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Community Foundations Embrace Impact Investing

Anne Field

A small, but growing, number of community foundations are starting to embrace impact investing in a big way.

That’s one of the conclusions of  A New Anchor Mission for a New Century, a report recently produced by Takoma Park, Md-basedDemocracy Collaborative. The authors studied 30 foundations  focused on  two areas, which sometimes overlap–impact investing and economic development.

There are about 760 of these place-based foundations with combined endowments of $65 billion and annual grant-making of about $5 billion, according to the report. But since 2000 or so, they’ve been facing competition for donors from commercial banks and investment firms managing donor advised funds, as well as crowdfunding platforms and giving circles. At the same time, according to the report, these foundations have begun paying more attention to  what the report calls structural poverty, thanks to the  stagnation of real wages over the last 30 years, and what they can do about it.

In response, some community foundations, which traditionally have focused on a passive approach to making grants, have started experimenting with a new, active style, including impact investing.

The report identifies four noteworthy strategies:

Working with community development financial institutions (CDFIs).  Foundations leverage CDFIs expertise in everything from sourcing deals to underwriting. In some cases, foundations have created their own CDFIs. A notable pioneer is New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which started the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund in the 1980′s.

Creating loan pools. Relying on their own assets and those of donors, some foundations are creating loan pools they can use to make local loans.

Giving loan guarantees.  Through these credit enhancements, foundations can reduce risk for other investors and, as a result, get more bang for their buck.

Engaging in direct local investing.  In these cases, foundations make investments directly, instead of using intermediaries.

Take the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. It invests in a lot of sectors, such as community development, health care and workforce development. That’s included, for example, $500,000 to a business accelerator aimed at minorities and $430,000 to help buy distressed mortgages.

Incourage Community Foundation, a Wisconsin Rapids, WI-based foundation with $34.6 million in assets, recently took the ultimate leap, pledging to commit all of its resources to impact investing, according to the report. Stay tuned, as more community foundations make similar commitments.