Community Investing

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on May 23, 2023

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What Is Community Investing?

Community investing refers to the practice of directing capital to underserved communities, supporting local businesses, and promoting social and environmental initiatives.

It seeks to create a positive impact on local communities while generating financial returns for investors.

Community investing is often associated with socially responsible investing and impact investing. The primary purpose of community investing is to foster social, environmental, and economic development in underserved areas.

By providing access to capital, community investing helps create jobs, support local businesses, and improve living conditions. Additionally, it aims to address pressing global challenges such as poverty, inequality, and climate change.

Community investing has its roots in the civil rights movement and the War on Poverty in the United States. It gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s, as socially responsible investing became more popular.

Today, community investing is a growing segment of the investment industry, attracting both institutional and individual investors.

Principles and Strategies of Community Investing

Various principles and strategies guide community investing, ensuring that investments align with social, environmental, and governance goals.

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)

Socially responsible investing (SRI) involves considering the social and environmental impact of investment decisions alongside financial performance.

SRI investors may use negative screening, positive screening, or shareholder advocacy to align their investments with their values. Community investing is a subset of SRI, focusing on investments that directly benefit underserved communities.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Criteria

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of non-financial factors that investors consider when evaluating investment opportunities. ESG criteria help investors assess the sustainability and ethical impact of their investments.

By incorporating ESG criteria, community investors can ensure their investments promote responsible business practices and contribute to long-term value creation.

Impact Investing

Impact investing refers to investments made with the intention of generating measurable social and environmental impact alongside financial returns.

Community investing often overlaps with impact investing, as both seek to address social and environmental challenges through investment. Impact investors may invest in various sectors, such as affordable housing, renewable energy, and education.

Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Approach

The triple bottom line (TBL) approach emphasizes the importance of considering social, environmental, and financial performance when evaluating investments.

TBL encourages investors to assess the full range of impacts their investments have on society, the environment, and the economy.

By adopting a TBL approach, community investors can create well-rounded investment portfolios that generate lasting positive change.

Key Players in Community Investing

Numerous stakeholders contribute to the growth and success of community investing, ranging from financial institutions to individual investors.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are specialized financial institutions that provide capital and financial services to underserved communities.

CDFIs play a crucial role in community investing by financing projects and businesses that promote social, economic, and environmental development. They include community development banks and credit unions, loan funds, and venture capital funds.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are key players in community investing, as they often identify investment opportunities and act as intermediaries between investors and local projects.

NGOs may also provide technical assistance, capacity-building, and impact measurement support to community investment projects. Through their local knowledge and networks, NGOs help ensure that investments have a tangible impact on communities.

Socially Responsible Investment Firms

Socially responsible investment firms are investment management companies that incorporate ESG, SRI, or impact investing principles into their investment strategies.

These firms play a crucial role in community investing by offering investment products and services that cater to the needs of socially conscious investors.

By doing so, they help channel capital towards projects and businesses that contribute to social and environmental well-being.

Government Agencies

Government agencies can influence community investing through policy, regulation, and funding. They may offer incentives, grants, or tax credits to encourage investment in underserved communities or sustainable projects.

Additionally, government agencies may collaborate with other key players, such as CDFIs and NGOs, to facilitate community investing and maximize its impact.

Individual Investors

Individual investors can participate in community investing by allocating a portion of their investment portfolio to community investment projects, businesses, or funds.

By doing so, they contribute to the growth of the community investing market and help drive positive change in underserved areas.

Individual investors can access community investment opportunities through various channels, such as community development loan funds, credit unions, or socially responsible mutual funds.

Investment Vehicles and Instruments

A variety of investment vehicles and instruments allow investors to participate in community investing, each with its unique features and benefits.

Community Development Loan Funds

Community development loan funds are non-profit organizations that provide financing to businesses, organizations, and individuals in underserved communities.

These funds typically offer loans at competitive rates and flexible terms, catering to the unique needs of borrowers in the community.

Investors can support community development loan funds by providing capital, which is then deployed to finance local projects and businesses.

Community Development Credit Unions

Community development credit unions are member-owned financial cooperatives that serve low-income and underserved communities. They provide affordable financial services, such as savings accounts, loans, and financial education, to their members.

Investors can support community development credit unions by becoming members, depositing funds, or investing in specific community projects.

Community Development Venture Capital Funds

Community development venture capital funds are investment funds that provide equity financing to small and medium-sized businesses in underserved communities.

These funds aim to promote economic growth, job creation, and social development by investing in businesses with high growth potential.

Investors can participate in community development venture capital funds by investing in the fund itself or by co-investing in specific portfolio companies.

Microfinance Institutions

Microfinance institutions provide small loans, savings accounts, and other financial services to low-income individuals and businesses, primarily in developing countries.

By offering access to capital, microfinance institutions help entrepreneurs start or expand businesses, contributing to economic growth and poverty reduction.

Investors can support microfinance institutions by investing in microfinance funds, purchasing microfinance-backed securities, or providing direct loans.

Socially Responsible Mutual Funds

Socially responsible mutual funds are investment funds that incorporate ESG, SRI, or impact investing principles into their portfolio selection process.

Some of these funds may focus specifically on community investing, targeting investments that benefit underserved communities or support social and environmental projects.

Investors can access community investment opportunities by purchasing shares of socially responsible mutual funds that align with their values and impact goals.

Benefits of Community Investing

Community investing offers numerous benefits, addressing social, environmental, and economic challenges while providing financial returns for investors.

Social Impact

By directing capital to underserved communities, community investing can help reduce poverty and improve living conditions. Investments in local businesses, infrastructure, and social services create jobs, raise incomes, and contribute to overall economic development.

Community investing can support projects that improve access to education and healthcare in underserved areas.

By financing schools, clinics, and other social services, investors can help enhance the quality of life and promote long-term development in these communities.

Community investing empowers local communities by providing them with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.

By supporting community-led initiatives and fostering local leadership, investors can help build resilient and self-sufficient communities that are better equipped to address their own challenges.

Environmental Impact

Community investing can contribute to climate change mitigation by financing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or promote clean energy.

Investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transportation can help combat climate change while generating financial returns.

By supporting projects that promote sustainable resource management, community investing can help conserve natural resources and protect ecosystems.

Investments in sustainable agriculture, forestry, and water management can contribute to long-term environmental sustainability.

Community investing can help reduce pollution by supporting businesses and projects that adopt environmentally friendly practices.

Investments in clean technology, waste management, and pollution control can improve environmental quality and public health in underserved communities.

Economic Impact

Community investing stimulates job creation by providing capital to local businesses and projects. This, in turn, generates employment opportunities, raises incomes, and contributes to overall economic growth in underserved areas.

By financing local businesses, community investing can help spur entrepreneurship and innovation in underserved communities. These investments can provide the necessary resources for businesses to grow, scale, and contribute to the local economy.

Community investing can support infrastructure development in underserved areas by financing projects such as affordable housing, transportation, and utilities.

Improved infrastructure can enhance the quality of life, facilitate economic growth, and attract additional investment to these communities.

Challenges and Risks in Community Investing

While community investing offers numerous benefits, it also presents certain challenges and risks that investors should consider.

Measuring Social and Environmental Impact

One of the main challenges in community investing is measuring the social and environmental impact of investments. Quantifying impact can be complex and time-consuming, and standardized methodologies and metrics are still emerging.

Investors must carefully assess the impact of their investments to ensure they achieve their intended goals.

Balancing Financial Returns and Impact Goals

Community investing often involves balancing financial returns with social and environmental impact goals.

Some investments may generate lower financial returns in exchange for greater impact, while others may offer competitive returns with moderate impact.

Investors must carefully consider their risk tolerance, return expectations, and impact objectives when building their community investment portfolios.

Regulatory and Compliance Issues

Community investing can involve navigating complex regulatory and compliance issues, particularly when investing across borders or in highly regulated sectors.

Investors must stay informed about the relevant regulations and ensure that their investments comply with all applicable laws and standards.

Lack of Standardization and Transparency

The community investing landscape can be characterized by a lack of standardization and transparency, making it difficult for investors to compare investment opportunities and assess their impact.

Improved reporting, disclosure, and standardization can help address these challenges and promote more informed decision-making among investors.

Managing Investment Risks

Like any investment, community investing carries risks that investors must carefully manage. These risks may include credit risk, market risk, liquidity risk, and currency risk, among others.

To mitigate these risks, investors should diversify their portfolios, conduct thorough due diligence, and monitor their investments closely.

Benefits, Challenges and Risks in Community Investing


Community investing offers a way for investors to generate financial returns while creating positive social, environmental, and economic impact in underserved communities.

By providing access to capital and financing local businesses and projects, community investing can help reduce poverty, improve living conditions, and stimulate economic growth.

Furthermore, community investing can contribute to climate change mitigation, sustainable resource management, and pollution control.

Despite the numerous benefits of community investing, investors should be aware of the challenges and risks involved, such as measuring social and environmental impact, balancing financial returns with impact goals, navigating complex regulatory and compliance issues, lack of standardization and transparency, and managing investment risks.

By carefully assessing investment opportunities, diversifying their portfolios, and staying informed about the relevant regulations and standards, investors can help maximize the positive impact of their community investments.

Community Investing FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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