Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Capital Good Fund Turns 5 Years Old!

Five years ago today I filed Articles of Incorporation for Capital Good Fund (CGF), officially making
Making our very first loan to Eva Jimenez, April 1 2009!
us a legal entity in the state of Rhode Island.  Part of me can't believe that it's been so long, and part of me can't believe how quickly the time has passed.  Nor can I really say whether I am surprised by where we are today.  After all, back in February of 2009 I was still a graduate student at Brown University, and CGF consisted of a group of 15 student volunteers that had yet to serve a single client.  Despite the fact that so much was in the air, even then I already had a sense that we were onto somthing big, that this chaotic amalgam of ideas and energy would eventually be chanelled into a transformational organization.

The staff in 2012
The idea for CGF was born in the summer of 2008 when Mollie West and I connected with Alan Harlam, the Director of Social Entrepreneurship at Brown, to pursue the idea of starting a microfinance organization led by college students.  For six months we did research, wrote a business plan, recruited volunteers and debated our mission statement and the products and services we would offer.  Yet all that planning wasn't enough to truly lay the groundwork for what CGF has become: 5 years ago we still lacked tax-exempt status, funding and, most importantly, clients.  In fact, it wasn't until April of that year that we finally made our first loan, and in all of 2009 we would go on to only make 9 loans and graduate 10 people through our first-ever business basics workshop.

By the time I gradauted in May of '09 I knew in my heart-of-hearts that I had put too much into CGF--and that the organization had too much potential--for me to pursue a different path, and so I decided to stay on as full-time Executive Director.  Today we have 16 employees, 120 volunteers, a budget of $750,000, a phenomenal 9-person Board of Directors, and thousands of clients.  We have created products and services that are first-of-their kind, such as the Financial Coaching + Schools Program, and found innovative ways of improving or tweaking others: our unique consumer lending model, our one-on-one Financial Coaching curriculum and the asset building component of our free tax preparation.

In 2013 alone we reached 1,000 low-income families.  We just crossed the threshold of returning $1 million to the community through tax preparation, and we are about to reach the $500,000 mark for loans disbursed. We have three offices in two states.  We are one of a handful of organizations in the United States running a Randomized Control Trial, and we just launched an innovative nonprofit Immediate Public Opportunity, or "IPO." In short, there's so much about which to be excited about and proud.

Thinking on how we got here, all I can say is that it took a lot of trial and error and a lot dead ends.  For a while we tried business workshops, only to decide that they weren't having the impact we wanted, and in 2013 we stopped doing business loans for the same reason.  In late 2011 we decided to focus on one-on-one Financial Coaching because we identifed it as an unmet need in the community.  Then, in early 2013 we undertook a process of adding a groundbreaking Health module to the Coaching Program, while also beginning to target the delivery our products and services to the parents of low-income children.

Once upon a time it could reasonably have been said of our business model that it consisted of "throwing spaghetti against the wall."  The reason, in retrospect, is that there wasn't really a good business model on which to base ours, and so for awhile experimentation was the name-of-the-game.  I'm proud to say that now our business model is clear, and is one that not only will make us a national organization in five years, but also one that will truly change lives and make us a sustainable and vibrant enterprise. Put another way, we are no longer a startup, even though we retain the flexibility and creative environment of one (as I like to say, CGF is what happens when Silicon Valley crashes into a soup kitchen).

Looking back at what it has taken to get us here, I can very honestly say that had I known it would be this difficult, I might not have done it.  And were it not for the support of so many people and institutions--Alan Harlam, Brown University, the Catholic Church, AmeriCorps VISTA, and countless Board and community members, volunteers, experts and funders--I might have quit several times along the way.  Thankfully, now that we have made it this far, I can look ahead and state with confidence that we will achieve our mission of using financial services to create pathways out of poverty, and to bring those services to hundreds of thousands of impoverished families throughout America.  Indeed, my promise to you--all our supporters, clients, Board members, staff, volunteers--is that come our 10th anniversary we will be one of the top nonprofits in the country, an organization that changes lives while also changing how the nation thinks about how to change lives.

Here are some photos of our journey:
Our first cohort of Financial Coaches
Evaluating our impact in 2009

More from the Gala

Our 2010 Fundraising Gala

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