CO Impact Days & Initiative is a strategic vision to catalyze $100 million of investment capital into social ventures including nonprofits, for profits and funds. According to Dr. Stephanie Gripne, who leads the effort, there is currently more than $1 billion available to make impact investments in Colorado. The initiative is the first of its kind in the U.S., and provides a statewide marketplace for philanthropists and investors alike to learn about impact investing through peer to peer discussion.

CO impact days

CO Impact Days consists of a three day conference with over 50 events. The conference culminates in the Social Venture Marketplace, a farmer’s market style event where social ventures are invited to join impact investors and tour their presentations. Although only in its second year, this year’s marketplace saw an impressive turn out of social ventures, potential investors and attendees from all sectors. Dr. Gripne is the founder of the Denver based nonprofit academic Impact Finance Center (IFC), which is affiliated with the SEE Conference at Colorado State University. IFC launched the CO Impact Initiative, which is fiscally sponsored by Rose Community Foundation.

Dr. Gripne was extremely pleased with this year’s metrics, with the philanthropists and investors rating 90% of the sessions and ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’.  This year also welcomed the launch of an online social venture marketplace, and welcomed visitors from across the country, including Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Baja, Washington, Michigan and Ohio. Many of the participants visited CO Impact Days with the idea of creating similar initiatives in their home states.

Dr. Stephanie Gripne’s passion, enthusiasm and vision is infectious. “We have all the pieces of the puzzle on the table and now it’s about commercializing and scaling the solution. We need to grow more impact investors faster and more efficiently and create a self-sustaining financial model for Impact Days and Initiative.”

IFC’s mission is to identify, educate and activate philanthropists and investors to become impact investors. According to IFC’s research, there are currently not enough impact investors willing to make targeted impact investments. IFC believes that there is a lack of resources available for philanthropists and investors to learn how to become impact investors that do not have a conflict of interest with the asset owner.  The IFC aims to combat this problem in three ways: through awareness, education and action. Typically, philanthropists and investors learns of impact investing (i.e. Awareness), and they takes “Investor Readiness Workshop” (i.e. Education) offered throughout the year and at Impact Days, then apply the tools as a part of a new role, Outsource Chief Impact Officer, that implements Investor Readiness in Action (i.e. Action).

IFC believes that all investments have an impact beyond a financial return. A balanced impact investing strategy can grow philanthropic dollars and deploy more resources, amplifying the positive impact across social and financial metrics. Dr. Gripne is quick to point out, that like many other nonprofits, IFC relies on donations and grants. Dr. Gripne believes that social impact investing is a more efficient and impactful means to empowering nonprofits to maximize resources and results. Many individuals, foundations and family offices are not aware they can provide loans using their foundation or a donor advised fund (DAF). These loans have the potential to generate a 101% financial return plus tax deduction, subsequently saving the nonprofit and for profit significant resources while simultaneously growing the resources of the foundation or DAF.

Alana Romans (left) and Christi Smith (right) of Urban Land Conservancy presented the Metro Denver Impact Fund during CO Impact Days' social venture marketplace.
Alana Romans (left) and Christi Smith (right) of Urban Land Conservancy presented the Metro Denver Impact Fund during CO Impact Days' social venture marketplace.

Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) first participated in Colorado Impact Days in 2016 as a partner of the Calvert Foundation’s Ours To Own Initiative. The Ours To Own impact investing approach is unique, as it allows for individuals to make investments as small as $20 with a guaranteed return on investment. ULC represented the Ours To Own booth in the Social Venture Marketplace, which then went on to win recognition and an award in the Economic Development and Social Justice category.

ULC was honored to be selected to participate in the second annual CO Impact Days this year, this time representing the Metro Denver Impact Fund (MDIF) – a new source of financing through impact loans that ULC is launching in 2018. Through the MDIF, ULC will finance strategic property acquisitions to support the creation and preservation of affordable housing, community nonprofit facilities and affordable commercial space in low-income communities. With $25 million committed from a local bank, ULC is now in the process of securing an additional $25 million in low-interest investment loans from the philanthropic, municipal and impact lending communities. Colorado Impact Days 2017 provided an excellent opportunity for ULC to present the MDIF to local investors and collaborate with attendees.

Since the first CO Impact Days in 2016, 20 impact investments have been completed. In the last three years, IFC estimates over 75 direct impact investments from foundations and more than 200 direct impact investments from individuals have been made in Colorado. As a nonprofit whose work is often funded by strategic investments from local foundations and municipalities, ULC is very thankful for the Initiative’s role in connecting investors to impact opportunities.

“It’s super rare to get world class portfolio advice from someone who doesn’t have their hand in your pocket.  It’s rarer to get a whole new framework for thinking about donations and philanthropic work. Rarest is all is a combination of clear next steps and challenge to take action. Stephanie Gripne and John O’Halloran of the Impact Finance Center deliver a trifecta.” Jon Kauffman

Conferences like Colorado Impact Days act as a critical tool for those seeking investments, and ensure that available dollars are used to provide a positive impact throughout the state of Colorado. Thank you to Impact Finance Center for your continued research and advocacy, as you are truly advancing the field of impact investing as a national leader each and every day. If you are a philanthropist or investor interested in the field of impact investing and using resources for positive community impact, you can visit the Impact Finance Center’s website here.