The Courage Blog

Impact Investing for Profit: Charity or Twice the Opportunity?

Impact funding is not investing

Impact investing is charity

Impact investing makes no money

All wrong. Dead wrong.

Yes, there are social impact funds that invest in human areas with no expectation of financial returns.

And yes, there are charities that focus on improving human lives that don’t do it for the money.

But in addition to these instruments, there is an increasing number of professional investors that thrive at the intersection of financial returns and positive human impact.

Their fundamental thesis: impact is equally important as profit—and they are not mutually exclusive. In short, good impact, good money.

Hard to believe?  We don’t blame you. But recent changes in demographics, behavior toward social responsibility, and consumer preferences are increasingly changing the way in which we buy, consume, and invest. And the facts are clear: good impact for good money is not only an option, but is in fact an investment thesis positioned to provide superior returns in the future.

By the end of this blog, you will see that impact investing is not charity and can be very profitable.  A substantial transfer of wealth taking place that is both fueling its growth and improving its potential future payoffs, making it a mainstream investment alternative.

Impact investing is not charity. It’s good business.

Impact investing is not philanthropy. It strives to create a positive human impact alongside financial returns. It is the so-called double bottom line: one for impact, the other for profit. One does not exclude the other.

Yet there is a common and historical bias among traditional investors that impact investing means giving up money—that somehow all social causes just take money and give back none of it.

To think that there are no opportunities to advance human wellbeing and make money is analogous to saying something like:

  • “You can’t make money caring for the sick” – think of Outcome Health, ZocDoc, and other unicorns in health.
  • “You can’t make money in education” – think of Coursera, Lynda, and others who also found exits at unicorn levels.

Ludicrous, right?

Clearly, forgoing profit in impact investing is a fallacy. And one for which increasing evidence is (thankfully) emerging.

There are over two hundred profit for impact organizations surveyed by GIIN[1] every year and nearly 60% of those organizations aim to meet or beat market returns. More than 70% of those are achieving risk-adjusted market returns.

In 2016 alone, $22 billion was invested in nearly 8,000 impact deals. To put this into context, that’s bigger than the entire US Toy industry! More than half were made for profit, and over 80% of those, are meeting or exceeding return expectations of 13.4% for developed markets and 16.5% for emerging markets[2].

Not attractive enough? Keep reading.

We no longer need to wonder whether attractive financial returns are achievable in impact investment—they are being achieved. With hugely professional players like Capricorn Investment Group ($5 billion), Obvious Ventures ($180 million), and a bit closer to home with Norssken ($35 million) the market for impact for profit is amply validated.

When you consider that the impact returns above were made across all impact areas (e.g. urbanization, infrastructure, water, etc.) the key point remains strong: there is money to be made in impact areas, especially in those that are also attractive in the more traditional investment markets.

For example, global funding of Digital Health startups has grown nearly six-fold since 2010, going from a little over $1 billion to more than $6 billion[3]. The majority of these are going into areas that enhance patient care, support disease management (e.g. diabetes, etc.), and dramatically improve the health of millions of people.

Similarly, the financing of Ed Tech startups has nearly tripled between 2013 and 2017 going from $1.1 billion to a little under $3 billion in 2017[4].  Creativity in the classroom (and the “classroom” itself) will never be the same.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous other areas in impact investing offer the possibility for good returns, a fact that is increasingly attracting new investors.

With increasing investment influence and power, Millennials are making this market bigger and will continue to do so not only in size but in importance.

[1] Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN), 2017 survey; JPMorgan
[2] JPMorgan, 2017: Average gross return expectations for developed markets, 2016.
[3] CBInsights
[4] CBInsights

Impact for profit is growing –but Millennials will make it MASSIVE.

Both the number of impact investments and the amount of money going into impact investments has grown dramatically.

In 2017, $26 billion went into impact investments across 10,000 deals. That’s more than a 17% increase year on year from 2016—and this trend is expected to grow even more rapidly across the next decade, driven primarily by a tremendous amount of wealth being passed to Millennials by the baby-boomer generation.

Millennials make up more than a third of the US population and are due to inherit $30 trillion over the next three decades[1]. Sitting on a tremendous amount of investment power and influence, the $30 trillion-question is: how will they invest in comparison to our current generation?

The answer is clear.

In a recent survey, 76% of Millennials said they consider their investment decisions to be a way to express their social, political and environmental values. 88% said that the impact a company makes in those areas is an important consideration when they make investment decisions[2].

This is huge. And so are the ramifications on impact investing. No longer will impact investing be a negligible minority within the investment community. It could become the standard.

At worst, we could argue that the typical dismissive attitude toward it will diminish.  At best, impact for profit will become the most prominent investment philosophy that not only augments the quality of lives of millions of people but does so in a profitable manner for those who demand outstanding returns on their investment. Twice the opportunity.

[1] Accenture, 2017;, Lupoff, 2017
[2] Accenture, 2017;, Lupoff, 2017

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