverse pool of CDFIs. 

Many communities across the country are underserved by traditional lending institutions. CDFIs make a social and economic impact in disinvested communities by providing affordable financial products and services, such as mortgage financing for first-time homebuyers, commercial loans, and small business lending. 

CDFI financing in underserved markets has shown that community development financing can be profitable and that CDFIs are valuable partners to both their investors and borrowers. Their place-based development strategies have played a critical role in effectively building community wealth.

What are CDFIs?

Community development financial institutions include mission-driven banks, credit unions, loan funds, and venture capital providers. Through CDFIs’ efforts, billions of dollars have been leveraged for investment in communities left out of the economic mainstream. With limited access to affordable credit and capital, residents of low-income communities are locked out of starting and growing a business, purchasing a home, and having access to retail banking and social service facilities. 

Money growing in community soil

CDFIs’ primary mission is focused on supporting economic growth in the communities they serve. CDFIs fund small, often minority-owned businesses, affordable housing, volunteer organizations, and services essential to revitalizing low-income neighborhoods. CDFIs are of critical importance in safeguarding the ability of all Americans to share in the prosperity and innovation of our country.  

CDFIs are certified by the U.S. Treasury Department, and most banks supported by community investments are certified CDFIs. Currently, the number of CDFIs continues to increase. There are over 1,000 CDFIs certified by the U.S. Treasury’s CDFI Fund. CDFIs can be found in every state and the District of Columbia, serving both rural and urban communities. As of 2019, certified CDFIs hold $136 billion in assets. 

The history of CDFIs

Historically, mainstream banks and financial institutions viewed low-income and minority communities as too risky for investment. Banks took part in the practice of redlining, drawing actual red lines on physical maps to exclude disadvantaged urban and rural neighborhoods from loans and financial services. 

Gale Cincotta, co-founder of National People’s Action

Gale Cincotta, co-founder of National People’s Action, instrumental in the passage of the CRA, courtesy of Community-wealth.org

The CDFI movement traces its roots to community advocates who sought to end redlining practices and re-direct capital back into underserved areas by forming community-controlled banks. The federal government also sought to address redlining and alleviate racial discrimination through The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA). 

The CDFI industry really began to take shape in the 1950s and 1960s. During this era, through its “War on Poverty” campaign, The Johnson Administration launched community development corporations (CDCs) to serve urban and rural poor communities. The foundation for the modern CDFI industry was laid by the successes of many of these early CDCs.  

In the 1970s, community-controlled banks were formed, such as South Shore Bank in Chicago (1973) and the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union (1977). 

CDFIs also expanded their funding sources by reaching out to private organizations, particularly religious institutions and wealthy individuals. And many community development loan funds were launched with federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Economic Development Administration and the Department of Agriculture. 

Washington DC capital government building

Credit unions expanded significantly in the 1990s when the government provided new funding and encouraged conventional funders to do the same through revised CRA regulations. In 1994, the Clinton administration enacted the Riegle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act. This act established the CDFI Fund “to promote economic revitalization and community development through an investment and assistance program for community development financial institutions.”

In 1995, the Clinton administration also revised CRA regulations that explicitly recognized loans and investments in CDFIs as a qualified CRA activity. The growing record of success of CDFIs has inspired confidence in the industry and continues to attract new sources of support and funding.

The different types of CDFIs 

Although CDFIs share a common mission of community development, they have a variety of organizational structures and lending goals. Each type of CDFI has different investment opportunities, and financial products and services it provides to customers in low-income communities.

Here are the four basic types of CDFIs: 

  • Community development banks

CDFI-certified banks are for-profit corporations with an economic development mission and community representation on their board of directors. These federally insured banks are organized like traditional banks but are required to have at least 60% of their financing activities targeted to low- and moderate-income communities.

  • Community development credit unions 

CDFI-certified credit unions are federally insured financial cooperatives that are designed to provide financial services to individual members of the credit union. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) charters, supervises and insures federal credit unions. The deposits in these institutions are insured by the NCUA up to the maximum allowed by law. Many CDFI-certified credit unions have also received designation as “low-income” credit unions by NCUA. This designation allows these institutions to accept non-member deposits and secondary capital.

  • Community development loan funds

CDFI-certified loan funds lend to build local businesses, affordable housing, and community facilities. Loan funds’ borrowers are small businesses, nonprofit organizations, charter schools, individuals, and organizations involved in community development projects. Loan funds also provide financial counseling to individual and business borrowers. 

  • Community development venture capital funds

CDFI-certified venture capital funds pool investor money to make equity investments in private operating companies that yield financial returns while accomplishing community development goals. They also provide equity and management expertise to often minority-owned small businesses that have the potential for rapid growth.

CDFI banks and credit unions are depository institutions regulated by federal agencies. CDFI loan funds and venture capital funds are not federally insured and not subject to federal banking regulations. 

Where CDFIs get their capital

Banks, the government, foundations, and individual investors are the main sources of funding for CDFIs. The CRA encourages financial institutions to fulfill their CRA requirements by investing in CDFIs. This capital, in turn, funds the capital needs of the CDFI and its community. A CDFI’s success is measured not just on their financial performance, but also by their impact on underserved communities.

Depository CDFIs, such as community development banks and credit unions, get capital from customers and non-member depositors. CDFIs work in partnership with conventional financial institutions to guide private investment into distressed communities, either through direct investment in the CDFI or through lending, investment, and other services.

The CDFI Fund is a crucial source of support for CDFIs and offers capital grants, equity investments, and awards to fund technical assistance and organizational capacity-building. CDFIs apply for funds through a competitive process that often requires the organization to provide a one-to-one match of non-federal funds to receive financial assistance. 

The CDFI Fund also rewards banks for making investments in CDFIs and distressed communities through its Bank Enterprise Award Program. The New Markets Tax Credits Program encourages private sector investment by offering tax credits for qualified community development investments. 

The role of CDFIs in community finance

CDFIs gather specific knowledge about the communities in which they do business. They create strong relationships with their customers and community leaders. This translates into a willingness and commitment to spend time on specialized programs that are often too time-consuming or costly for traditional financial institutions to implement.

For example, many CDFIs offer small business loans that have lower eligibility requirements than most traditional bank loans when it comes to time in business, credit score, collateral, and annual revenue. Others make financial accounts available to customers with limited or poor credit history. In contrast, traditional institutions tend to offer only a few programs that target the broader market.

Man working at a small business

Rebuilding underserved communities and making loans to those with limited or poor credit histories requires more than access to conventional loans. It demands lending guidelines that can adapt to the needs of borrowers, the acceptance of unconventional collateral, and educating, training, and assisting potential borrowers on how to effectively use credit and capital.

CDFIs enable those who are economically disadvantaged to become self-sustaining participants in their own future. CDFIs are community pioneers, leading the way in investing in distressed neighborhoods and bringing everyone into the economic mainstream as important contributors.

How community foundations partner with CDFIs

Foundations employ CDFIs’ expertise in everything from sourcing to underwriting. Foundations have even developed their own CDFIs. A notable example is New Hampshire Charitable Foundation that started the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund in the 1980s.

Since 2000 or so, community foundations have been facing competition for donors from commercial banks and investment firms managing donor-advised funds, as well as crowdfunding platforms and giving circles. At the same time, according to this Democracy Collaborative report, community foundations have begun paying more attention to structural poverty and what they can do about it.

As a result, some community foundations that have focused on a passive approach to making grants, have begun experimenting with becoming more proactive through partnering with and investing in CDFIs.

 

For example, CNote recently worked with the Sierra Club Foundation to figure out how their portfolio could help advance social justice as well as their core environmental goals. CNote made it possible for the Sierra Club to meet its objectives through place-based investing. After finalizing the investment terms, the foundation was able to deploy capital to its targeted communities and connect partner CDFIs on the ground with local Sierra Club leaders to boost momentum for their Ready for 100 Campaign.   

With economic factors playing a key role in most social missions, CDFI’s insights can be very informative to the strategies of thematic and place-based community foundations.

Why community foundations invest in CDFIs

CDFI investments work well for foundations that don’t want to deliver loans and manage risk but want to make an impact by directly investing in local businesses.

The CDFI is staffed with loan officers and has built all the systems needed to market and manage a loan portfolio. Their staff have intimate community relationships, so they’re successful in finding the high-impact transactions that foundation investors want.

CDFIs offer foundations a way to cushion financial risk by spreading the foundation’s investment over a diversified portfolio of loans. They also monitor and manage risk, and hold loan loss reserves. These costs are factored into the CDFI business model and interest rate that CDFIs offer investors.

Foundations who care about a specific geographic region invest in CDFIs for both a financial return and social impact in their communities. Foundations are becoming more involved in CDFI and impact investing as a complement to their social and environmental work. 

The benefits of CDFIs for individual investors

Awareness and interest in community investing options have grown. Americans have shared a difficult financial experience in recent years that has heightened the awareness of larger numbers of low-income families needing help.  

Stock exchange board

The financial crisis also encouraged some distrust of financial institutions whose risky practices helped induce the crisis. These developments have motivated some to invest more in local and community-based institutions.

The positive effect that CDFIs have on their communities can not be underestimated. Local community-based organizations make the best decisions about how to meet their community’s needs, and CDFI activity also brings responsible first-time homeowners, locally-owned businesses, neighborhood facilities, and other benefits to communities beyond just the financial bottom line.

When you invest in community development financial institutions, you can:  

  • Align your investments with your values

Because CDFI investing can make positive changes for those who need it most while generating financial returns, investors can support the causes they care about while putting their capital to work. CDFIs generally offer a modest, fixed rate of return depending on current interest rates and the length of the investment.

  • Increase your portfolio stability 

A Morgan Stanley study, of over 10,000 equity mutual funds over seven years, found that, on average, impact investing funds had lower volatility than comparable non-impact funds.

  • Expand your community network 

CDFIs offer investors the chance to truly invest in the small businesses of “Main Street America.” The greater impact investing community includes policymakers, entrepreneurs, human rights activists, and development experts, all dedicated to utilizing capital in pursuit of tackling important societal issues. 

How to invest in a CDFI

The most common type of CDFI investment is in a community development loan fund. Loan funds provide the security of pooling capital with other investors and spreading risk within a diversified portfolio. 

CDFI loan funds are also increasing their presence and sophistication in the community investment sector. Several funds now have formal offerings and are registered to offer their notes in multiple states. Others operate more informally and reach out to investors as an extension of their local fundraising efforts.  

Here are a number of CDFI note programs that are available to retail, accredited, and institutional investors in states where they’re offered:

CDFI note programs

  • The Impact Note – Enterprise Community Loan Fund 

The Impact Note offered by the Enterprise Community Loan Fund allows you to invest in your community while earning a fixed return of 2.5% for a 5-year term. With your minimum investment of $25,000, you support projects and businesses that are solving essential community development issues, such as affordable housing, health services for the homeless, quality children’s education, entrepreneurial funding, and healthy active seniors. The Enterprise Community Loan Fund has over 30 years of investing experience and is a treasury-certified CDFI that is rated by AERIS and listed in ImpactAssets50.    

  • The LIIF Impact Note – Low Income Investment Fund

The LIIF Impact Note is an easy way to invest in the communities you care about while earning a competitive return of 1-4%. This note offers a flexible commitment of 6 months – 10 years with a minimum investment of $50,000. The annual percentage rate is 3% for a 5-year Impact Note. The note is available to non-accredited investors on ImpactUS, a broker-dealer “impact marketplace.” 

  • RSF Social Investment Fund Note – RSF Social Finance

RSF Social Finance is among the first to create widely available notes for the “retail” market. It’s open to residents of 48 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, excluding Arkansas and Washington. The note requires a minimum investment of $1,000 and offers a 90-day term, a current interest rate of 1.25%, and is annualized and reset at the beginning of each quarter.  

  • Community Investment Notes – Calvert Impact Capital

Calvert Impact Capital’s Community Investment Notes are a “fixed income product that invest in a global portfolio of intermediaries, projects, and funds that finance mission-driven organizations.” Calvert pools investor funds and lends them to a diverse group of CDFIs, affordable housing developers, and international microfinance organizations. 

Although not solely a CDFI investment, these notes offer a financial return of 3% for a five-year commitment term. Calvert’s notes are processed and distributed electronically through conventional investment platforms for all types of investors. Community Investment Notes can be purchased online starting at $20 or through a brokerage account, application or check for a minimum investment of $1,000. 

  • The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) bonds

Low-Income Investment Fund (LIIF) is a San Francisco-based CDFI that has been investing in low-income communities for over 30 years. Its loans support affordable housing, high-quality schools, child care centers, health centers, and other community facilities that benefit low-income communities.

While buying bonds may have higher barriers to entry than notes, if you’re able to do so, you can invest in a diverse portfolio that helps achieve both competitive returns and a measurable impact on struggling communities. LIIF’s capital is critical to its borrowers who are mission-driven developers and nonprofits. Recently, LIIF announced its first public debt offering with a $100 million Sustainability bond issuance. The bond issuance allows LIIF to provide more stable, lower cost, and longer-term capital to community organizations.

  • CNote – The Flagship Fund

CNote acts as a bridge between individual investors and CDFIs, pooling small investments and funneling them to partner CDFIs. The Flagship Fund accepts investments from investors of any net worth, so you can get started with just $5. With an online CNote account, you can invest your savings in certified CDFIs that are working to improve community development. You can earn 2.75% with only a 30-month term and flexible quarterly liquidity if you need your money early. And CNote doesn’t charge fees to investors. 

How platforms like CNote make CDFI investing easier

As more individual investors look to CDFI and other impact investing options to give their money more meaning, they’re demanding easier access to them. While some companies have their own retail platforms where you can invest directly, like CNote, many others are only available through brokers or direct offerings. 

Calvert is a trusted impact investment platform due to its long history. You can directly invest online in Calvert’s Community Investment Notes and the easy-to-use platform offers helpful assessment tools that can save investors time in trying to evaluate their impact investment. The vast majority of Calvert’s loans are funded through a combination of balance sheet and structured debt loans. Both lower and higher cost options are available for investors.

CNote is a technology platform that has unlocked a diversified network of certified CDFIs that allow investors to get competitive returns while targeting thematic and place-based investments. The platform supports a variety of account types and customers including personal, trust, and business accounts. CNote also provides support for financial advisors who want to invest and manage their clients’ funds. And CNote partners with institutional investors, foundations, large banks, and other traditional financial institutions. 

The process from the individual user’s side is simple: There is no minimum deposit, and once users create an account, they can use an interface that resembles a standard online investment account where they can link to their regular bank account and transfer money into CNote. 

Because CNote is an investment product, not a savings account, the return is technically not guaranteed, but the security of investments is based on the historical performance of CNote’s CDFI partners, which haven’t lost any investor dollars since their founding and – like CDFIs – are noted for their solid financial performance.

Conclusion

By investing in a CDFI, any investor can make a deep impact in their local communities while receiving a healthy financial return. At CNote, we’re committed to growing community wealth and providing those excluded from the traditional financial system the access to the capital they need to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and build businesses that increase prosperity for all. 

By Change Makers Series

Change Makers Interview: Leslie Goldman of The Artemis Fund

Change Makers Interview: Leslie Goldman of The Artemis Fund

Slowly but surely, Leslie Goldman is helping to change the face of Venture Capital (VC). After more than 25 years as a corporate lawyer and three years recruiting C-suite legal executives, Goldman started The Artemis Fund with Diana Murakhovskaya and Stephanie Campbell. It’s one of a handful of female-led venture funds that exclusively invests in female-founded, female-led companies in the United States. The VC fund is based in Houston, Texas, and Park City, Utah, and it invests in tech-enabled seed and series-A-stage companies.

Leslie became a dedicated angel investor in 2014, and in the past five years, she’s invested in over 40 companies. Additionally, she’s a board member of the Houston Angel Network, an advisor to two other VC Funds, and she serves as an advisory board member to early stage companies.

We took the opportunity to catch up with Leslie to talk about the creation of The Artemis Fund, the future of the gender funding disparity in VC, and her advice for female founders and investors.

 

CNote: How did you decide to create The Artemis Fund?

Leslie Goldman: I started angel investing in earnest a little over three years ago, and I had been dabbling in investing in startups before that. Over the past three years, I’ve made investments in 44 companies. The more I became interested in the angel investment scene and startup scene, the more I realized the scarcity of women on both sides: the funding side and the founder side. I came to the realization that there were plenty of talented female founders out there, but they weren’t necessarily getting into the accelerators and incubators and pitch competitions and demo days. I wondered why that was, and I decided that I wanted to try to change the numbers by aggregating money and starting a fund. I met my two partners about a year and a half ago, and we all had the same desire, which was to fund more female-led companies. We decided we were going to raise a $20 million fund and we were going to invest in at least 15 female-led, female-founded/co-founded, companies.

 

CNote: How have things been going so far?

Leslie Goldman: We were right in that there are a ton of talented female founders. We launched in April and we started our fundraising in earnest in May, and since then, we get about 300 inbounds a month. There are so many in our pipeline right now that are worthy of investment, so we’re just itching to raise more so that we can invest in these amazing companies. It’s part “if you build it, they will come,” and it’s part network effect. Fellow VCs send us female founders because they know that’s what we’re looking for, female founders find us because they know that’s what we’re looking for, and female founders send us other strong female founders because they tend to help each other out. That’s the power of the female network.

 

CNote: What are your vision and goals for your fund?

Leslie Goldman: The overarching vision is to demonstrate that investing in women makes good business sense.  As an asset class, female founded companies out-perform once they receive money, yet they are largely overlooked.  Money is being left on the table by traditional VCs. I think people will have a real “aha moment” when these funds that are focused exclusively on female founders demonstrate outperformance.  Mr Wonderful won’t be surprised.    I think investors will start to say, “oh, maybe we should consider gender diversity as a key factor in selecting a company.” So, from a macro perspective, we want to outperform with our fund.  Long term, we want to close the funding gap and ultimately, get to the point where we don’t need separate funds for men and women. It would be nice to have the funding fall 50-50 to male/female founders, regardless of where the money is coming from. I think we’re a fair way off, which is why we’re doing what we’re doing — why we’re intentional about it.

As for specific goals, we want to find companies that have exit potential within 5-7 years, for the most part, since we want to deliver returns to our investors in the mid stage of the fund to the extent feasible.   A recent Pitchbook and All Raise article included data on exits by female founders.  They found that companies with women on their founding teams are likely to exit at least one year faster compared to the rest of the market, and the number of exits for companies with at least one female founder is growing at a faster rate YoY than exits for companies with only male founders.   Exits are a key metric for VCs, and all investors for that matter.

We ideally would like returns along the way so that we can show traction. So, we’re being very thoughtful about the founder and the product market fit, which are the two key factors for success/failure. The founder has to be amazing:  gritty, persistent, driven; the customers have to love the product, and there needs to be a huge market opportunity.

 

CNote: How do we get closer to that 50-50 gender split sooner rather than later?

Leslie Goldman:   A few focus areas:  (i) increase the number of female funders and VC decision makers; (ii) raise awareness, as we are doing with social media, press, networking, (iii) educate the male dominated VC world about the problem, about the network effect (ie that their deal sources look like them and therefore the companies they find will look like them), and about unconscious bias, (iv) continue to see female founder success, and (v) educate more potential female funders.

 

CNote: Can you talk about some of the challenges that female founders face with VCs?

Leslie Goldman: To be a female founder, you have to be pretty tough skinned. It’s not that the female founders that we interact with are scared to contact male VCs; it’s more about them feeling like   they are not being heard — they are tired of banging their heads against the male VC wall and not getting traction. Most women out there know about implicit bias, and men are starting to learn. If you are a male VC, your deal source network is male. So the warm introductions come from men, usually leading to male founders.  If your portfolio of male founders is doing well, why change the way you source?  That’s what you know.  If it’s working, then no need to change your lens and look at the other half of the population.

We’ve heard all kinds of stories from female founders. Like the first comment out of VC’s mouth to one was “you’re so pretty, why are you doing this?” things that they would never say to a man. Or “you women look great up there.” Those kinds of things are non-starters. That’s not even implicit bias, it seems a little bit more conscious. Those are the same people whose eyes glaze  over when I stand up in front of a room to talk about diversity, because they don’t see the need for us to focus on it. Those are the types of people that go, “Whoa! Why do you need a women’s group? Why can’t we have a men’s group?” So yeah, I hear stories and things that are pretty hard to believe.

 

CNote: Is it some of those underlying biases that led you to want to start your own fund?

Leslie Goldman: When I started looking at the numbers, and the data showing that women truly outperform when given the chance, and I understood how few dollars, in relative terms, were going to female founders, that’s really what pushed me. And then the fact that I was often the only female investor in the room most of the time. It frustrated me.   I can relate to the stories the founders have when they are presenting to a room or a panel of men. I’ve been part of enough teams at all levels of an organization to know the hurdles that we have to overcome in group dynamics or when presenting. I guess I went from trying to tackle the gender inequality issues that we have in the workforce at the C-Suite level in megafirms, to tackling it from the very beginning of the continuum — in startups.

 

CNote: If you had a magic wand and could change one thing to address the issue of women representation in tech, what would it be?

Leslie Goldman: I would just like to see more women in the investment community, because the purse strings are what creates the power. Since women control something like 75 percent of personal wealth, I would like for women to really understand the landscape and to use that control and not to shy away from it.

 

CNote: What are some trends you’re seeing that are affecting the velocity of change of empowering more women to become investors?

Leslie Goldman: As we develop more female founders, they are starting to put their money toward other female founders, and that’s where the biggest movement is coming from. From a founder standpoint, there’s a lot more interest in getting the other half of the population involved in innovation, because there’s so much more to innovate and so many more products that women need that are yet to be discovered. I think you need women to solve those problems, and so there are more women founders who are coming up through the ranks, and they’re starting to reach their hands back and put their money into other women founders. I think that’s why you see more funds trying to focus on getting women investment partners, and more funds are trying to focus on female-led companies. It feels like there’s a movement, and it feels like now is the time that we’re at a big inflection point.

 

CNote: What suggestions do you have for female founders who are seeking funding and/or mentorship?

Leslie Goldman: There’s no one formula for it, but I’m a networker, so it seems natural to me that the more you network, the more you learn. You have to be inquisitive, you have to ask questions, and you have to listen to people. I think if you do that, you’ll learn a ton, and then you’ll figure out exactly where to go and exactly who might be the right people to pitch to. When it comes to accelerators and incubators and the thousands of venture capitalists out there, you have to do your research. You have to know who they like to invest in, understand their focus, and see who is on their investment committee. Talking to other female founders is the best way to do it, especially a female founder who you trust and who has had success.

 

CNote: As an investor, what’s something maybe unexpected that you like hearing from a founder?

Leslie Goldman: “I may be too early for your fund because my product is not in market, but I would love to just keep you updated on my progress. Is that okay?”  I always say “yes.” If they are self-aware enough to know that they’re not ready for us, that’s fantastic. That’s a good sign. It shows they’ve done their research.

 

CNote: Do you have any suggestions for people who might want to invest in a startup but haven’t invested before?

Leslie Goldman:  I think there are three ways to go about it. One is to invest in a fund and get educated about investing that way. You’ll get 15 companies for the price of your investment, and you’ll get to watch them grow. That’s one way. The second way is to make micro investments through a small nationwide organization like Portfolia or Golden Seeds. The third way is to join a syndicate and become part of an angel network. You’ll get to watch companies pitch and then slowly get involved by talking to your co-investors who are at these pitches, doing the diligence with them and then making smaller investments until you get comfortable.

One thing you have to remember is that it will take a long time to get your money back to see a return, so one of the things I think may be helpful for people to know is they can use their IRA funds. It’s very powerful. Most people aren’t expecting to use their IRA funds right away anyway, so it might be a really good vehicle to fund a long-term investment.

 

CNote: What advice do you have for founders looking for investment dollars?

Leslie Goldman: Founders need to understand that their investors are going to be married to them for 10-plus years, and they have to be picky in terms of who invests in them. Female founders sometimes have less opportunities, but if a female founder has a great idea and a great product in the market, if she has traction, and if she has a great team, then she’s going to have people bang her doors down to try and invest in her. Sometimes you don’t have a choice with who wants to invest in you, but when you do, I would just suggest you be careful as a founder.

 

CNote: Who do you admire or think is doing really great work that’s similar to yours?

Leslie Goldman:  Of course there are the obvious famous women moving the needle like Melinda Gates, Serena Williams, Sallie Krawcheck and others. Then there are some incredibly generous women giving their time and expertise to women all over the world, such as Alicia Syrett.  As for organizations that educate and empower, I am grateful to the founders of All Raise, Golden Seeds, Portfolia, Springboard Enterprises  — they have all been pioneers in this area.  I’d love to give a shout out to all these people who try to move the needle and empower women.

 

Leslie is General Partner and Co-Founder of The Artemis Fund, one of a handful of female-founded and female-focused VC funds in the US.  Evidence shows that female-led (diverse) teams deliver higher value and returns, yet the gender funding disparity continues. With its focus on high growth, high-impact, seed and Series A stage companies, the Artemis Fund seeks a triple bottom line – returns for investors, the community at large, and for women. 

 

By CNote, Impact Metrics

CNote’s Q3 2019 Impact Metrics

We know one of the main reasons you invest with CNote, is because of the impact your investment has.

We’re proud to share our Q3 2019 impact data.

In Q3 2019, our members helped create/maintain 324 jobs!

Over half of all invested capital was deployed with minority-led businesses.

If you’d like to see our annual impact data, along with an explanation of how we map CNote’s impact investments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, read our 2018 Impact Report.

 

By CNote

Investing locally for a global impact: An Introduction to How CDFIs are Addressing the Climate Crisis

CDFIs have a strong history of providing economic resources to financially under-served communities across America, helping to create jobs, fund small businesses, and support affordable housing development among other great projects.

With international attention and demand for action around the climate crisis, what role do CDFIs have in addressing this enormous challenge facing communities across America?

This webinar explores how CDFIs can proactively address the climate crisis and collectively scale their impact to build sustainable and resilient communities nationwide. It will also explain how investors can support CDFIs working in this space.

You’ll first hear from Elizabeth Rogers from CEI, a leading CDFI at the vanguard of community investing and climate change, and from Jen Leybovich who is leading a CDFI working group on the climate crisis. They’ll detail concrete examples of projects that are addressing climate change, along with sharing insights gained and plans for the future from the CDFI working group.

You’ll also hear from Yuliya Tarasava, the co-founder of CNote, an impact investing platform that works to connect investors with values-aligned opportunities to invest in CDFIs and target issues, like the climate crisis. Yuliya will detail the growing investor demand for climate-centered products and how increasing the pool of investor capital to support climate-centered initiatives by CDFIs can help address this urgent crisis.

If you’re looking to make investments that address the growing climate crisis or you’re a CDFI looking to find ways to get more involved in these issues, this webinar will be of interest to you.

You can watch the youtube recording below, or rewatch the full webinar experience using this link.

 

By Borrower Stories

Meet April Westman, The Entrepreneur Tackling Her Community’s Child Care Shortage

If April Westman was going to start a small business anywhere in the world, it was always going to be in Duluth, Minnesota: the city on Lake Superior where she grew up. Of course, she didn’t always know that.

After high school, April followed her dreams to be a banker in Southern California, but a couple of years later, she was back in Duluth, where she knows every street and every neighborhood, and where everyone says “hi” to each other. It’s that close-knit community of neighbors and family members that propelled April to get into child care.

It was the summer of 2009, and her partner’s sister was not happy with the daycare provider taking care of her child; however, their options were limited. April agreed to watch the child for the summer until the little girl’s parents found another daycare. Summer came and went, and with fall approaching, April asked the girl’s mom if she’d found a new daycare. “She said ‘no, and we don’t want to. We love her with you. And we’re pregnant,’” April laughed. ‘“Will you take the baby too?’”

April doing what she loves

This didn’t fit into April’s plans. She thought she was going to continue to make sea glass jewelry to sell at art and craft shows. April sought advice from her best friend, who not only encouraged her to provide care for her niece and her future niece or nephew but to also watch her child.

Given that April had always loved children and that she had plenty of friends and family members offering their children to her to watch, she shifted gears. April started the process of becoming a licensed child care provider in Minnesota, and instead of moving forward with buying a house for herself, she bought a duplex that was suitable for daycare. In February of 2010, she opened Aunty’s Child Care.

A Hand To Hold

It’s been nearly 10 years since April opened her first eco-healthy child care facility. In that time, she’s gone from taking baby steps to taking some pretty impressive strides as a business owner. Today, April has two subcontractors running child care operations at her duplex location, and on September 26, 2019, she opened a new 6,000 square-foot child care center in a remodeled church that will house 13 employees and serve 56 children.

The New Center

Expanding her business hasn’t been without its fair share of growing pains. Despite a need for child care in the community, April couldn’t find a bank that would give her a small business loan to fund renovations to Aunty’s Child Care’s new building. She was rejected five times and told she didn’t have enough experience. “I was really frustrated,” April said. “If you can believe it, my plan was to just pay what I could afford to pay and do little tiny chunks of the project at a time. It would have taken probably five years to get the building open.”

Instead, April found The Entrepreneur Fund, a Duluth-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). CNote partners with CDFIs like Entrepreneur Fund in communities across America, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like April. Entrepreneur Fund stepped in to help April open her new building so that she could serve more children faster, helping to alleviate the local child care shortage.

Entrepreneur Fund not only provided April with two loans for her business, but the organization has repeatedly offered her advice, support, and resources, including help setting up a commercial kitchen. “They’ll just reach out and ask me if there’s anything else I want to learn about as a business owner,” she said. Currently, The Entrepreneur Fund is helping April to learn QuickBooks and to get additional human resources training.

April in the new commercial kitchen

Perhaps the biggest thing Entrepreneur Fund has provided April with, however, is encouragement. “At one point, I called Mike Lattery, my contact at Entrepreneur Fund, and said ‘this is a lot of money, and we’re spending a ton,’” April recalled. “He told me: ‘You got this. You’re doing a good thing, and we believe in your business and what you’re doing.’”

Community, Not Competition

It’s not surprising that as someone with an affinity for teaching and a joy for watching kids grow and learn, April is also a fount of encouragement for those around her. For example, when one of her former employees approached her earlier this year and expressed an interest in opening her own daycare, April helped her to become licensed and to set up her own program, just a few blocks away from Aunty’s Child Care’s new building. The two have even worked out an arrangement where infants and toddlers who age out of Joyful Noise Child Cares program get funneled into Aunty’s Child Care.

That camaraderie wasn’t always the norm. According to April, when she first started 10 years ago, she was warned that other child care providers in the area weren’t typically friends, and that the local industry — however meager — was cutthroat. She didn’t buy into it. Instead, she created a Facebook group to bring people together, and a fellow provider named Summer started a once a month get together through the page., April loves to go out to dinner with other child care providers! “It’s been really great to encourage each other instead of to cut each other down,” she said.

With support from her loyal parents and her community of fellow child care providers, April has her eyes on the future. Not surprisingly, her dueling five-year plans are both aimed at tackling Duluth’s child care crisis. According to her, as of this past spring, the city was short about 1,100 child care spaces, leaving parents without choices of where to send their kids for quality care. At any point in time, April’s waitlist is at least a year long. “Parents can’t tour two or three places and pick their favorite,” she said. “They have to find one with an opening and scoop it up. That’s not right. People should be able to pick the child care place that goes along with their personal beliefs of how they want their child raised.”

In the next five years, April would either like to set up an after-school and summer program for older children, or she’d like to open a nonprofit infant and toddler facility that would qualify her for grants she otherwise wouldn’t be eligible to receive. If she goes down the latter road, she’d transfer children out of her nonprofit care center to her existing for-profit building, which she hopes to one day turn into a preschool.

April working with Miranda, Aunty’s Director of Operations

April is building a community to support the children of Duluth. As she mentioned time and again, it is her commitment to that community that serves as her north star,  “It is a circle, and people need to understand that quality child care is the start of a healthy, happy, well-educated community that we are all a part of,” she added, “my reward is knowing I’m helping children and families in my community.”

Learn More

  • Aunty’s Child Care
  • The Entrepreneur Fund – a CNote partner and certified CDFI, actively partners with small business owners in northeast Minnesota, central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin to support small business growth and local economic development. The Entrepreneur Fund provides flexible financing, along with small business coaching and strategic support to promote a culture of entrepreneurship throughout the region.
  • CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like The Entrepreneur Fund, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By Change Makers Series

Change Makers Interview: Emily Sipfle of FUND Consulting

Emily Sipfle’s interest in CDFIs came out of her time as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer working with an affordable housing organization in Chicago. Emily ended her service with a growing interest in community development projects, particularly the funding aspect of those projects, and went on to receive a masters degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois, where she discovered the important economic role that CDFIs play in many communities across the country.

Emily currently works FUND Consulting, a Chicago firm focused on providing strategic and operational services to CDFIs. Founded in 2000, FUND Consulting has worked with over 350 clients and raised over $492 million in government and local grants, investments, and tax credits for its clients. In addition, FUND Consulting has helped organizations understand market needs to enhance and develop products and services through the completion of over 130 market research projects and supported the strategic growth of organizations through the delivery of over 120 business, strategic, and capitalization plans.

Prior to joining, in 2015, Emily was the director of impact at National Community Investment Fund (NCIF), a CDFI nonprofit private equity fund that specializes in supporting mission-oriented banks, including CDFI banks, through research and investments. We took the opportunity to catch up with Emily to talk about the power of CDFIs, the opportunity of impact investing, and the future of community lending.

 

CNote: What led you to FUND Consulting?

Emily Sipfle: I have worked at several different CDFIs in the Chicago area, and that helped me get some experience in the field before coming to FUND. My background is largely more on the data research and impact tracking side of things, and working within CDFIs was a really helpful way of seeing how their work gets done. That’s what led me to FUND, where I now get to work with CDFIs all across the country and across the spectrum of size and product type. Our position here at FUND is really exciting because we can see what’s happening nationally, as well as all of the creative solutions different CDFIs are coming up with for community and economic development challenges in their own community.

 

CNote: Tell us a little bit about the work you do at FUND.

Emily Sipfle: FUND Consulting was founded 20 years ago, and in that time, we’ve worked with more than 350 so different clients. Our focus has been on CDFIs, but CDFI work ties closely into supporting nonprofits more generally. We provide a range of services, including everything from helping organizations think through whether they should become certified CDFIs, through preparing grant applications and providing help with compliance reporting and annual reporting: basically, all of the work that needs to be done to be a CDFI, maintain CDFI status, and access the CDFI Fund’s programs.

We also offer a range of strategic projects that are designed to support the work of CDFIs and nonprofits, like strategic planning, capitalization plans, market studies, and impact analyses. Our goal is ultimately to try to so increase the capacity of CDFIs and other nonprofit organizations so they can create positive outcomes in their communities. It’s really rewarding work.

I am also a board member of FUND Community Institute, a nonprofit think tank conducting independent studies, partner projects and commissioned researched. FUND Community Institute’s grew out of FUND Consultant’s experience in the CDFI and community development field and now the two organizations form the FUND family of organizations to facilitate positive social, economic, and environmental impacts in communities nationwide utilizing multiple approaches.

 

CNote: How does data and impact tracking fit into your work with CDFIs?

Emily Sipfle: That’s definitely my background, and that’s carried over into my work at FUND. We have a series of impact-related reports that we put together for our clients that can help be a tool for CDFIs to better understand their impacts internally as well as make the case for their work if they are going out to investors or grant funders, etc. We also have a product called Impact Systems Analysis, which is designed to help the clients be better at tracking their own impacts.

 

CNote: How do you explain CDFIs to someone who’s not familiar with them?

Emily Sipfle: I like to think of CDFIs as innovative lenders that are working in underserved or distressed communities or populations in order to help them increase access to capital and create positive change.

There are places that traditional banks just don’t go or where other lenders can’t make a product work — That’s really where CDFIs step in. They’re able to look beyond the simple margins and commit to making the loan that helps to create positive change in the community.

 

CNote: Do you think CDFIs have a broader impact on the U.S. economy? 

Emily Sipfle: Compared to the number of banks and credit unions in the country, there are a relatively small number of CDFIs – about 1,100 CDFIs currently. While in terms of asset size or dollars out the door in loans, they are small, CDFI are a very important part of our overall financial system, and I think they do have impacts that we can point to in terms of being more community focused.

They’re often able to identify local challenges and then come up with flexible solutions to make loan products that works for a given community or local region. To quantify the overall effect of CDFIs on the economy, it’s may not be easy to surface big macro numbers, but if you were to dial down to the more local level and even to the household or small business level, a CDFI can have a lot of impact there. This is particularly important because, as I’ve mentioned, CDFIs are often working in areas or with populations where other financial institutions are not.

While CDFIs are a very small niche of the financial industry overall within this country, they are creating outsized impacts on the ground, just because of their ability to be community focused and flexible in the financing they’re able to offer. The other great work that they do that maybe is less apparent sometimes is just how much they do in terms of technical assistance and helping borrowers to better enter the financial mainstream.

 

CNote: How are CDFIs able to be more flexible than traditional banks?

Emily Sipfle: It comes both from the mission of CDFIs and what they are trying to do, as well as the scope of who they work with.

In some communities, CDFI staff might have a personal, on-the-ground relationship with a borrower who’s struggling. That local knowledge helps the CDFIs’ staff be nimble when challenges do arise, and it also adds comfort that’s hard to gain from looking at a credit report when you’re trying to understand a borrower, for example.

Of course there are CDFIs that are much larger and don’t have that may not have that level knowledge of a borrower, but based off of their mission of lending to organizations or individuals that traditional banks aren’t able to reach, there is very much an interest to have flexible terms at the onset of offering a loan product to help get dollars out the door. A good example of some of these flexible terms is being able to look beyond the credit report for alternative flows of capital that a borrower might have.

 

CNote: What are some changes you’ve seen in the industry since you started working with CDFIs?

Emily Sipfle: My position in the industry has been an interesting one because I came in just after The Great Recession. So in some ways, I have seen how the industry responded to that. I know anecdotally, CDFIs continued to lend during the recession and in the time following, when traditional banks and other financial institutions were pulling back and really restricting their credit standards.

In the past 10 years or so, there’s been substantial growth in the number of CDFIs, and in recent years, there have been new lenders that are coming into this space, specifically with the intention to follow a CDFI mission of financing needs of underserved communities. As the industry grows overall, it continues to be an interesting balance of some that are very small and locally based and other CDFIs that are growing in size and scale and are tackling regional challenges or even have a national footprint.

 

CNote: What’s one of your favorite examples of a CDFI doing what a CDFI does best?

Emily Sipfle: There’s a CDFI loan fund we work with that does small business lending. They lend as little as $500 to establish a payment track record to improve their credit score. There’s certainly not much money to be made on a $500 loan after you do all the paperwork and reporting and your staff time to get it ready. But it can be really important to that borrower just to help them start to develop a credit score again. They also make loans up to $100,000 for more established small businesses.

They’ve also put together a really innovative and impactful program where they are working with a range of partners, to work on a recidivism prevention program. This program starts with inmates who might have an entrepreneurial spirit and an idea for a business. The program provides them with training to help develop that with some more business development skills so that when they get out of prison, they can make their own job. The solution that this CDFI has identified to help people make their own jobs by becoming small business owners. The CDFI helps to make that possible both by coordinating resources and providing the loan.

 

CNote: How do you think CDFIs’ capital need gap can be filled?

Emily Sipfle: Solving the capital gap is always going to be a moving target because there’s just so much unmet demand for CDFIs’ products — If you keep giving them more money, they will keep finding good work to do with it.

Other than that, I think there needs to be kind of a couple-pronged approach. One is in terms of just the overall volume of capital. I would love to see CDFIs being able to access funds from impact investors and other sources. They are creating the impacts in the community that investors would potentially be interested in, but it’s about creating that link and familiarity in order to make the investors feel like they’re comfortable with an investment in a CDFI.

The second prong that I think would help meet the needs of CDFIs is the availability of flexible capital. Grant dollars, for example, that could be used to support loan loss reserves or to be used for internal operations to help CDFIs to build out their own systems and be more effective and, importantly, try out new products. As I’ve mentioned, CDFIs have a local grounding and knowledge, so they see what’s happening on the ground and identify potential gaps. But it can be hard for them to deploy a new loan product if they don’t have flexible capital to try out a new product or to provide loan loss reserves to protect the portfolio overall.

It’s about getting a certain volume of funding as well as having at least some of it that can be flexible use for reserves or internal purposes to help build out the innovative side of what CDFIs can do.

 

CNote: Do you have any predictions as to how the CDFI industry will evolve in the future?

Emily Sipfle: I think there’s benefit both in collaboration and consolidation where it’s appropriate. There’s a lot of conversation in the industry about ways that collaboration can be utilized on the back end in terms of back-office work. If there’s some way that CDFIs could come together on back-office work, it could potentially free up staff time and resource for other activities. There are initiatives like that underway to think through how resources could be pooled to make on the ground to work more efficient and go farther in terms of staff time.

I also think there will be a growing number of these larger CDFIs, partially just because success tends to breeds success in terms of what funds you are able to capture, whether it’s through grants or larger scale things like impact investing. I’m not sure that the question has been cracked yet of just how CDFIs can fully take advantage of impact investing as an industry, but I certainly think the future holds the potential to do so.

 

CNote: What are your thoughts on impact standardization? 

Emily Sipfle: Itis certainly a known challenge for the industry and something that there’s been a lot of conversation about. One of the challenges is, again, that range of CDFIs and what they do. For some, it’s they’re small, they’re focused on providing their products and services, so setting up comprehensive impact tracking systems is a real lift for them in terms of staff capacity. Part of what we do at FUND is build out more effective systems for capturing impact so that it can be transferred back into information to include in the grant application or marketing materials or potential funding requests.

More complex conversations are happening in the industry in terms of how impact data can be used to really attract larger scale investments and how could CDFIs come together to create a standard set of impact metrics, whether it’s as an industry overall or maybe by type of lender.  It’s certainly an ongoing challenge and an ongoing effort, and it ties back into the investment side, because many CDFIs are interested in utilizing a wider range of capital sources and know that they need to get the data out there in a way to make a compelling case for impact investors.

 

Emily works for FUND Consulting a women-owned firm located in the City of Chicago with a staff of ten. Founded in 2000, FUND Consulting has worked with over 350 clients and raised over $492 million in government and local grants, investments, and tax credits for its clients. Their team provides both strategic and operational services to community development financial institution (CDFI), nonprofit, and government clients nationwide.

By Borrower Stories

Meet Jamar Kirk, The Entrepreneurial Life Coach Breaking The Cycle Of Poverty In His Community

Jamar Kirk didn’t have to think too hard about what to name his new business, which provides consulting, coaching, mentoring, and resources to often marginalized and at-risk demographics of his community — a community that struggles with violence, drug use, and a 50 percent high school attrition rate for minority students. 

After all, that’s just like the community Jamar grew up in. 

Breaking the Cycle

Jamar was born and raised in a drug-infested neighborhood in Gary, Indiana by his mother and grandmother, and he moved to Duluth, Minnesota just before his 15th birthday. According to him, he was pretty angry about it. Although he wanted to remain close to his grandmother, his friends, and his hometown, Jamar’s world began to change. He began losing friends to violence and drugs, and the odds felt stacked against him at school.

“When I was in high school, my mom couldn’t afford to buy me school clothes,” Jamar recalled. “So it’s winter in Duluth, and I’m in holey shoes and a coat that didn’t zip up, and I’m not really eating the greatest at home. You’re dealing with all of that and then you have to show up at school and be perfect. It’s not a great feeling.”

Jamar’s struggles weren’t unique to him, and the challenges he faced when he was a teenager are the same that many continue to face today. However, through organized sports, fortuitous friendships, and strong mentorship, Jamar navigated his way to where he is today: the entrepreneur behind Cycles Broken LLC

“I identify with a lot of the kids that I see here,” Jamar said. “A lot of the young men I see here are about to go through the exact same things that I went through. If I can reach out to this or that person and directly have an effect on them or start a wave of change for them, I’m here for it. It’s really personal to me.”

Jamar launched Cycles Broken earlier in 2019 to help those trying to break out of the same cycles he escaped. Jamar provides moral support and life coaching, and his expertise includes helping clients manage their finances, establish credit, buy homes, get visitation rights and secure child support. Although he consults, coaches and mentors individuals and families, Jamar also works closely with local nonprofits and businesses.

Recently, Jamar received a grant to facilitate a series of business planning workshops with Families Rise Together, a nonprofit that works to strengthen families by engaging parents in their children’s lives and in the community. The sessions will target 18 to 31-year-olds, and according to Jamar, the grant will allow him to improve and expand curricula he developed for previous workshops. 

“It’s so exciting when those small accomplishments happen because it means somebody else is going to receive something,” he said. “It allows me to say, ‘alright, I’m ready to help. What’s next?’” 

Help Me Help You

Despite Jamar’s altruistic mission and partnerships with local nonprofits, Cycles Broken is a for-profit entity, and when it came to setting up his business for success, he needed some help.

That’s what led Jamar to Entrepreneur Fund, a Duluth-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). CNote partners with CDFIs like Entrepreneur Fund in communities across America, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like Jamar.

Entrepreneur Fund gave Jamar the capital he needed to purchase a laptop and buy QuickBooks, and the CDFI provided him with access to an accountant, as well as marketing guidance and website help. They also helped him throw a launch party with families and kids in the community. “They helped to make my business more tech-savvy and financially streamlined,” Jamar said. “It’s been a great help, and I can go to them whenever I have a question.”

Jamar says that the biggest piece of advice he’s received from Entrepreneur Fund is to contract out for help when he needs it, especially until he’s able to grow his team. “One piece of advice they gave me is to hire it out when I come across a problem that’s out of my realm,” Jamar said. “By allowing someone else to take care of it, I can get past it and continue to flourish and be profitable. I understand how much getting help can help you.”

Whereas Jamar is happy to do that in the near term, he’d like to one day grow his team so that he can have more “boots on the ground” facilitators and staff under him who can help with Cycles Broken’s growing operations and outreach. Plus, a larger team will be necessary if Jamar wants to achieve his goal for 2020: to “affect 100 businesses in a year.”

“That’s my personal goal,” Jamar said. “We want to have an effect on the graduation rate and youth entrepreneurship in the community, and being a minority-owned business that can affect the business culture in this community and have an impact is motivating. It would be nice to build my team to a point where we have a major movement.”

As Jamar continues to grow his business, his team, and his brand, his commitment to his community — especially the youth — is unwavering. 

“A lot of kids are dealing with the exact same issues of poverty and lack of education as I did,” he said. “It’s not that they’re out of touch, they just don’t have the dexterity yet to navigate life. A lot of kids don’t think they’re capable of growing. A lot of adults don’t think they’re capable of growing.”

“But I’m still here, and I’ve been through so much,” Jamar said. “It was really bad being a product of my environment, but I was shown another way. I’m driven by my family and kids, and I’m able to do what I do by being fearless. I always tell people ‘there are options for happiness and fulfillment in life, and I’m here to help with that.’”

Learn More

  • Cycles Broken LLC
  • The Entrepreneur Fund – a CNote partner and certified CDFI, actively partners with small business owners in northeast Minnesota, central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin to support small business growth and local economic development. The Entrepreneur Fund provides flexible financing, along with small business coaching and strategic support to promote a culture of entrepreneurship throughout the region.
  • CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like The Entrepreneur Fund, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By Borrower Stories

Meet Rebecca Biesenbach, The Ice Cream-Loving Entrepreneur Behind Grandma B’s Sweet Treats

If there’s one thing that Rebecca Biesenbach loves, it’s Blue Bell’s old-fashioned ice cream. And it’s not just the company’s 66 unique flavors and deep Texas roots that she appreciates: Rebecca loves how Blue Bell’s ice cream brings people together.

That’s what led her to open her own ice cream shop in Rockport, Texas, in 2018, after Hurricane Harvey destroyed the town’s only purveyor of Blue Bell ice cream the year before.

Opening a small business — Grandma B’s Sweet Treats — in the wake of a major natural disaster wasn’t an immediate decision for Rebecca, who at the time lived in San Antonio. Before the hurricane, she and her family frequently visited Rockport to escape the big city, to relax, and to fish. Following Harvey, Biesenbach and her husband returned to the coastal town to repair their house and to help out neighbors. After a hard day’s work, all Rebecca wanted was some good ice cream — but according to her, there wasn’t any. “After Harvey,” Rebecca said, “I just kept saying ‘God, I miss my ice cream.’”

After a fair bit of sleuthing, Rebecca found out that Waffle Cone’s owners — who’d operated the store in Rockport for over 20 years and sold Blue Bell ice cream — decided not to reopen, leaving the town with an ice cream gap. “You gotta have an ice cream store,” Rebecca said. “I literally got into this because my husband got tired of listening to me say how much I missed Blue Bell. That’s it.”

Even though she spent over two decades working in the dental field as an office manager, Rebecca wasn’t completely new to running her own business. Her husband has owned and operated his own plumbing company, and Rebecca kept the business’ books in order and worked with the accountant to keep everything straight. “I knew we could do it,” she said. “Our last kid was out of school, we could move down there, bring the other business, and open up a store. It’d be fun, and it’d give me something to do.”

At the end of 2017, just months after Harvey had ravaged Rockport, Rebecca was busy looking for a commercial space to rent and for equipment to buy. In February of 2018, she permanently moved to Rockport, and a month later, she opened Grandma B’s Sweet Treats, which sells 16 different flavors of Blue Bell ice cream, as well as candy, sandwiches, soups, and salads.

Help Along The Way

Even though Rebecca says that her and her husband’s two companies are going strong today, getting Grandma B’s off the ground wasn’t without its bumps.

To help get Grandma B’s up and running, Rebecca went to her bank to inquire about a small business loan. Although she was originally denied for a loan due to the fact that Grandma B’s wasn’t “an established business,” the employee told her that another one of the bank’s customers had recently received a loan through LiftFund, a San Antonio-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). CNote partners with CDFIs like LiftFund in communities across America, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like Rebecca.

Grandma B’s Menu

Rebecca applied for a LiftFund loan and got the capital she needed to keep Grandma B’s afloat. “LiftFund helped us with some of our operating costs when things slowed down coming out of the winter months,” Rebecca said. “We were able to use the loan to help keep us steady, and it helped us to get that ice cream machine that’s sitting out there now. That was one of the big purchases.”

More so, Rebecca has been able to attend several of LiftFund’s small business webinars, which she says were helpful.

However, the most important thing LiftFund provided Grandma B’s with was stability. “Without that loan, it would have been a struggle,” Rebecca recalled. “I probably would have had to let people go. But because of me getting that money, I was able to keep people employed.”

Ice Cream Scoops Are Here To Stay

Grandma B’s currently has a staff of five, including Rebecca, and the shop is open seven days a week, serving Texans from all over the state.

“We’ve had a lot of people thank us for opening up and for giving back,” Rebecca said. “Our most exciting day was opening the doors and being able to give ice cream back to Rockport, because I thought this town really needed it. Everybody needs a little help now and then. The community helps me, so I help them.”

 

Following Harvey, Rebecca says that a number of local businesses have yet to return to Rockport, and many likely won’t. Grandma B’s, however, isn’t going anywhere.

“I want to see this grow,” she said. “I love it, and it’s totally different than what I’ve ever done. I want to be here for years to come.”

Rebecca outside of Grandma B’s

Learn More

  • Grandma B’s
  • LiftFund is a community small business lender that transforms lives by opening doors and providing capital, financial coaching, tools and resources to entrepreneurs who do not have access to loans from commercial sources. Since 1994 LiftFund has provided over $300 million in capital, propelling the dreams of over 20,000 diverse small businesses throughout its 13 state footprint.
  • CNote – Interested in helping create another story like this? CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like LiftFund, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By Impact Investing

The History of Socially Responsible Investing

Many investors are choosing to align their portfolios with their personal values, using their investments to make a positive impact.

While socially responsible investing might seem like a new phenomenon due to its rapidly growing popularity, its earliest origins trace as far back as the first books of the bible.

The history of SRI

The earliest precursors of socially responsible investing date back to the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, believed to have been written by Moses as early as 1500 BC. The books refer to a Jewish concept called Tzedek (justice and equity) and how it should govern all aspects of life. Tzedek aimed to correct the imbalances that humans inevitably generate, including the benefits one would receive from ownership. Owners had rights and responsibilities in how holdings were used, one of which was to prevent any immediate or potential harm.

This principle formed the genesis of socially responsible investing, providing religious and indigenous cultures with a set of criteria on how to generate financial returns ethically and sustainably.

A simple graphical overview of some SRI investment movements/rules over time

Note: The above image provides a cursory summary of some of the movements and institutions that have shaped SRI investing as we know it today. It is not intended to be a completely exhaustive list.

Religious roots and origins of socially responsible investing

Despite a consensus that ethics were an essential consideration for investment decisions, the application of the principle varied; some groups used it as a guideline, others required it by law. The basis for SRI varies between religious groups, leading to many different interpretations of the subject.

Judaism (1500-1300BC)

As mentioned above, Judaism sees a need for justice/equity in all aspects of life, including government and economic activity. Jewish Law states that investments make us property owners, giving us the responsibility to use our holdings to prevent immediate and potential harm.

While most biblical and rabbinic sources refer to single owners or small partnerships, Jewish religious figures eventually addressed the ethics of shareholder responsibility. Since shareholding is a form of ownership, investors must consider the ethical responsibilities of a company before investing. This prevented followers from investing in “immoral” companies such as those involved in oil, coal and gas because of their immediate impact on human health.

Islam (609-632CE)

The Qur’an established guidelines surrounding investments based on the teachings of Islam, now known as Shariah-Compliant Finance. This philosophy aims to govern the relationship between risk and profit, along with the responsibilities of institutions and individuals. It states that money should be a medium of exchange, not an asset that grows over time.

One of the governing principles in the Qur’an is Riba, which aims to prevent exploitation from the use of money. It prohibits the payment or receipt of all forms of usury, including all sorts of interest payments, gambling or uncertainty. The Qur’an also forbids any Islamic institution or individual from investing in alcohol, pork products, immoral goods, gold & silver and weapons.

Quaker (1650s)

Based in England since the 1650s, Quakers are members of a group called The Religious Society of Friends. While the group is primarily interested in Christianity, it is also known for its opposition to slavery and war.

In 1758, the Quaker Philadelphia Yearly Meeting prohibited members from participating in the slave trade, marking one of the first occurrences of SRI in its current form. Eventually, some Quakers went on to establish two of the largest financial institutions in modern history: Barclay’s and Lloyd’s.

Methodist (1700s)

Established in 1703, the Methodist movement was led by a man named John Wesley, one of the most articulate early adopters of SRI. During a sermon titled “The Use of Money”, Wesley outlined his stance on social investing; avoid industries that have the potential to harm workers and any business practices that might harm your neighbor. Followers eventually resisted investments in “sinful” companies, such as those involved in tobacco, firearms and alcohol. A prelude to modern exclusionary investment screening.

Modern Era: The rising popularity of SRI

The modern version of SRI in America really took hold in the mid 1900s, when investors began to avoid “sin” stocks – companies that dealt in alcohol, tobacco or gambling. In 1950, the Boston-based Pioneer Fund, established in 1928, doubled down on this movement, becoming one of the first funds to adopt SRI principles.

The avoidance of sin stocks in the 1950s marked the beginning of the rise of modern socially responsible investing, each decade bringing forth an influx socially concerned investors:

1960s

Socially responsible investing in the 1960s was largely driven by politics and concerns about the Vietnam War. Protestors boycotted companies that provided weapons for the war, while groups of students demanded university endowment funds no longer invest in defense contractors.

Meanwhile, civil rights, environmental and labor movements raised awareness about social, environmental and economic issues, bridging the gap between corporate and investor responsibility. In support of these movements, trade unions like the United Mine Workers and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union deployed targeted investments into medical facilities and union-built housing projects.

1970s

In April of 1970, 20 million Americans convened for the first Earth Day celebration, opening the door for a cascade of environmental and consumer protection legislation in the early 1970s. As society reacted to war, sweatshops, Apartheid, climate change, human trafficking and a number of other political and cultural issues, socially responsible investors followed suit.

Supported by consistent efforts from both investors and corporations, it was clear that the SRI movement was here to stay. A growing number of new funds combined social and environmental consciousness with financial objectives, reflecting the prevalence of aspirational progressive values. The Pax World Fund and the First Spectrum Fund were established in 1971, followed by the Dreyfus Third Century Fund, firmly backed by over $25 million.

1980s

In the wake of the Bhopal, Chernobyl and Exxon Valdez disasters, concerns about the environment and climate change were at the core of SRI in the 1980s. This led to the launch of The United States Sustainable Investment Forum (SIF) in 1984, which has now become one of the largest resources for SRI and impact investing.

The standardized approach to SRI in the 1980s involved building a portfolio that behaved like the traditional market while avoiding investments in alcohol, tobacco, weapons, gambling and environmental pollution. Firms paired these avoidance screens with a commitment to shareholder activism, a practice that allowed shareholders to leverage ownership to improve a company’s behavior.

1990s

By 1990, the popularity of SRI mutual funds and socially conscious investing hastened the need for a way to measure performance. Launched in 1990, The Domini Social Index (which is now the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index), was comprised of 400 U.S. publicly-traded companies that met certain social and environmental standards. Many potential investors were concerned that socially responsible investments would have lower returns than traditional investments, but this index helped to disprove those claims.

2000s and beyond (UN SDG)

By the early 2000s, socially responsible investing continued to gain supporters, alongside the introduction of many major initiatives and funds. In 2006, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment was launched, establishing guidelines for mainstream investors to incorporate ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues into investment practices.

Many socially conscious investors are going beyond SRI to seek out investments that prioritize a positive impact, sparking a rise in ESG and impact investing. This forward-thinking approach was reinforced by the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. These goals, backed by all 193 UN Member States, are an urgent call to solve the world’s most pressing development challenges.

Conclusion

Socially responsible investments account for over 25% (over $12T) of all assets under professional management in the US, and with increased interest from the millennial generation, that number is only expected to rise. Despite the involvement of large investment firms and funds, socially responsible investments are not exclusive to institutional investors. There are a range of retail impact investment options that allow anyone to invest ethically and responsibly.

The history of socially responsible investing shows that what’s old is new again. We can see that this growing movement shows no signs of stopping, making for an even larger impact as more investors get involved.

 

By Equality, Financial Planning

A great discussion on the state of income inequality, financial markets and monetary policy

When one of the world’s most successful investors says The World Has Gone Mad and the System Is Broken, you listen. That’s exactly what Ray Dalio did in a piece published on LinkedIn just a few days ago. We’ve summarized his views and shared an interview that further colors his viewpoints.

Mr. Dalio’s views summarized

At its core, Mr. Dalio’s article lays out the following concerns:

  • The price of money is low and the supply is high, leading to either the acceptance of low returns or incremental risk-taking
  • This mal-investment is evidenced by recent failures, like WeWork, where investors buy into a “dream” rather than future or current profitability and sustained value creation
  •  Large government deficits will require more debt issuance which should increase rates, at a time when rising rates “would be devastating for markets and economies because the world is so leveraged long”
  • This results in a “dynamic in which sound finance is being thrown out the window”
  • More and more pension and healthcare liabilities will come due while investment targets are not being met, meaning they will be underfunded
  • Changing demographics result in “fewer earners having to support a larger population of baby boomers needing healthcare, there isn’t enough money to fund these obligations either.”

His piece ends with a scary reminder about inequality and its likely trajectory, which dovetails with the work we’re doing at CNote to build a more inclusive economy and fight against this growing wealth transfer to the top:

“At the same time as money is essentially free for those who have money and creditworthiness, it is essentially unavailable to those who don’t have money and creditworthiness, which contributes to the rising wealth, opportunity, and political gaps.”

Post-Article Interview

Shortly after authoring the piece above, Mr. Dalio spent the better part of fifteen minutes further illuminating his views and the likely outcomes he sees based on the current situation.

If you’re looking to gain a better understanding of the current global economic situation and the likely path forward, this is definitely worth a watch.

By CDFIs, CNote

Announcing a New CNote CDFI Partner: Renaissance Community Loan Fund

CNote announces new CDFI partner committed to housing affordability and community resilience, Renaissance Community Loan Fund

Innovative fintech platform inks deal to become new capital source for Mississippi lender committed to economic development.

CNote has entered into a partnership with Renaissance Community Loan Fund to serve as a new capital source, supporting their mission to increase homeownership and support small businesses and local economic development in Mississippi. Founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, Renaissance Community Loan Fund (Renaissance) has had a significant impact since its 2006 founding. 

With a strong focus on economic empowerment, wealth building, and homeownership, Renaissance Community Loan Fund is a natural partner in CNote’s mission of closing the wealth gap in America. 

CNote leverages technology to enable impact investing at scale, allowing investors of any size to invest in a diverse pool of stellar Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) like Renaissance. CDFIs are community-focused lenders that provide funding for small businesses, affordable housing development, and other projects in communities that often lack adequate access to financial resources. With a growing nationwide network of CDFI partners, CNote is helping to build a more inclusive economy for everyone by offering competitive financial products that drive positive social change and build more economically resilient communities across America. 

Yuliya Tarasava, CNote’s Co-Founder, notes “CNote is honored to partner with Renaissance Community Loan Fund. We’ve been impressed by their history of supporting and revitalizing the communities they serve, especially in the face of devastating natural disasters. We strongly believe in their ability to leverage new investment capital to create great economic outcomes in the communities they support across Mississippi.”

Since 2006, Renaissance Community Loan Fund has been dedicated to revitalizing underserved communities throughout Mississippi. Renaissance’s success is driven by their ability to understand the specific needs of the communities they serve, having a highly qualified team to address those needs, and developing a customized and thoughtful approach to program implementation. To date, Renaissance has helped over 2,300 families achieve the dream of homeownership, provided personal financial counseling to over 3,500 clients, and created $88.7 million in economic impact from new homeowners.

Kimberly LaRosa, President & CEO of Renaissance Community Loan Fund, remarked, “Our focus has always been on achieving positive results for our community. That is why we are excited about partnering with an innovative capital source like CNote, who’s capital will allow us the opportunity to drive more results for the Mississippi communities that need it most.”

###

About CNote

CNote is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind financial platform that allows anyone to make money investing in causes and communities they care about. With the mission of closing the wealth gap, CNote directs every dollar invested toward funding female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development through its nationwide network of CDFI community lenders.

About Renaissance Community Loan Fund

Renaissance Community Loan Fund was created by The Gulf Coast Business Council in 2006 to help rebuild the community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Today, Renaissance provides support through financial assistance and development services which help provide safe, quality housing for the residents of Mississippi and providing economic resources for small business owners to add or retain jobs in the community.

###

Link to Press Release

By Financial Planning, Quick Tips

Ignoring The Tired Tropes of Personal Finance

Recently you’ve probably seen headlines about how you could be a millionaire if you just stopped buying coffee, eating out or paying for a gym membership.

There’s merit to being mindful about your spending, but recently some of the claims coming out of the personal finance world appear to be more focused on click-baity headlines than providing useful advice. It’s important you don’t miss the forest for the trees.

We’re going to break down some of this hysteria around some personal finance topics and a common emotion these articles conjour in relation to money: shame.

Is this what’s standing in your way of having a yacht and rubbing elbows with Beyoncé?

Not all advice is equal

Managing personal finances and determining how and where to delegate your cash is tricky business. You’ve got to worry about budgets, retirement planning, investing for your future, tackling debt, and everyday expenses—the list can seem endless. It’s no surprise, then, that a number of individuals rely on the advice of talking heads and financial “experts” to navigate their expenses and investments.

Like with many other facets of life, not all advice is good advice, even when it comes from a professional. In fact, some “advice” offered by those who claim to be financial gurus is not always grounded in a data-driven or practical approach. It is important to have enough knowledge about finance so you can separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to advice you read online or see on TV. While it might seem daunting, being knowledgeable about your finances is not as difficult as you may think.

The whirlwind of personal finance advice, online, in print, and in real-time, lends itself to a caucus of white noise that causes many people to freeze up.

Shame & Money

People are overloaded with information, which causes decision paralysis. Advice telling people their five-dollar lattes (and other daily indulgences) is what is standing in their way of becoming millionaires is discouraging at best.

This “advice” that treating yourself from time to time is what is ruining your financial health has resulted in the cultivation of what a Huffington Post article describes as a “culture of shame” surrounding the personal finance industry. Even worse than shaming some for their daily treats, this view completely dismisses the plight of individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.

It can be argued that some of the most popular advice has become more of a list of tropes than genuine guidance, little more than a script that some personal finance professionals will recite to make a headline or get airtime on a financial network. It is good to be wise with your money and cut back where you can, but there is no need to shame yourself for living the life you want to live.

The Media’s Financial Panic

41% of Millennials admitted to spending more on coffee in the past year than they had invested in their retirement accounts.”

How many times has this statistic been used? Are Millennials destined to fail when it comes to their finances?

Absolutely not.

Chase’s twitter account took a stab at money shaming too, tweeting:

“You: why is my balance so low

Bank account: make coffee at home

Bank account: eat the food that’s already in the fridge

Bank account: you don’t need a cab, it’s only three blocks

You: I guess we’ll never know

Bank account: seriously?

#MondayMotivation”

(The Tweet, originally posted on May 2019, has since been deleted.)

Chase wasn’t the only one to find themselves in hot water on this point recently. USA Today ran a now-infamous story claiming that the average American spends $18,000 each year on luxury expenses. The breakdown of what these nonessential expenses included was shocking to many. Included in the list were items such as personal grooming, gym classes or memberships, buying lunch, and, of course, coffee.

Further widespread panic around personal spending has set in since CNBC tweeted similar scare tactics in June, quoting Suze Orman’s words, “If you waste money on coffee, it’s like peeing $1 million down the drain.” Where is Suze buying her coffee?

Millennials Actually Care About Finance

When the finance world thinks millennial this is what they see, but not every millennial is committed to a free-range beard, man bun, and $80 haircuts.

Millennials, in particular, have received a disproportionate amount of criticism regarding their spending habits on “nonessentials.” It turns out that millennials are the segment of the population that is the most receptive to financial advice.

So while the impression might be this tweet, the reality is much different.

A study conducted in February of 2018 showed that nearly three-quarters of Millennials demonstrated an interest in attending financial seminars, more than prior generations. Plus, the number of Millennials that are looking to work with financial advisors is increasing.

What everyone – advisors and financial newbies alike need to understand is that the key to a healthier financial future lies in your big-picture and long-term decisions. Sure, flushing $5 down the toilet every day is a bad idea, but it’s often the mistakes around the big financial decisions (ones people often don’t spend enough time considering) that can have the most severe long-term impact.

But if giving up coffee isn’t what will build your future wealth, what will?

Opening Up to the Big Picture

Take a more holistic view of your finances to focus on what goals are most important to you.

Instead of worrying about saving a few bucks here and there on minor purchases, the average American should be considering the impact their larger-scale decisions could have on their financial future. Those truly in tune with the bigger picture of finance will focus less on daily coffee expenses and more on avoiding bad decisions. A few examples include:

1. Cosigning a Bad Loan

It can be easy to misunderstand the meaning of cosigning a personal loan or a car loan, especially when a family member or close friend asks for help. However, cosigning a loan isn’t a way to validate a loved one’s character or reliability—it’s a surefire path to put you at risk to struggle with loan payments when the primary borrower can no longer keep up on payments.

More than one in three cosigners polled said that they had to pay the loan once the

primary signer defaulted. Furthermore, 25% of responders reported that their credit score was damaged due to late or absent payments on a loan they cosigned.

When agreeing to cosign a loan, a cosigner is legally obligating themselves to pay the loan in full if the primary borrower defaults on the loan, or makes late payments.

This huge (and easily misunderstood) commitment can have long-lasting damage on an individual’s personal finance record and even land them in legal trouble, not to mention the emotional damage it can cause.

2. Taking Out an Interest-Only Mortgage

Another financial decision with long-standing impact/consequences that new homeowners often face is whether or not to take out a fixed-rate mortgage or an interest-only mortgage. Given that the average length of a mortgage is about 30 years, there is no denying that this decision should rank highly on the “big picture” scale of important financial decisions.

While interest-only mortgages may look great in the short-term, financial advisors

focused on the importance of big-picture decisions will encourage their clients to

consider this type of mortgage’s long-term risks— “payment shock,” for example,

when the interest-only period expires, and payments suddenly skyrocket to include both primary payments and interest.

3. Ignoring Credit Scores

Plenty of Americans are afraid of checking their credit scores, and 14% of Americans have no credit score at all. Despite this, credit scores remain crucial to a person’s financial and even personal well-being and can majorly impact an individual’s quality of life. Every time a person with a bad credit score looks to rent an apartment, connect a new phone line, open a new credit card, apply for a mortgage, or take out a loan, their credit score will be under scrutiny. Even employers have access to their employees’ credit scores.

However, a survey asking Americans about their knowledge of the risks and potential troubles that accompany a bad credit score found widespread misconceptions and a general lack of understanding. A different report stated that one-third of Americans don’t know how their bad credit is affecting them.

It’s easy to see that a bad credit score can negatively impact many aspects of an

American’s life, so shouldn’t influential financial institutions and major news outlets

focus more on educating the public about how to maintain a good credit score (or

establish credit in the first place) rather than contributing to the guilt surrounding small splurges like that coveted pumpkin spice latte?

4. Not Saving for Retirement

Nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and even less are saving for their retirement. Just 39% of Americans saving for their retirement began doing so in their 20s.

The earlier you start saving money towards your retirement, the less you will have to put away on a monthly basis. Nerdwallet reports that in order to become a millionaire by age 67, a 23-year-old should put $415 away each month, whereas a person who starts saving at 35 should plan to put $912 into their retirement savings each month. With earnings from compound interest building over time, you may even find yourself having to put less away in retirement accounts than initially planned if you get a head-start.

If available to you, an employer-sponsored 401(k) is a great retirement savings account option, with many employers offering to match employee contributions (up to a certain amount). Contributions are made pre-tax, with tax being paid when withdrawing. However, there are penalties (10% fee on top of tax) for withdrawals made before retirement age, so it is best not to dip into this as a personal emergency fund.

According to the Government Accountability Office, 29% of households headed by people 55 or older have no savings in a retirement account.

With it being near impossible to predict the cost of retirement perfectly, it is imperative to have enough saved up; otherwise you can expect to be faced with downsizing and even possibly downgrading your quality of living as you age and look to work less. It is imperative to have money saved in times of rising living, housing, and medical costs.

A critical first step is taking ownership and drafting a plan. Within that plan, you can find a way to balance those small splurges that keep you happy with your long-term goals of financial freedom.

What now?

What does this all mean for the average person? It means that it’s okay to grab a green tea latte or enjoy an iced mocha. It’s often fine to spend money on a gym membership or on personal grooming habits, and eating out occasionally won’t result in bankruptcy.

While every financial decision is important (even the day-to-day ones), it’s the big-picture decisions that matter most when shaping your financial future.

Everyone should look to arm themselves with the basic financial acumen, so they can make the right decisions for themselves. Letting headlines and talking heads scare you isn’t going to open up a new world of financial freedom.

Life is about balance and having a plan to meet your goals.

Taking action to prepare yourself by having a budget, a retirement plan, and avoiding big financial landmines along the way will help to support a sound financial future.

In closing, have a plan but don’t let the clickbait headlines scare you.

Note: CNote is not a registered investment advisor, and this information should not be relied upon as individualized investment advice. Every financial situation is different and you should seek tailored advice to suit your specific financial circumstances. 

By Borrower Stories

Linda Newman, Dog Sled Musher and Off-the-Grid Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur Linda Newman didn’t technically answer the call of the wild when she opened up Points Unknown, an off-the-grid homestead and sled dog-based adventure company, but she did follow her passion.

After 23 years as a real estate appraiser outside of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St.Paul), Newman sold everything, cashed in her 401(k), and moved to a piece of land in Cook County that is five miles off the grid, seven miles from Lake Superior, and a stone’s throw away from Canada. Why? Because her passion is sled dogs, not home appraisals. 

Linda Newman

“I decided I wanted to do more of what I wanted to do versus what I thought I should do,” she said. “I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and I’ve never had an issue with risk. I think that’s just part of the entrepreneurial spirit. I had the idea that I needed to stop what I was doing, and I need to follow the passion. I visualized it, and took steps to do it.”

Dogs training for the winter season

Newman got her first dogs in 2000, and she officially started Points Unknown in 2007 as a way to educate people about dog sledding. Today, she has 30 dogs, and Points Unknown’s team of interns and volunteers and offers women’s four-day wilderness adventures, immersive off-the-grid homestead stays, writing-and-reflection weekends, and step-by-step dog sledding experiences. Newman also runs an on-site guest suite that’s “rustic northwood chic” to earn extra income, and she recently expanded a canoeing and hiking guide service she calls Mindful Paddling.

“Points Unknown isn’t just about exploring places on a map,” she said. “It’s also about exploring points unknown within yourself. That’s the whole educational piece, and the dogs are excellent teachers. I want people to come here to learn more about themselves and the dogs and the lifestyle, but it’s always about trying to push people outside of their box. That’s the basis of the company.”

The Essential Small Business Guide

Newman knows that first-time adventurers and dog sledders benefit from having a knowledgeable guide when they set out to explore the Minnesotan wilderness. She’s similarly learned that when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of small business ownership, that same need for expert mentorship exists.

That’s how Newman got connected with Entrepreneur Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with offices spread around the North Star State. CNote partners with CDFIs like Entrepreneur Fund in communities across America, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like Newman. Newman first learned about Entrepreneur Fund through a series of small business administration classes offered by Cook County Higher Education. Whereas a typical higher education business class costs $800, The Entrepreneur Fund offers scholarships that bring them down to $200. 

Newman benefited from several of these Entrepreneur Fund-led courses. “The instructors were great, and everyone was so supportive,” she said. “This past year, we had a monthly business group where we would meet at various places throughout the county and everybody would talk about their highs and their lows and we’d have a question to ponder every month.”

To help promote and expand Points Unknown’s new Mindful Paddling offering, Newman applied for and received a loan from Entrepreneur Fund to purchase a solo canoe, a canoe rack, personal flotation devices, paddles, and camping gear that Points Unknown patrons can use. More so, the CDFI provided Newman with six consultations with a marketing professional to help her better advertise her business. Previously, Newman mainly relied on word of mouth referrals. 

“Entrepreneur Fund is an amazing resource for the life of your small business,” Newman said. “It’s really unbelievable how much support they offer.”

The Next Bend in the Trail

Whereas Newman has to think about the daily operations of Points Unknown, not to mention growing her other business, a hand-crafted pure beeswax candle company called Scent from Nature, she’s also thinking about her future goals.

In the next couple of years, Newman wants to hire a full-time personal assistant who can help her with daily operations, reservations, and emails, and she’d like to expand the number of places where people can stay on her property. Besides growing the guest-suite portion of Points Unknown, Newman wants to add small cabins and other lodging options in the woods for people looking to immerse themselves in the unique off-grid lifestyle.

As ominous as sustaining and expanding a small business in rural Minnesota might seem, Newman doesn’t feel any pressure. According to her, she’s already accomplished what she set out to do: live her passion each and every day.

“The best experience has been the process of slowly watching everything I’d envisioned take place,” she said. “It was invigorating, and the biggest lesson was just letting go because you can’t control the outcomes or roadblocks. You can only take one step at a time.”

It’s not difficult for Newman to remember when she initially allowed that invigoration to wash over her: there’s a framed picture of the moment sitting on her desk in her office.

“We’d just moved in and all of a sudden we got the solar power turned on and the satellite internet started to work,” said Newman. “I’m at my desk with my arms spread wide open with this big smile on my face like ‘ta-da! I’ve arrived.’”

Learn More

  • Points Unknown
  • The Entrepreneur Fund – a CNote partner and certified CDFI, actively partners with small business owners in northeast Minnesota, central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin to support small business growth and local economic development. The Entrepreneur Fund provides flexible financing, along with small business coaching and strategic support to promote a culture of entrepreneurship throughout the region.
  • CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like The Entrepreneur Fund, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By CNote

Webinar: Introducing CDFIs as a Way to Invest in Economic Inclusion

Interested in learning more about Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)? Even if you missed the live presentation, you can watch the joint webinar by CNote and Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE) a Georgia-based CDFI.

Watch now using this link, or via the YouTube replay below.

In this webinar we introduce CDFIs, their history, the work they do in their local communities, and how they represent a compelling opportunity to invest in a more inclusive economy.

CDFIs have a strong history of providing economic resources to financially underserved communities across America, helping to create jobs, fund small businesses, and support affordable housing development. Now you have a chance to support that mission. We’ll explore, in detail, the way increased capital access and CDFI lending activities can have a transformative effect on local economies. Join us. 

This presentation was co-hosted by:

Martina Edwards, Chief of Strategic Partnerships, for Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs. ACE is a Georgia-based CDFI that has emerged as a leader in responsive and innovative small business financing.

Catherine Berman, CEO, CNote. Based in Oakland, CA, CNote is an award-winning investment platform that streamlines the process of investing in CDFIs for investors of all sizes from individuals to institutions.

 

By CNote, Impact Metrics

CNote’s Q2 2019 Impact Metrics

We know one of the main reasons you invest with CNote, is because of the impact your investment has.

We’re proud to share our Q2 2019 impact data.

In Q2 2019, our members helped create/maintain 111 jobs!

We’re also extremely proud to announce that more than 70% of CNote capital went to minority-owned businesses!

If you’d like to see our annual impact data, along with an explanation of how we map CNote’s impact investments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, read our 2018 Impact Report.

 

By CNote

CNote Selected as a 2019 Best For The World honoree, top-performing Certified B Corporation

The entire CNote team is proud to announce that we have been selected by B Lab as a 2019 Best For The World honoree in the Customers category.

This award is given only to B Corporations around the world with verified B Impact Assessment scores in the top 10% of all B Corps for providing value to their customers.

As a customer-focused company, we’re extremely grateful for the recognition and look forward to doing even more for our customers next year.

 

We vote every day for a better world through the way we run our business by putting benefits to our customers first. Together, we’re investing in a more inclusive economy for everyone. Thank you for your support!

Learn more about 2019 Best For The World campaign. You can view the full Customers honoree list here.

About CNote

CNote is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind financial platform that allows anyone to make money investing in causes and communities they care about. With the mission of closing the wealth gap, CNote directs every dollar invested toward funding female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development through its nationwide network of CDFI community lenders.

By CDFIs

CNote Adds Another Stellar CDFI Partner, The Entrepreneur Fund

CNote has entered into a partnership with The Entrepreneur Fund to serve as a new capital source, supporting their mission to actively partner with entrepreneurs to grow businesses and create vibrant sustainable communities.

CNote is working to build a more inclusive economy for everyone by offering competitive financial products that drive positive social change. CNote enables investors of any size to invest in Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), like The Entrepreneur Fund, across the nation. CDFIs are community-focused lenders that provide funding to small businesses, affordable housing development and other projects in communities that often lack adequate access to financial resources.

With a strong focus on economic empowerment and security, The Entrepreneur Fund is a natural partner for CNote. Yuliya Tarasava, CNote’s Co-Founder, notes, “CNote is honored to partner with The Entrepreneur Fund. We’ve been impressed by the work they’ve done to economically revitalize the communities they serve. We strongly believe in their ability to leverage new investment capital to create great economic outcomes in the communities they support across Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

Since 1989, The Entrepreneur Fund has been dedicated to revitalizing underserved communities in Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. They have helped start, stabilize or expand more than 2,400 businesses, provided over $50 million in loans, and served 16,000 people through its training, consulting and lending programs.

Shawn Wellnitz, President of The Entrepreneur Fund, remarked, “The Entrepreneur Fund is so excited to have CNote as our newest investor because they make it simple for so many people to have a powerful impact with their investments. CNote capital will help create jobs and support the economic development of the Midwest communities we serve.”

About CNote

CNote is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind financial platform that allows anyone to make money investing in causes and communities they care about. With the mission of closing the wealth gap, CNote directs every dollar invested toward funding female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development through its nationwide network of CDFI community lenders.

About The Entrepreneur Fund

The Entrepreneur Fund actively partners with small business owners in northeast Minnesota, central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin to support small business growth and local economic development. The Entrepreneur Fund provides flexible financing, along with small business coaching and strategic support to promote a culture of entrepreneurship throughout the region.

Read the press release.

By Borrower Stories

Jamine Moton – The Former Track Star Racing To Revolutionize The Security Industry

Jamine Moton has been protecting people for as long as she can remember. In high school, she was a “bullies bully,” using her imposing size and athletic prowess to stick up for students who couldn’t defend themselves. It was that same size and prowess that carried her to Clemson on track and basketball scholarships.

By the time Moton walked away from the world of collegiate track and field in 2004, she was a national champion, a hammer throw record holder, an Olympic alternate and a future hall of famer. However, when Moton retired from her sport, she didn’t leave her identity as an athlete behind her. Rather, she combined her skillset as a track star with her passion for protecting people to start her own company: Skylar Security. In 2019, Moton is preparing to scale her company to $1 million in revenue. She has no intentions of stopping there.

Moton’s leap from the upper echelons of athletics to entrepreneurial success didn’t come without its hurdles, and it didn’t happen in record time. After receiving a masters degree in human resources training and development and business management from Clemson in 2004, Moton eventually moved from South Carolina to Atlanta, where she took a job with the Clayton County Police Department in 2012 as a sergeant.

She quickly realized a career with the police force wasn’t for her, even if it was only meant to be a stepping stone to her dream job with the FBI. However, a comment from one of her superiors changed everything. “One of my supervisors told me I was being ‘too supervisory,’” Moton said. “As an athlete, I don’t know what it means to give half. I’m always at 100 percent, doing the most.”

Paving Her Own Path

That remark sparked something inside Moton. In 2014, she rescinded her FBI application and started Skylar Security, a private security company that emphasizes client support, success and retention. “You graduate from the police academy, and you put on a bulletproof vest and a badge. There’s a type of pride that comes with that,” Moton said. “I realized you don’t see that same pride in the security industry.”

For the next three years, Moton worked full time with the Clayton County Police Department and full time getting Skylar Security off the ground. According to her, those long hours were spent learning what questions to ask. “I saw there was a need in the industry for quality security providers,” Moton said, “and I became obsessed with providing that quality. So I offered our providers higher than the industry standard, and I gave them the opportunity to work on their own terms. I changed the whole business model on how people think.”

A major tenant of Skylar Security’s business model is Moton’s yes-first approach. Regardless of a client’s budget, she’s been intentional about offering highly customizable solutions. “We can almost fit any budget,” Moton said. “Everyone deserves to be safe.” That’s one reason why Moton has been able to grow Skylar Security on a strictly word-of-mouth referral system. “Our clients win because they get above average service,” Moton said. “In four and a half years, we’ve lost zero clients to poor work or behavior.”

After years of juggling a full-time job and a promising side gig, Moton left the Clayton County Police Department at the beginning of 2018 to focus on growing Skylar Security. As she puts it, she “went all in.” However, one question loomed large over Moton: how to grow Skylar Security into the viable long-term business she envisioned.

An Athlete Without a Coach

Moton knew that 2019 was going to be a year of growth for her company, and she knew she needed help. She approached Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), an Atlanta-based Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), for a loan. CNote partners with CDFIs like ACE in communities across America, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like Moton. ACE provided Skylar Security with the runway it needed to start the year strong. “It was only $35,000, but it made the difference for us,” Moton said. “It really set us up to scale financially.”

However, Moton needed something arguably more valuable to her than capital: she needed a business coach. “As an athlete, I’ve always had a coach,” Moton said. “I’m great when I have a coach. I am unstoppable. But until this point with Skylar, I never had a coach.” Moton told her ACE loan officer she could use someone who could help her scale. “I told her I didn’t want scaling to stop me from serving my clients, and she said: ‘what if I told you I could give you a coach?’ I started crying,” Moton said.

It’s only been a few months, but Moton’s relationship with her ACE business coach is already paying big dividends. With his guidance, Skylar has changed “everything,” including price points, and the company is looking to scale to $1 million in revenue and 200 security providers. That’s a big jump from the beginning of 2018, when the company had 37 providers.

“We are referral based, so I literally have handpicked each one of those providers,” Moton said. “And I will continue to do that as long as I can scale it. It’s a little nerve wracking for me because I’ve been trying to hold back to make sure that we do not grow too fast. I’m trying to make sure that we grow at the pace of the quality we can offer, not at the pace of the need.”

According to Moton, ACE and her business coach helped her get through Skylar’s biggest achievement — and greatest challenge — to date: Super Bowl LIII. The mega-sporting event was hosted in Atlanta on February 3, 2019, and Skylar Security was one of the companies contracted to provide security at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “Skylar wouldn’t have survived the Superbowl financially if it wasn’t for ACE, period,” she said. “I’m indebted to them, and I really cannot see Skylar achieving [success] without this relationship.”

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Moton dreams about expanding operations to other states, but for now, she’s content doing business in Atlanta, where she feels supported as a minority-woman-owned business. She credits people like Mary Parker, the entrepreneur behind the city’s first black-woman-owned full-service security firm, ACE’s Grace Fricks, and organizations like launchpad2x, Invest Atlanta and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program for setting her and her company up for success.

“I love it here. I look at the buildings, and I feel unstoppable,” Moton said. “I feel like Atlanta, and the relationships I have here, affords me the opportunity to do anything to be successful as an African American female entrepreneur. I’m thankful to the city for giving us the opportunity to protect them all.”

You can take the athlete out of the sport, but in Moton’s case, she’s finding ways to win in the security sector, and like any top-tier athlete, she credits her team for her success. “We would not be here if it weren’t for our mentors and our advisers,” she said. “Everybody that encouraged us or said something we needed to hear, they’re part of our story.”

“As many opportunities as I’ve had over my life, this is by far the greatest challenge to date,” Moton said. “Business is about exploring yourself, and there’s nothing like it. But we’re in a really good position to be successful.”

Learn More

  • Skylar Security
  • Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE) – ACE is an SBA Microloan Intermediary, a USDA Intermediary Relender and a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
  • CNote – Interested in helping create another story like Jamine’s? CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like ACE, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By CDFIs

Searchable List of Every CDFI

Below you’ll find an easy-to-manipulate table of all certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in the United States.

You can filter by CDFI name, state, city, certification date and institution type. In the table you’ll also find a link to the organization’s website if you’d like to conduct additional research or follow up directly.

If you’d prefer to access this interactive table directly, rather than through the embedded table below, you can view the interactive CDFI list here.

Complete List of All Certified CDFIs (Credit Unions, Loan Funds, etc.)

This data comes directly from the CDFI Fund, an agency within the U.S. Department of Treasury that is responsible for the CDFI certification process. You can access the source data from the CDFI Fund by visiting this page and clicking the link “View the list of certified CDFIs.”

CNote is a financial platform focused on making CDFI investing accessible to everyone.. We created this list to increase visibility into the growing network of CDFIs and allow users to quickly find CDFIs in a specific locality. This list should be helpful for those looking to work with or support a local CDFI.

For those interested in learning more about CDFIs, CNote has produced an article outlining the history of CDFIs and the work that they do.

By CNote

CNote hires Danielle Burns to Head Business Development

We’re excited to announce a new member of CNote’s core leadership team, Danielle Burns.

OAKLAND, California, July 11, 2019 — CNote has hired experienced Business Development professional, Danielle Burns, to help scale its advisory and institutional sales channels. Prior to CNote, Danielle served as the VP Sales & Marketing for First Affirmative Financial Network. There, she contributed to the growth of the firm’s core advisory business, growing assets to over $1B during her tenure. Danielle brings proven thought leadership in values-aligned investing, having spoken at industry events and educating advisors on how to navigate the Sustainable, Responsible, Impact (SRI) investing and ESG landscape.

“Danielle is incredibly well respected and admired in the SRI industry and we are thrilled to welcome her as a core member of our leadership team,” stated CNote CEO, Catherine Berman. “Danielle has a history of delivering exceptional results for the organizations she supports. Not only is she a proven financial professional, she also has a deep commitment to values-aligned investing and CNote’s mission of financial inclusion.” 

Danielle began her financial services career in 1994 at Wachovia Corporation where she worked for both Wachovia Bank and Wachovia Securities performing a variety of management duties over her nine-year tenure there. Prior to joining First Affirmative, she worked for a premier community bank in Clearwater, FL where she provided marketing, sales, and service support. At First Affirmative, Danielle lead sales and marketing efforts for over six years. Over her tenure, First Affirmative grew to be the largest SRI-focused advisor network. 

Danielle serves on the board of Green America: A not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to harness economic power to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society. Additionally, she serves on the Advisory Board for both the SRI Conference and the Investment News Impact Forum. She also helped develop Think Big Productions, Inc., a non-profit youth services organization that cultures young artistic talent in Clearwater, Florida. 

“I’m excited to embrace a new and exciting challenge, helping to scale a high-growth financial technology company that is motivated not just by profits but by building a more inclusive economy as well,” Danielle remarked. 

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Danielle has a passion for the culinary arts. She has an undergraduate degree in Business and an MBA with an emphasis in Marketing. She lives in Noblesville, Indiana with her husband and son.

About CNote

CNote is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind financial platform that allows anyone to make money investing in causes and communities they care about. With the mission of closing the wealth gap, CNote directs every dollar invested toward funding female- and minority-led small businesses, affordable housing and economic development through its nationwide network of CDFI community lenders.

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Links to the press release:

PRnewswire

By Borrower Stories

Meet Donica Johns, Inventive Mother and Entrepreneur

Donica Johns, a New Orleans native, has fond memories of going to Belladonna Day Spa with her mother when she was younger. Looking back, she never thought she would go on to create a line of skincare products let alone create a line of skincare products that would be sold on Belladonna’s shelves, but today, that’s Johns’ reality.

Finding a Solution

When her youngest son began to struggle with severe eczema in 2013, Johns was told by physicians that he’d need regular steroid shots to keep his breakouts in check. She wasn’t opposed to the treatments, but she was concerned about the potential long-term effects of the injections. The concerned mother wanted something safe, natural, and sustainable for her baby.

Johns poured herself into researching natural skin products, and she began experimenting with mixing her own natural butters and oils to alleviate her son’s eczema. It took her about a year before she found the right formula that worked best for him. “I didn’t go to school to be an esthetician,” Johns said, “but I read a lot of books. I couldn’t cure my son’s eczema, but his breakouts are far and few between, and he’s not missing out on school.”

Friends, family members, and even her son’s doctor took note. “The doctor said keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s really working,” Johns said. A friend suggested that she sell her small farm-sourced, organic concoctions on Etsy, and in 2014, Johns launched her first online marketplace. By the beginning of 2015, she had her own website and her own skincare line of about six or seven products, from the original cream that she developed for her son to a beard oil she created for her husband.

Natural Mixologist was not just up and running: it was taking off. Although Johns began fielding inquiries and taking orders from as far away as Europe, her skincare line remained “a side hustle.” She was still working full time as a bartender. “I had people wanting my products in their stores, and for the first time I said, ‘well, maybe this is something really real,’” Johns said. In 2016, the concerned-mother-turned-entrepreneur quit mixing cocktails and threw herself into Natural Mixologist, turning her side hustle into her main hustle.

The Missing Ingredient

Her business’ rapid growth came with a host of challenges. Johns’ biggest issue? She couldn’t figure out the branding she wanted for Natural Mixologist. That’s when she connected with TruFund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that invests in small businesses in New York, Alabama, and Louisiana. CNote partners with CDFIs like TruFund in communities across the country, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like Johns.

TruFund provided the resources for Johns to be able to hire a branding and marketing specialist who had previously worked for Sephora, one of the beauty and skincare industry’s most recognizable companies. “I showed her my branding, and she was like, ‘you’re basically a five out of ten,’” Johns recalled. “I was floored. I bawled out in tears.”

However, there was a silver lining to Johns’ feeling of devastation: the chance to zero in on her target customer. “She was really able to guide me,” Johns said. “Hiring her really did help me focus on what I needed to do to change my business and to make it to where it could be viable. She helped me to get to the point where I could stand on my own two feet. That was really important.”

TruFund also assisted Johns in redoing Natural Mixologist’s website, which, according to Johns, was “all over the place.” She participated in TruFund’s Women In Business:  An EmpowHERment Program which provides innovative financial solutions, hands-on education and business advisory services to small businesses like Natural Mixologist.  Six months after participating in the program, Johns had a more polished, cleaned-up brand. It’s that same website that Johns says is helping to drive her business’ growth and visibility: she recently acquired an account to do private labeling for a California-based company solely based on her website’s design.

“The assistance TruFund gave me helped me to realize the things I was doing wrong with my branding,” Johns said. “I was trying to do too much, and I didn’t know my customer base and I hadn’t figured out what I wanted my brand to stand for. When you’re an entrepreneur, you feel very isolated, and that no one is guiding you. You’re just doing it all by yourself, and you’re not hearing from professionals about what works and what doesn’t work. You really need that feedback. TruFund helped me to get that feedback and to focus.”

Growing Her Business, Growing Her Community

Today, thanks to TruFund’s support, Johns knows her target audience: individuals who are trying to live a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their families. Her new-found, laser-like focus has allowed her to market more effectively, and Natural Mixologist’s products are now in more than a half dozen stores around New Orleans. Interestingly, it was through discovering her target audience that Johns set a benchmark for herself — getting her products into Belladonna, the same local spa she visited growing up.

“It’s one of the best spas in the country,” Johns said. “When they accepted my products into their store, it was the most exciting day for me and my business. Entrepreneurs should have a benchmark of what they think success is. This was my benchmark. When they accepted my products, I felt like I made it. It gave me this confidence to reach out to other companies. It’s been amazing, because I’m getting the acceptance I never thought I’d be able to receive.”

Setting Even More Ambitious Goals

Johns is still riding that confidence well into 2019. Natural Mixologist will have a presence in the new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport when the terminal opens this fall, and Johns has her sights set on finding a larger production facility, hiring more employees and getting her products into Sephora or Art of Beauty, national beauty chains with access to even bigger markets. “That’s my next really big benchmark,” Johns said. “I feel like because I got into Belladonna, I can get in anywhere.”

Regardless of how big Natural Mixologist grows, Johns will forever remain in New Orleans, even as she hustles to fill wholesale orders and keep up with demand. Her main storefront is near the Marigny district, right off of Saint Claude, in a very old neighborhood that’s going through a transition.

“I purposely chose this neighborhood because of that transition,” Johns said. “I want to help my community grow, and I want to do that by growing my business and by creating economic opportunity for others. We’re trying to change people’s ideas that they can build economic wealth, and that this community can sustain a business.”

Learn More

  • Natural Mixologist
  • TruFund – is a 501 (c) 3 certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) headquartered in New York City with field offices in Alabama and Louisiana. TruFund tailors its financial and technical assistance to the unique needs of each site—from contractor mobilization lending in New York and Louisiana to rural Black Belt initiatives in Alabama.
  • CNote – Interested in helping create another story like Donica’s? CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like TruFund, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By Borrower Stories

Meet Clara Richardson-Olguin, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist and Flooring Enthusiast

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Clara Olguin was passionate about many things: music, dance, theatre, and justice. She even has a law degree from the Dominican Republic and a bachelor in Music Management/Voice from Georgia State. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that she became passionate about floors. And not just dance floors.Clara in front of CIC Floors storefront

While Clara was out promoting her annual music show Vivelo! (Live it!), Olguin met her future husband, Cesar, who worked in the flooring installation industry. “You dance salsa on good floors,” Olguin laughed. A year later, the two wed, and as the couple started to grow their family, they simultaneously decided to grow their family business, CIC Floors, which Cesar had founded in 2003.

Clara and Cesar

The Path To Growth

Five years ago, after years of primarily doing installation work, Clara and Cesar decided to open a showroom; however, several banks weren’t willing to approve their loan application. That’s when a friend referred the couple to Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), an Atlanta-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). CNote partners with CDFIs like ACE in communities across America, funding loans to small businesses and empowering local entrepreneurs like Clara and Cesar.

The Team Behind CIC Floors

ACE helped CIC obtain a small business loan to rent a small space for its showroom, and two years later, CIC received a second loan from ACE that helped triple the company’s revenues.

Although Olguin credits ACE with allowing CIC Floors to open its first showroom and to grow, it didn’t take long for the small business to outgrow the tiny warehouse space. “We were grateful for the opportunity and trust and money ACE gave us,” she said, “but the showroom was packed, and we didn’t have space to receive all of our customers. We had people waiting outside. Once one client would leave, another could come in.”

More so, as the company continued to get bigger and bigger, it also began to expand its offerings, from carpeting to tile to wallpaper. Plus, as the sustainability movement continued to gain momentum, CIC began fielding more requests for eco-friendly products, and more and more designers asked to bring customers into the store for consultations. “The store was just too small,” Olguin said. “We needed a new location.”

Building On Their Vision

Clara and Cesar found a new space on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, in Norcross, Georgia and started developing designs for the new showroom. Once again, ACE stepped in and helped CIC Floors get the funds it needed to take its next step as a small business, and last year, CIC opened its new 6,000-square-foot location as a one-stop wall and flooring destination for customers, designers, architects and builders. In honor of their roots, the couple brought in flamenco dancers into the store to celebrate their grand re-opening.

Olguin says the new showroom is a dream come true. And business is booming. Whereas CIC Floors hit its first million right before opening the new store last year, it’s increased monthly sales from $55,000 to $91,000 since opening the new showroom. According to Olguin, it’s also attracting clients with larger budgets than at their previous store. The increased revenue is allowing Clara and Cesar to expand CIC’s team. The two are looking to add two more employees to their staff of three full-time and two part-time employees, in the near future.

“For me and my husband, creating floors and supporting our clients in their home renovations or building their new home should be a celebration,” Olguin said. “This is the place where you will dance as a couple, where your kids will play, and where your pets will lie down. Floors are the foundation of your home, and they have to be a special place.”

Given Olguin’s celebratory outlook on the products and services CIC provides, it’s not uncommon to see customers, clients and designers walking around the showroom with a glass of wine or a mimosa as they compare tiles, color palettes, and flooring options. “We have a lot to offer,” she said, “and we don’t care as much about the number of sales we get as we do being able to offer one-on-one relationships with customers. The numbers are important to us, but the relationships are more important.”

Help From A Trusted Partner

Olguin’s confidence is rooted in ACE, which provided CIC with access to both a “marketing guru” and a finance expert. ACE also helped CIC acquire multiple business certifications, including Minority Business Enterprise and Women’s Business Enterprise certifications, and the CDFI nominated CIC to be a part of The Georgia Mentor Protégé Connection and later the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, from which Olguin recently graduated.

CIC’s new location

“I cannot say enough about the networking and connections ACE has made for us,” she said. “Because of them, we got into the Goldman Sachs program, and they helped us to further develop our business and to forecast our growth for the next five years. That’s why I feel so confident today. I know where I’m going. I know where we’re heading.”

Next Steps and Giving Back

Clara and Cesar’s long-term goals for CIC Floors are centered around their five-year plan, which includes supporting their clients, offering exclusive product lines, growing the business, and supporting the community. The company already donates a portion of its annual earnings to various causes, including the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, Georgia Goal Scholarship Program, Inc., and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. However, going forward, CIC’s owners want to explore opportunities to support the flooring installation workforce through classes and trainings, especially for non-native English speakers and refugees. “To us, being a part of our community and giving back makes sense to us,” Olguin said. “It’s who we are.”

Learn More

  • CIC Floors
  • Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE) – ACE is an SBA Microloan Intermediary, a USDA Intermediary Relender and a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
  • CNote – Interested in helping create another story like Clara and Cesar’s? CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like ACE, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By Equality, Impact Investing

What’s the Big Deal About Inequality And What Role Does the U.S. Federal Reserve Play?

Why Does Inequality Matter?

The phenomenon of increasing wealth inequality has emerged as one of the major socio-political issues of our time. Whether you turn to TV stations, newspapers, or internet blogs to keep up to date with news and current events, there’s a good chance that you have already seen the topic come up with increasing regularity.

Like other hot-button issues in contemporary political dialogue, arguments are raised regarding inequality’s root causes, the most effective policy prescriptions, and even whether it is even a problem in the first place.1 The fact that the wealth gap is indeed widening, however, is one rare point of general agreement, no matter one’s views on those other questions.

Take, for instance, the August 2017 New York Times piece by David Leonhardt titled “Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart.” Leonhardt leads with a chart depicting the differences in income growth between 1980 and 2014, broken down by income percentiles. While those in the lower percentiles once saw higher income growth than those in the top, the situation flipped by 2014 in dramatic fashion, resulting in the so-called “hockey stick” curve, where income growth only skyrockets well into the top decile, particularly at the 99th percentile. Additional charts throughout Leonhardt’s piece all indicate a shift in the distribution of income growth over the past several decades, ramping up significantly in the last few years.

Ray Dalio Enters the Fray

While TV pundits and newspaper columnists continued to argue over the seemingly widening inequality, a LinkedIn blog post penned by famed hedge fund manager Ray Dalio surfaced in April of this year and kicked off another explosion of press coverage.2 Dalio, the billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund as measured by discretionary assets under management, uses the blog post to defend his thesis that “capitalism is now not working for the majority of Americans.”    

In the piece, Dalio acknowledges the productive power of capitalism, which he defines loosely as “the ability to make money, save it, and put it into capital.” At the same time, he believes capitalism has produced “self-reinforcing spirals” that in turn have created “widening income/wealth/opportunity gaps that pose existential threats to the United States.” By the end of Part 1, Dalio connects the phenomenon of widening inequality to the civil unrest and increasing ideological polarity that has led to the rise of populist political leaders worldwide as well as in the U.S.

Dalio engages with the ideas in his post from a systems engineering standpoint, placing emphasis on structural features of the economy. To that end, he slices and dices the data to produce graphs and statistics on such topics as income mobility, education, and health. While the structural reforms Dalio proposes are generally quite vague, he does more clearly spell out a series of investments he recommends focusing on. Areas that he believes have “great double bottom line investments for the country” include programs in early childhood education, microfinance, infrastructure, and public health.

Where the Fed Fits In

Although easy to miss amidst the many charts and statistical discussions of poor social outcomes and seldom discussed in mainstream media channels, Dalio regards the Federal Reserve as a key player in his “diagnosis of why capitalism is now not working well for the majority of people.”3 Recognizing that “reality works like a machine with cause/effect relationships,” Dalio states the following, emphasis added):

Central banks’ printing of money and buying of financial assets (which were necessary to deal with the 2008 debt crisis and to stimulate economic growth) drove up the prices of financial assets, which helped make people who own financial assets richer relative to those who don’t own them. When the Federal Reserve (and most other central banks) buys financial assets to put money in the economy in order to stimulate the economy, the sellers of those financial assets (who are rich enough to have financial assets) a) get richer because the financial asset prices rise and b) are more likely to buy financial assets than to buy goods and services, which makes the rich richer and flush with money and credit while the majority of people who are poor don’t get money and credit because they are less creditworthy.

Shortly thereafter, Dalio runs through a causal chain of events that he believes brought the United States economy to this point. Notably, central bank quantitative easing policy is the second entry on the list, preceding the widening inequality gap, rise of global and domestic populism, and social and military conflicts that Dalio fears will result. He largely repeats the same points as the quotation above when he states that the quantitative easing policies pursued by central banks following the debt crisis of 2008 “pushed asset prices up and pushed interest rates down,” which largely served to “benefit those with financial assets (i.e., the haves).”

Inequality and the Federal Reserve

That there is a causal relationship between central bank policy and the price of financial assets, is far from some esoteric economic theory. Even President Trump has implicitly recognized the connection between Federal Reserve policy and US stock market performance in the following tweet4:

In response to the general pressure exerted by the Trump administration, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George was recently quoted saying, “Lower interest rates might fuel asset bubbles, create financial imbalances, and ultimately a recession.”5 Despite opposing President Trump’s wishes, Ms. George’s quote is perfectly consistent with the implications of his above tweet, as well as with Ray Dalio’s discussion of the consequences of central bank policy following the debt crisis of 2008.

Plenty of others are also taking notice of the apparent relationship between central bank policy and widening inequality. For instance, Twitter user Nid had this to say:6

Albert Gallo, a partner at Algebris Investments, corroborates Dalio’s central bank narrative, brief as it is, and places the brunt of the blame at the feet of central banks. In the April 26 Bloomberg article appropriately titled “Central Banks Have Broken Capitalism,” Gallo draws attention to the fact that central banks have injected “unprecedented amounts of cash into the global financial system” for a decade now, propelling stock market prices to record highs while also driving global debt to “more than three times world gross domestic product.” Meanwhile, sustained ultra-low interest rate policies have led to more leverage and risk in stock markets and increasing inequality by “giving large firms an advantage through cheap funding in bond markets.” In Gallo’s view, the unprecedented actions undertaken by central banks during the financial crisis of 2008 may have cushioned downturns until now, but only but in the process “have turned capitalism into a short-sighted game of kick-the-can.”

Meanwhile, over in the pages of the Economic Equality blog, Karen Petrou notes how prevailing economic orthodoxy assumes that extremely low interest rates promote equality by allowing more people to access debt. However, the ultra-wealthy have access to the best wealth managers and have a much better chance of beating zero or negative market returns. Low and middle-income households face a considerably more difficult situation, as quantitative easing has driven out asset classes that have traditionally provided lower but more stable returns. In addition, the connection between low interest rates and increased lending rates is also empirically dubious, as bank loans are less profitable as interest rates approach zero.7 In short, Fed policy has been great for hedge fund managers like Ray Dalio, but not for low-income households who have been largely frozen out of the loan market.

On Inflation

In his LinkedIn post, Dalio notes that real wages net inflation have not risen since the 1970s, It is curious, however, that he and many media pundits have quoted statistics to that effect without considering the other side of “real” economic variables.8 In short, changes in “real” variables over time can stem from movements in two different metrics, namely the nominal value of the variable in question and the rate of inflation. The stagnation of real wages, then, means that nominal wages have largely kept pace with inflation over the decades under observation.

To illustrate with a very simplified example, imagine that you earn $50,000 per year and the inflation rate during that time is 1%. If your salary remains the same at the start of the next year, your nominal income will still be $50,000, although your real income is now only $49,500. This is because goods and services cost 1% more than they did during the previous year, reducing your purchasing power to only 99% of what you enjoyed the year before. Of course, your salary may also rise to offset the inflation, as would be the case if you now earned $50,500. In this example with a 1% inflation rate and $50,000 base salary, it would take a pay raise greater than $500 per year to see an increase in real income.

Michael Lebowitz draws attention to the pernicious inequality-generating effects of inflation in his article “Two Percent for the One Percent.” Lebowitz draws attention to the disparate effects of the Federal Reserve’s targeted 2% annual inflation on those living paycheck-to-paycheck versus those with a portion of their wealth in financial assets.9 While those who consume most of their income and consequently invest very little struggle to maintain their standard of living, the wealthy are in a much better position to take advantage of investment products that can keep pace with inflation and benefit from financial leveraged that low interest rates make more accessible. Lebowitz concludes by pointing out how steady inflation “drives a negative feedback loop,” as those who suffer most under the inflation face an incentive to consume more in the present in expectation of future inflation.

The Cantillon Effect

Inflation can thus be considered a “silent tax” that decreases the purchasing power of wealth held in cash.10 Meanwhile, there is an additional aspect of inflation that further benefits the well-connected while leaving lower-income households to deal with the adverse consequences. To use economics jargon, money is not truly “neutral,” meaning that new injections of money into the economy do not lead to higher prices all at once. Instead, different sectors of the economy adjust to the increased money supply at different times.

This piece published by the Foundation for Economic Education explains the mechanisms of what is now referred to as the “Cantillon Effect,” named after 18th-century French economist Richard Cantillon. Cantillon posited that those who first receive newly created money can enjoy purchasing goods and services at old prices before adjustment has taken place resulting from the increase in the money supply. Instead, prices adjust gradually as the new money filters throughout the economy. In the end, those who are furthest removed from the source of the money creation are most negatively impacted by inflation, as they faced higher prices before a commensurate rise in nominal money.

So what does this mean in our economy today?

When the Federal Reserve announces any form of quantitative easing, investors expect prices to rise and seek to enter financial markets, bidding up the prices of these financial assets. Companies and individuals already holding financial assets enjoy this windfall and can in turn invest and consume at old prices using the new profits. Gradually, the new money travels through the economy, bidding up the costs of resources until prices have adjusted to the new supply of money. Wage earners face higher living costs before their incomes can rise commensurately and must demand raises over time to maintain their old purchasing power. While inflation does not affect real economic factors, in the long run, it does affect how resource prices adjust in the short run and serves to aggravate the phenomenon of widening wealth inequality.

Final Thoughts

As Ray Dalio warns in his LinkedIn post, a failure to understand why income inequality is becoming more extreme and how to change the situation could result in “a great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and shrink the pie.” Yet, it is still rare to hear mention of how central bank policies benefit the wealthy and well-connected while comparatively damaging the purchasing power of low-wage workers and households that rely upon savings rather than financial markets.

At CNote, we are committed to growing the pie of wealth by providing those otherwise excluded from the banking system the access to capital they need to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and build businesses that increase prosperity for all. By investing with CNote, you can earn an annual return of 2.75%, more than keeping pace with the Federal Reserve’s stated inflation target, while making a real impact in the lives of many in underserved communities.

We hope you will consider joining us in our mission to give those struggling in our economy the tools they need to build a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. Changing macroeconomic policy may seem too daunting, but that doesn’t mean we cannot drive change at a micro level.

By Borrower Stories

Meet Dr. Jeremy Busch, Navy Veteran, Podiatrist, and CDC Loan Recipient

Growing up, Jeremy Busch never thought about becoming a podiatrist. According to him, it was the last thing on his list. The sight of blood — in real life, in movies, or on television — made him squeamish, and besides, his passion was engineering, not healthcare.

Then September 11th happened.

In 2001, Busch was a cadet at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, just across the Long Island Sound from Ground Zero. The campus quickly became an aid station, and facilities were used to both help victims and store bodies. Lacking any kind of medical training, Busch felt helpless. As some of his peers sailed towards the fallen buildings, Busch stayed behind to set up cots and to prepare food at the academy. “I felt like there was more I could be doing to help people,” Busch said.

“I felt like there was more I could be doing to help people.”

Busch changed career paths. He signed up for an EMT course and began volunteering at a local hospital. It was too late for him to switch majors, but while he was completing his engineering coursework, he enrolled in pre-med classes. In 2005, when he graduated from the academy, he was accepted into a condensed post-baccalaureate program for medical prerequisites at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 2008, he matriculated at The Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

While he was pursuing his medical degree, Busch remained in the Individual Ready Reserves, having already spent time as a midshipman supporting the war effort in both Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. After eight years of service with the U.S. Navy, he received an honorable discharge as a lieutenant. Even though the veteran didn’t initially know where he wanted to go in the medical field, Busch knew he wanted to have his own practice. “I had no interest in working for a hospital,” he said, “and I didn’t have any interest in working for another doctor except for obtaining the knowledge that I would need to utilize in order to start my own practice.”

In 2012, Busch became a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine and moved to Long Beach, California for his residency requirements, where he continued to seek out opportunities to prepare himself to one day build a successful practice.

Rescuing a Sinking Ship

After completing his residency, Busch got a shot at his dream: his own practice. However, taking over Total Foot & Ankle Center in Riverside, California wasn’t easy. The practice he was inheriting was an antiquated operation that needed massive TLC. By the time Busch took it over in late January of 2017, he had his work cut out for him. He was commuting an hour and a half each way and seeing between 40 to 50 patients every day.

“I had to learn how to see a ridiculous number of patients without losing the quality of care,” Busch said. “As doctors, we’re forced to see so many patients in order to be profitable. It’s sad, but it’s true. You can do it, it’s just not a skill that comes easily.”

While Busch was fine-tuning his skills as a patient-focused podiatrist, he was struggling as a business owner. “I didn’t know anything about business,” he said. “It was completely insane, the mountains of paperwork taking over a practice. There was no way of staying on top of everything. I was going to bed at midnight and waking up every single day having to run this marathon.”

Fortunately, Busch found CDC Small Business Finance, a nonprofit that partners with CNote to offer small business loan options to entrepreneurs in California, Arizona and Nevada. If it wasn’t for Busch’s CDC loan officer, Anna Marie Cruz, the former midshipman wouldn’t have been able to keep the practice afloat. According to him, he was doing everything humanly possible to ensure the survival of his practice and to meet payroll. “The CDC loan came through at a clutch time,” Busch said. “What CDC provided me was an avenue for obtaining a goal. They didn’t just throw a book at me say ‘go do it.’ They streamlined the process and answered my questions.”

“Podiatry is one of the medical practices where you can do things that have an immediate effect on people. It’s instant gratification. As long as I’m able to provide that high level of care, I’m going to expand as much as possible.”

The capital working loan from CDC gave Busch the financial runway he needed to get his feet underneath him as a business owner and to continue operations at Total Foot & Ankle Center. The capital injection helped him meet payroll, make minor improvements to the practice, and begin to scale. “It wouldn’t have been possible without that loan,” Busch said. “In the medical field, when it comes to insurance companies, it can take up to four months to get paid for services rendered. That’s frustrating, and it can be killer for sole private practitioners. Without that loan, I would have landed flat on my face.”

Stormy Clouds Behind, Calm Seas Ahead

Busch, however, didn’t land on his face. With the CDC’s help, he navigated a particularly challenging first six months. According to him, his best day as a business owner was when he was able to pay his ten employees with revenue dollars instead of loan money. “To turn around and pay my employees with a check that said ‘Total Foot & Ankle Center,’ it finally allowed me to breathe and say ‘it’s finally working,’” Busch said. “It gave me a lot of confidence.”

He’s quick to credit CDC — and his loan officer — for providing capital and business plan guidance that have ultimately kept the lights on at Total Foot & Ankle Center; however, Busch says without his upbeat, committed staff, his practice would be short on patients. “I can’t take too much credit,” Busch laughed. “My office manager hired such quality employees who turn these laborious appointments for patients into really warm and comforting interactions. My employees have the right attitude, and they make patients feel cared for.”

The word has spread: Busch says that between referrals from current patients and primary care doctors in the community, business is booming. “That’s one of the most rewarding and gratifying feelings,” he said. “I never had to go out there and promote myself.”

Today, Busch is looking to ride his early, albeit hard-fought success towards scaling his practice. He’s already opened a second office in Victorville, and he’s starting up a third location in Barstow. His goal is to ultimately grow Total Foot & Ankle Center and onboard another podiatrist who shares his values for helping people.

“That’s why I got into this,” Busch said. “Podiatry is one of the medical practices where you can do things that have an immediate effect on people. It’s instant gratification. As long as I’m able to provide that high level of care, I’m going to expand as much as possible.”

Learn More

  • Total Foot & Ankle Center
  • CDC Small Business Finance is a leading U.S. small business lender focused on helping entrepreneurs in underserved markets obtain financing.
  • CNote – Interested in helping create another story like Dr. Busch’s? CNote makes it easy to invest in great CDFIs like CDC, helping you earn more while having a positive impact on businesses and communities across America.
By CNote, Impact Metrics

CNote’s Q1 2019 Impact Metrics – Infographic

We know one of the main reasons you invest with CNote, is because of the impact your investment has.

We’re proud to share our Q1 2019 impact data.

In Q1 2019, our members helped create/maintain 262 jobs!

Over half of all invested capital was deployed with minority-led businesses. We’re also extremely proud to announce that more than 78% of CNote capital went to LMI communities!

If you’d like to see our annual impact data, along with an explanation of how we map CNote’s impact investments to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, read our 2018 Impact Report.

 

By Change Makers Series

Change Makers Interview: Tory Dietel Hopps

You could say that philanthropy runs in Tory Dietel Hopps’ family. She’s a fourth-generation inheritor, philanthropist and activist, and she spent the first 25 years of her professional career in the nonprofit sector, focusing on resource development, management and governance for nonprofit organizations in education, health and human services.

Dietel & Partners Team, Tory pictured 3rd from the left.

In 2007, Tory joined her father, Bill Dietel and oldest sister, Betsy Dietel to create Dietel & Partners. Today, the firm provides counsel to more than a half dozen clients whose assets range from $40 million to over half a billion dollars, and Dietel & Partners works closely with over 200 grantee organizations.

CNote sat down with Tory to talk about her career, the nonprofit sector, and donor-advised funds, and we got the chance to hear her thoughts on mission-driven giving, blended investment strategies, and the future of philanthropy.

CNote: How did Dietel & Partners come about?

Tory Dietel Hopps: Dietel & Partners was formed when we were asked by a multigenerational family to build a shared-family philanthropic office. It was an unusual arrangement; it was my family working with another family. Since then, we have specialized in working with multi-generational families and individual donors who have used donor-advised funds and/or foundations. And some have simply done their philanthropy out of their checkbooks. We are vehicle agnostic. The preponderance of our clients have operated without experienced philanthropic council prior to engaging our services.

CNote: What’s something special about your firm?

Tory Dietel Hopps: Our firm is an expression of our values as a family in terms of our commitment to social justice, a deep interest in women’s equality, and a keen dedication to the future health of the planet.

Because the three original partners and everyone that we’ve hired since have all had extensive experience in 501(C)3 organizations, we have a dedicated interest in reforming the power dynamics that exist in our sector regarding grantmaking, as well as social finance more broadly. Operating in a sincere partnership model is in our DNA and is something that requires daily commitment; we take it very seriously.

CNote: How has the industry evolved since you first began your career?

Tory Dietel Hopps: One thing I would cite is the increasing number of people we see who are considering spending down their wealth in their lifetime or within the next generation’s lifetime. That’s been a major trend. It may be special to our practice, but almost every single person we work with has a spend-down mentality. This is a remarkable trend and it does create a sense of urgency.

I would also underline the importance of the increase in use of donor-advised funds. In addition, there is growing interest in the use of an integrated capital or blended capital model and we have seen more client interest in mission-aligned investing.

CNote: You mentioned some “power dynamics” earlier. What isn’t functioning as well as it could in this sector?

Tory Dietel Hopps: When I refer to power dynamics, I am referring to the often unconscious behavior of funders putting their interests and needs first and not recognizing the stress and strain that many of their grantee partners function under on a regular basis. A lot of it is not necessarily something that people mean to perpetuate, but it can easily create difficulties in terms of us all getting farther along the roads we’re trying to move down, regardless of the issue. Challenging those behaviors and bringing a service headset to our relationships is something that’s near and dear to our hearts.

CNote: What have you learned about working with grantees?

Tory Dietel Hopps: We think about grantees truly as partners on the ground and not simply as recipients of philanthropic funding. One of the first things that we ask our grantee partners about is the state of their cash flow. I think too many of us in philanthropy forget that frontline organizations are often walking a very tight financial rope. Studying the cash flow position of an organization tells us a lot about bandwidth and flexibility. It’s an often overlooked early question.

Second, we try to look at all the ways in which we can remove hoops that grantee partners all too often get asked to jump through one more time. So, before we ask an organization to make an application, we are as sure as possible their proposal is likely to be approved by our client partner. Organizations spend an unnecessary amount of time filling out applications, answering questions, dealing with site visits etc.  When we enter the process, we wish to be as forthright as possible about the prospects of support and try to streamline our process.

When we take on a philanthropic client, essentially, we say to the client, “We see both you and your grantees as our partners in this work.” We believe this partnership model is extremely effective.

CNote: What are the issues you’re most passionate about, and what are some solutions you’ve invested in that address those issues?

Tory Dietel:

We are firm believers in the power of human talent. Leadership training, particularly for women is something our family has long supported.  As a firm, we have provided funding for women’s leadership programs run by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) in Rhinebeck, New York. Omega works with a very diverse group of female leaders in government, nonprofit, and business. The OWLC’s tag line is “Do Power Differently” and we really support that.

Climate change is also important to us as a family and as a firm. As all too many of our policy makers are currently unwilling to take on leadership, we have been exploring ways to create change that is not dependent on our federal or state governments. For example, we’ve been looking at using market forces for change, and I have been personally deeply engaged with something called Health Care Without Harm, which is a global entity that is helping to lead the healthcare industry towards sustainability in their operations and address climate change as anchor institutions.

CNote: You mentioned donor-advised funds earlier. What’s your take on them?

Tory Dietel Hopps: Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are by far the fastest growing vehicle within the philanthropic landscape. DAFs can democratize giving. It’s a simpler solution and it’s financially much cheaper than starting a foundation. In my opinion, we do need some regulation around the donor-advised funds for greater transparency.  That being said, they can be a powerful tool for people that are interested in philanthropic giving. It’s not an either/or situation and foundations and DAFs have different capabilities and benefits.

CNote: Is it more challenging to do grant making through the traditional foundation approach versus a donor-advised fund, or are the challenges relatively the same?

Tory Dietel Hopps: It can be important to have both arrows in your philanthropic quiver. The donor-advised fund approach now appears to be more open to impact investing. One of the ways that I got introduced to CNote was through a brand-new entity called CapShift that’s providing impact investing capability through donor-advised funds. So, I think that with the right investment advisor and strategy, you can use a donor-advised fund very creatively, just as you can with a foundation. Typically, the donor-advised funds are in essence democratic and funds can be started with as little as $1,000. Sometimes, the options on the investment side are not as robust with the smaller accounts, but it appears to us to be changing and I think that’s really good news for the sector as a whole.

CNote: To what extent do you see an integrated capital approach to grant making becoming more popular, and what components within that blended approach do you think have the most promise?

Tory Dietel Hopps: It’s a burgeoning area. We ought to be thinking about how we move everything towards mission and towards the reason why we have a charitable tax status. When I think about integrated capital, I think of a continuum, a horizontal line and at the far left I would put grant dollars and at the very far right I’d place equity. In between are a wide variety of different ways to utilize one’s capital to be helpful in achieving mission.  There is a lot of room for creativity.

Historically, the investment and grantmaking sides of most foundations and DAFs have been disconnected. The fundamental shift that needs to happen is to bring the investments more in line with mission. The options and opportunities are growing by the day.

My observation is that the once the intention is translated into adopting an integrated capital approach, the philanthropic process becomes much more effective because you’ve got additional tools and capital driving towards mission.

CNote: What advice would you have for someone who’s starting a foundation, launching a donor-advised fund, or inheriting wealth?

Tory Dietel: The very first thing that people should do is know what they own. So just being conscious of what’s actually in your holdings is the very first step. Okay, “I have an index fund.” Well, that’s great, but what’s actually in your index fund?  I just went through this recently with a client who has been doing remarkable and very cutting-edge grant making in the environmental field. On the investment side of the house, they had funds that were in index funds, and those index funds were holding companies in industries that the grant-making side of the house was working to shift and fight against, from a watchdog standpoint and from a policy standpoint. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. So, step one is really understanding what you own by way of investments before you start grantmaking. Your money is working all the time, and you need to ask is your money working for what you want it to be doing in the world both in terms of investments and grants?

CNote: What’s the future of philanthropy look like in the next five to 10 years, and what are you most excited about?

Tory Dietel: As philanthropy grows and younger people in particular become more engaged, donors are becoming more creative and experimental. We are moving away from foundations giving just 5% of their assets away in grants to foundations activating the other 95 percent for mission as well.  DAF holders are also beginning to work towards aligning of all assets towards mission. I find this shift to be very encouraging.

I’m not sure there’s a silver bullet or the perfect vehicle that’s right for everybody, but the fact that there’s experimentation going on is a good thing.  I think that the younger generations are more global in their exposure, their education and their interests. Technology helps us to connect in ways we never have before, which is exciting for the future of the field.

It is important that there is more focus on trying to hold the philanthropic community accountable in different ways. That is a positive trend if it continues with a desire to truly make things better and not simply to shame. That’s part of why I think some the regulation component is needed in the donor advised fund space and what could be really helpful – transparency is important, particularly within the donor-advised field.

Finally, I am fascinated by the current interest in building communities of practice. There are many associations, councils and networks of funder groups developing across all fields. For example, the number of members in the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders has at least tripled in the last 10 to 15 years. That’s an exciting indication of the rise of these collective funding and learning entities. I see it as a positive sign that people do not want to work in silos but are eager to do things collectively and collaboratively to build more effective strategies. This has many positive implications for the future of philanthropy.

Special thanks to Tory Dietel Hopps for sharing her story and vision for philanthropy and impact investing.

About Dietel & Partners

The Dietel & Partners business grew out of the Dietel family’s collective experience in the giving and receiving sides of philanthropy. Our founder worked as president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for two generations. Today, three partners and a full-time team provide counsel to several clients and families. Together, they have almost 80 years of experience nurturing long-time relationships with some of America’s most influential families who have trusted their approach to philanthropy.  Dietel & Partners was certified as a Women Owned-Business in 2019.  www.DietelAndPartners.com

By Impact Investing

Doubling the Impact: The Benefits of Integrating Impact Investing with Donor-Advised Funds

The Growth of Donor Advised Funds

When it comes to charitable donations, the increasing importance of Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) is undeniable. In 2017, DAFs accounted for as much as 7% of total charitable giving and 10.2% of individual giving, rising from just 4.4% of individual giving as recently as 2010 1 In short, Donor-Advised Funds are a force to be reckoned with in the charity space and must be regarded as a major vehicle through which philanthropic giving now occurs.

DAFs operate by accepting funds from donors, who then can take an upfront charitable tax deduction. These donors then recommend how the DAF should distribute the donated funds to nonprofit organizations over time. This eventual charitable distribution usually takes the form of grants. Typically, only a fraction of total charitable assets held by DAFs are distributed within a given calendar year. Grant payout did rise from 20.6% to 22.1% from 2016 to 2017, but considering DAFs held $110 billion in charitable assets, that still amounts to over $85 billion in charitable assets seemingly warehoused in 2017 alone. 2

An integrated approach can help donors achieve objectives prior to grantmaking and assure that participants take a holistic view where they can see the forest for the trees.

Challenges Present Opportunities, The Growth of an Integrated Approach

Integrating impact investment options with DAFs can solve two problems at once, generating social impact in the here and now while simultaneously enhancing a fund’s future grant-making capacity.

The fact that there are no shortage of causes that could use capital while many billions of dollars earmarked for charity sit idle, sometimes for years at a time, has led some organizations, such as the Institute for Policy Studies, to levy criticisms towards the growing prevalence of DAFs. 3

Notably, some question the extent to which the proliferation of DAFs in recent years has drawn attention away from more traditional charitable vehicles.4 In addition, given that major players in the DAF world include names like Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, Schwab, and Vanguard, some have also noted an apparent “Wall Street takeover” of charitable fundraising.5

Despite these objections, there is no doubt that DAFs are here to stay as a major force in the charitable donations space. At the same time, there is increasingly a desire of donors to align philanthropic activity with a values-based approach. Integrating impact investment options with DAFs can solve two problems at once, generating social impact in the here and now while simultaneously enhancing a fund’s future grant-making capacity.

Benefits of Impact Investing for DAFs

While each individual DAF will likely identify unique ways in which impact investing can complement and improve their operations and satisfy their donors, we will focus on three broad ways in which DAFs can clearly benefit from pursuing greater integration with impact investing.

1. The flexibility of DAF Capital

Combining DAFs and impact investing allows a greater degree of flexibility for donors looking to make a difference. While grants can certainly be a powerful vehicle for charitable giving, they usually consist of one-time transfers that take time to administer and may have long lead times for generating measurable impact. Given that the scope of grants can be limited, donors may wish to improve the odds that their funds will have an impact before that final grant outlay.

The utilization of impact investments not only keeps the capital moving to different opportunities in the short term while awaiting its final deployment but also gives DAF donors a wider range of causes through which to distribute funds. Donors that consider impact investment options will be more likely to find a suitable match for their particular values and desired charitable ends. In that way, adding more ways in which funds can be productively allocated can only benefit DAF sponsors in attracting donors and give donors the best opportunity to make the kinds of impact they are looking for.

2. Do More Good More Often

As already mentioned, it can often take a long time for DAFs to distribute funds. In the intermediate time period between when funds are provided by the donor to a DAF and its eventual distribution in