Social enterprise Water Rangers demonstrating water test kits. Water Rangers is a Thrive Impact Fund investee.
Thrive Impact Fund investee, Water Rangers, is a non-profit that supports local communities to test and gather water health data and upload it to a common data platform. The goal is that local communities can use the information to advocate for the health of their waterways.

Social enterprise Water Rangers demonstrating water test kits. Water Rangers is a Thrive Impact Fund investee.
Thrive Impact Fund investee, Water Rangers, is a non-profit that supports local communities to test and gather water health data and upload it to a common data platform. The goal is that local communities can use the information to advocate for the health of their waterways.

In May 2022, Thrive Impact Fund was recognized as a Transformative 25 Fund. This article, originally published by Integrated Capital Investing, explores Thrive Impact Fund’s contributions to reimagining financing that works for people and the planet.

The Transformative 25 Funds is a list of funds, banks and initiatives that are demonstrating the power of integrated capital that is designed to reimagine the finance system to work for people and the planet. Read on for an interview between Jennifer Astone, Principal at Integrated Capital Investing, and Kristi Fairholm Mader, Managing Director at Thrive Impact Fund.

Jen: How was Thrive Impact Fund created?

Kristi: The fund was started by the principles of Scale Collaborative, Kristi Rivait, Kristi Fairholm Mader and Lee Herrin. Our professional background is as long-standing non-profit leaders—we independently operated non-profits using entrepreneurial approaches to diversify revenues and build community assets. In 2014, we founded Scale Collaborative with an overarching theory that a degree of financial independence for non-profits is key to delivering community impact.

We operate a program, Thriving Non-Profits, that assists organizations to diversify their revenue streams and increase impact. Over a 5-year period, we would see organizations develop strong enterprising strategies and then struggle to find the resources to move them forward. It would take years to patch together funding or financing. We also saw how many organizations lack collateral and are deemed risky by financial institutions—a significant barrier to accessing capital. And equity is not an option for non-profits. We work in smaller, rural communities where access to capital is limited and travel is time-consuming and expensive. Thrive Impact Fund was founded to provide equity-like debt to finance the impact organizations solving the most challenging social, environmental and cultural issues in our local communities. We started from the non-profit perspective, however, through our social enterprise work, we can see similar barriers for social entrepreneurs, especially women and diverse entrepreneurs. Thrive Impact Fund broadened our mandate to include any impact organization (non-profit, charity, co-op or for-profit) that faces barriers to capital.

Jen: How are your investment funds catalytic in a way that is different from other funds?

Kristi: Most impact investment funds in British Columbia are venture capital–equity is not a fit for many impact entrepreneurs–and traditional debt can be difficult to access and tends to be inflexible. There are some local community funds that are backed by the government and have a low (under $25,000) non-collateral threshold, but there is a gap in non-collateralized, flexible debt in larger amounts.

Thrive Impact Fund is unique in being a private debt fund that provides flexible loans and revenue-based financing. Thrive Impact Fund is independent from traditional financial and granting systems, and our mandate is to provide early-stage investments that assist organizations to grow and de-risk other sources of capital through co-investing. We look for steady performers with growing revenue streams that are focused on community and impact. They are already doing amazing and impactful work—we are just providing them with resources to do more, on terms that they help define.

Another way we are transformative is through our offer to investors. We provide 3 preferred share classes—2 are concessionary capital and Class C provides a steady financial ROI. Thrive Impact Fund is an evergreen fund—we are able to redeploy a single dollar multiple times throughout the initial investment term. This structure and approach are different for many investors and lead to conversations that broaden the standard investment culture and expectations.

Jen: How do you describe the kind of non-financial returns the fund offers?

Kristi: We are in the early days as an investor, having made 5 investments to date. We are selective and work with social enterprises that have environmental, social and/or cultural impact at the centre of what they do. Impact measurement takes time—we establish an impact baseline at the start of our relationship with an investee and co-set measurement outcomes that align to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Current investees are making an impact in wage equity, toxic and textile waste reduction, citizen-led water health, and the removal of plastic in groceries. Thrive Impact Fund reports out quarterly on both impact and financial ROI.

Other non-financial returns are found in our approach to building community. We host monthly peer group gatherings with investees where they can share their challenges and successes, and their expertise. This is building a community of entrepreneurs that become invested in each other’s success, and we are starting to see collaborations between enterprises. As well, we host semi-annual ‘all community’ gatherings that bring Thrive Impact Fund team, investment committee, investees and investors together for shared learning and connection. The benefits of connection and relationship are innumerable.

Jen: Can you describe how you use integrated capital to do your work?

Kristi: We have long-standing networks across the regions where we work, and have provided coaching, consulting, programs and events since 2014. Our long-standing partnerships include local credit unions, post-secondaries, Community Futures loan funds, developmental lenders and foundations. Our approach to integrated capital is to match the right type of capital to the need of the project/entrepreneur. We work extensively at the front end of the investment process to identify the right financial mix—and help bring in other partners from our network to build out the right mix. Every deal we have done so far has involved a mix of partners, from grantors to venture funds. It is integrated capital in action!

Jen: How do you address racial justice, income inequality, and/or gender justice through your products and services?

Kristi: Thrive Impact Fund’s first goal is to bring investment justice to a sector that lacks access to flexible and patient capital. The non-profit sector is focused on social, environmental and cultural change, and investments in such organizations lead to healthier communities. 80% of non-profits are led by women, and one of our specific mandates is to address the scarcity mindset that can pervade the sector, with this being felt more acutely by women leaders. Our second goal is to finance social entrepreneurs that face similar barriers to capital due to bias, risk perception and lack of collateral. In our region, this tends to be Indigenous people, women and newcomers to Canada. The types of organizations we invest in are advancing a wide array of solutions, from income opportunities for writers and artists on a remote island, to citizen-led water testing, to non-toxic glow sticks.

Jen: Can you share with us an example of an investment?

Kristi: In early 2021 we invested in Water Rangers. Water Rangers is a non-profit that supports local communities to test and gather water health data and upload it to a common data platform. The goal is that local communities can use the information to advocate for the health of their waterways. Water Rangers was also a participant in Thriving Non-Profits with specific coaching around their revenue diversification mix and financial modelling. This combination of capacity building and capital has helped them thoughtfully expand and grow in a financially sustainable way.

Jen: What do you tell people who think your fund is risky?

Kristi: Right now traditional investing feels super risky in terms of what it is doing to our planet and communities. Thrive Impact Fund is presenting an alternative to that existential risk by investing in regenerative enterprises that are working to heal, not harm. And investing in newer enterprises that are stepping into market gaps comes with some financial risk to investors and the entrepreneurs themselves. We look to mitigate this risk in a few different ways:

  • We do not offer financing to entrepreneurs that places them at risk—investor reward does not come at the expense of cash flow or profitability. We stress test different scenarios and build a lot of space in our agreements to plan for the most likely (not optimistic) scenario
  • We operate in relationship. We know most of Thrive Impact Fund investees at the outset and if we don’t know them directly, we know someone who does. We bring investees into relationship with each other and work on a shared success model.
  • Our due diligence process includes stress scenarios, risk analysis, an investment committee and an external risk analysis. For identified areas of risk, we come up with risk mitigation strategies and supports required.
  • Thrive Impact Fund includes a ‘gift’ class of shares. This ‘gift’ class supports the evergreen nature of the fund, as well as permits the fund to be flexible and work with enterprises that need additional support. We cannot thank our Class A investors enough!

The risk of not investing in Thrive Impact Fund is that enterprises focused on impact remain under-resourced and are not able to bring these solutions to bear and that people with great ideas continue to face barriers to capital that exist in the current system.

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