Executives often use jargon when they talk about impact investing, sprinkling phrases like “social ROI” and “double bottom-line” into conversations on the topic. One phrase you won’t hear them use, though, is “rescue mission,” says Gingras Global Managing Partner Romy Kochan.
That’s because impact investments, which are made with the intention of generating a measurable social benefit, are also expected to generate a financial return or, at a minimum, a return of capital to the investors.
“Impact investing is not about rescuing. It is about enhancing and empowering the good in others,” she says.
Kochan sat down recently with her client, Battle Creek Community Foundation CEO Brenda Hunt, to talk about the Cereal City’s embrace of impact investing, including the foundation’s decision to help fund the $30 million restoration of historic Heritage Tower and other projects that will spur small businesses and help reduce poverty.
ROMY KOCHAN: The Battle Creek Community Foundation has embraced impact investing over the past couple of years. Why is that?
BRENDA HUNT: Ultimately, impact investing provides an opportunity for more people with more ideas from more sectors to be engaged in solutions. Grants are often “awarded” to chosen institutions to “fix” a problem or condition. Impact investments can build trust and create a community where more people are earning part of the return — whether it be a financial return or a new way of getting something solved. In a literal sense, more people can become part of the solution (rather) than part of the problem.
The community foundation is considering different types of impact investments in Battle Creek, including some projects that will spur small business. That seems to go against the grain from what community foundations typically do. What’s your motivation to fund small-business projects?
This is really quite simple: Battle Creek needs to create more wealth. I don’t necessarily mean wealthy people. (Instead, we need more) wealth in the sense of increasing income for the quality of life of the people who live here. We cannot make positive progress … if a third of our population lives in poverty.
One of the largest sources of wealth in this country is in the creation and operation of small businesses. The Battle Creek Community Foundation exists as a result of the generosity of the people who make financial gifts to us … generous individuals who trust in us and gives us their excess wealth. The future of the Battle Creek Community Foundation is directly connected to the future wealth of the people who will be here in 10, 20 and 30 years to make gifts to us. We are the community, and the community is us.
Gingras Global had the privilege of working with the Battle Creek Community Foundation on an impact investment to help restore the iconic Heritage Tower in downtown Battle Creek. Let's first talk about why your impact investing task force felt this was a good move.
Heritage Tower is a historical landmark in downtown Battle Creek. The successful renovation and operation of this project is a signal to the community that we are on a comeback — it is a sign of life in downtown Battle Creek. People reminisce about what Heritage Tower used to be and their memories that go back many years. When a potential investment opportunity came, that would protect and preserve the building while the entire investment stack would be finalized, it was something that our task force was extremely interested in. After our due diligence, it was an investment that we had to make for the community.
Some people might consider your funding the project a “rescue” rather than an “investment.” How do you feel this is an empowerment or enhancement to the current strategy for the tower?
This investment talks! It says this is an asset that is worth saving and with all our integrity the Battle Creek Community Foundation is saying “this will happen,” and just maybe we will provide an opportunity to bring the people of this community along with us when we say and then act on: “Believing in Battle Creek.
This investment provides more time for Heritage Tower, and it's many larger investors to finalize the capital needed and get started on the renovation process. Let me just add that the Heritage Tower was neglected and actions were not taken when it would have been more advantageous for us as a community, in some sense the Heritage Tower represents what our people are going thru in Battle Creek. It’s not that we haven’t been working hard in our community, we just couldn’t see what and who we have been leaving behind. When things get pretty bad, especially old big buildings, they get our attention. Make no doubt about it — Battle Creek is making a “comeback”… a comeback for people and business
This conversation was conducted and condensed by Gingras Global. For more on this empowering story and other tales of impact investing, check out the fall issue of The Gingras Global Magazine at gingrasglobal.com.
Gingras Global is a third-party administrator for impact investing capital programs, funds, and investors. The firm offers program design, full administration, transaction support, and syndication management, as well as assessments, reporting and awards for social impact enterprises. Visit gingrasglobal.com for more information or call 248-845-2032.