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Friday, February 24, 2012

Show me the money!

I know where the money is!

David, my spouse, works from a luxury appointed office (well, it has rich paneling and an oversized inherited desk, lovely art and a comfy recliner for when I visit) on the first floor of our home. What this means is that I know better than many spouses just exactly what he is working on. His voice carries and so does the vacuum and I occasionally wonder what clients think of the background noises on this end. (I try not to vacuum when he's on the phone.)

It is pretty interesting and important what Dave does every day.

He finds people.

Not the ones whose pictures are on the post office wall (do they even do that any more?) but the right people to lead organizations who have come to him and said, "Find us a new CEO."

Dave does not find people for Fortune 500 or 200 or even 1000 companies. He finds people for community based organizations --- the very life blood of our cities and rural communities --- who provide the basic services that the market, in its mission to make money, does not serve. There is no money to be made in providing health care in the Bronx, for instance.

Dave's primary niche in the Executive Search field is CDFI's --- Community Development Finance Institutions. It's a bit like KIVA on a larger scale.

You and I invest in a local CDFI, as we would in GM or Microsoft or Apple or T-Bills. Say we invest $5,000. Hundreds of other people like us do the same. Then, the CDFI, for example, the Chicago Community Loan Fund, takes our money and loans it with interest to a small community organization that needs capital to build low-income housing, or open a grocery store in a neighborhood that Jewel doesn't care about. Your money, our money is building houses or running a community health clinic or providing housing for seniors or running an after-school program.

That's where the money is. Some big money. Altogether in this country, over $3 billion is invested, maybe more, in about 500 of these organizations around the country.

The money is a loan to the organization. Some even provide loans to small neighborhood businesses.

The remarkable thing is, the investors like you and me get a return of 3% on average, some a little higher. It's not like getting in on the ground floor of Facebook's IPO but it's better than putting money in a savings account. AND it is as safe, if not safer than the stock market.

That's what Dave does all day. He finds people to run CDFI's, community health clinics, non-profit affordable housing developers, like South Dakota Voices for Children and St. Ambrose in Baltimore, trade associations for these folks and, wow, it makes a difference in the world.

I'm pretty jazzed about it. He is too; he's been doing this for twenty years and is one of the best of the best in the country. In fact, he's never had a failed search!

These are the gap-fillers, these organizations. Where government, private enterprise, and churches don't go, local entrepeneurial spirits say, "Hey, we could do that!" Open a day care center, a charter school, take care of their elderly, provide health care.

And Dave finds the people to run them.

It's not big money on our end but it is richly satisfying and it makes a big difference in the world. Think of that difference. This is the fabric of America. This is the hidden fabric of America. All of these small organizations run out of storefronts or better, serving their communities for the common good.

When you feel cynical about politics (for good reason) and discouraged about humankind, think about all these organizations, and about that three billion and more dollars being loaned out to change the world one kid at a time. Pretty darn cool if you ask me.

That's where the money is.

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