Millennial Workforce Tackles Poverty
When I founded the Capital Good Fund in February 2009, I was driven by two simple observations. First, that predatory consumer financial services harm the most vulnerable populations in the U.S.; and second, that there are precious few equitable alternatives to payday lenders, pawnshops, rent-to-own stores, and other subprime lenders that represent a $200 billion industry. Fast-forward 11 years, and Good Fund has issued over 4,500 personal loans totaling $10 million, with a 95% repayment rate. We recently expanded into our fifth state and have been growing exponentially.
I attribute our success to many factors, but most important has been a dedicated and motivated workforce. We are at 32 full-time employees, of which 70% belong to the Millennial Generation (born 1981 – 1996). While I am a Millennial myself, I did not intentionally seek a Millennial workforce. Our team developed organically. Here are the reasons why Millennials are attracted to working for us:
Mission. It is a well-worn observation that Millennials want jobs that align with their values, but, taking it a step further, it is important that the values of the employees permeate throughout the social enterprise. Angela Tosca, Director of IT, notes that, “the supportive management, culture of openness and social awareness, and genuinely caring staff” keep her excited in her work as the business evolves. We are a nonprofit lender and U.S. Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution with the mission to create pathways out of poverty through equitable financial services. As the company has evolved and changed over the years, we have engaged our staff to ensure that their passion for social justice is reflected in our products, services, company culture, and customer service. As evidence of this, we often note that we have 230 Google reviews with a 4.8 average rating!
Millennials are also excited by the promise of social enterprise to tackle injustice at scale. For instance, they are motivated by the challenge of maintaining a balance between the imperative to fulfill our mission and the need to generate revenue. This challenge is communicated to all staff so that they can directly engage in finding solutions. We also have monthly all-staff meetings to provide a venue for people to see and hear the big picture directly from the executive team. In other words, having a notable mission is great, but the more important element is making people understand how the mission informs and guides the overall operation giving them a voice in that process. Millennials want to understand their role in the bigger picture and an ethos of strong communication provides that needed context.
Location. Of course, young and talented individuals live across the country. Increasingly, though, they are looking to live closer to home, or in smaller cities and towns that have less traffic, higher quality of life, and a lower cost-of-living. Capital Good Fund started in Rhode Island, and 24 of our 32 team members work at our Providence headquarters. The remaining team members are spread out across our footprint but remain highly connected via electronic communication and low-cost video conference features.
While there is some marginal benefit of being close to financial and industry hubs such as Boston, New York, or San Francisco, the price for that location needs to be paid by somebody. Higher operating expenses and higher wages quickly eat into profitability. Establishing the Good Fund in an attractive metropolitan area with a low-cost of living has allowed us to find and retain young talent. “After moving back from working at an NGO in Haiti, I was extremely excited to find an opportunity to work for another mission-driven organization in my hometown,” highlights Annie Dickson, Chief Operating Officer. This factor was especially important when we first launched and our salaries were below-market. As we have grown, our pay scale has reached prevailing rates, but it would have been impossible for us to scale had we launched in an expensive city: Millennials are willing to sacrifice some level of income for the right organization, but high housing costs can quickly make the sacrifice untenable, especially when factoring in student loan debt.
Training. From the start, our preference has been to find people who are the right “fit” for the organization and training them for the role, as opposed to hiring someone with the requisite skills and hoping that they will learn to embody our mission and values. Younger employees looking to gain experience are often passed over for more seasoned hires, but we have found that people with a passion for the work and experience serving the community are a better long-term fit. There is a fine line, of course, and Millennials often want more autonomy and independence on the job. Our intensive training cycle lasts for over a month, but we then move to give the employee significant freedom. “I love that I’m constantly offered opportunities to grow with the company; whenever I’ve asked if I could lead a project or try something new, my supervisor has always been supportive,” comments Siobhan Sturdahl, Direct of Development and Impact. We find providing structured freedom and opportunities sits well with our largely Millennial workforce.
As I look at the team and organization, I see a group of individuals that have come together because of the mission but stayed together because of culture and opportunities for growth afforded to each employee. The mission might create the initial traction, but the overall environment and opportunity has kept people eager and committed to the endeavor. This is true across all age demographics — thirty-percent of our staff is not Millennial, after all — but clearly our work is especially resonant for a younger generation eager for meaning in their professional as well as their personal lives.
Feature image: Capital Good Fund staff
Article by Andy Posner, who founded Capital Good Fund in February of 2009 while getting his Master of Arts in Environmental Studies at Brown University, where he was studying financing mechanisms for clean energy. After reading Banker to the Poor by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the ‘Father of Microfinance’ and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, he quickly realized that equitable financial services could unlock the potential of the poor just as they could do the same for clean energy technologies. At the same time, as the financial crisis of 2008 began to unravel the economy and devastate low-income communities, Andy decided to take action. He created Capital Good Fund with an eye toward using financial services to tackle endemic poverty, first in Rhode Island, and then nationwide.
Andy is a firm adherent of Dr Yunus’ dream to put poverty into museums; or, as Andy likes to put it, to put poverty out of business. Andy’s work has been featured in Providence Business News, the Providence Journal, the Providence Phoenix, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s quarterly publication, the Rhode Island Small Business Journal, CNN and other print, radio and television media. He is also proud to be the Treasurer of the national Board of Directors of the Credit Builders Alliance, an organization of which Capital Good Fund is a member, as well as a member of the Board of the Community Reinvestment Fund, one of the largest nonprofit lenders in America.
Andy has published his ideas in the Huffington Post, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and nearly a dozen poetry journals, to name a few examples. He was also selected as a 2011 Hitachi Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur and a 2013 American Express Emerging Innovator (one of 45 globally), and a 2015 Rhode Island Foundation Nonprofit CEO Fellow. When not at work, Andy likes to blog, write poetry, ride his bicycle, and spend time with his beautiful wife Bianca, his son Richard, and his Beagle, Chance. Last but not least, he is proud to have been nominated for the 2019 Puschcart Poetry Prize for his piece The Machinery of the State.