Community Foundation of Utah’s Social Investors Forum

User .John Cochrane
Posted Date : August 7, 2014

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Here’s proof you don’t need an endowment to have a significant and disruptive impact on your region’s philanthropic landscape.


This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

The Social Investors Forum taught us that grant makers do not need long periods of time, a big staff, or a special focus on social enterprise to inspire new models of investment in causes and communities. The Community Foundation of Utah raised $50,000 at its 5th Anniversary Celebration to seed its grant-making fund. Our promise to donors was that these assets would not go out in typical grants, but be invested in organizations that identified a specific social need, had a plan to solve it, and demonstrated a business model that included an ongoing source of revenue. Speed and engagement were also key.

100 individuals representing private funders, the public, the media, and nonprofits gathered at the first Utah Social Investors Forum on February 14, 2014. Six organizations were selected from 150 responses to our single-page Call for Investments. They pitched their idea to Investment Committees formed of qualified investors, Donor Advisors, banks, and entrepreneurs.

The Social Investors Forum was a rich learning experience. For the organizations seeking an investment, answering questions about their business strategy by people with an investment mindset was new and for some, difficult. Questions were pointed, and advice and insights were shared freely. For the audience, seeing one of their peers on the hot seat was equally instructive.

The Investment Committee ultimately decided to invest $40,000 in two of the six projects: The Green Urban Lunchbox and the Salt Lake City Bike Collective. Instructively, one participant received twice the amount requested, as the Investment Committee wanted to see the project scale quickly – and $10,000 was not allocated, creating some consternation among the nonprofits.

The Foundation encouraged investors to consider projects not selected. We compiled all 150 responses to the Call for Investments and shared this curated compendium with other funders in our network and on our web site. Encouraging, finding, and increasing awareness of the social innovation supports our vision to be a driving force – not a passive funder – to improve the quality of life in Utah. At least two organizations have received an investment due to our process, and a third received the website and SEO support they sought pro bono from company whose CFO served as a member of the Investment Committee.

The Foundation is now coordinating ‘mentor capital’ to our first portfolio organizations. This community of investors will use the Social Investors Forum as their preferred way to identify and invest in causes is growing. A new affiliation, Utah Venture Philanthropists, has pledged $500,000 in seed capital, and JP Morgan Chase has agreed to host their gatherings, which will include reports and an opportunity to problem solve with the portfolio organizations, building the accountability familiar to investors.

Social Investors Forums are now planned for the Fall and Spring. Changes include ‘lean start up’ training in partnership with a local incubator, and training on pitching.

Download a full report and all supporting materials at www.utahcf.org.

Fraser Nelson is Executive Director of The Community Foundation of Utah.

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