NFG speaks with place-based funders on how they are using impact investing to further justice and equity
An increasing number of foundations are embracing impact investing as a powerful strategy to potentially make use of all of their assets — not just 5% — to advance their place-based and justice-oriented missions. Last month, several Neighborhood Funders Group members attended Confluence Philanthropy’s 9th Annual Practitioners Gathering to explore how the philanthropic and investment sectors can accelerate movement-building for equity. In reflection, a few folks from NFG’s funder network share their perspectives on, and experience in, mission-related investing.
Beyond grantmaking for racial equity
Soon after Confluence Philanthropy’s Gathering, NFG member Amalgamated Foundation launched the Hate Is Not Charitable Campaign. The campaign brings to light how Donor Advised Funds (“DAFs”) have been used to finance hate groups — often times anonymously — and calls on DAF providers to stop this trend that can fund in direct opposition to some of these foundations’ missions. While the campaign highlights how DAFs can be misused when they are eventually dispersed, Amalgamated is also considering how these funds are being used while they are waiting to be dispersed.
“DAFs provide a set of resources... that can be risk tolerant, quick moving, and significant in their scale. Utilizing current IRS tax codes, DAF holders are allowed to make program related investments with their resources,” says Tyler Nickerson, First Vice President for Philanthropy Banking at Amalgamated Bank.
By choosing not to invest in some of the market’s largest companies in the fossil fuel, gun manufacturer, and private prison industries, Amalgamated is proactively aligning all of its assets with its values of environmental and social responsibility.
Incourage Community Foundation invests all of its endowed funds, including DAFs, in the same investment pool that includes their impact investments. According to Heather McKellips, Director of Learning & Engagement, "Incourage looks for investment opportunities that advance its vision of an inclusive, adaptive, and sustainable community.” She says, “Prudently thinking through how the principal portion of an investment portfolio (the 95%) can be effectively deployed to positively impact an issue, in addition to the traditional grantmaking portion (the 5%), greatly increases the ability to impact the real issues facing our communities.”
Impact investing strategies
For Incourage, this includes an African American-led private equity fund that seeks to provide business ownership opportunities for entrepreneurs of color and regional Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that channel capital and technical assistance to underserved populations including entrepreneurs and households of color, and nonprofit organizations serving communities of color. Heather explains, “By investing in CDFIs that do small business lending in a community, area businesses can then more readily access needed funding to start up, retain, and expand operations, meaning more families have jobs and then have less of a need for support services that are often funded by grant dollars.”
For foundations just starting with impact investing, it can be helpful to look at these alternatives. NFG member The Hyams Foundation considers itself to be at the beginning stages of its impact investment work and is exploring investment strategies to further its mission to increase economic, racial, and social justice and power within low-income communities in Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts. In addition to its affordable housing PRIs, Hyams is exploring additional social, economic, and racial justice investment opportunities including social enterprise, wealth building, and solidarity economy models.
“Hyams does, however, have a long history of utilizing PRIs, including two active loans to affordable housing loan funds. These investments are examples of using issue-specific investment models to further Hyams’s racial equity work beyond direct grantmaking,” says Mark Paley, Director of Administration & Finance (and NFG board member).
There are many approaches to impact investing. Unlike Amalgamated Foundation, Nia Community Fund's approach is to invest directly into solutions-focused companies with diverse leaders, rather than screen out sectors. Founder and Director Kristin Hull says, “We begin with our end goal in mind, rather than with traditional investment philosophy. We think about how we can use each dollar to maximize our positive impact.” Their investment dollars go to women and people of color-led businesses working to address social justice and environmental sustainability.
Amalgamated is also exploring new models seeking to expand capital to Black, Brown, and Native communities. “This is an opportunity for foundations to put all of their resources towards mission alignment and supporting enterprises that center a racial justice strategy,” says Tyler Nickerson.
Impact investing should always be centered around core values. Evaluating how a foundation is putting its values into practice can even start with how they interface with the investment industry itself. For example, Nia Community Fund looks for companies, funds, and investment managers that use a racial justice lens, and predominantly works with women and people of color.
Incourage Community Foundation takes their role as an investor even further by being “active owners who vote proxies and practice other forms of shareholder engagement to encourage inclusive and fair labor practices, strong governance, and responsible environmental practices by corporations doing business in our state,” according to Heather McKellips.
Amalgamated’s Tyler Nickerson suggests that investors and grantmakers “listen to the communities in which they seek to support. They know what the community needs and the type of businesses it can support. Community members also know who is a fair employer and a good steward.” He notes that centering those voices and racial justice is key in developing solutions like a fair and equitable business strategy, whether it involves grocery stores or clean energy or manufacturing jobs.
Takeaways and lessons learned
1. Much like a healthy business model, communities need diverse forms of investment.
“Communities need multiple types of capital to become inclusive, thriving places. Charitable grants can’t be the only the tool to build greater equity within community,” says Tyler Nickerson. “Grants coupled with investment capital will create an integrated stream of resources to build communities where all people can succeed.”
2. For some funders, the grant-to-investment ratio can be strengthened, even while preserving an endowment’s lifespan.
Nia Community Fund’s Kristin Hull points out, “Our investment dollars by far outweigh our grant dollars and so we are really strategic with both buckets and do as much to leverage what we have and have every dollar be as effective as possible.” Nia Community Fund focuses on working beyond the status quo and investing into a just, sustainable, and inclusive economy, which means having an investment policy statement and investment practices that keep equity and justice as the core principles.
3. Focus on community needs first, and develop your investment model accordingly.
While foundations often start with an investment product that they then try to figure out how to use to address their focus issues, Heather McKellips of Incourage Community Foundation says, “We have found it to be much more effective to start with the problem or issue, and then look holistically at what the resources are that you, or someone you can collaborate with, can bring to bear."
4. Spread the risk and enhance the impact through collaboration.
This collaboration is key to moving the philanthropic and investment sectors to a more integrated and effective model. Confluence Philanthropy and NFG are creating spaces to explore ideas around impact investing, such as the Hyams Foundation’s interest in engaging with other organizations on what racial justice investment metrics could look like.
Amalgamated’s Tyler Nickerson advises, “Find your allies and ask them to join in community-based solutions. Doing so spreads the risk, expands the capital stack, and helps move other institutions in their learning journey.”