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Don Shaffer: Money and Tranformation

--Kozo Hattori, on Nov 21, 2015

For many individuals on the paths of inner and outer transformation, money is a huge obstacle. On a recent Awakin Call, Don Shaffer offered insights how money can serve as a tool for both personal and social transformation.

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.

Don’s inquiry into money and transformation began at the age of 14, he started asking the Wall Street traders and bankers he was caddying for in New Jersey what they did for a living. They couldn’t give him a straight answer. “That was confusing, jarring, and painful to me, because I saw in the culture of our town that the things were changing in large part due to the accumulation of wealth that was happening on Wall Street. That’s where it started. Since then I’ve been really obsessed with learning about how this financial system worked and who it served, and how best might we heal ourselves and our culture from this incredibly powerful pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake.”

This inquiry has lead Don on a lifelong journey that include ventures as a social entrepreneur, over 15 years in senior management positions building social mission companies, and co-founding an action-sports company committed to local and sustainable business practices. From this journey, Shaffer offers some powerful daily practices that anyone can start right now to use money as a means of transformation.

“Show me the money!”

One simple yet revolutionary practice that Don suggests is to “take a slow but steady task to start inquiring into where money is actually going.”

One can ask this question when they purchase something at the store or give money to an institution. “You won't have a chance to be able to see always exactly where your money is going. But if you start to inquire into that and see it as part of your practice, whether it's what you buy at the store, or where you bank, or what you invest in, or what's in your retirement savings, however small they may be.

The point is just to try to come into more contact with where it's going, trying to understand it a little bit more. And ask questions of the people when you go in to open a checking account, or meet with a bank teller, ask them when you are making a deposit, where is this fund going? And see what they say.”

The more we inquire about where our money is going, the more we learn about other people. We start to build relationships.

From Transactions to Relationships

One of the first things one sees at RSF Social Finance website is “Relationships Matter.” RSF is constantly asking the question, “How can we model financial transactions that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships?” Shaffer defines the purpose statement of RSF as “to transform the way the world works with money from transactions to relationships.”



Don views money as “a form of energy that connects human beings in relationships of service.” In this light, money offers us an opportunity to build relationships with every financial interaction.

Every quarter at RSF, investors, borrowers, and the RSF staff meet face to face: “This would be like if you had a checking account or savings account at Bank of America, Wells Fargo, or any other bank, and you got a call one day that said we'd like to come down to the branch next week and meet the people who are using your money, [whom] we are lending your money to, so that you can understand their intentions, their needs, and what they are doing with this form of energy that you have brought to us, the steward. And then they would call the entrepreneurs and invite them down to the branch for the meeting, and say [that] we would like for you to meet the people, whose money that you are borrowing, because banking at RSF is merely a financial intermediary between the investors or savers and entrepreneurs or people who are borrowing the money.”

With this practice, investing and borrowing money becomes just another vehicle to build long-lasting relationships. One can think of one’s money working for them, but not to make more money, but rather to build more community and connection.

Start with the Person in the Mirror



As the President and CEO of RSF, Don emphasizes the importance of being in alignment with the values of the company on a personal level: “we spend a lot of time and energy on our own individual practices and then what we call our culture at RSF. Money brings up very intense feelings for people, whether it's inadequacy, or sense of self-worth, or even traumatic memories of what the role of money played in our relationships as young people. It's fairly intense medium to go into individuals at times. We need to be sensitive to that. Therefore, we develop ourselves as human beings and our capacities.”

Working at a personal level requires one to become aware of what arises when we interact with money: “Our relationship to money, how we show up in money conversations, money relationships, and money transactions is of paramount importance.”

RSF supports this inquiry with discussions, retreats, study groups, and 21 day kindness challenges. They also incorporate artistic activities. Don shares that at “every single board meeting that’s ever been held at RSF, we have the same verse that we read at the beginning of the board meeting; we have time for artistic activity, whether it’s working with clay or acting out doing interpretive dance. This happens at every single board meeting because we feel we can tap into a different place than just our analytical minds in order to come up with the best decision for us.”

These small practices have had profound effects on Shaffer: “it's been an incredible learning journey for me. I had much more limited view of how to work with myself, my own personal spiritual practice, and how I related to money before I got to RSF.”

By example, Don Shaffer proves that money can be a vehicle for transformation. Following these three easy steps of 1) asking where our money goes, 2) moving from transactions to relationships, and 3) focusing on individual practices in relationship to money, one can really transform not only ourselves, but also our society. Shaffer offers optimism on this point, “when each financial transaction is direct, transparent, and personal, it would be possible for an economy based on love and mutual respect to emerge.”