Collaborative Capitalism: Positive social outcomes and competitive financial returns

As Millennials move into new leadership roles, they are demanding the opportunity to align every facet of their lives with making a positive difference in the world. A new capitalism, what the authors of The Impact Investor call Collaborative Capitalism, is focused on more than just financial returns to make an impact on the world’s issues.

One tool of Collaborative Capitalism is impact investing–investing that focuses on delivering positive social and environmental outcomes alongside competitive financial returns–is a response to this changing world.

Two years, 12 outstanding funds, four primary practices

In a two-year study, the most detailed release of information on impact investing to date, the authors of The Impact Investor examined 12 outstanding impact investment funds that met or exceeded the expectations of their investors.

In this book, they uncover the four primary practices that make these funds successful and outline the strategies that all investors, from corporate executives to change agents to philanthropists, can apply to their own organizations to achieve high performance in both social and financial outcomes.

We interviewed coauthor, Jed Emerson, about The Impact Investor and what you should consider if you want to take the first steps toward blending social causes with financial returns. We also asked about the most significant obstacles.

CausePlanet: If someone wants to jump into the field of impact investing, what does he/she need to focus on first?

Emerson: The first thing those interested in impact investing need to focus on is to get up to speed with what is already known about the field, its practices and the variety of ways one can become involved. For example, CASE at Duke has a great web site ( with seminal research and insight every impact investor should read. ImpactAssets has its Issue Brief series which presents a set of concise memos addressing various aspects of the field. Finally, The Blended Value website ( also has a host of resources worth perusing. Attending a few conferences would also be a good thing to do—SoCap or High Water Women are both good places to start. And Cathy just made a great 12-minute video intro to the field:

CausePlanet: What do you really want nonprofits to take from your book? For example, are you giving them ways to attract impact investors or become more of impact investors themselves?

Emerson: Nonprofits should take away many of the same principles as other types of organizations, namely that there is a shift taking place in both capitalism and the arena of how we address social issues, and this shift represents real opportunities for nonprofits to position themselves as providing a unique value to society that is distinct from traditional business or government. There is a growing universe of funders, investors and procurement officers who want to understand how best to leverage this distinct approach and bring it to scale, including through the provision of operating capital, which has been historically difficult to come by in the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits also have an important role to play in driving the impact investing field forward considering two key attributes. One is their attention to stakeholders. Nonprofits are built on the premise that constituencies matter and much of the field of impact investing is taking this lesson into the arena of finance. The other attribute is heightened attention to social outcomes. Impact investors need to manage to specific, intentional outcomes and are often drawing on nonprofit practices to do so.

CausePlanet: What do you think is the most significant obstacle to becoming an impact investor?

Emerson: Perhaps the most significant obstacle is simple inertia, the challenge of overcoming analysis paralysis and actually making an investment. Some folks feel impact investing is new or that people must accept below market returns and so are waiting for it to become so mainstream that the actual investment opportunities may pass them by. The best way to explore and learn about the practice is to make smaller investments, to collaborate with other investors or take other initial steps to simply get going and learn by doing. And in fact, one can become an impact investor now with as little as $20 online, through a site called, where you can choose the places or impacts that are important to you.

Increasingly, financial institutions and corporations around the world are using Collaborative Capitalism as a tool to generate clear, positive social outcomes in addition to profits. This book will help nonprofits learn how capital can be used to drive social and environmental change as well as how to attract potential investors. Financial tools are increasingly being used to support community vehicles, including nonprofits, cooperatives and social enterprises. The Impact Investor gives a comprehensive overview of the approaches successful impact investors have used to increase their probability of success.

See other Page to Practice nonprofit book summaries related to this topic:

The Impact Investor: Lessons in Leadership and Strategy for Collaborative Capitalism

Zone of Insolvency: How Nonprofits Avoid Hidden Liabilities and Build Financial Strength

The Nonprofit Business Plan: The Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model

Cash Flow Strategies: Innovation in Nonprofit Financial Management

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