If You Have $20, You Can Be an Impact Investor

Calvert Foundation CEO Jennifer Pryce Expanded Access to Community Investment

Jennifer Pryce featured

Jennifer Pryce says that her career has not followed a straight line. That is a colossal understatement.

Pryce studied mechanical engineering at Union College before volunteering with the Peace Corps in Gabon, Africa. She was a research analyst at Neuberger & Berman on Wall Street, then an investment banker with Morgan Stanley in London, then a yogi in Washington, D.C., before becoming a fundraiser for the Public Theater in New York City.

In 2004, Pryce moved back to Washington, D.C., to become director of the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s regional office. The job immersed Pryce in the world of community development, exposing her to both its great potential and daunting challenges.

That ultimately led her to the Calvert Foundation, a Bethesda, Maryland-based nonprofit that has been a pioneer in providing development financing to underserved communities. In 2013, she became its president and CEO.

“No, I haven’t followed a linear path at all,” she says. “But I was really trying to understand where the intersection of finance and people can exist, and how to create value in that place so you can attract more capital and create change.”

When Pryce arrived at the Calvert Foundation in 2009, the firm already had a well-established reputation for its commitment to impact investing, although that term wasn’t used much at the time. In 1995, Calvert began offering its Community Investment Note (CI Note), a type of bond used to finance a broad portfolio of nonprofits, microfinance firms and social enterprises in the United States and around the world.

Investors earn a fixed financial return between 1 percent on a one-year Note up to 4 percent a year on a 15-year Note. More than 15,000 investors have collectively invested more than $1 billion in CI Notes. Today, Calvert has more than $180 million invested in roughly 200 different nonprofits or social ventures located in about 100 countries.

In 2014, Pryce increased access for average-income people to CI Notes with the launch of Vested.org, allowing people to invest online with a commitment as low as a $20. Investors who go through a broker or financial advisor must put forward at least $1,000.

“It was born out of a desire to make investing easier and more accessible to retail investors,” Pryce explains. “Also, to keep up with the changing times, as more and more financial products and services are moving to the web.”

About 500 people have invested through Vested.org. Pryce says Calvert has learned a lot about those 500 investors: A recent survey found that the investors are almost evenly split between men and women, that their median age is 44 although some are as young as 20 and that 64 percent have an annual household income of less than $100,000. The median investment is $5,500. More than 80 percent of those surveyed says they invested with Calvert because it aligns with causes they care about.

Through Vested.org, investors can target their CI Notes to programs addressing seven different social issues: affordable housing, education, the environment, health, microfinance, fair trade or small business. Or, investors can target their Notes toward a handful of specific Calvert initiatives, such as Women Investing in Women — also known as WIN-WIN — and Ours To Own, which groups individual investments together and puts them into programs and businesses in urban communities. So far, Ours To Own is working in Denver, Baltimore and the Twin Cities region.

“To date, those two have been the most popularly targeted initiatives,” Pryce says. “WIN-WIN was born out of a demand from our existing investor base. But there’s also mounting interest beyond the impact-investing space. Investors are valuing companies with gender-equal leadership, seeing them as stable, diverse and promising.

“The interest in Ours To Own we attribute to people’s desire to invest locally — to support the mom-and-pop shop down the street, to help finance affordable housing developments, and to contribute to the overall economic growth in their city.”

Pryce says she’s excited about the future of impact investing, which she described as “very, very positive.”

“I do think the macro trends around millennials and the transfer of wealth to women are pointing toward the growth of impact investing,” Pryce says. “The devil is in the details of how you define it. Is it investing in public companies that simply screen out the bad? I would argue that there’s more to it.”

Pryce says private capital is critical to propel the solutions forward, faster despite the increased risk to investors.

“We’ll get there. My concern is we won’t get there fast enough,” Pryce says. “Some of these issues, like climate change, are time-sensitive. We’ve had linear growth. Now we need to shift to exponential growth.”

Case FoundationThis article was made possible through the funding of the Case Foundation, which invests in bold changemakers and transformative ideas that harness the best impulses of social innovation. For more information, please go to casefoundation.org.

B the Change Media produces some content, including this underwritten article, with funding from outside sources. This content and its funder are always clearly labeled. Full definitions for the types of content that outside sources help make possible are available at bthechange.com/advertise.

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