Julie Eades

Do something important -- and don't lose the Sisters' money!

By Julie Eades

Do something truly important, and don't lose the Sisters' money!

At a recent gathering of community development financial institutions, I was reminded of how our movement's strategy, growth and success were shaped by the very first people who invested in us.

As told by Opportunity Finance Network President Mark Pinsky, the Orders of Women Religious Catholic nuns began to invest their retirement funds in fledgling CDFIs in the early 1980s.

Talk about a faith-based investment! CDFIs were so new, no one knew what they were or what they did. The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund was one of the first. Pinsky describes the early funds as "doing something that all common sense and common wisdom believed could not be done: lending to poor people, getting repaid, and repaying investors." And it meant the nuns were bypassing potential 20% earnings in favor of getting 2 to 4% on their investments.

"Now, if you plan to borrow from Orders of Women Religious, there are two things you must do right." said Pinsky. "First, you have to do something truly important with the money. Sisters are not interested in purchasing mortgage-backed securities or participating pari passu in bankable deals.

"Second, you don't lose the Sisters' retirement money. They understand fully and even embrace the risks they are taking and the reasons they are taking it. But if you are not willing and able to be a highly disciplined, responsible steward of other people's money with a high likelihood of repayment, please leave the Sisters' money to others."

The birth story of the national movement of CDFIs is almost identical to that of the Community Loan Fund. We received our first investment from the Sisters of Mercy specifically to help the residents of Meredith Center Cooperative buy their manufactured housing park.

Meredith Center is still cooperatively owned and run, and the Sisters of Mercy still invest with us. In fact, if you look in the back of our recent annual report you'll see no fewer than 15 "Sisters of..." groups listed among the investors.

After 27 years, we haven't forgotten our first investors, and we truly live the lessons we learned from them:

Do something truly important, and don't lose the Sisters' money!

Juliana Eades is President of the Community Loan Fund.