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Back to School with Place-Based Impact Investing: Strategies to Get Up to Speed on Emerging Trends

This month, LOCUS shares how to get up to speed on place-based impact investing.

Pictured: LOCUS' parent company, Virginia Community Capital, hosts an annual event aimed at convening a learning experience for socially motivated investors, the VCC Learning Exchange.

The dogdays of summer are winding to a close, and the kids are back in class. Those of us in the philanthropic sector are also headed “back-to-school” attending fall conferences, convening Boards and committees, and setting strategy and budgets for the upcoming year. For many, next year’s work-plan includes learning and identifying best practices in place-based impact investing. Whether you are just starting in this space, or are an experienced practitioner eager to stay on top of the latest developments, we recommend three strategies for getting immersed in mission-aligned investing:

1.      Independent Study

Independent research and self-guided learning are the most straightforward methods for getting up-to-speed on impact investing. There are heaps of material available for newcomers, such as the Global Impact Investing Network’s (GIIN) primer page on the subject, The Case Foundation’s Short Guide to Impact Investing, Essentials of Impact Investing by Mission Investors Exchange (MIE), and Catalyzing Wealth for Change by Julia Balandina Jaquier - to name just a few.

As an evolving practice, Impact Investing benefits from a consistent stream of new research, white papers, reports and books that further our understanding of the field. Many are published by organizations actively using tools of impact investing to shift capital to under-served communities.  Annual reports from BALLE and GIIN chronicle real-world experience that others can take lessons from. Thought leaders generate valuable content in newsletters such as those from Impact Alpha, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Taken together, these resources facilitate virtually up-to-the-minute updates on impact investing.

For impact investors with intermediate knowledge, check out Transform Finance, Philanthropy Northwest’s The Giving Practice and Pacific Community Ventures resources to advance more targeted conversations at your institutions.

2.      Immersive Experiences and Peer Learning

Every year, there are dozens of gatherings drawing together hundreds of experts on non-traditional philanthropy. We have written extensively on our personal experience traveling across the country to participate in panel conversations and collaborate directly with colleagues and found that conferences and other convenings are hotbeds for reciprocal education. Field leaders discuss the unique approaches they implement in their organizations and communities.

Annual conferences like Opportunity Finance Network’s (OFN) Annual Conference and Confluence Philanthropy’s Annual Practitioners Gathering host enlightening discussions where panelists share their collective knowledge and introduce novel concepts.  LOCUS is an active member of the Mission Investors Exchange’s (MIE) whose programs such as “Impact Investing 101” and Virtual Brown Bag series of webinars have proved to be an invaluable resource to the field.

Peer exchange and learning can be just as valuable as a more formal convening. The Springfield (MO) Area Chamber of Commerce has sponsored community leadership visits to peer cities for 25 years. In 2018, with sponsorship from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks (among others), a large contingent of community leaders and members traveled to Chattanooga, TN to learn what works – and what has been more challenging.  The key learnings from the trips are documented and shared – including the 2018 report. One learning from the Chattanooga trip was the important role for philanthropy in helping to transform the city – providing the patient, risk capital to invest in things before they were proven. One action the Springfield community is taking based on this trip is the October Philanthropy Summit co-sponsored by the Chamber and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and designed to explore “what’s possible when philanthropy works alongside community development.”

3.      Facilitated Cohorts

In a cohort model, a group of people with common interests and goals complete an educational experience together. Participants progress through the same curriculum as opposed to independently selecting courses, enabling them to finish their studies alongside a consistent group of people.  The collective approach fosters learning from fellow students as well as the teacher and adds layers of support, teamwork, and shared resources to enhance learning.  The value of this learning model has made it a common practice in many institutions of higher learning.

Outside of higher education, we’re seeing the cohort method applied in places where practitioners are eager to learn about and discover creative strategies to drive resources towards impact.  Staff and stakeholders of separate placed-based foundations with similar goals come together to participate in guided learnings designed to brainstorm and then act on applicable strategies for change in their regions.

In 2017, The Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (CSG) and LOCUS  convened nine foundations to participate in the Rural Economic Development Philanthropy Innovators Network (REDPIN). The 18-month program addressed strategies for the foundations to create stronger outcomes for rural communities.  The group was composed of foundations of different sizes and regions but with a common goal - to build prosperous economies in their regions. Together, they participated in guided, in-person sessions that gave each foundation the chance to learn together and seek advice from each other in the pursuit of action plans for their respective communities.

If your organization is seeking to find out more about place-based impact investing, but doesn’t know where to start, reach out to us for more pointers on where to go for learning opportunities.