The First Immersion: BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle
January 9, 2015
by Catherine Covington
Consider the following: What questions keep you up at night? What do you dream is possible in the world? What part do you want to play, and what special gifts do you bring?
These questions were just a few of the prompts for the 8-minute personal storytelling presentations given by each participant in the BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle (CFC), an 18-month leadership intensive which launched in early December with its first in-person gathering in Petaluma, CA. The invitational CFC is a natural extension of RSF’s commitment to building the field of social finance and BALLE’s mandate to connect leaders, spread solutions and attract investment for local economies. The CFC grew out of RSF’s initial gathering of community foundation leaders hosted in Phoenix in January 2014. The big take-away from that gathering was a desire to pursue impact investing, even though many of the community foundation leaders lack the knowledge and support to do so. The CFC was created to address this need and is currently comprised of 11 leaders from 9 different community foundations (full list available here) across North America. With over $2 billion in collective assets, the members of the group are working to align their investments with their missions to serve their communities. Leading the group are facilitators Christine Ageton, BALLE’s Chief Program Officer, and Sandy Wiggins, Senior Advisor to RSF Social Finance.
As a community of practice, these pioneering CFC leaders are focused on advancing place-based, mission-aligned investing by their foundations. The immersive program will support the participants to: strengthen their personal effectiveness in overcoming barriers to place-based impact investment; share with and support one another as they learn to bring their personal stories and passion to the forefront; learn from domain experts; and, intentionally create new knowledge and practices. In addition, members of the CFC are devoted to advancing the field and to making their resources and knowledge available to others doing related work.
The content of the CFC gatherings (4 total over the course of 18 months) is designed around four key challenges that community foundation leaders have named as obstacles to shifting their assets toward local investment: culture, strategy, capacity and investment opportunities. This first gathering was dedicated to participant introductions, framing the need for local investment, solidifying the CFC vision and purpose statement, and discussions around cultural challenges faced at the board, staff and community levels.
There is no doubt that culture, defined by RSF’s CEO Don Shaffer as, “connectivity between stakeholders that drives you toward your mission,” is hard to shift, particularly in organizations with decades of history. Marjorie Kelly, author of Democracy Collaborative’s recent report focused on community foundations as hubs of community wealth building, framed the need for change. “When we ask ourselves, where do we find ourselves right now – what time is it? – we begin by recognizing that the multiple and growing problems we face are systemic. It’s not the people who are the problem, it is the system. We need to build a new economy, create pilot projects for the future. And this means blending theory and practice. We need our theories, but we always need to test them in practice.”
Peter Berliner, Managing Director of Mission Investors Exchange, challenged the participants to ask their organizations these questions related to culture: What is your identity? How do you define success? What is the role of your organization in the community? After further discussion, one participant shared a moving revelation, “Mission got lost in the string of promises we made along the way to our donors. We’ve put ourselves in this situation. . . We’ve tied ourselves to a mirror image of a mutual fund.”
A full three days were spent learning about each other’s personal stories and organizational profiles, discussing challenges, sharing case studies and helping each other set goals related to tackling cultural barriers to change. It was a powerful and rich experience as captured in these closing reflections:
“I’m privileged to be a part of this team which is focused on care, assistance and accountability. Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world.”
“You can’t do this work without feeling the passion. I appreciate the safe space and the framework for sharing that will serve not just our communities but the world. I feel like we are on the brink of something very big.”
“Let’s demystify, illuminate this work and its potential, weave together our networks and make place-based investing the norm for community foundations everywhere. We have to find a new business attractor and I believe this work is it.”
The next gathering of the CFC will take place in Asheville, NC in mid-April 2015 with a focus on strategy. I have the privilege of representing RSF along with Sandy Wiggins and am very excited about the road ahead. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates!
Catherine Covington is Manager of Client Development at RSF Social Finance.