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Awakin Calls » Don Shaffer

Don Shaffer: Social Investor
Oct 31, 2015: Money as Spiritual Energy and Community Connector



Read: Call Transcript (Also: Don Shaffer: Money and Tranformation)

Don Shaffer serves as President & CEO of RSF Social Finance, a San Francisco-based socially responsible investment firm that serves borrowers committed to sustainable practices and investors who value community impact as well as profit. As leaders in social finance and social impact investment, Don and the team at RSF are focused on transforming the way the world works with money. In a world where our financial system can be described as complex, opaque, and anonymous, based on short-term outcomes, RSF is constantly asking the question, “How can we model financial transactions that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships?” RSF addresses this question with its innovative investing, lending, and giving services which provide capital to See full.
Don Shaffer serves as President & CEO of RSF Social Finance, a San Francisco-based socially responsible investment firm that serves borrowers committed to sustainable practices and investors who value community impact as well as profit. As leaders in social finance and social impact investment, Don and the team at RSF are focused on transforming the way the world works with money. In a world where our financial system can be described as complex, opaque, and anonymous, based on short-term outcomes, RSF is constantly asking the question, “How can we model financial transactions that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships?” RSF addresses this question with its innovative investing, lending, and giving services which provide capital to non-profit and for-profit social enterprises addressing key issues in the areas of Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship.

The framework of ideas that inspire RSF Social Finance are a series of economics lectures given in 1922 by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and scientist whose work influenced a number of fields, including agriculture, education, medicine, science, architecture, spiritual development, and social theory. RSF Social Finance is founded on the belief that money has a deeply spiritual dimension and is a form of energy that connects one person to another and strengthens the bonds of community.

Since 1984, RSF has made over $275 million in loans, with a 100% repayment rate to investors, and facilitated over $100 million in grants. Under Don’s leadership, RSF’s total assets have grown 40% in the past three years, to over $160 million. RSF has also incubated, sponsored, and influenced many of the most innovative social entrepreneurs in the field, including New Resource Bank, Imprint Capital, Social Venture Network and Investors Circle. Today, RSF offers investing, lending, and giving services to individuals and enterprises committed to improving society and the environment. It currently has over 1,600 clients who seek to help redirect the flow of money from global capital markets to local ones.

Don has been a social entrepreneur for many years. Prior to joining RSF in 2007, Don served as Executive Director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), developing it into an alliance of over 15,000 independently owned businesses across the U.S. and Canada. He also served as Interim Executive Director of Investors’ Circle, a network of angel investors, professional venture capitalists, foundations, family offices, and others who invest private capital into companies addressing social and environmental issues. Don’s experience includes over 15 years in senior management positions building social mission companies. He co-founded Comet Skateboards, a designer and manufacturer of premium skateboarding products committed to local and sustainable business practices. Earlier in his career, Don led sales, marketing, business development, and general operations teams in the education and software sectors. In 2010, Don was named MVP of B Lab for his successful advocacy efforts to add the “B” corporation classification.  

Don says that “we’re seeing a new kind of investor emerge, who instead of just saying what they don’t want to invest in – tobacco or firearms or what have you – wants to find things to invest in that are doing good, not just doing less bad. This new profile of investor ideally wants their money to be working as directly as possible. They want to be able to see and touch and feel the results of what their investments are doing.”

Don grew up in central New Jersey, and comes from a long line of Quaker farmers and small business owners in and around Philadelphia. Today, Don lives in Berkeley, California with his wife Jennifer and their two children Sabine and Samuel. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in American History.


Five Questions for Don

What Makes You Come Alive?
Questioning assumptions. Really good teamwork. Tuesday morning assemblies at my daughter's school (where we sing along to Thich Nhat Hanh poems put to music). Telemark skiing. Old-growth forests. Biodynamic farms. The spiritual geographies of northern California, northern New Mexico, Hawaii, parts of British Columbia, Tompkins County New York, etc. Feeling like it's increasing possible that people will transform how the world works with money within the next generation or two - by only engaging in transactions that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
My first job: caddying (carrying golf bags) for Wall Street bankers & traders when I was 14 years old. I was confronted with a money culture based on transactions, not relationships. This was jarring and disorienting and deeply painful to me. These were people who held an extraordinary amount of wealth and power in society, and yet could not explain clearly to me what they did every day.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
An hour after my dad died three years ago, I received a transmission from him, in which he said, "Keep going" and "Don't be so hard on yourself".

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
The other day my wife Jennifer told me about a Danish word that is really hard to translate into English because it means "when your family becomes a living organism that is cozy and intimate". I know what this is, but I want to feel it more.

One-line Message for the World?
Breathe, and be open, really open, to what's possible.


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