Tools & Resources

Investment in Self-Help Credit Union

This case example appeared originally in Essentials of Impact Investing: A Guide for Small-Staffed Foundations
Investor: Laughing Gull Foundation
Investee: Self-Help Credit Union
Asset Class: Deposits & Cash Equivalent
Investment Amount: $250,000
Impact Sector(s): Environmental Conservation & Protection
Date of Investment: 2014
Financial Return Goal: Market Rate
Laughing Gull Foundation was incorporated in 2012. The foundation’s mission is to honor its family’s evolving identity while proactively addressing broken systems that have created inequality and harmed our planet. Laughing Gull’s current program areas are LGBTQ equality, higher education in prisons, and environmental justice. The foundation’s board members realize the importance of investing capital in a manner that is consistent with its values. From the foundation’s inception, the board developed an investment policy that precludes investing in sectors and companies seen as conflicting with the foundation’s mission. In addition to screening out non-aligned investments, the board looks at the social and environmental practices of the companies in which it invests and actively seeks investment opportunities that complement the overall mission of the foundation. In addition to being a socially responsible investor, Laughing Gull has allocated 10 percent of its portfolio to impact investments. To date, Laughing Gull has made investments in a start-up company, Natural Capital Investment Fund, RSF Social Finance, Ecotrust, and Aravaipa Ventures. The foundation also has a deposit held at Self-Help Credit Union in the form of a Green Term Certificate, a certificate of deposit that ensures the funds will go toward environmentally responsible ends.
Process: It was an easy decision for Laughing Gull to open an account with Self-Help, which is headquartered in the same town as the foundation (Durham, North Carolina) and which has a long and celebrated track record of impact in low-income and underserved communities. Investing was simple, and the staff at Self-Help made the process very easy. Having an account with the credit union is virtually the same experience for the foundation as with a traditional bank, but with the same or better rates. The Green CD in which it invested aligned with the foundation’s environmental justice focus, making the investment a good fit from both a geographical and mission standpoint.
Partners Involved: None
Financial And Social Impact: The investment in the Green CD is paying market-rate interest and is a safe investment insured by the National Credit Union Administration. Deposits from investors such as Laughing Gull have made it possible for Self-Help to lend more than $242 million for sustainable, renewable energy and energy-efficient businesses. Self-Help is also a national leader in financing community development projects that preserve our natural resources. The credit union makes loans to businesses and nonprofits that are helping make a more sustainable world by focusing on areas such as:
  • Renewable and solar energy projects
  • Recycling businesses
  • Sustainable agriculture/organic farms
  • Sustainable forestry
  • Land conservation
  • Eco-tourism
  • Green retail
  • Environmental technology
Plus, the credit union’s affordable housing and commercial real estate development projects adhere to green building practices to decrease resource usage. Funds from Green Term Certificates help finance these projects and loans.
The social impact of Self-Help goes beyond Laughing Gull’s core mission areas. In addition to the credit union’s environmental sustainability efforts, Self-Help has advocated for a number of national policy changes in the financial arena. The organization successfully pressured banks to cease the practice of payday lending and helped advance payday loan regulation nationally. Self-Help also bolstered consumer protections against auto loan and debt collection abuses and helped achieve national mortgage lending standards that will ensure fair, sustainable loans and a strong housing market.

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