Annual Letter 2018

Think about your heroes. What do they have in common? For me, people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and my grandmother Lydia Levine shared one notable trait: They balanced their outrage at injustice with their optimism that we can make things better. This two-fold motivation kept them moving forward. Seeking that balance was my touchstone at NFF in 2018.

There is certainly no shortage of reasons to be outraged these days. But outrage without optimism is paralyzing. And there is also great cause for optimism. I am honored to work with committed colleagues, clients, and funding partners, and to see people at their best at a time when so much attention focuses on the worst of who we can be.

In 2018, we found optimism in many places:

  • A group of “food is medicine” providers are building a national movement to distribute tasty, medically tailored meals to people with chronic health conditions. This revolution of hope was born from despair in the 1980s, when people across the country found that delivering healthy meals, and love, measurably improved the well-being of neighbors living with HIV/AIDS. Thirty years later, this growing movement serves people with a range of health issues, has shown it saves money when you factor in healthcare costs, and includes partnerships with insurance companies and hospitals. NFF has supported organizations like Boston’s Community Servings  with a loan, tax credit financing, and consulting advice, and is helping to model how this can work on a national scale.
  • In Los Angeles, where voters, service providers, property developers, foundations, and government agencies are rallying around a bold commitment to address the homelessness crisis, NFF financing is helping organizations like Skid Row Housing Trust provide permanent supportive housing and services. And, with the support of local funders including the Hilton Foundation and California Community Foundation as well as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, we are working to highlight capital gaps and how funding systems need to change so that tax revenue and other money can most effectively drive the results we all want.
  • Organizations across the country are welcoming new Americans and working to ensure everyone in our country has access to legal protections and essential services regardless of their birthplace. This year, NFF focused our New Markets Tax Credit allocation in part to support organizations serving immigrants and refugees such as Make the Road New York and Tacoma Community House in Washington State. We are also helping immigrant-serving nonprofits in Los Angeles strengthen their operations, aggregate data, and advocate for future funding through a partnership with the L.A. Justice Fund. Being in a position to support these inspiring organizations is particularly motivating at a time when immigrants are being demonized and victimized. This work is also personally inspiring to me and the many other immigrants who come to work at NFF every day to help play our part to make America the welcoming society we and our parents dreamed of joining and contributing to. 

This is just a small window into the work we were able to do in 2018. On any day, the NFF team could be found almost anywhere in the United States: supporting Black-led dance companies to utilize capital historically denied to them, so they can further elevate their artistry; providing loans for well-run charter schools to expand access to quality education in Memphis and Nashville; supporting health clinics in rural Colorado to adjust to a rapidly changing operating environment; helping a child-welfare provider in Washington State make their case for increased state funding, and much more.

In 2018, NFF made 33 loans to 26 borrowers, investing $68.6 million into projects that raised $301.5 million. We provided consulting services to 204 nonprofits, raised the voices of 3,369 nonprofit leaders through our State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, deepened our partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to convene community leaders to explore how to shift social spending to focus on results, and demonstrated through a partnership with multiple funders in California that we can forge trust and empathy between funders and grantees that lead to better results.

Once again, we ended the year in better financial shape than we began it. Our preliminary 2018 results show that on an unrestricted, operating basis we hit just over $20 million in revenue and $1 million in surplus, exceeding both our projections and our prior year results. Through purposeful work and partnerships with community finance peers, we grew our outstanding loans by 19 percent to $136 million and secured an additional $32 million in new loan capital to fuel this growth. We also received funding from 75 sources including foundations, corporate and government funders, and nonprofit clients. We remain committed to ensuring that our donors, lenders, and clients get the results that their trust in us deserves.

In 2018, we laid out a strategic direction that prioritizes deeper community listening and partnering. We entered 2019 motivated by what is possible while also very aware of how much work we all need to do to expand health equity, end homelessness, and prepare every child to learn and succeed. We remain pragmatic idealists, helping organizations navigate the ways that funding flows today while also advocating for transformations to optimize those flows.

The NFF team getting all this done fills me with inspiration and optimism as they deftly combine financial savvy, social commitment, and generosity of spirit. And beyond our client work, we continue the evermore important, but often difficult, journey of becoming a more inclusive and equitable organization.

Whenever I feel tempted to give in to outrage, I remember how our clients and their clients keep hope even in the face of crisis. With insight, innovation, and commitment, they address pressing needs today while gathering supporters around bold aspirations for the future.

What keeps you optimistic? Please let me know. We can all use the inspiration and perhaps find new ways to support each other’s work.

Antony Bugg-Levine