Making an Impact with the Crowd

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Money holds the power to bring justice to social and environmental upheavals. The ways in which we invest our money have potential to promote clean technology, help keep families at risk of foreclosure in their homes, or even to launch small businesses started by ex-offenders. Impact investment is a movement to place capital in businesses and organizations that spur societal and environmental progress while providing financial returns. Impact investing will take center stage on the "Making an Impact with the Crowd" panel at RealCap Chicago on September 29th.

RealCap is a real estate crowdfunding conference that joins leaders and newcomers, developers and investors alike to network and explore this expanding industry. Entrepreneurs can learn to raise money online to fund their projects, and investors can gain knowledge of new opportunities. Hosted by American Homeowner Preservation and Small Change, RealCap promotes the continued growth of real estate crowdfunding while inspiring socially conscious investment.

RealCap panelist Ben Bingham is an impact investment fund manager and author of Making Money Matter: Impact Investing to Change the World. He inspires investors to consider money as a tool for positive change and a catalyst for social and environmental justice. Bingham's background in sustainable agriculture leads him to regard financial portfolios as ecosystems requiring careful balance and nurturing. His understanding of the land and our existence within it has guided Bingham's impact investment strategies. "My approach starts with the simple idea that we should invest in products and services that are beneficial to humanity and the environment," said Bingham.

He believes his sustainable strategies translate to the array of investment offerings, including real estate. "If you're investing in real estate, you can try to influence the developers to use clean and efficient energy in their buildings as well as ensure sustainability in the materials used, such as sustainable forestry for wood buildings."

Beyond the constructs of investment properties are opportunities to promote justice for their inhabitants. "You have to consider how real estate investment will impact the lives of people," asserted Bingham. He stressed the importance of investing in properties and developments in proximity to public transportation and various food sources. "There's a whole food desert problem in real estate where people, especially lower income people, don't have access to good food because they are living somewhere in which the only way to get food is to go to a convenience store where everything is made of sugar and corn syrup."

Bingham applauds crowdfunding's success at allowing a broader range of investors to become involved in high-impact real estate endeavors. "I like very much the idea that you can invest in real estate even if you are not wealthy. You can take an interest in development and benefit from it and I think that's terrific," said Bingham. "It certainly gives an opportunity for people to get involved in investing that wouldn't before."

Drawing inspiration from his agricultural background, Bingham compares investment diversification to crop rotation. Though he commends the inclusivity of crowdfunding, he warns of placing all capital in only one genre of investment. "If there is an opportunity for it, investors need to use crowdfunding in different areas, not just real estate. That way, they can put together a diversified portfolio," explained Bingham. "I compare diversified investment to having many different crops and rotating them: some years, one crop will do very well and another crop will not, but the successful crop will protect the unsuccessful one. It is the same with investments," he said.

Crowdfunding's transformation of investment ease and accessibility coupled with Bingham's vision of positive impact make it a powerful tool for change. Eve Picker of Small Change, AdaPia d'Errico of Patch of Land, Daniel Bull of Zero Six Eight, and David Doig of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives will join Bingham on RealCap's "Making an Impact with the Crowd" panel. The panelists will inspire participants to make financial decisions that preserve the integrity of our planet and society. As Bingham asserted, "thinking about what's whole and what's healthy doesn't go away even if you are investing on the Internet."