Events

Community Foundations: What It Takes to Become Dynamic Hubs of Local Capital

February 24, 2014

by Don Shaffer

Community foundations—with their deep local ties, significant assets, and community benefit missions—are ideally positioned to play a leading role in solving our communities’ most profound and difficult challenges. Yet many are stuck in a pattern of disbursing only a small percentage of their assets in grants and investing the rest in traditional portfolios that don’t advance (and may even undermine) their mission.

What is preventing these anchor institutions from realizing their potential? What exactly is that potential, and how can community foundations shift to an impact investment strategy that really makes a difference to community success and resilience?

RSF is taking a hard look at these questions. We recently brought together senior executives from 24 of the most innovative community foundations in the U.S. and Canada, along with RSF advisors and other impact investment experts, for “A Field-building Collaborative: Changing the Game through Local Impact Investing,” a conference looking at barriers to place-based investing and how to overcome them, lessons learned, and drivers of change.

The imperative of impact investing

We were pleased that the Jan. 29–31 event, co-hosted with the Arizona Community Foundation in Phoenix, attracted so many community foundation leaders from across the country, representing rural as well as urban communities and holding assets totaling more than $5.5 billion. But we weren’t surprised: a powerful combination of generational change and aspiration is motivating community foundations to explore local impact investment strategies. Foundation leaders are searching for ways to stay relevant to the next generation of donors, who tend to take a hands-on approach and often are entrepreneurs who made their money by thinking big and taking risks. These leaders also aspire to make their institutions drivers of local economic health. They see the opportunity to become dynamic hubs of community capital, deploying a full range of low-interest loans, loan guarantees, convertible notes, and other forms of investment funding to social enterprises.

Kelly Ryan is on her way to doing that in central Wisconsin as CEO of the Incourage Community Foundation. She told the story of how her community lost 40 percent of its jobs overnight when their major employer moved overseas. The foundation rallied, changing its focus to creating jobs and supporting local businesses, essentially saying, “We’re going to be the institution that brings everyone out of the ashes.”

All community foundations have that opportunity right now. The questions we started exploring with “Changing the Game” are, is it possible to make that happen before reaching the tipping point of a massive crisis? And if so, how?

Identifying roadblocks

The motivations and opportunities to invest for local impact are powerful—but so are the countervailing forces. Foundation leaders who take steps toward changing their institution’s investment practices confront a thicket of challenges. Two sets of issues stood out in the presentations and discussions.

Culture. The cultural assumptions of boards, investment committees, investment advisors and even staffs can present significant roadblocks. RSF advisor John Fullerton captured the problem: the people serving on investment committees often have spent their careers living and breathing current models of portfolio theory and investment management. They’re focused on fiduciary responsibility, and in their minds that means making sure the money makes more money—not ensuring that investment has a positive impact on the community. It’s hard to convince a board member who spent their career on Wall Street that financial return is not the number one goal.

Capacity constraints. Most community foundations don’t have the staff expertise to evaluate and manage direct investment in local enterprises, or to develop a cohesive local investment strategy. Even hiring appropriate consultants can be a challenge. Impact investing is relatively new, so the pool of experts is not yet deep. Another challenge is tension between programming and investment—the program staff may feel that impact investments are invading their turf. In addition, the lack of history with direct investment means the opportunities may not be obvious to foundation staff.

Creating space for impact investing to grow

Discussions at the event revealed a big gap between the desire many have to pursue impact investing (“Why wouldn’t we want to do this?” was a commonly expressed sentiment) and the knowledge they need to actually do it. RSF advisors and foundation leaders who’ve started down the path shared suggestions for moving forward.

Work with the board to change investment culture. Private foundations are often created with one large gift that’s expected to last; they are risk-averse and focused on returns because they want to ensure perpetuity. Community foundations, however, are public institutions whose growth and success rest on the number of donors they can continue to attract over time; they should be free to focus on demonstrating their relevance to the community and attracting the next generation of donors. There’s no structural reason for them to be risk-averse and returns-focused—the fact that many are is often a result of board culture.

Brian Byrnes of Santa Fe Community Foundation encountered tremendous board resistance to a shift in investment strategy; to counter that he took the board through an analysis that revealed their level of investment in areas contrary to their mission. Byrnes said the exercise was a powerful force in opening minds. Kelly Ryan reconstituted her board at Incourage so that they could implement a community investment strategy as a central feature of their mission.

Redirect investment expenses. One of the most eye-opening moments for many participants was RSF advisor Leslie Christian’s “do the math” challenge. “How many of you are experiencing a roadblock in that your boards think impact investing is too expensive?” she asked. Hands shot up all over the room. She then did the math: a $100 million foundation paying a typical 0.8 percent fee to its investment advisor is spending $800,000 a year to maintain its portfolio. What if the foundation fired the investment manager and instead put all that money into a Vanguard index fund, which historically has long-term returns as good as or better than investment managers? With a typical mutual fund fee of 0.08 percent, they’d free up $720,000 they could use to hire impact investment experts.

Restructure your organization. Dana Pancrazi of the FB Heron Foundation put forward a structural solution to internal turf battles and mission conflicts: the foundation dissolved its grantmaking and investment teams, replacing them with an operations team that provides administration and support, and a capital deployment team that handles grants and investments—and treats both as 100 percent mission driven.

Pioneers wanted

A few foundations have already made great progress on local impact investing, but it hasn’t been easy—and it won’t be for the next wave of pioneers, either. In addition to inspiring stories, we also heard “it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.” At RSF, we know how hard this is, having spent the last 30 years building up the expertise and insight to invest for impact effectively. There will be failed investments and difficult expectation setting. But as entrepreneurs know, failures teach the lessons that lead to ultimate success. Why not give the non-profit sector the same opportunity to use investments to try out innovative solutions to our communities’ most pressing problems?

We’re hoping to spark this change by inviting the most committed community foundation leaders to join a community of practice that will go deeper into what it takes in terms of personal leadership to shift to impact investing. The group will provide peer support and share everything from in-progress case studies to best practices to credit memos.

We believe the opportunity for change is profound. If a relative handful of community foundations reinvented themselves right now, they could truly change the game for communities across the country.

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

Community foundations conference attendees.

Community foundations conference attendees.

2013 BALLE Conference Recap

July 23, 2013

BALLE_Logo_RGB

by Catherine Covington

 

It’s a beautiful morning here outside my sun-porch office at RSF and my spirits are high. I am reminded of the level my spirits reached during BALLE’s 11th annual conference in Buffalo, NY, last month. I came back so inspired by my fellow attendees, the projects they are working on, and the action they are taking in their communities.  RSF has been a long-time sponsor of BALLE’s annual conference. BALLE’s work, which is focused on creating real prosperity by connecting leaders, spreading solutions and driving investment toward local economies, is very much in line with our mission and the kind of collaboration we seek to support.

A theme that was continually referenced throughout the conference was a focus on shifting from an “egosystem to an ecosystem”, from a system focused on “me” to a system focused on “we”.  This theme resonated with me and the image of what such a community would look like continued to develop in my mind as the conference progressed.  Janine Benyus, Founder of Biomimicry 3.8 Institute, gave an incredible presentation on not what we can extract from organisms and their ecosystems, but on what we can learn from them.  She highlighted sustainable solutions that can be found by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies and left the audience awestruck with her visual images and analogies.  A similar presentation by Janine, given at a TED conference, can be found here.

What would our economy look like if everyone knew their neighbor, lived with less and wasted almost nothing, and could invest money in their local community?  Well, one aspect of community health that is important to all of us, the production of and access to healthy food, could be addressed in part if local investment models such as the Farmer Reserve Fund were replicated in other communities.  Tim Crosby of Slow Money Northwest shared the nuts of bolts of how the fund was established during a panel we both participated on called “Rethinking Investment for the New Economy”.   The Fund was made possible by a partnership between Slow Money Northwest, RSF grantee and borrower Viva Farms and North Coast Credit Union (NCCU), which serves Skagit and Whatcom counties in Washington.  Much more detail can be found on Slow Money Northwest’s website, but in short, the Fund is able to provide a pool of capital to help new farm businesses, which often don’t have a credit history, have their best shot at being successful.  The innovative structure of the Fund builds on NCCU’s internal system of risk management and rigorous due diligence, reduces the risk of the loans by utilizing Viva Farm’s expertise to provide technical assistance to the borrowers, and enhances the existing loan loss reserve balance by leveraging small foundation grants and gifts from individuals.

I highly encourage you to check out some of the video clips from the conference. In particular, there is an inspiring presentation by Nikki Henderson, Executive Director of People’s Grocery, a long-time RSF grantee (the clip begins 1 hour, 56 minutes into the BALLE Friday Morning Session video).  She never ceases to amaze me with her ability to engage with the audience so naturally while delivering a powerful message in a most memorable manner!  Her message focuses on moving from breakdowns to breakthroughs, the difference between intention and impact, and responsibility without shame.  My favorite part is the how she finishes out her talk with an emphasis on how she sees us being able to bring all of work together to “congeal” through celebration, culture, and rhythm (she likes to dance!).

Click here to view more conference videos

Catherine Covington is Senior Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

RSF Pricing Meeting: Resetting Rates, Recognizing Interdependence

July 8, 2013

by Jillian McCoy

Inspiration

For many years, we based our investors’ return rate on the 13-week U.S. Treasury Bill.  Each quarter we recalibrated the rate based on this well-publicized benchmark.  In 2006, we shifted to a different benchmark – LIBOR, or the London Interbank Offered Rate – which at the time represented the most commonly accepted barometer for short-term interest rates worldwide.

In 2009, well before the now notorious LIBOR scandal, RSF staff knew that a seemingly arbitrary rate, disconnected from the needs and activities of our community, was not a right fit. During a staff study group of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on economics, we realized that the community of participants in the RSF Social Investment Fund were best suited to accurately determine a price that meets the needs of all parties.

Innovation

As of October 1, 2009, RSF adopted a community determined rate recommended each quarter through collaborative conversation with representatives of all three stakeholders in the RSF Social Investment Fund – investors, borrowers, and RSF staff.  A 4% spread (used to fund RSF’s operations) is then added to this customized SIF rate to determine RSF Prime, the base rate for borrowers in our Social Enterprise Lending program.

This collaborative process begins at each of our quarterly Pricing Meetings where stakeholders gather to meet one another face-to-face, discuss their needs and intentions, and share how an increase or decrease in the rate might impact them.

To date, we remain the first and only lending institution that has facilitated meetings between investors and borrowers to determine loan pricing.  With RSF staff at the table facilitating the conversations, all three stakeholders are reminded of the impact of their financial decisions. In this environment of direct engagement, the conversation is elevated beyond efforts to pay as little as possible or earn as much as possible. Instead, the stakeholders seek to achieve a balance between the financial and impact needs of everyone present.

Over 100 guests joined us for a community reception following our most recent pricing meeting in San Francisco.

Over 100 guests joined us for a community reception following our most recent pricing meeting in San Francisco.

Impact

In 2012, RSF Prime decreased by 0.25% to 4.75%. This was the first decrease since RSF Prime was first established. Since 2012, the rate has dropped an additional 0.25%. The driver behind the decrease was to ease some of the financial burden of existing borrowers and increase RSF’s ability to attract new borrowers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, at our most recent pricing meeting in San Francisco, there were requests from the investor community to increase the rate. However, over the course of the evening, their understanding of the impact of the interest rate shifted from their natural self-interest to an understanding of the whole system.

As one RSF staff member who attended the meeting commented, “One of the significant moments came when one of the borrowers talked exactly about how an increase in the interest rate would affect her company financially, and prohibit them from making a key hire at a time when her company needs additional staff to support growth. Investors could see in no uncertain terms the consequences of their stated need for a higher return. The resulting recognition of how their interest was directly connected to the borrowers was a transformative moment.”

In fact, although most of the investors noted that they would like an increase in the interest rate, they decided not to recommend an increase after learning how it would negatively impact the borrowers. At one point, one investor became emotional while expressing just how much it meant to her to be a part of this community, and learn more about how each borrower is having a positive impact in the world.

The borrowers were also touched by the conversation. One participant reflected, “It is thrilling to be a participant in the avant-garde of social finance. The current system is broken and we applaud this process where a more sensible and holistic paradigm can be practiced.”

Before the close of any quarter the RSF Pricing Committee, an internal RSF team, meets to discuss and reset the interest rate. The committee considers the input from the Pricing Meeting attendees in addition to reviewing macroeconomic conditions and the competitive market. The committee determined that the interest rate will remain the same for Q3 2013 – 4.5% for RSF Prime and 0.50% for investors.

Jillian McCoy is Senior Associate, Communications at RSF Social Finance. 

Fourth Conversation on Money, Race, & Class

August 2, 2012

By John Bloom

Conversation is powerful technology. It can be used to build community, engender trust, transform people, and renew what it means to be human. Such communication can invite a sense of the sacred by the very willingness of participants to delve into deep and complicated topics out of interest in each other, and an openness to be in the tender condition of vulnerability. If successful, one leaves the gathering as a different person, a keeper of others’ stories. When the stories focus on the entwined realities of money, race, and class, and are shared in a group that is cross-class and race, the conversation brings forth extraordinary challenges. The genius is in both acknowledging those challenges and making the safe space to work through them.

On December 9, 2010, RSF hosted the fourth Conversation on Money, Race, and Class. This full-day gathering, brought together a diverse group of fifteen community leaders from the Bay Area. Each responded to the invitation out of an interest in the topics, and opportunity to explore them in an unhurried collaborative environment. Further, each participant agreed to recording the conversation, so that it could have lasting value. Click here to download the full transcript. Each of the participants has reviewed the transcript and has released it to be published. We have tried to create a collectively held copyright in that each participant maintains the right of use, while RSF holds a general copyright for any inquiries.

It is fair to ask why RSF Social Finance, with my leadership, would invite such a gathering. The answer is quite simple. We need to get past not talking if we want to bring about change. Money and the effects of the financial system touch everyone. If we are striving to transform how we work money and how it works on us, then we are called to learn how to have conversations that may be uncomfortable, challenging, sometimes confrontational, inspirational, and include often unheard voices at the table. The stories can be painful, sometimes celebratory—to tell and hear. Imagine someone saying how painful it is to talk about race, but it is a good change from the pain of not talking about it. Imagine, from a position of privilege, absorbing someone speaking of the legacy of shame due to poverty. Or, to be able to own and share a prejudice against people with wealth even as some of those present are wealthy. These are transformative moments, certainly moments of deep learning for me, borne of a willingness to listen deeply, and to being present with each other. Understanding the complexity of human issues working in our economic life is useless without understanding how those issues feel to and directly affect each participant day-to-day.

Patricia St. Onge, our facilitator, helped us set the tone of inquiry and the basic ground rules for the day. She led the first experience, Conocimiento, for which each of us was given a large sheet of paper and a choice of drawing and coloring media. The “task” was to create a picture based on the following: my name and (if there is one) the story behind it; I am from… ; my people are… ; a childhood memory of understanding money and/or family dynamics about money… ; an early experience of economic injustice… ; tracking the changes in my attitudes about money; and, today, money holds meaning for me in these ways….. Following the completion of these works, we did a gallery tour in which each person told the story of their drawing and was then acknowledged by the whole group. What a beautiful beginning way to get to know each other’s story. The thoughts and feelings spoken during this session continued to reverberate through the day.

The Conocimiento was followed by launching into the first conversation question: What is the connection between who we are and what our experience is of wealth, economic need and prosperity—for ourselves and in our community? This question and the issues that emerged through asking it engaged us for the better part of the day. For the latter portion of the meeting, we drew questions from the group, and spoke to them until it was time to close for the day. We closed with a brief sharing of insights from the day, a wish for the group, and a wish for the world.

Following the gathering, we asked for reflections. In response to the question: How were you affected by the conversation? One participant wrote:

“It is so rare to have the opportunity to sit and think and talk about the important issues of our contemporary lives. To have the luxury of time. To have the luxury of a safe space. To have the luxury of both familiar and unfamiliar faces, all of whom are compassionate warriors in the struggle for making the world a better, saner, safer, more loving place to live and grow. The day fed my mind, soul, heart, and body. What a blessing. I’d like everyone on the entire planet to have a day like this. I, who live a privileged (though not wealthy!) life, find this experience so healing. How many millions of people on this planet (whatever their socio-economic status may be) may not even know that being this way is possible? Maybe that’s the transformative moment—to have the lived experience, that this being this way, in conversation, open and thoughtful and compassionate, is possible.”

It is with humility and an awareness of others’ realties that RSF convened this conversation on money, race, and class in collaboration. It is our hope that the wisdom and insights shared in these collected conversations serve anyone wishing to transform themselves and their communities. We are currently editing the fifth conversation held in January of 2012, and are looking forward to planning the next.

Click here to download the 2010 Money, Race, and Class Transcript

To learn more about this event and review past transcripts visit http://rsfsocialfinance.org/impact/reimagining-money/

John Bloom is Senior Director, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Philanthropology 3.0: Power Dynamics in Philanthropy

November 21, 2011

by Catherine Covington

On Friday, November 4, I traveled down to San Mateo to participate in a day-long workshop at the the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The workshop was designed by Emerging Practicioners in Philathropy (EPIP) a group I’ve recently become more involved with as a Steering Committee member.  The workshop, titled “Philanthropology 3.0”, is part of EPIP’s new Philanthropology™ Program, a grantmaker education series.  The day’s curriculum focused on power dynamics and spurred thoughtful discussion and ideas among the 20 participants in attendance.  I left feeling even more energized about the innovative ways RSF is impacting the world of finance and philanthropy and how we seek to change and redefine traditional power dynamics related to grantmaking and investing.

One of the most powerful and interesting parts of the day was the ongoing discussion we had about the ways power dynamics affect and influence philanthropy’s potential for social impact.  We each charted and then shared as a group the power relationships between various players in the philanthropic landscape, and almost everyone’s chart had private foundations at the top of the chain of command with individual donors, community foundations, non-profit organizations, and non-profit service recipients following in that order.  The prevailing theme demonstrated that many people feel there is a direct correlation between money and power.   We talked about why we all put private foundations at the top of the food chain and discovered the main reason is because there is a sense that foundations are the most autonomous and untouchable (except in rare instances of fraud such as the Bernie Madoff scandal) and “too big to fail” when compared with the relative vulnerability of non-profits.  For example, if a non-profit, that a foundation previously funded in a certain program area, goes under the foundation is most often easily able to search and find another non-profit service provider to fill that gap.  Life goes on as normal for most foundations while many non-profits come and go.

Another important part of our discussion involved defining and challenging our own notions and ideas about power by focusing on the 3 I’s –  Individual, Institution, and Interpersonal. It is important to understand the dynamics of each player and their role across multiple systems and networks, recognizing that at any one time, there may be conflicting goals, values, language, and ways of working.  It was a chance for many of us to reflect on our personal leadership styles, our relationships with our managers, and the ways in which we interact with people in positions of authority inside and outside of work.  We engaged in valuable peer-to-peer learning by troubleshooting difficult situations that arise in our work lives and shared best practices and tips about how to deal with common challenges where power dynamics are involved.

An unexpected but welcome interruption from Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s CEO, Dr. Emmett Carson, generated even more discussion.  Having authored more than 100 published works on philanthropy, Emmett has devoted almost his entire career to philanthropy and to being a catalyst for social change.  He sat in and listened to our workshop for a while before we invited him to speak and share advice with the group.   He emphasized the importance of acknowledging that people and institutions do have power in certain situations.  For example, whether you are a CEO, board member, community foundation, manager, parent, etc., you have the power and ability to definitively say “yes” or “no” in certain situations.   He suggested that when you do find yourself in a situation where you have the upper hand for whatever reason “own your power and be aware of it, and above all, make sure people feel like they are heard and respected.”   His advice to a foundation or grantmaking institution was to “make sure that where you are focusing your power and influence is consistent with your mission, that you are transparent in your decision making, and that you do what you say you are going to do.”  One of his closing challenges was for us all to ask ourselves how we can best exercise the positions of influence in which we find ourselves in a transparent and meaningful way that maximizes the potential for positive social impact.

While nothing I learned during the workshop was new or necessarily earth shattering, it was such a great opportunity to reflect on my position in philanthropy and the work of RSF.  I kept thinking of RSF not as a “powerful” organization per se, but an organization positioned to make a deep and broad impact on the fields of philanthropy and finance.  RSF is better described as “impactful” because of our broad and growing client base, the community we have created around shared values and interests, and the innovative ways we embody our mission through the products and programs we offer.

Two examples of the unique ways we at RSF seek to create impact are our Shared Gifting and Social Investment Fund programs.  In both instances, we studied the traditional power dynamics involved in both the grantee/grantmaker and borrower/investor relationships and sought to experiment and shake things up.  In Shared Gifting, we give the grantees complete authority and power to say “yes” or “no” to one another, and in our Social Investment Fund, we bring investors and borrowers together to talk about and decide the appropriate rates of interest during our quarterly pricing meetings.  Talk about turning traditional power dynamics upside down!  I am inspired because I feel that as our number of investors, borrowers, and grantees grows, the potential for greater, collective influence in partnership and collaboration with our client community will grow as well, creating a dynamic recipe for powerful and systemic impact.

Catherine Covington is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

 

Celebrating Rudolf Steiner: A Recap

October 28, 2011

Over 500 people gathered at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Club last month to celebrate the 150th birthday of Rudolf Steiner, RSF’s namesake and inspiration.  We were joined by others who have been inspired by Steiner’s thinking and body of work, and the day was full of interactive panel discussions, workshops, Biodynamic treats, eurthymy, and more!  Below are some photo highlights of the event.

 

Stephanie of Filgreen Farm, in Boonville, CA pretties her display of biodynamic produce.

 

From a stimulating panel on Transforming the Way the World Works with Money: (l -r), Jeffrey Westman,  Michael Davis, Sabine Shaffer, and RSF CEO Don Shaffer.  Not pictured, Indigenous Designs CEO Scott Leonard.

Valarie Baadh Garrett leads students in a Spacial Dynamics workshop

 

What's so funny about biodynamic wine? Thanks to Frey Vineyards, Benziger Family Winery, Paul Dolan Vineyards, and Small Vines Wine, we got to find out!

Here's a peek at the main hall and its community engagement tables. Festival attendees chatted with folks representing Biodynamics, Waldorf Education, RSF, and other Steiner-inspired fields of work.

In the spirit of celebration, Paul Dolan, a pioneering biodynamic winemaker, poses with a picture of Rudolf Steiner. There's a cake too... it was a birthday party after all!

 

Have you heard about Conversation Maps? We posed a question and were heartened by the responses!

 

A crowd of children captivated by the Magic Lantern Marionette Show.  Who knew the Frog Prince was so popular?

 

Cynthia Aldinger, founder & ED of LifeWays North America, conducted a Caring for the Young Child workshop and got people up on their feet!

 

Seed River

Guided by intuition, people placed seeds throughout the day and co-created a Seed River.

Thank you to all who attended and participated!  For those of you interested in hearing panel recordings — Robert McDermott, Paul Dolan and others spoke — you can download them here.
 

The 2011 RSF Borrower Gathering and Community Supported Transformation

September 27, 2011

by Reed Mayfield

In July, over twenty RSF borrowers convened at the San Francisco Waldorf School for our third annual RSF Borrower Gathering. One would be inclined to describe the energy of the group as “engaged and enthused.” The feeling is mutual amongst the many people with whom there exists a direct relationship based on reciprocity and common values – RSF staff & board, investors, donors, partners, and friends. We fondly refer to this group as the RSF Community.  This community is united by the impact we collectively bring forth into the world, the transformation we seek. The impact is evidenced in a number of ways: supporting Fair Trade practices, organic alternatives to store bought foods, Waldorf Education, environmental stewardship, food security, social finance, and much more. Among all this activity, progress is made with the creation of innovative and transformative ideas, through co-creative conversations. The RSF Borrower Gathering is an excellent representation of one of these conversations.

Over the course of one and a half days, the RSF Borrower Gathering brought together a variety of RSF borrowers, all with extensive hands-on experience in building successful non-profit and for-profit social enterprises. Borrowers shared insight into their respective industries from many different geographic areas and across all three of RSF’s Focus Areas (Food and Agriculture, Education and the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship).  During a session titled “Engaging Your Local Economic Community,” moderated by Raphael Bemporad of BBMG, a panel of RSF borrowers discussed the many innovative ways they engage with their communities. Jessica Rolph of HappyBaby, Jason Graham-Nye of gDiapers, and Denise Hamler of Green America shared the thought processes and methods that have contributed to the stellar communities grown around their organizations.  Denise said that to advance your mission, “know what you do well, and find out who is good at what you need.” Jason spoke about how gDiapers corporate culture extends beyond the walls of their offices and also about their use of social media to communicate with customers. Jessica discussed the importance of utilizing community engagement in their decision-making process and how the business truly took off when they “really began to listen” to the HappyBaby community.

Other highlights to the gathering included:

  • A presentation on Co-Creation from Raphael Bemporad of BBMG, a “brand innovation studio” focusing on “sustainability, technology, and social purpose.” Click here to read more.
  • “Managing an Intelligent Organization” with Dale Rodrigues from Mary’s Gone Crackers.
  • Break-out sessions with RSF’s senior management team and industry sector experts.
  • Updates about RSF, including the Social Impact Assessment Project, new initiatives, and the future of the organization.
  • An evening reception held at the CompoClay Showroom and Resource Center with RSF investors and staff.

The gathering was held at the San Francisco Waldorf High School. The school is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED Project, and is currently working on its Gold Level Certification. RSF is deeply appreciative to the school and staff who allowed us to use their beautiful facilities.

Each member of the RSF community is a cornerstone in our organization. If there were no value-aligned investors how could social enterprises maintain their values when seeking financing? Without the high-impact borrowers, would capital be channeled to organizations our investors would not be proud to support?   The Annual Borrower Gathering is an example of how RSF utilizes community, transparency, and direct personal relationships to achieve our mission of transforming the way the world works with money. This event continues to grow in both size and content each year, bringing new borrowers, investors, and staff together to generate valuable learning experiences and to build stronger relationships. Thank you to RSF Community for contributing to the success of the 2011 RSF Borrower Gathering.

Reed Mayfield is Lending Assistant at RSF Social Finance.

 

Barn Dance Raises the Sustainable Food Movement

September 19, 2011

By Kelley Buhles

On the side of Highway 1, in an old Redwood Barn, members of the Bay Area’s local sustainable food movement, along with RSF, gathered in July to strategize about the future of their work and to celebrate their amazing achievements thus far.  Attendees contributed to a potluck of local foods and a DJ played bangara, hip-hop, latin, and soul to a lively crowd.

But this barn dance wasn’t just for fun. The genesis of this event was at the first meeting of the RSF Food and Agriculture Shared Gifting Fund. This program is working to transform the way philanthropic dollars flow to charitable projects in the world by having the grantees themselves determine how funds are directed. Seven organizations from around the Bay Area were selected to participate in a day long meeting where they shared their stories and needs. It culminated in them collectively deciding how to best use a grant of $50,000. To read more about this meeting check out this newsletter article.

During the granting process the participants decided to grant money to support another convening along with partners, collaborators, friends and family to discuss transforming the food system followed by a celebratory potluck and barn dance. Pie Ranch, one of the participants, offered to host this event on their educational and sustainable farm. Movement Generation, another participant, was requested by the group to facilitate the conversation on transforming the food system.

Approximately 30 participants joined the conversation consisting of the original seven non-profit organizations, as well as partners they invited to join. The group was a great representation of all of the people working in the sustainable food movement in the Bay Area including farmers, development directors, activists, teachers, volunteers, and community organizers.  The facilitators from Movement Generation helped us to define the roles we play, the tools we use, and to strategize about how we can transform the current food system into a healthy sustainable system. While it was apparent from the conversation that there is still a lot of work to do, the meeting helped to connect a larger group of people, organizations, and approaches that are working towards the same goals and identify our commonalities.

After the conversation, the potluck and barn dance began! Michelle from Movement Generation started off the dancing by leading everyone in some traditional Bhangra dancing. Oscar Grande then took over playing a great mix of world music, hip-hop, latin, and of course Michael Jackson. Oscar works with PODER (People Organized to Demand Economic and Environmental Rights) and leads a DJ collective/co-op as part of PODER’s grassroots economy work.

Although we didn’t walk away with a clear strategy on how to transform our food system, we were all made aware of the need to think about new ways of coming together, building community, and talking about sustainable food issues. It was also a great symbol of the uniting of urban and rural and of reclaiming the land. I like to think of the community barn dance as a vision for what a sustainable food movement could look like.

Kelley Buhles is Philanthropic Services Manager at RSF Social Finance.

Fall Conference Season in Full Swing

September 8, 2011

By Melinda Cheel

‘Tis the season for conferences, gatherings and events inspired by the desire to improve our communities, our country, and the world through better business practices and meaningful investment opportunities. Social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and local food advocates all take stage this time of year and RSF is geared up for the festivities. We’re hosting, sponsoring and participating in over a dozen events this fall. The following highlights some of the upcoming gatherings. Visit our Where We’ll Be page for the full list of what we’re up to in the coming months.

SOCAP11 kicked-off on Tuesday, Sept 6 and is happening at Fort Mason in San Francisco until Friday evening. SOCAP is a multi-platform organization dedicated to the flow of capital towards social good.  It’s an obvious fit for RSF and we’re proud to sponsor the conference. Don Shaffer and Leslie Christian, CEO of Portfolio 21 Investments, are leading a SOCAP Special Session to announce and present a new white paper, A New Foundation for Portfolio Management. Don and Leslie will also be speaking about the paper at a B Lab webinar on September 29.

On Sunday, September 25, RSF is celebrating the life and legacy of Rudolf Steiner at a festival in Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. If you’re in the San Francisco area, join us from 11am – 4pm for organic & biodynamic food & wine, a Marionette show, gardening activities, Dr. Hauschka skin care treatments, a talk with Paul Dolan and so much more. Check out our event page for more information.

In early October we’ll be in New Orleans for SRI in the Rockies (no longer only in the Rockies).  2011 marks the 22nd year SRI in the Rockies has been bringing investors and investment professionals together who are working to direct the flow of investment capital in more positive, healthy, and transformative ways. RSF has been a long time sponsor and participant and thrilled to be involved again. Don Shaffer is moderating a panel titled Innovation and Impact: Investing for a Truly Sustainable Future. If you’re planning to attend the conference Oct 2-5, be sure to check out the discussion!

October 12 -14, we’ll be back at Fort Mason sponsoring Slow Money. The Slow Money National Gathering brings together people who are rebuilding local food systems across the U.S. and around the world. More than 1,000 people attended the first two national gatherings—resulting in more than $4.25 million invested in 16 small food enterprises! Don Shaffer will be joined by Joel Solomon, RSF Entrepreneur in Residence and Leslie Christian, Portfolio21 Investments CEO to discuss place-based strategies and the future of social investing. And Taryn Goodman is on a panel titled Mission-Related Investing: Strategies for foundations to invest in small food enterprises.  Find out more and register today.

Later in October we’ll be in Philadelphia for back to back to back events. First, the B Corps Champions Retreat starts October 25. The retreat is for B Corp leaders and includes an annual awards dinner. Last year Don was MVP!  Second, Investors’ Circle Fall Venture Fair kicks off on October 26. RSF is again sponsoring Investors’ Circle, an organization committed to catalyzing the flow of capital to early stage companies that address major social and environmental problems. Lastly, the Social Network Venture is hosting Movers, Shakers & Changemakers, their annual fall conference. The conference, being held Oct 27-30, will bring together an influential and diverse network of social entrepreneurs from around the world to explore, inspire and create innovative ways to build a just and sustainable economy.

November 3-5, RSF is excited to sponsor Making Money Make Change. The gathering is hosted by Resource Generation and is for young people with wealth who believe in social change. Resource Generation organizes to transform philanthropy, policy, and institutions, and leverage collective power to make lasting structural change. If you know of a young person with wealth, encourage them to get involved!

Melinda Cheel is Senior Associate, Partnerships and Communications

RSF Staff at Work in the Community

August 17, 2011

RSF staff, Flora Valdez (left) and Catherine Covington (right) dig into to the compost pile with instruction from Amy Belkora of the San Francisco Waldorf School

By Caitlin Peerson

It’s 2pm on a Thursday afternoon, and RSF staff members have their hands wrist-deep in dirt—soil, that is!  August 4th marked RSF’s second annual service day, where RSF staff members vacate their desks for an afternoon to spend time working with projects that give back to the community.  This year, staff members selected two local organizations to work with: the Community Garden Project of the San Francisco Waldorf School, and the Marin Headlands Nursery.

The Community Garden Project of the San Francisco Waldorf School is located at the Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center.  This unique project is a collaborative effort between the Waldorf school and the hospital, which allows the school children to learn about gardening while providing the hospital residents with a therapeutic farm and garden area.  In the garden, raised beds contain a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, but that’s not all that’s alive and well in this space – also in residence are goats, geese, turkeys, ducks, and cats which hospital residents can socialize with as part of an animal therapy

Senior Lending Manager, Ted Levinson with his reward

program.  While we were there, we helped till the soil, churn the compost pile, and muck out the animal stalls.  It was a tremendous experience with a truly supportive community, and we even took home a few baby carrots as a reward for our hard work.

Lending team members, at work in the nursery

The second location we volunteered at was the Marin Headlands Nursery, a native plant nursery which propagates plants for habitat restoration in the Bay Area.  This organization is especially attuned to the needs of the local ecosystem, only collecting seeds from native plants in local watersheds.  Back at the nursery, these seeds are processed and sown, species are transplanted, and then the mature plants are used in restoration projects.  RSF staff helped with a number of these tasks, and while we were busy processing seeds, we were fascinated to learn that the seeds of the poppy truly do “pop” out of their pod with a small but surprising explosion!

These projects were planned by the RSF EcoStewards, a volunteer group of staff members who meet quarterly to discuss and improve the sustainability of our operations.  The group is named after our own focus area of Ecological Stewardship, so it follows naturally that we seek to bring service to our local environment.

Caitlin Peerson is Senior Associate, Human Resources & Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

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