Annual Benefits Report, CY 2021

ON February 2, 2022

After 20 years as a mission-driven business, Cogent Consulting converted to a Specific Benefit Corporation on December 18th, 2018. We are an independent, strategic, financial, and impact investing firm empowering purpose-driven organizations.

We work with a diverse set of mission-driven investors and entrepreneurs through evidence-based and actionable advice. Our work serves foundations, corporations, social entrepreneurs, and place-based ecosystems. Our clients in 2021 included Allina Health, Barra Foundation, Beyond Celiac, Blandin Foundation, Bush Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, First Children’s Finance, gener8tor, Local Initiative Support Corporation Twin Cities and Duluth, Marbrook Foundation, Minnesota Council of Foundations, New Mexico Association of Grantmakers and several others. Please see our new website for more information, www.cogentconsulting.net.

Pursuant to Section 304A.101 of the Minnesota Statutes, Cogent Consulting SBC pursues the following specific benefit purpose as listed in its articles:

To empower purpose-driven organizations that drive positive social impact in their communities.

Cogent Consulting, SBC accomplishes its specific benefit purpose with all of its clients and pro bono work.

This work included the following projects:

  1. Add knowledge to the field:
    ○ Cogent advised new clients in impact investing through educational workshops and our custom Strategic Portfolio Design process.
    ○ Cogent deepened its work on Opportunity Zones in Duluth and the Twin Cities by building on previous momentum and interest. This has led to further interest in social impact investing in the community going beyond the 2017 Jobs and Tax Act that created Opportunity Zones.

  1. Grow the field:
    ○ Engaged the field in learning dialogues: In 2021 Cogent strengthened the Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem, provided pro bono support to Impact Hub MSP, convened an active community of practice for professional impact investment advisors and individual investors and another group dedicated to measuring and reporting impact.
    ○ Designed and led the Minnesota Council on Foundations Integrated Capital Recovery Program which raised $44.7m for Minnesota CDFIs to address the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic and racial reckoning after George Floyd’s death.
    ○ Facilitated virtual discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field. Cogent Consulting facilitated the January 2021 Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem “Pathways Into the Field” and led a national discussion on expanding the presence of women and people of color in impact investing.
    ○ Convened the TCIIE again in a national conference: Build Forward Better in June 2021 to highlight underrepresented fund managers and entrepreneurs.
    ○ Shared knowledge through website blogs, and speaking engagements.
    ○ Expanded opportunities for women and people of color in Cogent’s work.

    Cogent continues to grow place-based impact investing in Philadelphia and New Mexico.
    ○ Cogent helped launch a place-based impact investing fund in New Mexico with the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers, modeled on the fund Cogent created for the Minnesota Council on Foundations.
    ○ In Philadelphia, Cogent is continuing to work with the Barra Foundation and their peers to help them develop their impact investing policies, strategy, and due diligence. Cogent supported the Philanthropy Network’s Mission Aligned Cohort in making their first collaborative impact investment into Thrive Village, led by Ujima Developers.

  1. Educate About Impact Investing: Cogent increased impact investing awareness and practice within the philanthropic communities and their leadership and the general public through presentations, roundtables attended by entrepreneurs, non-profits, career changers, and students and an active social media campaign.
    ○ Cogent works with foundations to explore and implement impact investing for their own investment portfolios. Cogent founder and CEO, Susan Hammel, CFA, continues to educate Minnesota’s philanthropic community by serving as Executive in Residence for the Minnesota Council of Foundations. In this capacity she led the charge and raised $44.7 million for recovery and rebuilding due to the pandemic as well as rebuild damaged communities in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.
    ○ Cogent hosts monthly roundtables that educate about Impact Investing and build new connections. These sessions are open to all and hosted at various locations across the Twin Cities, including Impact Hub MSP. These sessions moved to online in March 2020 and continue to engage between 7-12 new people each session.
    ○ The CEO and founder of Cogent Consulting has given speeches to educate those interested in the field at investor forums, CEO Net, Great Plains Institutional Investor Forum, and Groove Angel Fest.
  2. Strengthen Social Entrepreneurs and the Non-Profit Sector: Cogent Consulting serves social impact-oriented clients seeking consultation on financial growth strategies and the best investor relations strategy practices for their organizations.
    ○ It is important for social ventures in particular to attract investors that are aligned with their mission. Cogent has done this work by connecting social ventures such as Beyond Celiac, Gener8tor, First Children’s Finance, and Entrepreneur Fund with investors to support the growth and development of their current fund.
    ○ Helped hone Beyond Celiac’s mission and approach to think strategically about building an investor base.

  1. Provide Pro Bono services: Cogent Consulting worked with social businesses and nonprofits that are dedicated to making an impact.
    ○ Cogent Consulting provided pro bono facilitation to lead the Impact Investing and Impact Reporting Communities of Practice for Impact Hub MSP. The value of this service is $12,000 on an annual basis.
    ○ The CEO and Founder of Cogent Consulting serves on the Fresh Energy Board of Directors, the Carleton Careers Advisory Board, and the Trillium Family Foundation. Other team members also serve on nonprofit boards.
    ○ Cogent team members informally advise and mentor a diverse group of entrepreneurs locally as a service to the Twin Cities ecosystem

Cogent Consulting encountered the following hindrances to pursuing its specific benefit purpose:

  1. The continuing Covid-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and climate change form a backdrop for Cogent’s work. Addressing these deep and challenging problems is the work of our lifetimes.
  2. Impact investing is still an evolving industry. Cogent continues to encounter situations that require more creativity and judgment calls than traditional financial and legal institutions.
  3. The lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the investment field is an ongoing issue. The percentage of venture capital funding going to women and people of color-led startups continues to be less than 3%. Women in the investment industry as a whole hover around 20%.

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What I'm doing now

As we emerge cautiously from our pandemic caves, it’s wonderful to be out with humans again, at least a little bit. Then again Zoom is part of our workplace culture now and I’m grateful for the technology, as is our Cogent principal, Terri Barreiro, who I enjoy seeing weekly at Impact Hub MSP, which she co-founded with Katie Kalkman. Lately, I have had the good fortune to be spending time with talented Black entrepreneurs and they give me a lot of hope for our communities: people like Ian Alexander, Anisha Murphy, and Karine Blanc. You’ll note that many of the people leading this work are women and in honor of Women’s History Month, I also want to give a shout to someone I’ve admired for years: the late great Madeline Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. 

It’s got me thinking about the suspicion many in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors have regarding the for-profit sector. Skepticism and pointed questions are good but it is possible that the for-profit sector will develop sustainable, scalable solutions to our pressing challenges: racial justice, gender equality, climate change, economic opportunity for all, to name a few. My advice--look beyond someone’s tax status and focus on the work they’re doing. If you’re not sure of a for-profit entrepreneur’s motives, see if they are a Public Benefit Corporation, like Cogent and/or B-Lab certified like one of my favorites: Binary Bridge founded by Lori Most, bringing mobile health technology to places around the world.