Giving

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Green Meadow Waldorf School

December 16, 2014

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Green Meadow Waldorf School (GMWS) received a $1,000 Seed Fund grant to support Open Saturdays, a free tutoring program brought by GMWS faculty, staff, parents, and students to children in struggling local public schools during the 2014-15 school year. GMWS is located in Chestnut Ridge, New York in the East Ramapo School District where more than 48 percent of students are eligible for free school lunches, and an additional 14 percent are eligible for reduced price meals. The district has faced significant budget deficits in recent years, exceeding $7 million in the 2012-13 school year, resulting in extensive cuts to programming. Last spring, more than 80 district teachers and staff members were laid off, including arts faculty, librarians, and security personnel, and full-day kindergarten has been eliminated district-wide, as has music and art, athletics, and AP and ESL coursework.

gmws2Student Testimonial:

“To be honest, I was very skeptical about [Open Saturdays] because it was free of charge. I was reluctant to wake up early every Saturday, but I…brought my math folder, tests, and homework and expected the worst. At first I worked with a student named Sabine, and she really got me comfortable with the environment here. After a few more sessions, I started to work with Mr. Madsen. He was a great help and he definitely helped me increase my scores in math.” –Julian

Open Saturdays is a way for Green Meadow to reach out to students in this severely under-resourced school district. The program was designed and is coordinated by Green Meadow’s Diversity Committee, a standing group that includes representatives from diverse backgrounds from the faculty, staff, and parent body. The Committee contacted guidance counselors and administrators in local schools during the fall of 2013 to gauge needs and interest in a tutoring program, and based on this input from partners in the district, GMWS moved forward with a pilot program immediately. Open Saturdays, launched in January 2014, provides free tutoring in mathematics, science, and English to local public school students enrolled at Chestnut Ridge Middle School and other middle and high schools in the district. The tutors are GMWS middle and high school teachers, staff, parents, and high school students, who volunteer their time.

gmws3Student Testimonials:

“In the time that I have been coming here, I have had an amazing experience. I was tutored by several different people. My grades went up and my homework was completed more efficiently.” –Elijah

“With these Saturday sessions, I have gotten to understand my work better and meet incredible people. At the beginning, my grades were not where they should be, but with your [GMWS tutor] help my grades have improved dramatically.” –Alexis

 “When I first [started], I had a lot of trouble with the subject Math. I was at the point where I was failing bad. Then I met a teacher named Mr. Madsen. Once I worked with him, he made math a lot easier for me.” –Taron

The principal outcomes for the program are learning improvements by students, evidenced through increased competence with the material, as observed by tutors. GMWS also hopes that the program will promote a culture of service in their community and support an overarching goal to build bridges between their school and the larger community while providing tangible, meaningful services to their neighbors. You can read more about the program in an interview with Vicki Larson, Green Meadow Waldorf School’s Director of Communication and Marketing in their March/April 2014 newsletter.

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RSF Launches Arts Shared Gifting Circle in Los Angeles

December 5, 2014

In the past four years RSF has been experimenting with a new model of giving called Shared Gifting. Shared Gifting aims to transform the power dynamics in philanthropy by giving the decision making authority for grant funds to the non-profits who will receive them.

Previously RSF has facilitated this process with organizations focused on sustainable food and agriculture. However, in January of 2015 we will be hosting the first Shared Gifting circle focused on the Arts!

In order to determine where to host Shared Gifting circles, RSF looks to our borrowers who are our partners in the field. RSF supports two wonderful borrowers in Los Angeles; LA Stage Alliance and 18th Street Arts Center. We worked with both of these organizations, as well as our community of grantees, donors, borrowers, and investors, to identify great non-profits working to provide services to the arts community in Los Angeles.

We are excited to announce the participants of Shared Gifting Los Angeles:

Representatives from these organizations will participate in a full day meeting to distribute $50,000 in grant funding through a collaborative process in which the grantees will become grantors to each other. To learn more about the Shared Gifting process please visit our website at: http://rsfsocialfinance.org/services/donors/shared-gifting/

We are excited to be working with these organizations and look forward to sharing our experiences from the Shared Gifting meeting!

The Day of Giving and the Commonwealth

December 3, 2014

John BloomBy John Bloom

December 2, 2014—a Day of Giving. I cannot tell you how many e-mail requests I received yesterday. Each made the case for why I should make a charitable gift for their cause or mission, and to do so at the simple click of a “donate now” button. Giving could not be made easier. And so it should be, except that I felt suddenly on demand. As one who researches money and gifting, and practices within the fundamental assumption that life itself is a gift, I found my head reeling at the unaddressed assumptions vibrating inside these virtual asks. Not that I have any doubts about the worthy work of the organizations participating in Giving Tuesday, or any doubts about the legitimacy of the requests. The state of our culture and the disparity of wealth in our society are glaring indicators that not enough gift money is moving out of private ownership and back through the economy. But, starving the beast is no way to tame it. So one could look at Giving Tuesday as a binge-feeding day, a temporary fix with raised awareness of a host of problems that need to be addressed at a much deeper and more difficult systemic level.

There is a certain marketing savvy behind the concept of Giving Tuesday. It is a little like the invention of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but with a tax-deductible twist. It does speak to the in-the-moment crowd-sourced consumer culture in which we live. And I hope that it has generated an extraordinary outpouring of gift along with a broadened and sustainable donor base. But this touches my sadness nerve—the notion of generosity generated through a one-day marketing strategy. How did generosity get so disconnected from the flow of our money and our time? When did gifting get written out of economic life such that we have to market it back in?

Giving is a way of freeing capital, liberating its power to renew and support initiative that has a public benefit, in service to the common good. But this statement assumes that if you have money, you realize that that money, currently in your possession, was made possible by your contribution (and maybe leadership) to the collective economic activity of the commonwealth—even if that money is inherited. This picture of reciprocity, if it is indeed bidirectional, nearly necessitates giving and generosity. I am compelled by the pressure to flow gift money back into the system because in the end that also supports my wellbeing. I don’t control, but rather am part of. I am not a contributor, but rather a “contributary”.

In the short term, let’s celebrate Giving Day. It is a moment to raise awareness and popularize the importance of generosity. And while I can assuage my sadness nerve, I cannot let go of the notion of our commonwealth. Mostly our culture views the capacity to give based upon having more than enough—whether that is money or time. I would propose that the opposite is true—when one gives one experiences the reality that enough does not exist without giving. That is, giving makes us whole. My hope would be that the joy of giving on the Day of Giving begins or continues to rebuild an everyday culture of gift.

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance

RSF Local Initiatives Fund

November 21, 2014

This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Catherine Covington 1by Catherine Covington

Earlier this year, I was encouraged to take on the challenge of conducting RSF’s first-ever feasibility study. The study took place in the spring and focused on laying the groundwork necessary to expand and deepen the potential of the RSF Local Initiatives Fund (LIF). More than 10 staff members pitched in to help plan for and conduct 35 external interviews during which we solicited feedback about the LIF and sought advice on the prospect of a capital raise. Now that the study has concluded and we are in the midst of fundraising, I am excited to share an update on the fund with the entire RSF community.

In 2012, in collaboration with a generous donor, RSF launched the Local Initiatives Fund pilot program to meet the growing need we have seen for an alternative approach to financing regional food systems. Throughout our history, RSF has had to turn away many impactful organizations that could not yet benefit from a loan, but instead, could use grants or equity-like capital to spur their growth. We have learned that without more flexible capital available, particularly in the early stages of their enterprises, it is extremely difficult for entrepreneurs to build food systems that generate positive social, environmental, and economic change.

LIF is a first-of-its-kind philanthropic fund that employs an integrated capital approach—one that focuses on the coordinated use of investments, loans, and grants to provide much-needed, flexible capital for entrepreneurs who are building regional food systems and resilient local economies. In the first two years of the pilot, we have been able to deploy $2 million to 40 early-stage sustainable food and agriculture enterprises with a focus on technical assistance grants, loan guarantees and place-based Shared Gifting circles; those funds have leveraged $8.3 million in additional financing to date.

Many of our feasibility study participants confirmed that there is an urgent need for the next stage of our integrated capital approach which includes a mix of tools such as loans backed by guarantees, direct equity investments, and philanthropic risk capital for smaller scale financing, all to support regional food systems infrastructure. For example, Viva Farms, a farm incubator program in Washington State, received an equipment loan from RSF backed by a guarantee from a foundation partner which was further supported by a capacity building grant from the LIF! There was also consensus that our deep and extensive lending experience combined with philanthropic capital would help us accomplish a range and degree of financing for this burgeoning field – funding that we simply cannot do through our current lending and grantmaking programs. Our experience and perspective make us uniquely suited to work in this innovative and much-needed way.

In our view, the opportunity is great, and, not moving capital in this innovative way—while the need for food access and the opportunity to meet that need grows—will have long-term adverse social consequences. We invite philanthropic funders who share an interest in transforming food systems to join us in this challenge of embracing an integrated financing approach that will push boundaries, revise how philanthropy can truly support regenerative economic work, and have a lasting impact on people, communities, and food systems. Since June, we have added 8 new donors to the fund (totaling over $600,000 in gifts) and are eager to add more as we take the LIF beyond the pilot phase. Will you join us?

Please contact Catherine at catherine.covington@rsfsocialfinance.org or 415-561-6151 for more information!

Catherine Covington is Manager of Client Development at RSF Social Finance

Shared Gifting in Philadelphia, the Third Experiment

November 4, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

“In a community of human beings working together, the well-being of the community will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of the work he has himself done.” – Rudolf Steiner

This quote was read at the beginning of the third Shared Gifting meeting of RSF held in Philadehlpia, PA. RSF sought the time and expertise of two of our borrowers, Common Market and Fair Food Philly to bring the Shared Gifting model to organizations working to create a more sustainable and just local food system in the Philadelphia region. With their guidance and input, and the valuable nominations received from RSF clients in the area, RSF invited twelve non-profit organizations to participate in the third Shared Gifting circle convened in mid-September 2014 at the Philadelphia Impact Hub. (click here for a full list of participating organizations)

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Shared Gifting gives ownership and allocation authority of gift money to the participants of the circle, leveraging the knowledge and experience of each participant to insure grant funding reaches the areas it is needed most. RSF asks that each Shared Gifting participant bring an open heart and mind to the experience. We also ask for participants to help us explore this new model of grant making in co-creation.

With each Shared Gifting circle, there are many different variables that might come into play – different needs, organization sizes, and varying focus of work. We acknowledge and appreciate the risk these participants took to spend their day with us and their peers examining the intersection of each organizations work, how collaborating can strengthen their work, and for stepping outside the traditional confines of philanthropy.

Before the collaborative distribution of grant funding commenced, the participants shared their hopes and expectations for the day ahead. They looked forward to learning more deeply about the other organizations, they shared that they were humbled by reading each other’s grant proposals, they looked forward to connecting their work more, to build each others capacity, and sought to deepen relationships and partnerships by tearing down silos and building a culture of real trust and collaboration.

DSC_0167For these organizations, $100,200 was made available from the RSF Local Initiatives Fund to distribute in support of each other’s work. A highlight from the day was that this particular group demonstrated a deep interest in collaborating and fully embraced the innovative nature of the model. Half way through the day the group started a conversation to dig deeper into questions of how it would look to work together more collaboratively. The group even suggested a process change to RSF – innovating on the spot!

Another highlight of the gifting process was the energy and support shown to Friends of Farmworkers, a newer and smaller organization in Philadelphia. By providing legal services, education, and advocacy, Friends of Farmworkers strives to improve the living and working conditions of vulnerable, low wage food and farmworkers in Pennsylvania. In response to this showing of support, Friends of Farmworkers staff attorney Stephanie Dorenbosch committed to providing community education opportunities to all meeting participants and their organizations on the legal rights for migrant and immigrant workers throughout the Commonwealth. This exemplified an important component of a successful Shared Gifting experience – resource sharing. Shared Gifting seeks to make space for these opportunities to emerge, for the recipients to create mutually beneficial relationship-based collaborations typically not seen in competitive models.

We have found that Shared Gifting creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate, leverages community wisdom, and creates accountability among the participants. During the meeting, this inspiring group set aside a small portion of the total grant funding available with the intention of creating future opportunities for collaboration. How they will leverage the funds remains to be seen. We look forward to witnessing their success, learning and innovation in the coming year, and sharing it with you.

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Click here to learn more about the history and process of Shared Gifting

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

A Celebration of Giving – Part 2

September 11, 2014

Click here to see the first story in this series

KelleyBuhles_Books_Large (2)by Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money and that are bringing associative economic principles into daily practice.

Over the next few months we will be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers who saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, have become part of our destiny.

A Prophetic Gift

Voices of the prophets have been heard in most cultures throughout human history. They are traditionally seen as harbingers if not agents of change. In 2002, RSF received a prophetic gift from an anonymous donor that would eventually transform the way we work with lending.

Prior to this gift, RSF was making loans solely to non-profit organizations. At that time, the field of social finance was nascent and there were few models for how to work with money in alignment with social and environmental values. Through dialogue with RSF’s community of clients and partners, the idea emerged to expand our work to begin lending to mission-aligned for-profit businesses.

However, RSF’s ability to lend relies on the investments we receive from the RSF community. Because most of our individual investors don’t have the risk tolerance necessary to experiment with lending to an emerging field of borrowers, RSF was not able to experiment with this idea without a source of capital beyond the Social Investment Fund.

Fortunately, one of RSF’s donors was inspired by the idea and decided to make a gift of $2.5M to guarantee loans to mission-aligned for-profit businesses, thereby allowing RSF to gain experience lending in this new way. This initiative was called the Fair Economies Program.

The Fair Economies Program provided financing to businesses in emerging industries that were environmentally restorative while providing fair working wages, humane working conditions, and supporting self-determination in economic development. An additional goal was to support these social enterprises in underserved regions.

The program was developed both to provide early-stage socially responsible enterprises access to low-cost capital, and to demonstrate that enterprises created for social and environmental benefit could be sustainable and provide value to the communities they served.

Through this program RSF was able to contribute to the growth of many successful businesses such as Organic Bouquet, Indigenous Designs, and Root Capital.

RSF_30th_purpleAnother gift RSF received was experience—both the experience of lending to organizations in fields that we previously hadn’t worked in, and of using new and different types of financing. The Fair Economies Program provided bridge loans, term loans, convertible loans, purchase order financing loans, and working capital loans, most of which had not previously been provided by RSF. We also gained experience working in sustainable agriculture, independent media, and fair trade, whereas our previous experience was mostly working with Waldorf Schools and other organizations inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner.

Additionally, through our dealing with projects in need of early stage financing, RSF provided necessary technical assistance and client attention while supporting some of the companies through challenging situations. While not all of the projects funded by the Fair Economies Program were successful, the lessons RSF learned from it were documented, reflected upon, shared, and eventually fed back into our operations, thereby making RSF a more knowledgeable and experienced lending partner to mission-aligned, for-profit businesses .

The donor and the gift that facilitated the creation of the Fair Economies Program inspired and ultimately provided the experience necessary to create our for-profit lending program as it is today – standing at 50% of our social enterprise lending portfolio. For this we are very grateful.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Sacred Land, Powerful Stewards

September 9, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

By Alex Haber

In our grants, loans, and investments, RSF partners with organizations and entrepreneurs focused on protecting the environment as central to both our economic and spiritual life. One of our Donor Advised Fund clients, Tamalpais Trust, has a strong and innovative agenda: supporting the capacity of indigenous-led organizations to promote culturally sensitive approaches to environmental stewardship through indigenous knowledge systems. Last year, Tamalpais Trust granted over $2.7 million through RSF to organizations working on these issues. Two in particular – Kivulini Heritage Trust in Northern Kenya and the Forever Sabah project of Land Empowerment Animals People in Malaysia – are helping build strong indigenous communities to lead environmental stewardship and sustainable development.

Kivulini Heritage Trust works with pastoralists, fisherfolk, and other minorities in Northern Kenya to preserve sacred sites, support local livelihoods, and promote environmental management centered on indigenous knowledge and institutions. Last year, Tamalpais Trust funded a project to link peace-building among different communities with development in the border region of Northern Kenya and Ethiopia. New development is poised to raise the standard of living for many, but it will also privatize land and limit access to traditional management techniques and sacred sites. Communities in this region are migratory along both sides of the border, so mapping migration routes and sacred sites is important for protecting their way of life. However, previous attempts at mapping by outside groups have raised fears of privatization and conflict among indigenous communities. To overcome this, Kivulini is working closely with locals on participatory mapping of routes and sacred sites while also encouraging inter-community peace-building to strengthen indigenous groups’ understanding of the challenges of land development and their capacity to act together to control their own destiny.

LEAP: An innovative community-based ecotourism project aiming to provide ecologically sustainable lodging within the Tungog Lake rainforest.  Photo courtesy of LEAP.

LEAP: An innovative community-based ecotourism project aiming to provide ecologically sustainable lodging within the Tungog Lake rainforest. Photo courtesy of LEAP.

Across the Indian Ocean, in Malaysia, the Forever Sabah project of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) is working closely with indigenous people to protect the Sabah region. Forever Sabah is a 25 year ($100M US) program designed to move away from an economy based on the exploitation of natural resources and toward a diversified, equitable, green economy. Over the past year, LEAP has facilitated community-led roundtables to develop a first wave of projects for the program. These include forest connectivity across the state, watersheds, and communities; renewable energy initiatives; sustainable food and agriculture projects; and a community-based ecotourism school. Native land rights are incorporated into all aspects of Forever Sabah. As just one example, LEAP is working to establish the first Watershed Conservation Area in Malaysia, which would be co-managed by local communities in the Telupid Forest Complex. The key distinction between current “protection areas” and this new “conservation area” is that the latter preserves native land rights and use.

These are just two examples of a place-based approach to ecological stewardship, which we value at RSF. By supporting indigenous capacity building, Tamalpais Trust is helping to transform ecosystems by empowering communities to take control of the future and that of the land they care for.

Alex Haber is Program Manager, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

RSF to host 3rd Shared Gifting Circle in Philadelphia

August 28, 2014

RSF is excited to announce that we will host our third Shared Gifting circle working with organizations focused on building socially and ecologically sustainable regional food systems in Philadelphia.

The participants, listed below, were nominated by RSF’s community of grantees, borrowers, investors, and donors. We also worked closely with RSF borrowers Fair Food and Common Market, to help identify non-profits doing great work in the city.

Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that RSF has been experimenting with for the past four years. This model gives ownership and allocation authority for gift money to the participants of the circle and shifts the power dynamic inherent in traditional philanthropy by giving grantees decision making authority. We have found that this process creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate, leverages community wisdom, and creates accountability among the participants.

One representative from each organization will meet in Philadelphia on September 16th to share proposals with each other and determine how to distribute grant funds in support of each other’s work.

The Philadelphia participants are:

We are really excited to be working with all of these wonderful organizations and look forward to sharing our experiences from the Shared Gifting meeting!

Interdependence in Ecological and Economic Systems

July 30, 2014

This CEO letter was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Dear Friends,

The word economy comes from the Greek oikonomia, meaning household management. When thinking of our economy, now on a global scale, how should we define that household? Our current financial system (a subset of economic life) favors a narrow view focusing on the individual and more specifically, the individual with resources. But if we open our perspective, we can see that view expand—the household is our homes, our communities, and the planet that houses us all.

Indigenous wisdom has always been ahead of the dominant paradigm in this regard. Indigenous knowledge evolved from observation of and participation with the natural world. This wisdom holds that humankind meets needs by working with nature and honoring the earth and its systems. This approach recognizes something that has been lost in our economic life—the idea that all is interrelated. People and planet. Earth and economy. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make sense to have a zero sum game in which some win (at the expense of others) and the rest lose.

Here is an example of the opposite: We recently made a grant to The Pollination Project, which makes $1,000 seed grants to individual change-makers. Grants to for-profit ventures are made as zero-interest pay-it-forward loans. Recipients are expected to pay loans back in 24 months, and payment is received in the form of a new loan to another qualified Pollination Project applicant, chosen by the original borrower. This pay-it-forward model is a practical example of working with money in a way that honors interdependence, community, and trust and that values mutual benefit—when one wins, so can all.

Interdependence and community are inherent to how we approach finance at RSF. We have a vested stake in the success of all our stakeholders and we recognize that success for all of us is contingent upon regenerating and preserving the earth’s ecosystems. Financing organizations that are a part of the regenerative cycle is also a part of regenerating the economy that holds the human being as the center. This is one more reflection of what it means to transform the way the world works with money.

All my best,

Don Shaffer

President & CEO

Integrated Capital for Social Enterprises

July 17, 2014

Originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Don Shafferby Don Shaffer

A thriving social enterprise sector is essential to increasing community resilience and improving the lives of those who’ve been marginalized by the global economy. Social enterprises—which are in business to solve social and environmental problems—are willing to tackle complex systemic problems, build new infrastructure, and develop products and services that address pressing needs even if their profit potential is not obvious or will develop only over a long term.

These enterprises’ ability to succeed is hampered, however, by the current division of capital resources into overspecialized sectors, such as venture investing and charitable foundations, that fund only narrowly defined types of enterprises at particular stages. This situation won’t produce the breadth of social enterprises we need to solve systemic problems, because these enterprises confound the expectations of conventional funders in many ways:

  • They may have to build a supply chain or other systems (rather than just plugging into an existing infrastructure), which results in relatively high up-front costs.
  • They may have slower revenue growth or relatively low profit margins—by definition, they aim to maximize social value before profit.
  • They may have hybrid business models that put them outside conventional for-profit and nonprofit funding models (for example, a revenue-generating business with nonprofit charitable status).
  • They think about growth as a way to serve their mission, not as an end in itself. They may intend to remain rooted in a community and serve as a model to others, for example, rather than pursuing rapid and far-reaching expansion.

To build a thriving social enterprise sector, we need to rethink the purpose of capital and employ an integrated capital strategy. Integrated capital is the coordinated and collaborative use of different forms of capital (equity investments, loans, gifts, loan guarantees, and so on), often from different funders, to support a developing enterprise that’s working to solve complex social and environmental problems.

Read the full article here

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

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