Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Community Development Loan Funds: An Effective Partner for Local Impact Investing

Bonny Moellenbrock
Advisor, LOCUS Impact Investing

- Bonny Moellenbrock, LOCUS' advisor, shares insights on how Community Development Loan Funds (CDLFs) can be used for impact investing.

This spring, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and investment firm Symbiotics released The Financial Performance of Impact Investing Through Private Debt, the latest in a series of reports benchmarking impact investing opportunities in different asset classes. For U.S. place-based investors, Community Development Loan Funds (CDLFs) provide a particularly promising impact investing opportunity.  The report analyzed data for the past five years from 102 participating CDLFs across the country. Below I’ve shared some of the highlights from this report relevant to foundations and others interested in place-based investing.

About Community Development Loan Funds
Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are mission-driven banks, credit unions, venture capital funds, and loan funds that provide capital and financial services to underserved communities to increase economic development and opportunity. They are certified by the U.S. Treasury Department CDFI Fund. Community Development Loan Funds (CDLFs) are the most common type of CDFI, providing financing and technical assistance for microenterprises, businesses, commercial real estate, housing development, and community facilities, all in economically distressed locations across the country. Most are nonprofit organizations, focused on a particular state or region, and most rely on grants and contributions in addition to returns from lending to fund their operations.  LOCUS Impact Investing’s parent company, Virginia Community Capital, is a $323m CDLF.

The report shows the diversity in CDLFs. Forty percent of the funds analyzed focus on housing, 33% on local business financing, and the rest provide financing for microenterprises and community facilities. Assets under management range from $1 million to $1 billion, with the average and median CDLFs at $55.2 million and $24.9 million, respectively. Growth of the median has been a solid 12.4% since 2012.

The majority of capital invested in these funds – a significant 75% – is from institutional investors including pension funds, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and foundations. The remaining is provided by public funders (18%) and retail and other investors (7%). These funders invest in notes or lines of credit with the CDLFs. Here at LOCUS, we see an increase in foundations who care about a specific geographic region investing in CDLFs for both a financial return and social impact in their communities.  

Community Development Loan Fund Performance, Risk and Impact
Impact Investors typically weigh fund performance, risk, and the impact achieved in their investment decisions. Average interest rates paid by CDLFs on notes have been very stable at 2.9% over the period; average interest paid on the less-common lines of credit was also relatively stable at 3%. Housing-focused funds paid the highest interest rates on notes, averaging at 3.0% or above. Microenterprise funds paid the lowest interest rates on notes, with rates of 2.1% - 2.6% over the period.

Portfolio yields, a reflection of the interest rates CDLF’s charge for loans, ranged from 5.2% to 5.4% on a weighted average basis over the period. Microenterprise fund yields were highest at an average of 12.5%, and housing-focused funds lowest at 4.2%, with businesses and community facilities funds falling between. These discrepancies between portfolio yields and respective interest rates reflect the higher costs associated with microenterprise funds, which usually provide additional technical assistance to the enterprises, versus the relatively lower expense ratios of housing-focused funds.

CDLF’s demonstrated high portfolio quality, with write-offs in 2016 at 0.6% of the portfolio outstanding. As one would expect, when broken down by size, write-offs by small CDLFs were higher at 2.2% of portfolio outstanding versus 0.2% for the largest CDLFs. Loan loss provisions at the end of 2016 were at 4.9% of portfolio outstanding overall.

While most CDLF’s have a particular sector focus as noted above, they also participate in other subsectors. Thus nearly 75% of the CDLFs in the study provide loans in Financial Services (including individual loans and microfinance) and Housing. Education, Healthcare, and Food & Agriculture are other common sectors. Through these financial products, CDLFs target a number of impacts. Employment generation (87% of CDLFs in the study), affordable housing (71%), and food security (43%) are top impacts, with health improvement, education, and financial inclusion also of notable interest. While metric data in the study was very limited, the most common metrics tracked were housing-related (units created or preserved, or people housed), the number of jobs created or preserved, and students served.

Key Takeaways for U.S. Place-Based Investors
Despite their long tenure, CDLFs have been somewhat under the radar in the impact investing space. This report highlights the strong opportunities that CDLFs provide for institutions and individuals interested in place-based impact investing in their U.S. region.

·       CDLFs provide competitive, stable, low volatility returns with place-based impact.
With stable 2.9% returns with low volatility, CDLF’s are a strong fixed income, place-based impact investment option. The vast majority of CDLFs in the study were created over 25 years ago, and therefore have long tenures to demonstrate their financial performance.  Given this relatively long track record to support the financial case, they are an excellent gateway for those new to impact investing and should remain a key component of a place-based investing strategy for all impact investors.

·       CDLFs are an excellent resource and potential partner for place-based impact investors.
CDLFs relatively long tenure also provides a deep understanding of their local economy and its players and needs, especially in regards to the underserved, low-income, or marginalized members of the local community. With economic factors playing a key role in most social missions, from housing to education and health, CDLF’s insights can be very informative to the strategies of place-based foundations, philanthropists, and investors. As nonprofits, CDLFs are reliant on grants and contributions for their programs and services, and such support can be a great way to begin a partnership. For investors interested in developing new impact investing innovations, CDLF’s financial expertise renders them a great potential partner for new programs or products.

To learn more about CDFIs and CDLFs serving your community, visit The CDFI Fund and the Opportunity Finance Network (CDFI trade association). Learn how LOCUS Impact Investing can help you assess CDLF opportunities in your region by visiting our website.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

40 Years in the Making

Sydney England
Client Development Manager, LOCUS Impact Investing

- Sydney England interviews Sherry Magill and Chris Crothers of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and discovers how place-based impact investments allowed a foundation to realize the vision of two extraordinary women.

Ms. Jessie Ball’s fortunes changed in 1920. It was during this year that Jessie, having returned to her childhood home in the Northern Neck of Virginia, reconnected with a long-time friend, Mr. Alfred I. duPont – of the distinguished duPont Family. Shortly thereafter, the two wed, and Jessie adopted the name that would become associated with enduring community philanthropy and commitment to place. Since her death in 1970, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, a Jacksonville-based private foundation, has granted more than $350 million to nonprofits across the country – with the vast majority of those grant dollars going to communities that Ms. duPont once called “home.” Through good market fortune and prudent resource management, the Fund’s endowment has grown from a modest $48 million to $295 million – enabling the staff and trustees to think strategically about how best to serve the wishes expressed through Mrs. duPont’s will.

That is not to suggest that Jessie Ball duPont Fund President, Dr. Sherry Magill, hasn’t seen her fair share of trying economic conditions. Following the 2008 economic collapse, the Fund’s leadership watched as the portfolio dropped a staggering 28% virtually overnight. In the wake of the economic collapse, the Fund’s trustees began asking hard questions about their investment strategy. Sherry recalls, “We started to think about what business we were in. We weren’t in the investment business. We were in the business of helping communities.” After a number of internal conversations, the trustees agreed to allocate $10 million for direct community investments to “help communities” respond to the increased demand for social services brought about by economic dislocation.

With the help of a consultant, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund trustees and staff began an 18-month learning journey - primarily regarding the use of Program Related Investments (PRIs). One key takeaway from this period of structured learning was that the trustees would be best served to invest in nonprofit organizations that were accustomed to taking on debt. To this end, the trustees decided to begin making strategic PRIs to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) serving low-to-moderate income populations in Virginia, Delaware, and Florida – states where the Fund had grantmaking concentrations. These early impact investments (1) allowed the Fund to generate impact in the area of affordable housing, (2) spread their investment risk over the CDFIs’ multi-project portfolio, and (3) limited the investment monitoring demands placed on internal staff. Although the trustees had allocated the local investment dollars and modified the Investment Policy Statement to accommodate place-based investing, full deployment of their first PRI would not come until 2011. The Fund “stayed the CDFI course” for several years – executing more PRIs to CDFIs in an effort to, as Sherry describes it, “bring capital markets back to disinvested neighborhoods.” It was the Fund’s focus on disinvested neighborhoods that led them to what would become their largest local investment to date.

In December 2012, Sherry toured the long-abandoned Haydon Burns Library building in Jacksonville, Florida. Despite the graffiti and rumble, Sherry was convinced that this landmark could have a second act. Shortly thereafter, Sherry shared her vision with the trustees and once again, asked them to commit more of the Fund’s endowed resources to place-based investing. Many of the Fund’s assets within the traditional investment portfolio – fixed income, private equity and real estate – were economic and community development drivers domestically and abroad, but what percentage of those assets were bettering the places that Mrs. duPont held dear? Sherry states, “I can’t see impact with our investments in China or emerging markets. I can see the effect we’re having with our local investments.”

In June 2013, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund trustees approved their first Mission Related Investment (MRI) when they purchased and paid the back-taxes on the Haydon Burns Library for a total of $2.45 million. By combining the Fund’s $20 million investment with $5 million of New Markets Tax Credits, the capital stack was complete. Shortly thereafter, ground would break on the Jessie Ball duPont Center. According to the specs, the four-floor Jessie Ball duPont Center would feature nonprofit office spaces, a state-of-the-art conference center, communal kitchens, a rooftop garden, LED and solar infrastructure, a rain water retention system, a 1,500 square foot concourse and a 3,500 square foot Great Hall.

Pictured: In January 2014 renovation of the Jessie Ball duPont Center officially began. Fund
President, Sherry Magill, is pictured second from the right. (Photo by Mary Kress Littlepage)
There was an immediate outpouring of demand for the subsidized nonprofit office space, but as usual, the Fund’s leadership paused to consider mission and goals. From the beginning, two of the goals of the Jessie Ball duPont Center were (1) to create a financial model that quickly allowed the building to reach a level of self-sufficiency and (2) to offer a rental pricing structure that allowed the nonprofit tenants to significantly lower their operating costs. With those goals in mind, the Fund’s leadership asked the question, “Which nonprofits provide the backbone for Jacksonville’s social safety net?” Sherry and the program staff went to work identifying organizations that comprised Jacksonville’s core nonprofit services - including family asset building campaigns, workforce training, policy and advocacy, emergency family services and after-school care. Jacksonville’s backbone nonprofits are similar to those found in communities across the country, including but not limited to Big Brother Big Sisters of Northeast Florida, Catholic Charities, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, Family Foundations, First Coast YMCA, Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida and United Way of Northeast Florida.

Rather than delay the construction while the prospective tenants fundraised to complete their office buildout, the Fund’s leadership authorized that a series of PRIs could be issued to organizations. Those standard PRI terms – 7 years, fixed interest between 1-2%, balloon payments and no pre-payment penalty – allowed the construction timeline to remain intact and the nonprofit tenants to obtain below market-rate capital. To date, these nonprofit borrowers have remained in good-standing and are on track for repayment.

On June 6, 2015, the Jessie Ball duPont Center celebrated its grand opening. In attendance were leaders from the public, private and independent sectors. Sherry often shares that she believes that philanthropy is most impactful at the local level. As with the Jessie Ball duPont Center, Sherry states that philanthropy “has the enormous promise and the opportunity to bring folks together.”

On June 30, 2018, Sherry served her final day as President of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. Throughout the past 26 years, Sherry has been a fierce advocate for the nonprofit community and those that they serve. Part of the vision behind the Jessie Ball duPont Center was restoring a sense of pride and dignity to nonprofit spaces. Sherry dedicated her life to living out the Last Will and Testament of Mrs. Jessie Ball duPont, a woman who often stated that “philanthropy without strategy is just charity.” Well if that is the case, I believe Mrs. duPont would be enormously proud of the trailblazing philanthropist who shepherded her legacy for so many years.

Thank you to Sherry Magill and Chris Crothers, Senior Program Officer of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, for helping to share this story with the LOCUS team.

The LOCUS team was able to provide due diligence services on two of the Fund’s prospective PRIs. If you are considering PRIs and want to learn more about the Jessie Ball duPont Fund or other foundations taking this approach to local impact investing, contact Sydney England at sydney@locusimpactinvesting.org  or (804) 793-0985.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Reflections from Mission Investors Exchange

Deb Markley
Senior Vice President, LOCUS Impact Investing

I attended my first Mission Investors Exchange (MIE) conference in Chicago (May 14-16), along with several other members of the LOCUS team. I challenged myself and my colleagues to listen and learn, with our place-focused foundation partners in mind. What reflections or insights could we bring back and share that might be helpful to a community foundation in Texas or a family foundation in West Virginia? Our lead take-aways? 

Place-focused investors – community foundations, family foundations, individual donors – have an important leadership role to play in mission investing. 

Place-focused foundations are taking innovative approaches to get capital flowing where traditional capital can’t or won’t go. They are demonstrating the power of impact investing to create real change in communities, from inner city neighborhoods to rural places. And their role in this broad and continually evolving field appears to be growing. The five insights below reflect our collective wisdom and, we hope, are valuable to foundations and other partners who are exploring place-based impact investing.

Recently, the LOCUS Team attended MIE's 2018 National Conference, a meeting of leaders in the field of impact investing.

1.     Lead with impact.
A common theme across many sessions was the need to lead with impact – to start by asking the question, “What difference are we trying to make?” Community foundations specifically have a role to play in defining that impact. As rooted philanthropic partners, they are in an ideal position to use the tools of community leadership and resident engagement to help identify the change that’s needed. And, they can ensure that any investment considerations include an equity lens so that the benefits of impact investing are broadly distributed. One presenter called community foundations the “conscience of impact investing."

2.     Just do it! The growth in the MIE conference bears witness to the explosive interest in the impact investing field and the progress made in defining the field, providing tools and proof points for potential investors, and beginning to measure impact. However, it’s also very clear that even the largest foundations are still figuring this out! There is no “one right way” to tackle impact investing. Every foundation reaches a point where they need to pivot based on learning from doing – that may scare some folks who would like a more defined roadmap. But, the message delivered over and over again was to take one step at a time, no matter how small, and keep asking “how do I use all of my assets to create impact in my place?”

3.     Build partnerships. There is strength in numbers…and partnerships. Many promising stories included partnerships between foundations and community development financial institutions (CDFIs). Northwest Area Foundation combined grants with a program-related investment to help First Nations Oweesta Corporation support the capital needs of Native CDFIs, bringing more capital into Native communities to support entrepreneurs, affordable housing development and other investments.  NWAF has a long history of making PRIs – and measuring their impact. Foundations are also working more closely with their donors to drive investment into their communities. The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation offers an Impact Investment Fund to their donors who “want to keep their charitable dollars local, create jobs and expand opportunity.” And, MIE and The Urban Institute just released a report on collaborative place-based impact investing that describes many different partnership models being explored across the country. Many of these models offer ways for foundations to leverage public, private and other philanthropic dollars with their investments.

4.     Explore all available tools. There are many ways for a foundation to begin to explore place-based, mission-aligned investing – and not all of them are complex! One of the more interesting concepts was using a foundation’s assets to guarantee other investments. A recent blog by The Kresge Foundation demonstrates how foundations can put their balance sheets to work through guarantees. And, the Global Impact Investing Network released a brief on this topic. There were also a number of examples of using strategic grants in combination with direct investments for maximum impact. The Appalachia Funders Network is working to establish a blended-capital fund, combining grant and investment capital,  to fund deals and build the pipeline.

5.     Invest in culture change. Mission-aligned investing requires a change in mindset; it requires that staff and board buy into a new way of doing foundation business. Some important questions need to be asked and answered to affect this culture change – What are we trying to impact? What risk-return tradeoffs are we willing to accept? With whom can we partner? How will our investment criteria and committee need to change? These are questions that need to be addressed by staff on both the program and investment sides of the foundation. Learning together is the best way to create an investing strategy that creates real impact.

The greatest value from MIE was the story sharing and networking. As I understand it, the focus on place-based investing by foundations is a growing interest of MIE and others – as more programming is devoted to this topic, place-focused foundations should get even more value out of the opportunity to learn with and from the innovators in the field. As a zealous proponent of peer learning, these types of gatherings are important opportunities to be inspired to action and to have a chance to build your own practice through the lessons of others. However, you don’t have to wait for a formal gathering to begin this networking. Regional associations of grant makers are often good sources of information about innovators in your region. The Council of Michigan Foundations, for example, does a great job of lifting up inspiring stories of foundations in the state. Check out this video of the Sturgis Area Community Foundation’s direct investing in the local housing sector. As more foundations explore place-based investing, a clear message from MIE was “you are not alone.” There are fellow travelers of all asset sizes that can help you avoid re-creating the wheel and instead build on the shoulders of those who’ve learned before.

I’ve spent almost 35 years working in community economic development and the movement of mission-aligned, place-based investing is one of the most exciting I’ve witnessed. My experience at MIE only helped confirm that! As public dollars for development become more constrained, in size and scope, there is real opportunity for place-focused foundations to use their philanthropic capital to leverage public and private resources for community impact. Yes, setting out in the direction of local impact investing takes courage and conviction, and a touch of fearlessness. As one speaker said, “The water has changed because you stepped into it.” Even if your first attempt doesn’t work, you’ve made a difference by trying.

To learn more, you can explore MIE’s website. If you want to know more about how the LOCUS team might help on your journey, visit locusimpactinvesting.org.

Deb Markley is part of the Local Impact Strategy Solutions team at LOCUS, helping place-focused foundations create greater impact through mission-aligned local investing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Making Local Wealth Stick

By Travis Green and Deb Markley
Solutions Consultant and Senior Vice President, LOCUS Impact Investing

Across the United States, LOCUS estimates that $9 trillion will transfer from one generation to the next by 2029. When you dig into the numbers, it’s clear that communities – rural and urban, wealthy and poor – have assets. The challenge for community philanthropy is how to turn that wealth into what a community really needs: housing, healthy food, education, childcare, a growing economy.

Place-focused foundations have made great progress towards capturing “just five percent” of that wealth. One example is the Central New York Community Foundation’s Five for CNY which challenges residents to leave five percent of their estates to their hometowns. In Nebraska, a similar effort, started in 2002, increased planned gifts to the statewide foundation by $55 million. One Nebraska town, Shickley, and its 337 residents, built an endowment of over $2 million and expects another $2 million in planned estate gifts. That’s a lot of money to support early childhood education, playgrounds, and training.

What if communities, inspired by Shickley, successfully tapped into that looming transfer of wealth? If community and other rooted foundations managed to capture just five percent of that $9 trillion over the next decade, what should they do to put those assets into productive use for America’s communities?

Of course, foundations could do much more of what they do now – make more and larger grants to desperately needed community causes. It could also mean greater support for community amenities and quality of life initiatives. But, with significantly larger endowments foundations could explore emerging roles like economic development and local impact investing.

There is another compelling reason for community philanthropy to start doing things a little differently. Foundations are entering what the Chronicle of Philanthropy characterized as the “windfall years,” receiving more estate gifts from the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers.  According to the Federal Reserve, just under half of Americans’ wealth is held in their businesses and their homes. The fear is that as older Americans die, and their assets are dispersed, much of the wealth will follow their children, in some cases leaving the community. How can local and regional foundations provide leadership to keep some of that wealth invested in the community from where it came?

Baltimore Community Foundation provided a bridge loan to Healthy Neighborhoods, a local CDFI, to help “green” the historic Reservoir Hill neighborhood. The plan for the neighborhood includes increasing the tree canopy, expanding community gardens, and rehabilitating vacant lots. 

Fortunately, there are foundations out there creating a way to keep wealth local. One leading example is Baltimore Community Foundation which has committed to investing four percent of its endowed funds directly into Baltimore. They believe they can match or beat the returns their fixed income assets are receiving in the market. Because they were inexperienced in investing locally, they decided to start by working through Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) partners, who are already experts in this business. “We didn’t have anyone working in this area before, but people from all departments stepped up,” said Patti Chandler, the foundation’s Vice President of Finance and Administration.

The foundation is now searching for opportunities that provide both social and financial returns in its own neighborhood. The foundation has also connected with regional grant makers and anchor institutions that are interested in promoting a local capital ecosystem. “This is still early discovery for us, but we know that we can be a significant contributor in strengthening prospective borrowers,” said Chandler.

The foundation has deployed $1 million in local impact investments supporting affordable housing and community facilities. They are particularly interested in investments that support wealth creation through small businesses and home-ownership. “BCF is trying to improve education and neighborhoods,” says Chandler. “Economic opportunity is a critical component of success. This is an area where leveraging both grants and investments could really make a difference in Baltimore.” Over the next few years, the goal is to deploy a total of $6 million in local impact investments. That’s more than twice as much money as the foundation’s endowment typically generates for grant making annually. What’s most remarkable about these investments, though, is that they are doing double duty. They are supporting valuable community work and they are earning a financial return which then creates grant dollars to support other critical community needs.

The community foundation’s donors have been fully engaged in the process. Since endowed donor advised funds are invested in the same pool as discretionary endowment, they automatically participate in the foundation’s four percent commitment. Donors will also have the option this year to allocate a portion of their non-endowed donor-advised funds to the growing and diversified local impact investment portfolio.

In communities like Baltimore, families now have the option to make gifts that are invested in their hometown to support their hometown. Imagine if this became accepted - and expected - practice among place-focused foundations. While community philanthropy has a remarkable opportunity over the next decade to capture "just five percent" of that $9 trillion transfer of wealth, donors and community partners might want to encourage their foundations to "just invest five percent" in their hometowns.

- Travis Green and Deb Markley are part of the Local Impact Strategy Solutions team at LOCUS, helping place-focused foundations create greater impact through mission-aligned local investing.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Be Bold, Be Strong, Be Big and Be Known

By Travis Green
Solutions Consultant, LOCUS Impact Investing

The staff of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation(AAACF) has taken to calling their foundation “a community impact engine” where the whole staff – finance, administration, development, program – works in service of impact. “It’s a virtuous cycle… create impact, build endowment, create more impact, build more endowment,” said Jillian Rosen, the foundation’s Vice President for Community Investment.

It’s not just a good marketing line, either. In the last three years, the foundation has witnessed remarkable growth even when adjusted for market performance. Assets of the foundation have grown 80%, and, as a result, the foundation’s grantmaking has almost doubled. The success came after a process where the foundation asked, “How are we contributing to the overall wellness of Washtenaw County?” Rosen said, “Endowment came as the answer.”

From AAACF's 2017 Annual Community Meeting, where President & CEO, Neel Hajra, announced donor's gifts that made impact investing possible in the form of a nonprofit loan program. Pictured left to right: Brian Campbell, AAACF Board Treasurer, Tim Wadhams, current Board Chair, Michelle Crumm, current Immediate Past Chair, and Neel Hajra.

In 2015, the foundation embarked on three-pronged, data-driven assessment of their work. First, with help from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, they conducted a survey to gather candid feedback from the foundation’s donors. Second, they interviewed professional advisors to see how they viewed the foundation and to ask how they could be a better service in the community. Finally, working with CF Insights, they identified six “aspirational peers” or foundations from similar communities that had experienced remarkable growth, and spoke with them about their work and their approaches to asset development.

The result of their analysis was a 50-page briefing book that was shared with the foundation’s board. “It gave our board confidence to be bold and make change,” said Shelley Strickland, the foundation’s Vice President for Development. To discuss strategic direction, board members and staff had two “mini-retreats” with outside facilitators and eventually committed on an internal four-part strategic framework that guides all work at the foundation. Neel Hajra, the President & CEO, summarizes the framework as an appeal to “Be bold, be strong, be big and be known.”

Rather than replacing the foundation’s previously articulated community leadership goals of human services, education, and cultural economic development, this new strategic framework was used to guide the foundation on how it would do its work. The result: it’s moved the foundation from being primarily donor driven to being primarily community impact driven. “Something we do routinely, with every decision we make, we run it through our strategic framework and look for impact first,” said Rosen.

Take the foundation’s work with scholarships as an example. Washtenaw County is home to five institutions of higher learning and exceeds the state and national rates of population with advanced degrees. But when it came to helping kids in the community access those institutions, the foundation’s existing scholarship funds were too tailored and small. For the most part, they didn’t help the most at risk populations get to and through college.

In response, the foundation launched the Community Scholarship Program for local first-generation, youth of color, and  low-income families, and the board agreed to limit future scholarship giving to focus specifically on the new fund. With that bold decision, a community member approached the foundation and committed $1 million and another $250,000 in matches came in making it the largest scholarship fund at the foundation. Current donors have supported the new scholarship program and “we even had current donors convert existing scholarship funds,” said Strickland.

AAACF board and staff now see their unique value being permanent flexible community endowment. “Our flexibility is the most critical asset we have,” said Rosen. “That was the largest culture shift that came out of our process.”

“We may not be the right solution for everyone. If a donor has something very specific they want to accomplish, we may provide the donor service by helping them connect directly with another organization that fits their strategy better. We take great pride in that,” said Strickland.

Motivated by their strategic framework, AAACF is now exploring new tools to advance community impact. Supported by a new donor, the foundation now offers loans to nonprofits that have moved their endowments to the foundation. “We want to continue to add value with our philanthropic capital,” said Strickland. The “Be Bold” step means that the foundation is becoming a local investor, and the foundation is now exploring other local investment opportunities.

The movement of foundations from being donor driven to impact driven is a common trend among community foundations exploring and adopting local impact investing. It makes a foundation more likely to reach for the appropriate tool – whether it be endowment building, grantmaking, convening, educating or investing – to address a specific community challenge. Making that culture change, like in Ann Arbor, is most successful when it includes foundation staff, the board, donors and community partners. For more information about the work of Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation visit AAACF.org. To learn how LOCUS Impact Investing can support your foundation with culture change as a prerequisite to local impact investing, contact Sydney England.

- Travis Green is part of the Local Impact Strategy Solutions team at LOCUS, helping place-focused foundations create greater impact through mission-aligned local investing.

Monday, March 5, 2018

In the Land of Big Trees - An Innovative Community Foundation Takes Steps To Invest In Place

By Amber Larsen
Executive Director, Intermountain Impact Investments

Place-based impact investing is about partnerships, best implemented when regional funders work together to solve complex challenges in the place they call home. Some of the most valuable stakeholders in this work are community foundations. As organizations that work every day to create positive outcomes for their region, these “community fairy godmothers” as Locavesting calls them, are the backbone of community development partnerships.
There are more than 750 community foundations across the U.S.; each year, the number committing a portion of their endowments to mission-aligned investing increases. This follows an upward trend as the industry builds understanding of what impact investing looks like across asset classes, as various partners share lessons learned and as industry leaders continue to clarify the role philanthropic dollars play in the impact investing capital stack.
One such leader is the Humboldt Area Foundation (HAF) which has demonstrated the possibilities of place-based impact investing for over 10 years.
The Carson Block Building Renovation: In partnership with Arcata Economic Development and other funders, HAF participated that allowed the Northern California Indian Development Council to renovate this historic building in the heart of Old Town Eureka.
HAF’s journey began in 2009 with a request from the Open Door Community Health Centers, a local healthcare provider that serves nearly 40% of the residents in HAF’s service area. The Center had a $10MM shovel-ready grant to consolidate locations and bring in forty-five additional physicians. However, the land they had targeted was purchased before they were able to secure the grant. Starting over, they worked with the City of Eureka to find a new location and were in search of a $2MM bridge loan to purchase land.
When HAF staff discussed the investment opportunity with their board, they realized they did not have an investment policy that included this kind of investing. “I remember thinking, ‘This is a no brainer. It’s a safe loan.’ So we went back and created an investment policy,” says Chief Financial Officer, Deborah Downs. Together with the Arcata Community Development Center (AEDC), HAF put together funding for half of the necessary land acquisition capital which was then matched by Humboldt County Headwaters Fund. The construction was completed in 18 months to meet the grant deadline and the benefit to the community was immediate.
Another innovative place-strengthening investment for HAF was the Redwood Acres Kitchen a partnership between the Redwood Economic Development Commission and Friends of the Redwood Acres Fairgrounds. The partnership allowed the nonprofit that manages the fairgrounds to utilize a combined grant and loan program to remodel several building spaces into commercial kitchens. The Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, like others in the state, has experienced funding cuts in recent years. The nonprofit managers are using the kitchen program, which maintains the organization’s commitment to food and agriculture, to support small businesses that generate rental income, sustaining the fairgrounds’ other important community operations.
With over 5% of HAF’s portfolio, currently $1.8MM, committed to regional community development investments, the foundation has a goal of increasing their allocation three-fold in the coming years. Currently, five of the loans in their place-based impact investing portfolio are managed by AEDC, and the foundation manages the remaining smaller loans on their own. “As a community foundation, you don’t necessarily have [the] expertise [to manage a large loan] and you worry about that fiduciary responsibility,” says Downs. CDFIs are looking for money and ways to partner in their communities. “It really becomes a perfect partnership.”
This strategy to partner for reduced transaction costs is common in the place-based impact investing world. “Delegating the due diligence and management of the funds to a central intermediary and collaborating with other investors for collective impact reduces the costs of managing and monitoring these impact and location-specific portfolios and compounds the impact,” says Lauryn Agnew of Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative. Another reason to partner with CDFIs is they are limited in where they can lend. CDFIs are operating under specific lending criteria from sources like USDA and SBA, explains Downs. One of the things “we are providing, is the funding that they can use for a nonprofit.”

Pictured: McKinleyville Fire Station, another one of the 
noteworthy projects  HAF has collaborated on.

Other projects Humboldt Area Foundation and their partnering CDFI, AEDC, have collaborated on include the McKinleyville Fire Station, Carson Block Building Renovation and Arcata Bay Crossing Supportive Housing. Ross Welch, Executive Director of AEDC, is working with the California County Consortium to find more ways to bring local funders together. He sees a lot of potential for this kind of work, especially with commercial lending. “A community building isn’t much different than [another commercial building]. What’s neat [is] if you can combine a grant with some low-cost interest and some deferred,” says Welch. “We can do it. If I can get the money from a foundation or a local investor, I’m ready to do it again.”
The Humboldt Area Foundation has recently encouraged growth in their Opportunity Funds, designed as: Flexible money available for changing community needs including program work, initiatives, and responsive grants. The foundation envisions Opportunity Funds providing support for the program work needed to initiate more community lending. “We are working toward program outcomes that pair with lending activities. Programs put us into contact with the needs. Then we can integrate the opportunity funds if needed. Particularly if things are a little riskier,” says Downs. “Instead of outright granting, we will lend at a reduced rate and then some of it will be returned and we can re-lend.” This strategy has been well received by donors says Patrick Cleary, Executive Director of HAF. “They like knowing their funds are being invested locally rather than all on Wall Street.”
The strategy of pairing grants with place-focused investments is becoming more recognized as a tested blueprint to catalyze meaningful change. As more and more foundations provide leadership around community and economic development challenges, the opportunity for local investing grows. This is the opportunity that LOCUS continues to explore, providing tools and support to empower foundations to begin their own place-based impact investing journey.
“We can see the future...a combination of work on the ground, granting when we can and also providing loan funds,” concludes Deborah Downs. The key is to start small. Start somewhere. And partner for success.

- Amber is the Executive Director of Intermountain Impact Investments. She is currently working with LOCUS to evaluate the potential for place-based impact funds in the rural western United States.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Rise of Place-Based Impact Investing

By Deb Markley
Senior Vice President, LOCUS Impact Investing
Co-Founder and Managing Director, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

Impact investing – achieving social and environment impact alongside financial returns – is a rapidly growing global industry. GIIN reported a 17% increase in dollars invested and a 20% increase in number of deals between 2016 and 2017 alone. Within the “big tent” of impact investing is an even more important phenomenon from a community perspective – the rise of place-based impact investing. As defined in the Healthcare Anchor Network’s Place-based Investing Toolkit, “place-based investing creates healthy and thriving communities by increasing available capital for positive social, economic, or environmental impacts across a wide range of areas” … from affordable housing to business development. And, place-focused foundations are increasingly important partners in bringing flexible capital to community investments.

This is the LOCUS niche and we are encouraged by the research, focus and action in this field. Here are highlights of the more significant happenings related to place-based impact investing:

- The Urban Institute, in collaboration with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mission Investors Exchange (MIE) is creating a toolkit to advance and inform the practice of place-based impact investing. Teri Lovelace, LOCUS President, is excited to be engaged in the shared-knowledge convening related to this work that is happening in early February.

MIE’s 2018 Mission Forward! Annual Conference will highlight on the ground impact investments and the leadership role of philanthropy.  LOCUS and its parent CDFI, Virginia Community Capital, have been longtime members of MIE and will be supporting the 2018 conference in Chicago this May.

- The Healthcare Anchor Network is working with 30 healthcare systems to explore how they can effectively shift resources to place-based investments as a way of addressing economic and environmental disparities in local communities. LOCUS is providing technical support to this network.

- BALLE is preparing to launch its third Local Economy Foundation Circle, a “cohort-based group of community, health and place-based private foundations that are committed to moving their money away from Wall Street investments and into direct alignment with their community missions.”

Place-focused funds and foundations in communities large and small are committing to place-based investing strategies ranging from:
  • §  Jessie Ball duPont Fund’s $3 million PRI in Self Help, an experienced national CDFI, to expand their savings, loan and other financial products to meet the needs of low-wealth households in the Jacksonville, FL area.
  • §  The Humboldt Area Foundation’s participation in an innovative loan agreement that helped develop and build the Eureka Community Health and Wellness Center in Eureka, CA – bringing state-of-the-art health care to this rural region.  
  • §  The Arkansas Community Foundation’s $1 million PRI to Communities Unlimited, a CDFI using these resources to make small businesses loans in rural and low income communities in the state.
  • §  The Community Foundation of Louisville’s Impact Capital Fund, investing $1.1 million in community projects that created/retained 137 jobs, housed 30 individuals in affordable housing units, created/retained 68 early childhood education spots and supported the creation of 72 new businesses.
  • §  Southwest Initiative Foundation – one of six Initiative Foundations in the state and a member of REDPIN (see below) and the 2nd BALLE Local Economy Foundation Circle – small business loan program, supporting 700 businesses and creating or retaining 8,590 jobs since 1986!

This list is only the tip of a rising tide of institutions turning their attention – and their capital – to the places they call home. The LOCUS team is working to build resources and tools to empower more place-focused foundations to start down the path toward local investing for impact. As foundations hear more and more about the “big tent” of impact investing, we are hearing questions like “what does that mean for my foundation and my community?” and “how do I get started?” We’ve heard these questions in the Rural Economic Development Philanthropy Innovators Network (REDPIN) we are facilitating with Janet Topolsky, Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group. We’ve participated in the discussions about solutions as part of the BALLE Local Economy Foundation Circle. And, we’ve had the chance to work with and learn from a range of partners including the Waco Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater Chattanooga, The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia and the Danville Regional Foundation.

Place-based investing is on the rise. As LOCUS moves forward in 2018, we’ll share more about what we are seeing and learning in this newsletter. We encourage you to share your stories and your questions with Teri@locusimpactinvesting.org.

Deb Markley is Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and Senior Vice President of LOCUS Impact Investing. Join the LOCUS mailing list to learn more about local investing for impact.