Impact Investing: putting your money where your values are

More than ever, investors are pondering, “Am I destroying with my left hand what my right hand is trying to save?”

Trillions of dollars are invested by millions of Americans in stocks and mutual funds, banks, and retirement funds like IRAs and 401(k)s, seeking to generate significant financial returns. Most of these investors are philanthropic, supporting causes that reflect their values. Many are searching for ways to blend their investment goals with their philanthropic priorities.

The Global Impact Investing Network, defines “impact investments” as “investments made into companies, organizations and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.”

Increasingly, investors are wondering what’s behind the asset classes of their investments, inquiring “Where does my money spend the night?” and posing challenging questions along these lines:

  • Am I donating to environmental causes but investing in companies that may contribute to environmental degradation and climate change?
  • Do I buy organic foods, recycle and care about sustainable agriculture and family farms but invest in companies that derive profits from agribusiness, pesticides, tobacco and fast food?
  • Am I contributing to nonprofits providing opportunities for women and girls and investing in companies practicing gender-pay inequity or other forms of discrimination?
  • Am I supporting organizations concerned about human rights and the elimination of child labor and investing in companies that source their products from factories and farms that violate these values?

There are many resources to help investors learn about impact investing.

Calvert Foundation is a leading, well-respected organization helping investors at all levels achieve the double bottom line of profit and positive social or environmental impact.

Jed Emerson, co-author of “Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference (2011),” and chief impact strategist for Impact Assets, a nonprofit financial services firm specializing in impact investing, explains that there are “now many investors at all levels who are funding strategies that provide a desirable level of financial return while generating positive social and environmental impacts.”

RSF Social Finance is a nonprofit financial services organization providing capital to social enterprises. Mark Finser, RSF’s board chairman and co-founder, wants people to be aware that “when money is invested in banks, stocks or mutual funds, it creates some kind of effect in the world. Many options exist for transparent, direct and personal investments that help empower and create the kind of communities and world people want to live in.”

Marian Moore, co-founder of Play Big, works with wealthy individuals asking, “What, beyond their net worth, would they like to see grow?” and helps them align their money with their values.

Traditional investment advisers like JP Morgan Chase & Co., banks like New Resource Bank, local credit unions, community banks, and others offer opportunities for impact investors.

Community Development Financial Institutions like the Colorado Enterprise Fund, Funding Partners for Housing Solutions, and Mile High Community Loan Fund, and many others, make loans to support affordable housing, commercial real estate development in underserved neighborhoods, small businesses, and nonprofits serving low-income people. CDFIs accept capital from banks, government entities, accredited investors, family and community foundations, and other institutional investors desiring a community benefit alongside a financial return.

Investments are the vehicle by which many people generate the resources to fuel their philanthropy. Impact investing not only helps screen for negative social consequences, it also brings the values that inspire your philanthropy to at least part of your investment portfolio and helps you positively impact the world from the engine of your assets, rather than merely the fumes.


Nonprofit of the month By Bruce DeBoskey

For more than 35 years, Mi Casa Resource Center has been working hard to advance the economic success of thousands of Latino and other low-income families in the Denver area. Through its innovative job-training and business-development programs, Mi Casa is putting people back to work and contributing to the local economy. Mi Casa also helps youths succeed academically and engages parents in their children’s lives.


Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic adviser, helping families, businesses and foundations with their philanthropic initiatives.