What do Starbucks, Google, Banana Republic, Goldman Sachs and Sam’s Club have in common, besides being large, multi-national corporations?
They have all partnered with Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), a Philadelphia-based, national membership network for community development financial institutions (CDFIs).
CDFIs are the real workhorses of community development. They are private entities that serve and invest in low-income, low-wealth communities. They can be community banks, credit unions, loan funds or venture capital funds. What unites them is their commitment to improving their communities, rather than serving shareholders.
OFN’s mission is to promote these quiet champions of community development through leadership, advocacy and education. But it doesn’t do this alone. Corporate partners provide visibility and resources, as well help bring the relatively obscure world of community development into the mainstream.
It’s latest partnership with Sam’s Club offers a window into the process.
Last spring, the members-only retail giant announced an initiative to support small business owners, who make up a large portion of its customer base.
The initiative was designed to “respond to the national struggle for small business owners in low-to-moderate income communities to attain affordable loans and navigate the lending process,” according to a press release from the company.
Sam’s Club gave OFN a $3.6 million grant to run an educational campaign to inform small businesses about predatory lending. OFN President and CEO Mark Pinsky said the partnership was possible because there were shared goals and shared constituents.
“We didn’t connect with [Sam’s Club] because it was important in of itself to have a corporate partner. They came to us because they have something they want to achieve that happens to align with what we want to achieve,” Pinsky said.
He added that OFN’s status as a nonprofit wasn’t a barrier: “The key to it is being a highly-skilled, competent, high-performing business of our own. The fact that we’re nonprofit doesn’t necessarily matter.”
Image via OFN’s 2013 infographic-30-
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