Annual Letter 2017

What does it mean to be a thriving organization serving vulnerable communities in a largely unprecedented atmosphere of crisis? What else can and should we do? Those were the questions we asked ourselves repeatedly during an eventful year.

In so many ways, 2017 was a high-water year for NFF:

  • We made $74 million in new loans and supported six inspiring projects with New Markets Tax Credits. This capital is helping schools in Tennessee reset the odds that have been stacked against students going to college; enabling health clinics across the country to expand their services to thousands of people discarded by private insurance markets; supporting innovative collaborations to combat the opioid crisis, and strengthening advocacy organizations that fight for criminal justice reforms. And so much more. In 2014, we set a target to grow NFF’s outstanding loans to $100 million by 2018. We ended 2017 at $114 million.
  • We expanded our work at the intersection of healthcare and social-service delivery, investing $89 million in health and human services organizations. NFF’s more than 200 consulting clients in 2017 included visionary leaders who are lighting the path toward an integrated system that closes health equity gaps, improves long-term health outcomes, and lowers costs by expanding the availability of effective community-based services. We launched AIM Healthy, a $12 million investment capital pool dedicated to supporting the work of such pioneering organizations in California.
  • We drove a national dialogue to accelerate uptake of outcomes-oriented social-system funding that pays for changes in people’s lives rather than counted activities and compliance with red tape. In partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, we anchored this effort in What Matters: Investing in Results to Build Strong, Vibrant Communities, a book and website that share wide-ranging perspectives from practitioners and other experts. We also continued to bring grounded perspective to the Pay for Success field, providing financial and other support to fascinating projects around the country.
  • We expanded our work helping funders and nonprofits find ways out of the enervating “overhead” debate and develop a common pathway to understand all the resources ultimately required to sustain positive social change. We were proud to partner with regional grantmaker associations in California on a statewide initiative around this work.
  • We ended the year with 93 colleagues, the largest team NFF has ever had, and embraced the expanded camaraderie and challenges of operating in an organizational culture centered around our values. We deepened our commitment to building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization and society, adopting a fifth value, “Equity in Action,” and refining our client work, recruitment, procurement, and other operations to manifest that commitment in all we do.
  • We raised $60.5 million in new loan capital to meet community needs, and ended the year with $11.8 million in unrestricted net assets which gives us a financial cushion against external shocks as well as the option to innovate.

We are grateful for the partners who have fostered this success, and most of all for our inspiring clients through whose work we ultimately make a difference.

But these achievements came in an environment of dread and distraction that continues to cloud our sector and our country. This was a year of unprecedented challenges and worry for many individuals and organizations dedicated to championing our country’s most marginalized and vulnerable people and communities.

NFF navigated these uncharted waters guided by our value of Responsiveness, offering free webinars on managing through funding and policy uncertainty, and making more of our insights available for free online. We also redoubled our efforts to understand the fears and constraints facing our clients and their clients, which has proven especially important in our growing work advising organizations led by and serving people from marginalized communities. We designed our 2018 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey to capture and raise up today’s concerns in real time. And we committed to be more courageous, proactive, and vocal advocates in national debates where we have constructive insights to offer.

Beyond our work, the worry and uncertainty was present for many of us on a personal level. The NFF team is three-quarters female and half people of color, draws heavily from immigrant and first-generation American families, includes proudly outspoken LGBTQ members, and celebrates a range of faith traditions. We come to work every day determined to make America a more just and vibrant place for all people. Yet many of us would be excluded from the narrow vision of American identity that has gained frightening prominence at even the highest levels of our national discourse. We had to seek a balance between naivety and despair, while also striving to hold onto our commitment to Generosity of Spirit. We’re still finding our way through these new waters.

We are proud of the work we have done to help NFF thrive and contribute to greater and more important impact. I am personally honored to work alongside courageous and committed colleagues and partners who strive every day to expand the dignity and opportunity of all people in all communities.

We are facing 2018 with greater clarity about the contribution we can and should make, and with stronger insights, resources, culture, and conviction to make it. 

Antony Bugg-Levine