Soundbites: Investing in Your Own Backyard

Toni Johnson discusses building communities and growing small businesses with Jennifer Pryce of the Calvert Foundation.

This is Toni Johnson for Soundbites. I am here today with Jennifer Pryce, head of the Calvert Foundation, a Heron grantee, to talk about Calvert’s impact. Hi Jennifer.


So can you talk a little bit about what the Calvert Foundation is, what you guys do and why do you do it?

We have a long history, Calvert foundation, it goes back 20 years. And in our history, what we were born and built to do was to issue a security, a fixed income note that enables everyday people to invest their money in community and what they deeply care about. That has now grown that over time, we’ve raised over 1.5 billion dollars from over 15 thousand people. And with that money, Calvert Foundation provides debt financing, very patient flexible capital to social purpose organizations around the globe. And so, over time we have reached about 600 organizations. Today we have about 300 million that we are invested in across the globe, about 80 countries internationally [and] all throughout the United States.

What we really are doing is in communities where capital, bank resources, are not reaching those people that need that money to build their business [or] to buy a home. We’re providing the resources for them to access that capital, so that they can build their home, they can build their business, they can build their life. And really it is about creating better and healthier communities.

Calvert received an enterprise capital grant from Heron, as part of a capital raise. Tell us a little bit about what you’ve been using that money for.

What Heron Foundation has put out in the marketplace, these Enterprise Capital Grants, are extremely unique. What we are using this money for—which is so magical—is really to build the future of our business. We are a nonprofit, as I said, and so it is very difficult for us to go out into the marketplace. [To go] out and talk with foundations or other possible investors in our business and ask for money to grow, to scale, to innovate, to research and develop what we think are the solutions we can bring to future problems. Because what people want to give us is money for a certain program we run or for a certain need they would like to meet. What we need is money to build our business holistically. And to have the flexibility to invest that money as we see is best to build the business.

This money, I look at [it], as a leader of this organization, as research and development money. Many for-profits, especially if you think about the tech sector or the bio sector, they research, they develop, they invest in their future. And with those investments they create new lines of business that create resilient organizations. I look at this money as research and development money that I can use to invest in my future, to build new sources of revenue that’s going to provide more resilience for my business not just tomorrow, but well into the future.

So give us a snap shot of what is Calvert’s impact. What is happening, what are you doing?

Yeah so this is the fun part and this is why I get up every day. At a very basic level, we provide finance to communities. And finance is really a means to an end, the end result that were passionate about, that were collectively working with groups, is to create better communities. And so, for us, what role do we play in that larger goal, that larger mission, that larger dream?

I’ll give you an example of where we’re working very locally. We started about five years ago—not even that long, only four—beginning to really talk to our investors about what they deeply care about. Whether that’s place, so say a city like Denver or the twin cities or Baltimore, or whether that’s an issue area, like women’s empowerment. And we began to realize, when we started to talk to investors about what they care about, the conversation about investing with their money in a socially responsible way became a very easy one because it wasn’t about “oh what’s my financial return and what will my social return be?” But it dropped into a heart conversation where “I care about women and I care about their empowerment and their ability to succeed in this world.

I volunteer in groups that empower women or I sit on a board of a group that is really focused on the healthy development of girls. But you know funny enough, when I think about my investment portfolio, none of it is supporting women and girls.” And we said, well here is the new way to do that. You can purchase a Calvert Foundation Community Investment note and with that money we will target it to groups that are empowering women. And now you have more alignment in how you spend your time, in how you invest your money and perhaps even what you do professionally. And that alignment was very fulfilling to people.

Impact Notes:
-3,300 jobs created or retained by OTO financing Partners
-307 Women-Owned small businesses financed through WIN-WIN
-5,287 affordable housing units created or preserved by partners financed in 2014

Fast forward, we’ve now really looked at this as a way to create connections among people. And one of those projects is a place based project in Denver. We started working there two years ago with local community players, whether they were the government, local high net worth and everyday individuals that live in Denver, or foundations, social purpose organizations, nonprofits and for-profits that were building a local economy. And with that group, we innocently asked, do you need more resources to do the work they do. And they said yes. And we said, well, could we curate a “ours to own”—which is what we’ve called it—but really a local place based impact investing fund that would be capitalized by the people that live in this community and that would align with the needs for economic growth in this community. And they said that would be great, we don’t have enough philanthropic or government resources to meet all the needs we see, we would love more resources that could respond to our community needs.

We began working in Denver to create locally based impact investing fund. Two years later, we have raided $5 million dollars from hundreds of people—people investing as little as $20 to some people investing as much as half a million. That money has catalyzed an additional $77 million dollars in Denver from different resources, and that pool of money has been invested in about 400 groups that have created or retained over 5,000 jobs. And one of those jobs is really the impact I’m lifting up now, of one our borrowers, which is the Community Reinvestment Fund. They are a local community development financial institution that works in Denver and they provided a loan to a veteran. This veteran went back to school, got his degree, he has a passion around motorcycles. So he went and became a certified Harley-Davidson technician. And he decided “what I want to do is open up a bike shop in a low to moderate income area and use all my education to create a local business.”

He went to the bank with his business plan and they did not want to give him the money. They thought he was not a good credit risk, that he would not fit their investment profile. So he came to Community Reinvestment Fund and met a man there who runs their Denver practice. And Brian, it did take more effort, dug into the financial model, dug into the business plan and said yeah you don’t have a strong credit history because you’ve never asked for money$245,000 was what he needed before, but got comfortable with it and made the investment.

Fast forward, there is now a Harley-Davidson shop in a low-moderate income area, employing people in the community, adding to the local economy. And people that have now invested in this local impact investing fund through the Calvert Foundation Community Investment note have a direct investment in that business. And we have taken our investors out on tours and we’ve had parties in the Harley-Davidson shop.

And, you know, it sounds very trite but I think it’s very meaningful to have people that, perhaps, have wealth and live in a more high income area of Denver. They are traveling over into a lower income area, into a part of a neighborhood they’ve never been to before. It’s their city but they’ve never been there to walk into that Harley-Davidson shop and have a little fun with people that built that shop, that also live in that community. And I think honestly, everyone leaves that experience with more understanding of who they live next to and with that understanding, walking through the world in a little bit gentler and kinder way.

So I think our listeners would like to know, how do you invest in a Calvert note? Inquiring minds!

I thought you’d never ask. So the beauty about the Calvert Foundation Community Investment note, in buying one, it’s easy and it’s very accessible. You can go online to and buy a note for as low as $20.

If you have an investment portfolio that you work with a financial advisor, your financial advisor can place a note in your portfolio because we are on all the large platforms. We transact very fluidly within the capital markets.

It’s simply having a conversation with your financial advisor and making them aware of this opportunity. And kind of the special piece about that is just to step back because a lot of impact investing opportunities, that maybe some people have heard of and some others haven’t. As a community we’re starting to read more and more about social investing. But many of them are really reserved for people who have enormous amounts of wealth, this is one of the few ways, and I look forward to a day when there’s many more, that everyday people can align their investment portfolio with their values.

Well thank you Jennifer! For, this is Toni Johnson.

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