It’s difficult for many investors to cross the threshold from philanthropy to impact investing. Even those with the means and passion often have a hard time cozying up to investments that are typically in early-stage ventures and structured as highly-illiquid private equity and private debt.

An easier, less intimidating way to access this space is with Calvert Foundation’s Community Investment Notes. Capital raised through their purchase is being lent to more than 200 social enterprises and non-profit organizations worldwide and has enabled the creation of thousands of jobs, affordable homes, classroom seats and critical services for low-income communities in the U.S. and overseas.

CI Notes, first launched in 1995, may be purchased electronically through brokerage accounts with more than 400 brokerages nationwide. Or investors may access them directly through Calvert Foundation as paper-based notes, or through online broker-dealer MicroPlace.  Initial minimum investments are $1,000 for brokerage and direct purchases, $20 with MicroPlace.

The notes offer fixed-interest returns which now range from 0.5% for one-year terms to 2% for five-year terms. Investors have always received 100% repayment of their principal at maturity. Calvert Foundation has had more than 10,000 investors over its history.

Calvert Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, typically invests 60% of its portfolio in domestic efforts and 40% internationally. It looks for relationships with mature organizations with at least three years of operating history and performs extensive due diligence on each one, says Patrick Davis, the foundation’s strategic initiatives officer.

Several domestic organizations that are part of its portfolio include Enterprise Community Loan Fund, which has helped build or renovate nearly 100,000 affordable homes for low- and very-low income people across the U.S.; Central City Concern, a nonprofit agency serving single adults and families in the Portland (Ore.) metro area who are impacted by homelessness, poverty and addiction; and LifeLong Medical Care, a provider of health and social services to underserved individuals in several Northern California counties.

One international organization that Calvert Foundation makes loans to is Envirofit International, a producer and distributor of clean cook stoves and solar lighting products used in impoverished communities—particularly in India and Africa. Clean cook stoves have been found to reduce carbon emissions and promote better health outcomes in developing countries, Davis says. Envirofit also creates jobs by employing local sales teams, he says.

Calvert Foundation’s international portfolio also includes FINCA International and Root Capital. FINCA, a global charitable microfinance organization, serves nearly 1 million people (70% women) who have been turned down by traditional banks in Africa, Eurasia, the Greater Middle East and Latin America. Root Capital is a nonprofit social investment fund that lends capital, delivers financial training and strengthens market connections for small and growing agricultural businesses in poor, environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America.

Easy-To-Use Tools

In addition to general CI Notes that invest in a broad pool of organizations, Calvert Foundation has issued notes targeted to more specific causes including its year-old Women Investing In Women Initiative (WIN-WIN). The project is raising money to invest in organizations and efforts that create economic opportunities and provide services for women.  This includes child care, education, health care, housing, leadership and microfinance.  

Calvert Foundation is in the preliminary stages of researching and developing other initiatives, says president and CEO Lisa Hall. One focuses on revitalizing hard-hit U.S. cities through affordable housing and transit-oriented development. Cities it is looking at include Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, Calif. A diaspora initiative focuses on immigrants’ communities in the U.S. and in their native countries. 

“At Calvert Foundation, we’re trying to provide easy-to-use tools to offer to clients at a time when more people are clamoring to align their money with their values,” says Hall. Brokerages now represent 80% of CI Note sales, which the foundation thinks indicates more mainstream acceptance of impact investing. It is also sharing its knowledge with other impact organizations interested in becoming more integrated into financial markets.  

Advisor Outlook

Gary Matthews, a New York-based investment advisory representative with First Affirmative Financial Network LLC, has used CI Notes for more than 10 years as part of his clients’ fixed-income needs. Matthews, who manages nearly $43 million in assets for 100 clients, says 1% to 5% of their portfolios are allocated to community investments through CI Notes and two mutual funds that focus on affordable housing in the U.S.—the Community Reinvestment Act Qualified Investment Fund and the Access Capital Community Investment Fund.

Matthews say he’s impressed by Calvert Foundation’s relationships with organizations worldwide, and that he usually uses general CI Notes for clients. “They often want to do something good with their money but they don’t want to do it themselves,” he says. “[Still,] there’s a lot of human interest here. It’s a high-touch investment that people can wrap their heads and hearts around.” His clients, who are typically not high-net-worth individuals, usually opt for one to two year notes and renew them.