2023 CDFI Sustainable Investing Trends

By Keisha Bolden, Self-Help Credit Union

Above: Self-Help Credit Union staff in its Wilmington, NC branch. Self-Help has over 20 branches across North Carolina and more than 70 branches total across North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, California, Washington, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Keisha Bolden Self-Help Credit UnionSustainable investing has gained momentum over the past decade with both financial professionals and casual investors, and in 2023 it’s more relevant than ever. Growing social, economic, and environmental concerns have fueled an increase in socially responsible investments as more people realize the positive impact their investments can make. 

CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) are critical players in sustainable investing, leveraging specialized knowledge and resources to create innovative financial products with a positive social return. As we look ahead to the rest of 2023 and beyond, these key CDFI investing trends are likely to play a crucial role in the sustainable investing movement.

Investing in Gender Equity

CDFIs are increasingly emphasizing women-led projects, helping to counter the substantial barriers that female entrepreneurs still face. According to research from the Kaufman Foundation and the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor, women make up 40% of founders, yet received only 2% of total venture capital allocations in 2022. Additional collective research by ICA and CNote has found noteworthy challenges for women, particularly women of color. Although women entrepreneurs are approved for lower loan amounts with higher interest rates, the probability of them defaulting on loans is 2 to 4.5% lower than that of men founders. 

CDFIs are leading the charge to change these inequities. CNote developed the Wisdom Fund, an innovative investment product that enables individuals and institutions to invest in the future of women of color. The Wisdom Fund is deployed by CDFI partners as affordably priced loan capital targeting women small business owners, specifically women of color. Self-Help Credit Union also offers investors a Women & Children Term Certificate, a term certificate focused on supporting childcare businesses founded by women. Investors are realizing how much power their investments can wield for good, and more people are choosing investment products that help expand opportunities for women.

Staff celebrate the opening of a Self-Help Federal Credit Union branch in Oak Park, Illinois. The branch will serve the Oak Park community with loans, deposit accounts, financial coaching, community meeting and event space, and more.

Measuring Impact Beyond Standard Outputs

To ensure that investments are truly having an effect, investors must be able to measure their progress and success over time. Investors and CDFIs are focusing on tracking meaningful metrics like job creation within communities, or improved access to credit for small businesses run by women or people of color. Through data-driven frameworks and tools, investors can ensure that their investments are not just providing solid financial returns, but also doing good in the world.

CDFIs are also helping to drive better impact measurement through collaborative frameworks and community connections. Best practices around close engagement and community collaboration are emerging, as CDFIs recognize the importance of listening deeply to the communities they serve, in order to fully understand their strengths and challenges.

Additionally, more investors are bringing a green lens to their investment decisions, and they are looking to sustainability metrics for insight. Environmentally conscious investors are prioritizing options that demonstrate strong ESG results, like reducing carbon emissions or promoting best practices. CDFIs are focusing on measuring their green impact as well, as they pursue environmentally friendly projects that also drive economic growth in local communities. In 2020, Self-Help was among the first CDFIs to report on both the organization’s carbon footprint, and also that of commercial borrowers, in publishing an initial 2020 Greenhouse Gas Analysis. Self-Help also co-authored a guide to help other CDFIs do the same.

Leveraging Networks Through Collaboration

CDFIs are positioned to have a tremendous impact on their communities’ economic development in the years ahead, both individually and in collaboration. By providing access to capital, credit-building opportunities, and other financial services, CDFIs are expanding opportunity to more people. CDFIs are an important part of the community development landscape because they help create jobs and spur economic growth in areas where it is needed most. But while CDFIs can make a huge difference, they may lack some of the resources necessary to reach their full potential. 

Quintero family became homeowners with a Self-Help CU loan
After years of working, saving and dreaming, the Quintero family of Fresno, CA became homeowners in 2023 with a home loan from Self-Help. Self-Help offers a suite of mortgage loans designed to make homeownership more accessible to more families.

This is why coalitions between multiple CDFIs can be so beneficial — they enable institutions to share knowledge, resources, and strategies for achieving greater impact within their respective communities. By forming coalitions and collectives with other similar organizations across the country, CDFIs can leverage shared expertise and resources for greater collective success. CDFI coalitions are helping increase funding opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs. They are also helping close wealth gaps through sustainable bonds, affordable housing funds, and place-based investment initiatives.

Tabling at Pride in Asheville-Self-Help CU
Self-Help Credit Union staff in Asheville, NC celebrate Pride Week and share information about the My Name card, a new option that allows members to use their chosen name on their debit and credit cards even if it doesn’t match their legal name.

More than ever, investors care about both the financial return and the social return of their investments. Overall, these trends combined can create a momentous engine for CDFI sustainable investing that could continue driving substantial growth over the next few years. Current CDFI trends also confirm that working together and collectively for the greater good can create a long-term sustainable impact and a more equitable future for generations to come. 


Article by Keisha Bolden, Director of Investor Relations for Self-Help Credit Union and Self-Help Federal Credit Union. Self-Help provides financing, technical support, consumer financial services, and advocacy for communities historically marginalized by the economic mainstream. Since Self-Help’s founding in 1980, Self-Help has helped expand economic opportunity for underserved communities across North Carolina, Florida, Washington D.C., California, Illinois, and many other states. 

Keisha began her career in New York City, developing and executing programs for community-focused nonprofits and arts organizations, such as Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. She has also worked extensively in the social entrepreneurship and small business sectors in Los Angeles. Keisha’s professional background reflects her passion for community impact and social entrepreneurship.

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