Impact Investing

As needs in our communities grow faster than dollars, the Council is joining the conversation about unlocking new capital for social good. For decades, foundations have made impact investments that intend to generate financial and social returns to complement grants, partnerships, advocacy, and other tools in the philanthropic toolbox.

What is impact investing?

We define impact investing as any investment activity that intends to generate positive social and financial returns.

How is the Council involved?

In 2013, the Council is joining the impact investing conversation happening among foundations and other types of investors. As a connector, the Council is:

  • Listening to our members and making connections.
  • Organizing provocative conversations among foundations and other partners.
  • Aggregating resources to demystify the process.
  • Building relationships with thought leaders and intermediaries
  • Hosting an ongoing blog series on RE: Philanthropy.

How can you get involved?

  • Read and comment on the impact investing blog series.
  • E-mail us or take this survey to let us know what your foundation thinks about impact investing.
  • Follow the hashtag #impinv on Twitter.

Economic development is at the center of the Maine Community Foundation’s strategic priorities. We believe greater access to lower cost capital will allow entrepreneurs and innovators from both the nonprofit and for-profit world to grow enterprises and expand projects that build off our natural assets, revitalize our downtowns, and strengthen our economy.

Last week more than 200 foundation leaders, policymakers, academics, entrepreneurs, and experts came together at George Washington University (GWU) for an invitation-only gathering to advance the development of what many call the “fourth sector”—for-benefit organizations that primarily pursue social or environmental aims, while raising a substantial proportion of their revenue through earned income or commercial activities. The Federal Reserve Board, the University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy, the Urban Institute, and The B Team convened the event.

Last week, the Milstein Commission, a national initiative co-chaired by Steve Case and Carly Fiorina, released a report, Can Startups Save the American Dream? The report highlighted over how the past quarter-century, startups and small businesses accounted for 65% of net job creation, yet today, job creation among startups is at its lowest point since 1980.

Many community foundations are recognizing that impact investing can be a powerful tool in our philanthropic toolbox. Mission investments are investments made by foundations to further their philanthropic goals. Since 2009, the Seattle Foundation has committed $4 million of its unrestricted endowment assets to extend access to capital and expand economic opportunities for low income communities in our county.

At the White House this week, foundation executives, including the Council’s President and CEO Vikki Spruill, met with senior Administration officials for a roundtable on the future of impact investing. A complement to charitable giving and foundation grantmaking, impact investing offers a powerful opportunity to provide cash, loans, or equity capital to an organization, fund, or company that intends to generate measurable social or environmental impacts, alongside financial returns.

As a foundation whose roots trace back more than 80 years, reflection on the past is a key part of our process for moving forward. Are we staying true to the values and the intent of our late founder, Will Keith Kellogg, as we steward the resources he left to improve the lives of children and families? And can we employ new approaches to using those resources to maximize our impact on those he cared about most?

At the Council on Foundations’ (COF) 2010 conference in Denver, we were inspired by Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin to intensify our efforts to engage individual donors in impact investing as co-investors. A timely Rockefeller grant helped not only The Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF), but also dozens of other community foundations through a webinar series co-hosted with the Council on Foundations. The series explained how we assessed the feasibility of donor engagement, and how we structured our program to incorporate both discretionary and donor advised assets.