The Calvert Foundation is a non-profit loan fund and community development financial institution (CDFI) that was incorporated in 1988. The Calvert Foundation’s mission is to use individual and institutional investment decisions to change the way capital is approached and allocated. This change will reward inclusive and sustainable behavior to fight the rising tide of inequality. By creating innovative financial products and services, the Calvert Foundation makes it possible for retail investors to invest in a financial instrument—the Community Investment Note—that directly serves communities.
Structure: The Community Investment Note is a fixed-income product. The capital raised through the Note is used to support the Calvert Foundation’s professionally managed loan portfolio. Retail investors can purchase the Note directly from the Calvert Foundation through a brokerage or online at Vested.org. The Note is a general obligation of the Calvert Foundation and is not guaranteed or insured. It currently returns up to 3%. A unique feature of the Note is the flexibility it provides for investors to target their investment to a variety of impact areas. Targeting does not increase the risk to investors; all investors benefit from the diversification and capitalization backing of the entire loan portfolio.
Target Demographic: The Community Investment Note is designed for and marketed towards individual and institutional investors and their financial advisors who want to have social impact through their investments.
Impact Focus: The Calvert Foundation invests in other loan funds (e.g., other CDFIs), microfinance institutions, non-profits, and social enterprises in the US and around the world. A large portion of the Calvert Foundation’s US portfolio consists of CDFIs and affordable housing projects while international investments tend to target microfinance and development projects, such as sustainable agriculture and health. The Calvert Foundation currently offers fifteen different Note investment options to align with the varied social impact interests of their investors.
The Calvert Foundation’s Community Investment Note was first launched in 1995. Since then, over $1.2 billion of capital have been raised through the Note with multiple targeting options available. Most recently, the Calvert Foundation has launched a Community Investment Note for the India Investment Initiative and the Raíces Initiative. These investment options provide opportunities for the Indian and Latino diaspora populations to invest in projects in India and Latin America, as well as Latino communities in the US.
The Calvert Foundation was interested in creating a product that could attract a wide range of investors, including retail investors. To achieve this goal, it was necessary to access investor markets that do not traditionally invest in impact investments. For example, the India Investment Initiative was intended to crowd in demographics that were, at the time, not represented in the overall impact investment movement.
“We want to crowd in demographics that perhaps are not represented in the overall impact investor movement. If you really want a movement then you need to change the behaviour of how people invest and bring all investor types to the opportunity.”
Jenn Pryce, President and CEO Calvert Foundation
While the Calvert Foundation recognizes the need for equity in impact investment sectors, debt was seen as more predictable and suitable for both investees and investors. The Calvert Foundation structured the Note for the India Investment Initiative and the Raíces Initiative to look like a corporate bond. Detailed underwriting, credit monitoring, and diversification strategies were important to mitigate the risks to investors. Investors also benefit from over $45 million in net assets, loss reserves, and security enhancements that will protect them from potential portfolio losses.
Through a partnership with an underwriter and distributor of fixed-income securities, the Calvert Foundation gained distribution access to hundreds of brokerage firms that enabled the Note to be held alongside other corporate notes and bonds in brokerage accounts. For the Calvert Foundation, increasing the Note’s accessibility to investors and advisors was key to raising capital. It was also important that the Note look similar to a traditional financial product so it could be easily understood.
Building and maintaining relationships with these brokerages required the Calvert Foundation to make a significant operational investment on an annual basis. A dedicated team of four, full-time employees at the Calvert Foundation are responsible for maintaining relationships with these financial intermediaries. The Calvert Foundation also has a compliance department to ensure that the Note is in good standing with regulators. As President and CEO of the Calvert Foundation Jenn Pryce explains, “[building and maintaining relationships] is not easy to do; it costs money, and when we are dealing with capital markets, it is a bit like David and Goliath. What was key to Calvert Foundation’s success with promoting the product among brokerages was that the Note has a track record of success and proven investor demand.”
Brokerage firms themselves perform extensive due diligence before allowing financial advisors and their clients to access the Note. While each brokerage firm has a different due diligence process, some common aspects of the process include developing a strong understanding of the product, the investment decision-making process, the sales goals, capitalization, and liquidity, and the Calvert Foundation’s ability to repay investors. Because it can take firms a significant amount of time to conduct due diligence, the Calvert Foundation provides partners with detailed information on the investment thesis underpinning the Notes.
“It is a challenge to get people to think about taking their capital and using it for investing in social good rather than simply donating it. To overcome that challenge, we talk about how impact investing is an efficient use of capital – by providing loans to sustainable and scalable organizations that can repay our investment.”
Katherine St. Onge, Senior Officer, Calvert Foundation
The challenge for the Calvert Foundation was creating low-cost marketing for a retail product, recognizing that educating a dispersed retail audience takes significant resources and time. The Calvert Foundation found that having a consultant that understood the target investor population was important to reach new networks of influence and broaden the investor community.
Community Investment Notes can be purchased by retail investors through self-directed individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and through traditional brokerage accounts. The majority of retail investors access the Note through their investment portfolio. Investors receive fixed financial returns that are based on fair rates to borrowers.
Investors are provided with the social impact metrics of their investments, such as the number of jobs created, houses built, women-led businesses created, and farmers supported. On an annual basis, the Calvert Foundation collects social and environmental performance data from each of its portfolio investments using a custom Social Performance Measurement Report template that incorporates industry-aligned indicators such as IRIS and the US CDFI Fund. The Calvert Foundation combines these quantitative metrics with testimonials and stories collected from investees in an annual social impact report for partner organizations and investors.
The Calvert Foundation is considered by investors to be a stable investment. The Community Investment Note has been around for twenty years and has a strong track record of success. Every investor has been repaid their full principal and interest. Another feature that is attractive for investors is liquidity. Because there is no secondary market for the Note, the Calvert Foundation typically allows investors to redeem their Note early if needed.
Step 1: Any individual interested in the Note is able to invest a minimum of $20 online or $1,000 directly or through a brokerage. Individuals purchasing Notes through a brokerage firm provide a corresponding CUSIP number to their brokerage’s fixed-income desk who, in turn, purchase the product on their behalf.
Step 2: Capital from investors is pooled together.
Step 3: The Calvert Foundation evaluates and makes investments into organizations that align with its mission. If an investor selects one of the Calvert Foundation’s fifteen investment options, their capital is targeted to the loans that make up that specific portfolio strategy. The Calvert Foundation’s average loan size is nearly $2 million, and loans range from $100,000 to $10 million.
Step 4: As investments are paid back into the aggregate portfolio, annual interest is paid out to investors. Investors receive social impact updates along with monthly updates from the Calvert Foundation. At year’s end, all investors are provided with the annual social impact report.
Key Success Factors
Financial Advisors: The Calvert Foundation’s ability to access retail investors through brokerages and financial advisors has contributed significantly to their ability to access individual investors. This has required the Calvert Foundation to make significant investments in building and maintaining relationships with brokerage firms and other financial intermediaries. This investment has paid off, as the Note has become a successful platform for accessing the retail investor market.
Field Building: The Calvert Foundation’s role as one of the first and only impact investors to offer a fixed-income retail product meant that the organization was initially trying to sell products in an underdeveloped market. The organization has spent extensive resources building the capacity of the field, releasing research reports, and launching transformative initiatives to build the capacity of partner organizations. In addition to increasing positive brand equity and awareness, this field building has ultimately benefited the Calvert Foundation, as a more robust industry has created more investment opportunities.