By Danielle St. Luce, Investment Associate, Cogent Consulting PBC
The last few years have seen new organizations and emerging funds use racial equity as part of their thesis, with most of the leadership of these organizations lacking sufficient investment or business experience. This isn’t to say they’re not worth investment; instead, it highlights the importance of nontraditional due diligence. The Due Diligence 2.0 Commitment, of which Cogent Consulting PBC is a signatory, lays out a framework that allows for proper assessment of emerging fund managers and can be adapted to other organizations[i].
While Cogent uses the Due Diligence 2.0 framework in all our diligence work, our approach differs from traditional investment analysts. Our due diligence is adapted to our clients’ needs, with many investing in nontraditional organizations with models that don’t directly correlate to the Due Diligence 2.0 framework. We also adapt Due Diligence 2.0 based on our lived experience and professional expertise working with diverse business owners and fund managers.
Below is a “Cogent take“, providing context to the nine required shifts to the traditional due diligence process.
Due Diligence 2.0, especially Cogent’s take on it, can be difficult to do well. However, with the growth in racial equity-focused investment vehicles and managers coupled with billions in financial commitments made in recent years, nontraditional due diligence is more important than ever.
If you have any questions or are interested in working with Cogent, feel free to connect with our team at https://www.cogentconsulting.net/contact/.
[i] Gray, T., Davies, E. S., Kessel, B., & Robasciottie, R. J. (2020). Due diligence 2.0 commitment. Due Diligence 2.0 Commitment. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://www.duediligencecommitment.com/
After 20 years in business, Cogent Consulting converted to a Specific Benefit Corporation in 2018.
We are an independent, strategic, financial, and impact investing firm empowering
purpose-driven organizations. Impact investing is defined as “Investments made with the
intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial
return” (Global Impact Investing Network).
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 impact-investing place-based ecosystems. Our clients include many
nonprofits: LISC Twin Cities & Duluth, Partnership in Property Commercial Land Trust, First
Children’s Finance, Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, Betterway Foundation, Ashoka,
Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, and the Barra Foundation, to name a few. Please
see our website for more information: https://www.cogentconsulting.net/.
Pursuant to Section 304A.101 of the Minnesota Statutes, Cogent Consulting SBC pursues the
following benefit purpose as listed in its articles:
To empower purpose-driven organizations that drive positive social impact in their
Cogent Consulting, SBC accomplishes its specific benefit purpose with all of our clients and pro
bono work. Our work from the past year includes the following:
Despite many successes this year, Cogent encountered several challenges in most effectively
pursuing our specific benefit purpose.
a. The Coronavirus pandemic and consequent restrictive measures limited Cogent’s ability
to grow our network and disseminate information about the resources it offers.
(Conversely, however, the business world’s embrace of virtual communication has
enabled Cogent to acquire clients it otherwise wouldn’t have due to geographic distance).
b. Impact investing remains an evolving field. Individual investors are typically wary of
modifying their investment frameworks and thus tend to lack both the knowledge and
motivation to incorporate ESG values into their investment strategies. This is exacerbated by misinformation and political backlash targeting impact investing. Within endowment investing, there remains a continued focus on fiduciary duty without consideration for mission alignment. Non-profit organizations that do have social justice objectives often lack information about how they may pursue equity via investing in lieu of philanthropy. The future success of impact investing hinges on investors and organizations being willing to adapt and learn new practices.
c. There is a general lack of transparency and information is poorly shared among organizations involved in impact investing. Even organizations that have incorporated ESG values into their investment portfolios seldom publicly share information about investment standards, strategies, or impact.
Part of Cogent’s commitment is to make a lasting impact through changing the way people think about money – thinking beyond the individual level to the larger collective. Like our founder Susan Hammel’s mentor, Paul Wellstone said; “We all do better when we all do better.”
One way Cogent has worked towards upholding this mantra is through mapping the Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem. This project, which began in 2016 thanks to support from the Bush Foundation, allowed our local community to better understand the breadth and complexity of impact investing activity in the Twin Cities and subsequently identified a substantial gap- equity investments are not going into social businesses, especially those owned by women and BIPOC individuals.
Why is this so important? Social businesses owned by individuals in marginalized communities need equity investment flowing into their company versus more and more debt. So, from this learning, the Investors for Impact Project was born thanks to partnership with the McKnight Foundation, Hennepin County and others. Phase one is two-pronged; an investor needs assessment and research into current promising models.
In conversations with individual investors, it is clear that high-net worth individuals are interested in making equity investments into social businesses. However, there is a disconnect between their desire to invest, willingness to take risks, and lack of connections with women and BIPOC social entrepreneurs.
In the needs assessment, Cogent worked to identify why this gap exists and what it would take to get investors to the next level of commitment. They also looked to local and national models already in existence that might help investors provide this type of capital. Cogent identified an astonishing 59 models, 41 national and 18 local, with more popping up everyday!
Seeing the progress in these innovative models is certainly encouraging. However, social businesses still face the challenge of access, especially for BIPOC and women founders. Minnesota has a culture of modest wealth, which makes identifying potential investors tricky and these entrepreneurs are often forced to rely on funds from friends and family.
And let’s be honest, when people hear the term ‘high net-worth investors’, the image that often comes to mind is that of an older, white male. However, within the Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem there are women and people of color ready to invest in social businesses.
It is Cogent’s goal to bridge this gap in knowledge and connection by bringing investors, investees and intermediaries all together in the same room. Cogent recently hosted a Happy Hour which did just that, bringing together the impact investing ecosystem to learn, connect and commit together. Here is what we asked everyone in the room to do. We invite you to join us!
“Don’t let today be a spark that fizzles out. Before leaving today find an accountability partner and commit to a simple action step you will take in the next 7 days to dream bigger, dare greatly, do good well. Get investing now because there are people waiting on the other side of your decision to be generous and act for good.”
– Megan Lamke, Business for Good Foundation and new partner for our project!
Over $112 million in capital invested in low-income communities as Minnesota faces one of America’s largest wealth gaps
The Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) and several Minnesota foundations today announced the five-year milestone of the Minnesota Impact Investing Initiative (MI3). Since its inception, this investment collaboration has successfully supported access to homeownership and affordable multifamily housing for over 500 low-income families across the state of Minnesota, where there is one of the largest racial homeownership gaps in the United States (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis).
Minnesota foundations and public entities have invested more than $112 million into the impact investing collaboration over the past five years. These assets are invested in a fixed income investment strategy managed by RBC Global Asset Management (RBC GAM). The investments have spanned 32 different counties in Minnesota. To date, the MI3 program has funded 560 affordable homes and a dozen affordable multi-family projects for low-moderate income (LMI) families (defined as those earning less than 80% of area median income). Eighty-two percent of the affordable properties are located in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) neighborhoods while 81% of the recipients are women-headed households. Each loan averages $250,000. In addition, the MI3 has funded small business loans and health care facilities supporting a total of 200 nursing home beds.
Access to affordable housing is especially relevant in Minnesota where there is one of the largest wealth gaps by race in all of America, according to WalletHub. The homeownership rate for Minnesota BIPOC households decreased from 46% in 1940 to 44% in 2019 while the homeownership rates for white families in Minnesota increased steadily from 55% to 77% during the same time, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Furthermore, the poverty rates for African American and Indigenous residents are at least three times higher than for white Minnesotans, according to the University of Minnesota.
“Investing for impact is a critical strategy for foundations and other institutions to help address wealth disparity in Minnesota,” said Susie Brown President of the Minnesota Council of Foundations. “By doing so, more capital is available for affordable housing and other critical needs, with a local focus. Building a fund of over $100 million in just five years represents significant progress toward addressing important community development needs.”
MCF launched MI3 in 2017 as a first-of-its-kind impact investing collaborative in the United States, led by the Minnesota Council on Foundations, and several other Minnesota foundations in partnership with RBC GAM. Over the past five years, MI3 has built support for impact investments targeting communities in need in Minnesota. The McKnight Foundation, Bush Foundation, Otto Bremer Trust and the Minneapolis Foundation were among the first institutions participating in the impact investing collaborative. They created MI3 in 2017 to strengthen Minnesota’s market for affordable housing and small business and grow the number of Minnesota-based foundations involved in impact investing.
“We are proud to participate in the Minnesota Impact Investing Initiative and to see how it has grown,” said Elizabeth McGeveran, Director of Investments at the McKnight Foundation. “The innovative approach has created opportunities for a wide range of investors to make a local impact in Minnesota while benefiting from geographically diversified financial performance.”
Assets dedicated to MI3 are invested in the RBC Access Capital Community Investment Strategy, a fixed income investment strategy managed by RBC GAM. The investment strategy seeks to positively support home ownership, job creation, small business growth, and increased access to rental housing, healthcare, and education in Minnesota. Local loans are assessed for social impact and purchased, then pooled to create custom securities for RBC GAM’s clients, such as MI3 members. Any investor, financial advisor, large corporation or foundation can make investments into MI3 with the aim of supporting community development efforts across Minnesota.
RBC GAM’s Access Capital Community Investment team has developed a track record of working with governments and institutional investors. These investors invest in customized U.S. agency guaranteed mortgage-backed securities and government-backed loans and municipal securities that support social impact themes. As of May 31, 2021, the Access Capital Community Investment Strategy has more than $1.5 billion USD in assets under management.
“MI3 is a great example of how the broader region can come together to help provide access to capital in low-income communities,” said Ron Homer, Chief Impact Strategist, RBC GAM. “The global pandemic produced stark disparities in economic impact and health outcomes within low-income and BIPOC communities which exacerbated the already troublesome issue of income inequality in America. As we look forward, RBC GAM will continue to partner with foundations across America to make targeted investments that aim to reduce these inequalities while fostering economic growth and other positive social outcomes.”
Since MI3 was established in 2017, there have been several other communities across America have replicated the impact investment collaboration.
MCF is planning to celebrate the five year milestone of the MI3 at its Semi-Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, in February 2023.
I “retired” in June 2014 after working since I was age 15. Most of my adult life I worked in a leadership role in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector with responsibilities to find better solutions to tough social issues ranging from early childhood education access, effective entrepreneurship education, to underemployment. I worked with committees, teams, staffed collaborations, sat on Boards of Directors and planning committees of all kinds. I trained others in what I was learning and pressed large institutions to replicate models that seemed to be working. I never backed down from a new tough problem, but retirement had me stymied. After 6 years of “retirement”, I looked back to see what I had learned from my trial-and-error-pivot approach to staying engaged and relevant while facing that age-related declining energy.
Here are my top 10 tips based on what I learned:
Which of these tips resonates most with you? What would you add? Let us know in the comments!
Want to read others’ thoughts?
Terri Barreiro’s Bio: Terri Barreiro is an expert in systems change and a mission-driven venture advisor. She is an adjunct instructor and fellowship advisor at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. She is co-founder of and volunteer venture coach at Impact Hub MSP and consultant to nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.
Who knew how much I missed business travel? Despite the still-cramped seats, forced close proximity to other humans in a small capsule, and a few crabby passengers, after a 2 year hiatus, it was great to get back on the road. Thank you Impact PHL for giving me an excuse to visit our long-time client The Barra Foundation in Philadelphia. Their Total Impact Summit was invigorating, educational and inspiring, especially seeing all the local funds and Black led developers working to create economic opportunities in the city. Can’t wait to go to San Francisco for SOCAP and the National Center for Family Philanthropy conferences in October. Ping me if you’ll be there!
In honor of Earth Day
After finishing up as Finance Committee and Board Chair of the Citizens League I had decided not to serve on any more nonprofit boards. As much as I love the work, after continuous Board service since 1994 I figured I’d find another outlet for my volunteer time.
Then I had lunch with Michael Noble, Executive Director at Fresh Energy. Introduced by our mutual friend and Carleton classmate Elizabeth McGeveran, I think we each thought it was just a get-to-know-you meeting. I’ve always been passionate about the environment, having grown up in the big woods of Minnetonka (that’s a story for another time). Studying public policy at Harvard Kennedy School showed me how important policy is in truly addressing climate change. I was so inspired listening to Michael talk about Fresh Energy’s impressive track record.
I have to admit I was one of those who had kind of retreated into helpless despair when it came to climate change. The problem is so big and we humans seem so reluctant to change our habits, our companies continue to pollute, and our government leaders are timid, at best.
Joining the Fresh Energy Board changed all that. I’ve met amazing people like Deepinder Singh, founder and CEO of 75f, making our existing buildings “smart”, more comfortable and energy efficient at the same time. I met Kristel Porter, Executive Director of MN Renewable Now, connecting underserved residents to renewable energy. I also got to meet amazing staff like Anjali Bains, Lead Director Energy Access & Equity and Sarah Clark, Deputy Executive Director. What can I say, now I’m hooked.
Lately some of the attendees at our monthly Impact Investing Roundtable asked me about volunteering and I have to say, please do consider Board service. It’s open to everyone and all of the thousands of nonprofit organizations need a Board of Directors. If you’re not sure what’s involved, you can take a class through Propel for Nonprofits. Here are my quick tips:
Susan serves on three boards: Fresh Energy, Carleton Careers Advisory Board, and the Trillium Family Foundation. She also is the volunteer President of the MN Alumnae Network of Harvard Women. Her previous boards include Pro Mujer, Children’s Home Society (was Family Services), St. Paul Arts Partnership, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Asian American LEAD, Arts Council of Fairfax County, NPH USA, Citizens League, Sunrise Banks and the Minnetonka Yacht Club.
Susan Hammel Bio: As a philosophy major who went to Wall Street, Susan Hammel translates between passionate social changemakers and expert accountants. In her role as President and Founder of Cogent Consulting Inc., Susan serves as MCF Executive in Residence for impact investing and led the charge to map the Twin Cities impact investing ecosystem. As a native Minnesotan, Susan is dedicated to the entire community and brings professional experience from New York, Washington DC and Chicago to the region.
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.
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:
Cogent Consulting encountered the following hindrances to pursuing its specific benefit purpose: