RSF Board & Staff

Personal Stories of Change

June 19, 2014

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

RSF’s theory of change is based on driving transformation at the individual level. We decided to reach out to our community to see exactly how people have transformed the way they work with money.

Neil Blomquist, Trustee
President, Sustainable Solutions

“How I work with and think about money has not changed a whole lot since mid-1970’s when I found the organic community and embraced it as my life, but the transformation has come with my own maturity and the deeper understanding that Rudolf Steiner and RSF Social Finance have provided. It has deepened my conviction for change and confirmed that this is the path toward a more positive future for humanity and the planet.”

Dorothy Hinkle-Uhlig, Investor

“Many years ago I was led to meditate on a beautiful watercolor by Liane Collot d’Herbois titled “Money”, and subsequently I experienced a spiritual awakening about the nature of money and my responsibility toward this important gift of the spirit. Many important conversations with others and within followed as I tried to articulate what money is, and how am I to work with money. Money became alive as I, in my small way, sent it into the stream of life and saw it transform whatever it touched and then beyond as it flowed into society.

The work with money begins in the very personal realm of a personal decision and then continues on touching, transforming and realizing. Am I awake to the importance of each transaction with money? Does it support transformation and healing? Does it hinder the good? I strive to understand the answers to these questions within each deed with money. When I buy my food and my sweater and my computer, I send money into the social flow; when I invest my extra money and borrow for that big need, I send money into the social flow; when I gift to an emerging initiative and to the needy, I send money into the social flow. I have learned that my personal transformation continues to happen one moment at a time when I am awake to this flow in the moment. May the flow continue to enable the good. It is sacred work. It is community work.”

Mark Censits, Trustee
CEO, CoolVines

“I am working on an initiative that I believe will transform the way money flows in my town of Princeton, NJ. While this is not simply a personal behavioral change with respect to money, my efforts in initiating this new venture are indeed very much driven by my personal relationship to money, specifically with regard to building local economies. When I was looking for a loan for the expansion of my Princeton CoolVines store, I was very disappointed in the lack of connection that I felt from the local “community” bank. The experience was anything but personal, transparent and direct – and it drove me to imagine other ways that local businesses like CoolVines could tap into the resources of the local community for capital support. That combined with the changes afoot with the JOBs Act and web technology spurred an idea that we call the Community Investment Exchange. It is still in the concept stages but we hope to launch it sometime this Spring.”

David Lapedis, Investor

“I have the transformed the way I work with money by seeing it as a part of me and all living things. Each time I make a purchase, I remind myself of that with an affirmation. I actually pause every time I use my credit card and focus on that. Money is just the energy of this universe coming back and circulating through me. I find that I am more grateful for my experiences and the material things in life when I am in touch with that.

A particular experience that changed the way I deal with money was taking a class with Katherine Revoir

called Money, Metaphysics, and the Meaning of Life. That changed the way I look at anything that shows up in my life. She taught me to see money as me and related to all of the energy here on this planet.

Another experience that shifted how I look at money was when I realized that I was making a good interest rate on an online savings account (approximately 3%), but I didn’t know where that money was being invested. I realized that it is very important for me to know what my energy (money) is being used to create. I moved my money out of that account and into one that actively creates the world I want to live in, investing in renewable energy. I felt so much better knowing my money was going towards that even though the interest rate was significantly lower.”

Taryn Goodman, Staff

“I seek complete transparency in all of my investments – it enables relationships and allows me to be more comfortable with the investment because I can fully understand the risks involved.”

Coleman Lyles
Executive Director, Camphill Communities of California, Borrower

“I have been in association with RSF for over 30 years in a kind of organizational alliance, one anthroposophical organization to another. What I have experienced about money is that through anthroposophical insights and principles, money becomes incidental to what is accomplished outwardly and more connected to what is happening spiritually.

A metaphor for this can be taken from art and the way one could relate to a production of Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Drama. An audience appreciates what is happening on the stage not necessarily because it is a polished performance, but rather because it senses that the spiritual world is interested in what is happening on the stage. This is a new way of relating to drama and art as such. What matters as much as the finished product is the spiritual striving and the intention behind it.

Like deep appreciation in art, money begins to flow towards that which the spiritual world is taking an interest in. Often it is something that is quiet, unassuming and of a seed nature, rather than a fully formed, hot house fruit that is the next big thing to hit the market.”

Birju Pandya, Investor & Partner

“I am transforming the way I work with money by walking towards fear in small ways, practicing two phrases: ‘resist nothing’ and ‘appreciate the chain’.  The first phrase applies to instances when I am being paid for work. I try not to come from a transaction space but from a space of offering and gift for my efforts.  The second phrase applies to purchase transactions. Whenever I engage with money to receive something, I try to recognize and appreciate the entire value chain involved in it.”

Kelley Buhles, Staff

“Because of working at RSF, I better understand what my money makes possible in the world. Since I began working here I have moved 60% of my personal money into socially responsible investments. I pay more attention to what impact different types of money have on me, for example, loan vs. gift or socially responsible investments vs. not-socially responsible investments. Also, I recently challenged myself to start giving more. I selected two organizations to make monthly donations to. Despite tight budgets, I end up prioritizing these two donations over almost everything else!”

Nicole Dawes
CEO, Late July Snacks, Borrower

“Watching and participating in the way RSF works, particularly in the pricing meetings, has opened my eyes to the importance and impact of transparency in all financial transactions. Understanding how others are impacted by your decisions helps ground your actions. I realize that all negotiations can’t take place in the confines of the RSF pricing meeting format, but in almost all cases you can at least bring some of the elements of open discussion around goals and impact. I have made a conscience effort to bring this open dialogue to my discussions with retailers and vendors and found we both end up happier with the result.”

Healing Through Financial Transaction

May 9, 2014

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

Dear Friends,

We’re so happy to be celebrating RSF’s 30th anniversary this year.  It is an honor and a privilege for me to be leading this amazing organization, having been here for just 22% of that time (since 2007).

Since 1984, we have made nearly $300 million in loans to social enterprises.  We have a 100% repayment rate (principal + interest) to our investors, and a 2% cumulative loss rate on our loan portfolio (which is extraordinarily low by any objective measure.)  We now have over 1,500 investors and $100 million in our flagship Social Investment Fund.

Additionally, we have facilitated over $100 million in grants, with the pace increasing to between $10-15 million per year recently.  We currently have a staff of 38 with a $6 million annual operating budget.

We are proud of our growth, but more important is our focus on potency, not scale.  We have worked extraordinarily hard to create a culture in which each relationship is sacred.  We want to shift the conventionally antagonistic power dynamic between provider-of-capital and receiver-of-capital.  This takes time and considerable effort.

I recently visited one of our borrowers in central Florida, called Uncle Matt’s.  As a 4th generation citrus grower, “Uncle Matt” McLean and his family make organic orange juice.   It’s super tasty, and it comes with a twist.

Today, there are over 600,000 acres of citrus groves in Florida—only 3,000 acres are certified organic.  Uncle Matt’s oversees the majority of this organic acreage.  About 15 years ago, they were told by scientists from the University of Florida that their groves would likely be in serious jeopardy due to what’s known as “citrus greening” – a bacteria that is steadily wiping out citrus fruit worldwide.  It turns out that the organic groves are much more resistant to the bacteria than conventional groves.  The scientists were wrong—they thought the genetically-modified, pesticide/herbicide regimes of the conventional growers would be more successful, and had told the McLean’s they were crazy.  Now these same scientists are visiting the McLean’s farms on a weekly basis in order to study exactly how their organic methods are working.  Currently, we are working to help the McLean family to purchase a 170-acre grove that is being threatened by housing development from nearby Orlando.  It’s possible the solution to the global “citrus greening” epidemic lies in the organic methods from this tiny plot of land, and could ultimately save millions of trees worldwide.

This is an example of our focus on potency.  We have been to the McLean groves twice in the short time we’ve had this loan—their previous bankers from Orlando had never visited the farms, only wanting to see the processing facilities.  We are trying to find investors for the land purchase, introducing them to biodynamic growers around the country, and connecting them to other organic food entrepreneurs in the RSF borrower community.

We believe we’re helping to create an energetic field where healing-through-financial-transactions is possible.  Our plan is to steadily expand our trust network over the next 30 years, one relationship at a time.  We look forward to engaging all of you in that process.

Warmly,

Don

Don Shaffer is President & CEO 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. 

What Funders of Social Enterprises Want

June 5, 2013

Don Shaffer - Default

Originally published by Sustainable Industries

by Don Shaffer

Interest in social enterprises is growing—and believe it or not (some entrepreneurs may have their doubts), so is the pool of capital available to them.

The broad field of impact investing—which involves directing capital to enterprises that are doing good, rather than simply screening out companies that have strong negative effects—is projected to grow by a billion dollars this year. Impact investors surveyed for a J.P. Morgan and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) report released in January said they plan to commit $9 billion to impact investing in 2013, up from $8 billion in 2012.

Of course, much of that money will go to larger, more established businesses, not to emerging social enterprises. But RSF Social Finance does finance social enterprises that need growth capital—and our investment funds mirror the broader trend. RSF’s main investment vehicle, the Social Investment Fund (SIF), grew 20 percent in 2012, to $90.5 million.

In addition to a larger pool of capital, several other trends are creating opportunities for social entrepreneurs:

  • There’s a growing focus on developing social entrepreneurs through the use of accelerators and technical assistance groups. Some examples are Village Capital, Ashoka Fellowships, and Hub Ventures.
  • Investors are looking at alternative forms of investing, including royalty payments.
  • There’s increased interest in investing regionally, specifically in the United States.

What are investors looking for?

Many of the investment organizations funding social enterprises specialize in particular niches, or work on a few key focus areas at a time. If you’re seeking capital, your first stop should be a funder that specializes in your area—they’re more likely to understand the business opportunity, and can plug you into a valuable network.  For example, one of RSF’s current focus areas is the creation, support and expansion of decentralized, regional food processing and distribution operations, because they contribute to strong local economies by providing markets for small and midsize farmers, helping with the logistics of aggregating food from multiple suppliers across a region, and serving as market creators by connecting producers with local food buyers.  We’re also seeking to build relationships with impact-making borrowers in our other two focus areas: ecological stewardship, and education and the arts.

What qualifies as a social enterprise?

Every funder has their own criteria, but ability to demonstrate impact and capacity to run a successful business will probably always be top of the list. RSF defines a social enterprise as a for-profit or non-profit venture in which the economic activity is a means toward creating significant social or ecological impact. We vet borrowers for:

  • Social and ecological impact for public benefit: Is the organization’s economic activity a means toward directly solving or alleviating society’s greatest challenges in our focus areas?
  • Advocacy for change: Is the organization an advocate for or does it demonstrate social change in its field? Does the organization hold itself accountable and is leadership committed to the social mission?
  • Capacity to accomplish the mission: Does the organization have the capacity to tackle the problem? Do its activities have the potential for scale?
  • Commitment to financial and operational sustainability: Is management committed to and capable of growing a profitable or self-sustaining independent enterprise? Could RSF’s involvement be catalytic? Does the business meet high standards for workplace and environmental practices?
  • Community building: Is the organization building a community committed to its success?

If you have an enterprise that meets those criteria and needs a finance partner to reach the next level, please get in touch. If you’re not there yet, I encourage you to take advantage of the resources available to social enterprises. There’s never been a better time to be a social entrepreneur.

Don Shaffer is President & CEO of RSF Social Finance, as well as an alumni speaker at the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum.

Announcing the 2013 RSF Seed Fund Grantees!

May 31, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

Every spring, RSF provides small gifts to seed new initiatives that offer innovative solutions in the field of social finance, or address issues in one of our three focus areas. Thank you to all of our individual investors, donors and staff members who make the RSF Seed Fund possible!

Introducing the 2013 RSF Seed Fund Grantees:

Rising Sun 1Rising Sun Energy Center is a leading green workforce development and retrofit services organization located in Berkeley, CA. The Seed Fund grant will support Rising Sun Energy Services, a project that provides highly subsidized energy efficiency audits and retrofits to moderate income home owners in Richmond and Berkeley. Rising Sun Energy Services employs graduates from the non-profit’s Green Energy Training Services program. A successful pilot program was completed in the summer of 2012, which employed 17 graduates and retrofitted over 120 homes.

 

Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), iSustainable Economies Law Center 1n Oakland, CA, was founded by two attorneys, Janelle Orsi and Jenny Kassan, to provide the essential legal tools to support a transition to localized, resilient economies. SELC seeks to educate communities about the possibilities and limits of creative economic solutions such as cooperatives, community-owned enterprises, cohousing, urban agriculture, barter and local currencies. They also advocate for laws that clear the way for more sustainable and equitable economic development. The Seed Fund grant will support new pathways to financing for small farms through Direct Public Offerings (DPOs). SELC believes that DPOs could be an effective financing strategy for beginning farmers, as DPOs enable farmers to publicize opportunities to make micro-loans or equity investments in their farms. To test their theory, SELC will manage all legal compliance paperwork for a beginning farmer with the hopes of creating tools to enable others to replicate their work.

Calypso Farm 1Calypso Farm & Ecology Center is an educational, working farm near Fairbanks, Alaska whose mission is to promote local agriculture and environmental awareness through hands-on education in farming ecosystems. The Seed Fund grant will support their Farmer Training program, a residential, experiential program focused on providing the skills and confidence necessary to embark on starting a small farm. Participants learn how to become self-reliant farmers by working alongside practiced farmers through the entire growing season and gain first-hand experience in marketing their produce through operating a CSA, running a farm stand, and selling to local restaurants.

Cultivate Kansas City (Kansas), the city’s center for urban agriculture, grows organic vegetables on two farms, trains farmers, Cultivate Kansas City 1supports local food projects and helps build communities that support small scale city farms. To date, they have helped start more than 40 farms and have provided thousands of hours of technical assistance. The Seed Fund grant will support installation of an irrigation system at the Somali Bantu Community Center Community Garden. Funds will support the design and installation of an efficient watering system, the excavation, permit and the purchasing of equipment and materials.

Creative Action 1Creative Action, in Austin, is central Texas’ largest provider of afterschool programming, arts enrichment and character education. The Seed Fund grant was awarded to support Color Squad, a teen program that will teach youth how to design and construct public murals. Color Squad will work under the guidance of a Creative Action teaching artist to identify how a historically underserved neighborhood could benefit from beautification and placemaking. Through extensive interviews of key players in the neighborhood and the city beyond, as well as internet and library research, the team will investigate the space with a focus on history, community aspirations, and current challenges. Using the information gathered, the Color Squad will design a mural and related public art projects that elevate, illuminate, and beautify the space with the ultimate goal of supporting and uplifting local residents. They will build and paint their project, and end with a community celebration of the artwork with neighborhood residents.

Raphael Academy, is a Camphill-inspired private school initiative for students in grades six through twelve and young adults ages 21+ with Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other learning disabilities. Located in New Orleans, Raphael Academy’s mission is to meet its students with reverence and compassion and to educate them wholly, awakening their full potential as unique individuals, actively involved in life and engaged in the community. They are currently enrolling students for the school’s 2nd year. The Seed Fund grant will support specialty, vocational skills classes such as gardening, ceramics, cooking, and weaving.

Raphael Academy 1

Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, MD, collects and distributes three million pounds of food annually to food-insecure clients in the Washington DC area. The Seed Fund grant will Manna Food Center 1support their partnership with Farm to Freezer. Manna receives a generous donation of unsold surplus fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets during the growing season. Farm to Freezer prepares and freezes surplus produce in season to supplement the shelf stable items provided to the center’s clients in the winter months. The grant will specifically fund the development of an educational component to the program so that clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate the produce into healthier meals.  A Farm to Freezer kitchen manager/educator will work with Manna’s dietician to teach hands-on cooking skills and nutrition classes to Manna’s clients as well as partner organizations such as Family Services, serving psychiatric rehab clients, and Montgomery County Pre-Release program, serving incarcerated residents in their transition back into society.

Catskill Mountainkeeper, of Youngsville, NY, was founded as a community-based environmental advocacy organization dedicated to creating a flourishing sustainable economy in upstate New York. The Seed Fund grant will support their Capital Access program to facilitate farmer-friendly loans and business planning services. The program specifically looks to provide capital to farmers who want to innovate, diversify, grow or otherwise strengthen their business to establish the Catskill Mountains as a prominent foodshed for the New York Metropolitan market, as well as a consistent and reliable producer for the local economy. Catskill Mountainkeeper will include a business planning component as a requirement for participants of the Capital Access Program to help ensure a high success rate.

Catskill Mountain Keeper 1

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services.

Investing with a Gender Lens

May 10, 2013

 

This post was originally published on TriplePundit

By Marlena John

As a woman entering the finance world, the title of the session at the Slow Money National Gathering, Female Investors: The Most Important Change Agents on Earth, certainly sparked my interest.

Don Shaffer, President & CEO of RSF Social Finance started by telling the story of when he was a golf caddy in New Jersey, slinging golf clubs for Wall Street traders and bankers. Back then, women were not allowed on the golf course, which reflected the situation of most of Wall Street and the finance industry as a whole. The few women who did work in finance got paid a lot less than the men.

Fast-forward twenty or so years. There are a lot more females in the field, taking leadership in investment opportunities, and playing golf. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, signed by President Kennedy, prohibited pay differences based on sex. Great! But, if you think that everything is hunky dory, then you’d be wrong. As it turns out, women are still making less money than men on average, and this is particularly true on Wall Street. Shaffer claims that females on Wall Street make 55-62 percent as much as males do, though I’ve seen statistics that claim it is as high as 77 percent. Even if the 77 percent stat is accurate, women in finance are experiencing a significant, and unwarranted, pay gap.

So, women are getting paid less, and that’s not cool. We also have many more men than women investing and working in finance. But why should we care how many women investors there are? Don Shaffer laid it out well.

Continue reading on TriplePundit

 

Easter in the Investment Conference Room

March 28, 2013

At this time last year, RSF investor Rosemary Feerick, brought her two sons to our office to open their very own Social Investment Fund accounts. Later, she decided to share the story of her experience that day.

This essay was originally published in the Harvest Time newsletter.

by Rosemary Feerick

When we arrived at RSF Social Finance, Ellie, the receptionist, asked if we wanted a cup of tea.  It was the day after Easter, a day off from school for my sons.  I told the boys that we were going to San  Francisco to invest some of their college savings.

On the way to the city, we stopped at our credit union and withdrew money from a savings account I had set up for my eight year old son Ian. I gave Ian the check to hold in the car. He studied the piece of paper carefully. When we got to RSF Social Finance, he was still holding the check with care.

“I would like a cup of darjeeling, please,” Ian responded to the receptionist’s question.

“Darjeeling. Hmm. Let’s go see if we have some,” she offered, leading us into the kitchen.

Mark Herrera, RSF’s Client Development manager met us there. As Ian and Ellie focused on tea, Mark showed the composter to my 11 year old Roddy and explained what biodynamic sugar is. “These are some of the products made by the companies supported by the fund in which you’ll be investing,” Mark explained.

Next, he led us upstairs to the conference room overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. We felt very important.

In the conference room, Mark gave the boys samples of organic cookies. Together they read the ingredients, all of which actually sounded like food. Then, Mark told the boys about a company that employs people who are newly released from prison. Next, he described with excitement a sustainable fishery in Alaska that is allowing the Eskimo people to keep their way of life. “These are more of the companies the fund you are investing in supports.” The boys nodded.

Mark then sat down with Roddy and Ian and explained the mechanics of the investment, making sure they understood how it worked and what the rate of financial return would be. Together they did the math to figure out what that translated to in terms of the boys’ investments.

Rose Feerick & Sons

Rose with her sons Ian and Roddy.

When Mark was satisfied that Roddy and Ian understood what they were getting into, he had them each fill out an application and sign it. Their accounts were officially open.

On one level, this exchange felt like no big deal; it seemed like how making an investment should work. But as I watched, another part of me wanted to celebrate. I was aware that what I was witnessing was the result of years of my searching for a different way with money.

Twenty years ago, I received a gift of love that came in the form of a financial portfolio. At the time, I understood little of how investments worked. But as I learned about the mutual funds in my portfolio, I realized that I was invested in companies whose products and ways of doing business offended my conscience. I searched for other models of investing and discovered socially responsible mutual funds.

Initially, I felt good about moving my money into those funds. But as I read through the prospectuses and annual reports, I soon realized that in spite of a variety of social screens I was still invested in companies whose products I would not buy. The socially responsible mutual funds I had in my portfolio felt to me like the lesser of two evils.

A few years later, I was attending a conference on Sabbath Economics when Rob Baird of Progressive Investments (now Portfolio 21) got up to speak about investing. He did not have any fancy visuals, but as he spoke, I felt as if fireworks were going off. Listening to Rob, I saw for the first time a way that investments could do something good in the world.

Up until then, I felt I had to hold on to some of my investments in order to care for my family. But I felt horribly conflicted about doing so because it felt that my money was sitting inside of a global economic system that is causing harm. As Rob spoke about different models of investing, a door to a whole new world opened for me. I started to search for investments that could do good.

I learned about investing in microcredit; in affordable housing mutual funds; in community development banks; fair trade companies; and social investment funds. I worked with Andy Loving, an advisor who shares my faith and began to move some of my money into those kinds of investments. When the financial statements came each month, I noticed how differently I felt opening the ones that came from investments I had chosen. Instead of feeling guilty, I felt excited. It felt like a privilege to participate in the work of fair trade companies and local organic farms.

Shifting to alternative economic models required that I let go of the possibility of a high financial return. Having been raised to believe that receiving a high financial return was “good stewardship,” that was hard at first. Didn’t I have a responsibility to seek high returns for myself and for my children?

But as I learned about the impact many corporations are having on the ecosystem and the human family, I came to believe that that definition of good stewardship was inadequate. Good stewardship, for me, needed to take into account the world that I am passing on to my children as well as the money that will eventually change hands. I wanted any investments that I participated in to be part of creating a world full of life.

On one level, my visit to RSF Social Finance to invest a portion of my children’s college savings on Easter Monday was simply the next step in my process of shifting the investments I manage into such vehicles. But that day in the conference room I felt as if something else was happening too. There was something there that felt holy.

As a mother, I feel a responsibility to form my children in Easter hope. I try to do that by modeling and letting my children know about ways of living that respond to the crises of this historical moment with alternatives that bring life. My children will inherit this world. For me, it is not enough to bring them to church. I feel I also need to show them how to discern where God is moving in the world and teach them how to participate in that.

That is what it felt like was happening that day at RSF. In the conference room, I sensed that my boys and I were participating in a way of investing money that brings life to everyone it touches. In addition, Mark’s taking the time to teach the boys about how their investment would affect others was powerful. It was as if he understood that giving children life-giving possibilities when it comes to money is a radical investment in the future.

As I witnessed the exchange, I felt a sense of awe and gratitude. I felt a Holy Presence with us as we sipped tea, ate cookies, and filled out investment account forms on Easter Monday.

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.

Changes to RSF Prime

July 11, 2012

Dear Clients & Friends,

RSF has elected to lower the interest rate by 25 basis points (0.25%) for the third quarter of 2012. RSF Prime will now be 4.75% and investors will earn an interest rate of 0.75%.

RSF’s most recent pricing meeting was held in Sebastopol, CA earlier this month. This was the twelfth such meeting we’ve had since RSF made the decision to change how our quarterly interest rate is determined. Prior to October 2009, we used the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) as a benchmark to determine our rate of return. Since then we’ve been using this customized rate established by our Social Investment Fund (SIF) stakeholders — RSF staff, SIF investors, and borrowers in our Social Enterprise Lending program. The SIF investor rate is then added to a 4% spread (for RSF’s operations) and the resulting rate, named RSF Prime, is the base rate for borrowers.

This pricing mechanism is more deeply aligned with our values to make financial transactions as direct, transparent, and personal as possible. Further, we’ve been able to offer a significantly higher interest rate to investors than if we had continued using LIBOR.  Important to note: with this change in pricing, investors will continue to earn a rate several times that of a conventional bank CD.

Following the meeting we reflected on an important conversation that took place: would lowering RSF Prime make us more competitive in attracting high impact social enterprises in need of financing? Ultimately the answer was yes.

With that said, we are aware that the average RSF investor, for this next period, will experience a lower return (a decrease of $125 annually for the average $50,000 SIF Investment Note). For borrowers the impact is greater, as their average loan size is over $900,000, and their annual costs will be lowered by $2,000 to $2,500 annually.

We believe that lowering RSF Prime to 4.75% will help us retain and attract worthy projects to support through our Social Enterprise Lending program. To learn more about the projects we fund, visit the RSF Impact Map.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  In a spirit of transparency, we are happy to talk with you about our decision directly.

Current investors can contact Mark Herrera, Senior Manager, Client Development at mark.herrera@rsfsocialfinance.org or 415.561.6160.

Current borrowers can contact Ted Levinson, Director, Lending at ted.levinson@rsfsocialfinance.org  or 415.561.6179.

 

With best regards,

Don Shaffer – President & CEO

 

A Few Things We Accomplished in 2011…

January 5, 2012

By Jillian McCoy

Happy New Year!

It’s always such a good feeling to kick off a new year and we are really looking forward to what’s to come in 2012. But before we dive in, it’s worth taking a look back at what happened in 2011.

I pulled a few statistics on the past year and was very impressed with the results. We certainly experienced a flurry of activity in the last quarter, and although the dust hasn’t completely settled (stay tuned for our 2011 Annual Report for the final numbers – they could be even higher) this is a great indication of our work last year.

The most critical part of our work is the people we connect with every day in our mission towards transforming the way we work with money.  So here’s a look at how we grew the RSF Community.

We welcomed

13 new borrowers – Aquatics Informatics | Bare Fruit | Crown O’Maine | Estancia Beef | EVOL Foods | Good Earth Natural Foods | Guayaki | interrupicion* Fair Trade  | Kuskokwim Seafoods | Summerfield Waldorf School | Uncle Matt’s Organic | Wild Planet | Waldorf School of Pittsburgh

Kuskokwim distributes sustainably sourced seafood caught by native Alaskan fisherman.

2 new Mezzanine Fund investments – Scandinavian Child | HappyFamily (via our Core Lending program)

241 new investors to the RSF Social Investment Fund and $19 million in new funds (surpassing our previous record of $15.6M in 2006!)

11 new Donor Advised Funds and $10.5 million in gifts, and

8 new RSF staff members (to help us do all of this amazing work!)

We also

Made $5 million in grants from our Donor Advised Funds to 274 non-profits

Hosted 10 events, with over 1,000 attendees

Held the first RSF Shared Gifting meeting with a focus on Food & Agriculture in the San Francisco Bay Area

A Shared Gifting grantee, People's Grocery works to improve the health and economy of West Oakland through the local food system.

Published the innovative white paper “A New Foundation for Portfolio Management” with Leslie Christian and Portfolio 21, and

Celebrated Rudolf Steiner’s Sesquicentennial with 500 of our closest RSF friends!

Our friends from Small Vines Vineyard pouring biodynamic wine for festival guests.

Well isn’t that impressive! We’d like to thank all of our clients, partners, and friends who helped make this possible and we look forward to bigger and better things to come in 2012.

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

 

 

RSF Board & Staff

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