Investing in Skill Building: The Career Impact Bond

FJC–A Foundation of Philanthropic Funds January 20, 2022

This blog was originally posted at FJC–A Foundation of Philanthropic Funds.

An FJC donor is putting philanthropic dollars to work by investing in economic mobility for low-income workers. The initiative is called the UP Fund, a $50 million pool of catalytic capital raised by the national impact investing nonprofit Social Finance. The goal of the UP Fund is to help low-wage earners secure good jobs in a changing economy, using a model called the Career Impact Bond (CIB).

Through the CIB, impact investors fund training programs that enable students to enroll free of charge. Students complete their training with the aid of wraparound supports, like an option to finance living expenses. If their salary after the program exceeds a certain threshold, they repay program costs as a fixed percentage of their income, capped at a set dollar amount and fixed number of months. Those who don’t obtain meaningful employment following graduation pay nothing.

“I like how the UP Fund aligns incentives to give people a leg up. Workers looking for better skills and higher paying work, the schools that can train them, and us funding the education are all pulling in the same direction.”

– FJC Donor Ted Huber

Social Finance partners with high-quality training programs that upskill workers and help place them into good-paying jobs. One such program is American Diesel Training Centers, a for-profit training company based in Columbus, Ohio, that offers a short, intensive course to train entry-level diesel technicians, mostly for trucking companies and dealerships. (See the New York Times story featuring this partner here). Another partner is Alchemy Code Lab, which increases access to software development careers for those who have traditionally been locked out. The program also aims to increase diversity in the technology sector, particularly for people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Longtime FJC donor Ted Huber invested in the UP Fund through his Donor Advised Fund account at FJC. “I like how the UP Fund aligns incentives to give people a leg up,” explains Huber. “Workers looking for better skills and higher-paying work, the schools that can train them, and us funding the education are all pulling in the same direction. The UP Fund is helping people who otherwise couldn’t afford these training programs.”

“We’re proud to work with creative DAF sponsors like FJC, who make it easy for their donors to invest for measurable social impact.”

– Tracy Palandjian, CEO and Co-Founder of Social Finance

A longtime investment professional, Huber has been interested in supporting initiatives that anticipate recycling philanthropic dollars, providing both social and financial returns. Huber recommended an investment in the Fund via his DAF account, and following approval by FJC’s board committee, the staff at FJC worked with him to execute the investment through Social Finance’s recoverable grant structure. This approach allows DAF account holders to participate in the UP Fund with the same terms as institutional impact investing foundations like Blue Meridian Partners, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and many others.

“The DAF market represents a significant pool of assets already earmarked for charitable purposes—currently more than $170 billion—that largely remain in traditional market-rate investments without a mandate to generate social and/or environmental outcomes,” says Tracy Palandjian, CEO and co-founder of Social Finance. “We’re proud to work with creative DAF sponsors like FJC, who make it easy for their donors to invest for measurable social impact.”

For students looking to sharpen their skills and earn more, the time and expense of training programs can be risky. One of the critical aspects of the UP Fund is that it shares risk among the participants: students, training program providers, and impact investors. As Devon, a participant in the Alchemy Code Lab program, explains, “I was looking for places that had really generous scholarships—something where the funding was significant because there was no way I was going to make that choice without a clear financial path for myself. What was really heartening about the Career Impact Bond was…the safety net. If this all goes wrong, I’m protected.”