Month: March 2014

When a new nonprofit is founded, it’s usually someone’s cousin or friend who gets the task of designing the new logo. They do the best job they can and the organization eagerly eats it up, grateful that one more thing is done. Even if they don’t realize it, the staff quickly adopts a brand identity created around that logo. With flyers and websites and presentations all using the same fonts and color schemes, they strive for making everything look like it has a sense of belonging. But after a while, the organization usually comes into its own and that old look just can’t keep up. Who the organization is now no longer matches the colors, fonts and visual style that it needs to represent itself to the world.

Mission Asset Fund old logo
Our 2007 logo

MAF, the nonprofit in San Francisco where I work, is no exception. About seven years ago, we were started by an amazing group of community advocates. When the Levi Strauss Company, a long-time neighborhood employer, closed its last factory in San Francisco, community leaders and the company forged together to imagine a new kind of future. With proceeds from the sale, they would create a new nonprofit to help low-income residents of the Mission District. And so Mission Asset Fund was formed. And a spouse of one of those community leaders created our first logo. When I look at the first logo, I imagine our members looking at the growth of their bank accounts over time, meeting various milestones along the way.

But that was seven years ago, when the nonprofit had two employees, a few dozen clients and brand new programs. Now it’s seven years and several awards later and our social loans can still be found in the Mission District, but also in six other U.S. states. The old look with rigid building blocks has broadened into a larger tapestry of people, communities and nonprofits working to build a fair financial marketplace, together.

What colors your organization wears are meaningful.

Pink, a color that in the 19th century was reserved for the clothing of young boys, is now “only for girls,” according to my five-year-old son. Pink is also now associated with a nationwide network of breast cancer advocacy. For MAF, the dark blues of our first logo indicate knowledge, power, integrity and seriousness. But as anyone who knows us, we’re also agile, community-based and not afraid to change the conversation.

If a brand is everything someone says or knows about your organization, a logo is like a team uniform.

MAF_Logo Full size
Our new logo

So year after year, even as your body grows and your mind matures, you can still be stuck wearing a uniform stitched together in 2007 back when the Sopranos faded to black. This time, we know where we’re going and we know how to get there. So we worked with the amazingly creative team at Digital Telepathy to come up with a uniform that fits who we are now.

We’ve traded the rigid shapes and dark blues for vibrant Pantone colors of varying sizes, energetic aqua blues, bright grass greens, rich purples.

We think our new look does a better job of showing the world what our vision for change is all about.

What does it say to you?

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Jan Stürmann, a videographer based out of San Francisco, produced four awesome new videos highlighting MAF’s programs and how social lending really transforms people’s lives. He was gracious enough to share his thoughts with me on capturing our story and what he learned from the experience.

What is your process like when you begin a new video/storytelling project?

JanStürmann4X4

The first part is trying to get some sense of the story the client is trying to tell (which the real story is often only emerges in the editing process.) Then it’s identifying the key people who can tell this story. Before an interview I try to let my curiosity be my guide in generating a list of questions to ask. I find writing a script is generally not very helpful. It’s by engaging in a conversation, whilst trying to ignore the camera, that the surprising details emerge. Once I have the interview, I get it transcribed and from there build a first draft script. Then, ideally, I go back and shoot b-roll footage, which is what I lay over the interview.

Community and relationships are two important values for Mission Asset Fund. How did you try to capture those concepts in the videos?

I try to work as unobtrusively as I can, normally alone, so what ever interaction can happen as naturally as possible. My direction is never going to be as good as some surprise happening spontaneously. My job is to be attentive to those moments.

Was there a particular video you had the most enjoyable or interesting experience putting together?

It’s always a privilege to be invited into a world I’m unfamiliar with and to be trusted with people’s stories. On the surface a topic like money and credit seems boring. But talking honestly about money is one of the last taboos in our culture. Personally I’m very interested about how we interact with money. So being able to indulge that interest professionally was very gratifying for me.

Did you find it difficult to visualize financial concepts like credit and loans in an engaging way?

What I did not want to do going into this project was create a boring video filled with a lot of graphs and charts. The trick was to figure out how to find the stories behind the graphs and charts. We all grapple with money daily with varying degrees of awareness.

You can view the videos to explore the communities and projects that MAF is involved with at following links: The Power of OpportunityEveryone Deserves a Shot at Success, Creating a Fair Financial Marketplace, and  Building Credit, Building Communities

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Edgar did something a few weeks ago that he had been dreaming of for the past two years. On a sunny day in San Francisco’s Mission District, Edgar walked into the Social Security Administration Office and began to fill out an application. You may remember Edgar and his partner Gustavo from when they were first profiled in the Bay Area Reporter. Mission Asset Fund and The Bay Area Reporter have been closely following Edgar and Gustavo’s two year journey.

Edgar and Gustavo had been chasing the American dream for most of their lives. A dream, that until recently, they thought could never come true. As children, they immigrated with their parents to the United States seeking opportunities and a better life. When they arrived they joined 11 million other undocumented immigrants living in the United States trying to get by.

Edgar and Gustavo at the Mission Asset Fund Office. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)
Edgar and Gustavo at the Mission Asset Fund Office. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Chasing the American Dream

Two years ago, Edgar never thought he would one day be on track to realize his American Dream. Gustavo and Edgar’s lives had been severely limited by their undocumented status.  Edgar’s childhood dream of being a teacher had been put on indefinite hold after high school. He had been accepted to U.C. Berkeley, but was unable to enroll because undocumented students cannot access conventional loans or federal financial student aid.

Once joining the working world, Edgar was an exemplary employee, earning the respect of his coworkers and was recognized by his supervisors for his strong work ethic. All of this fell apart when he was offered a promotion. Edgar was unable to produce the documentation that the company requested and he was forced to leave

Gustavo was also unable to attend college and could only secure work after high school cleaning people’s houses, laboring for long hours and little pay.

Another challenge Edgar faced as an undocumented immigrant was being separated from his two young children. Without documentation, neither Gustavo nor Edgar can get on a plane to bring them home to San Francisco. Gustavo has only been able to talk with his children periodically on the phone. Gustavo and Edgar wait for the day that they would be reunited with the children to make their family whole.

A New Opportunity

In early 2012, Edgar and Gustavo’s lives would change forever when the Obama Administration announced a new program that would offer protection from deportation and permission to work for some undocumented youth living in the United States who had arrived before they turned 16 who had not yet turned 31.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was the opportunity they had been waiting for. Like many of the other undocumented people living in the United States Edgar and Gustavo were living unbanked and under constant financial hardship. They lived from paycheck to paycheck, and the four hundred and sixty five dollar application fee was seemingly out of reach. Edgar and Gustavo were determined to find a way to cover the costs.

Joining a Circle

Through friends and the SF LGBT Center, Edgar and Gustavo learned about the Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circle for Dreamers program. Lending Circles for Dreamers program provides zero-interest loans that allowed Edgar and Gustavo, and many other like them, access the four hundred and sixty five dollars they needed to cover the application fees. Over the course of the ten month program, participants take online financial training classes and build credit as they repay the loan. When participants are ready to apply for DACA, Mission Asset Fund gives them a check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The two year journey to the Social Security Office for Edgar and Gustavo was filled with mountains of paperwork and miles of red tape. A now resolved paperwork issue forced Gustavo’s application to be put on hold for weeks, while a filing error forced Edgar to restart his application. Through it all, Gustavo and Edgar have always had each other for support. Now they have documentation, community, and credit history.

With their new ability to access the financial mainstream, they are one step closer to achieving their goals. The Lending Circle for Dreamers program and DACA have opened up the possibilities for Edgar and Gustavo. Edgar will now be able to go back to school, unite his family, and find stable work. As the ink dries on his Social Security application, Edgar’s dream is finally becoming reality.

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Last month I joined Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) in Sacramento to introduce an important piece of legislation that will elevate the work of nonprofits who create pathways to the financial mainstream for underserved communities. Senate Bill 896 recognizes 501c3 nonprofits in California that offer affordable, credit building loans for individuals.

Sn. Lou Correa, Alicia Villanueva, Jose Quinonez, Marisabel Torres, Jorge Blandon
Sn. Lou Correa, Alicia Villanueva, Jose Quinonez, Marisabel Torres, Jorge Blandon

I brought with me Alicia Villanueva, Lending Circle member and entrepreneur, who was eager to share her success story. Alicia loves to say that her tamales are stuffed with love, and the best people are stuffed with her tamales. When Alicia first started her business, she and her young son Pedro would walk door to door, rain or shine, to sell their tamales. On a good week they may have made two hundred dollars in profit, barely enough to pay their rent. Alicia believed in her business but because she had accrued debt, traditional lenders wouldn’t take a chance investing in her.

Creating access

Alicia was not alone, fifty percent of Latino immigrants in the Mission did not have a checking account, and forty-four percent of mission households had no credit history. No mainstream bank would be willing to give a loan to someone without a credit score. When a family is living paycheck-to-paycheck they have little to no opportunity to build good credit, save money, or access the mainstream banking system.

People like Alicia, are forced to obtain high interest pay day loans or cash advances from predatory lenders. By establishing a licensing exemption within California’s Finance Lenders Law (CFLL), SB 896 will recognize and uplift nonprofits that have created highly effective programs by providing financially excluded communities’ greater access to affordable small-dollar loans and other services that create pathways into the financial mainstream.

Alicia’s experience as one of our Lending Circle participants was the turning point for her business. She accessed a thousand dollar, zero-interest, social-loan to purchase cooking equipment and to put a down payment on a food cart. What started as a labor of love has evolved into a thriving business, with eight employees who produce more than three thousand tamales a week. Alicia frequently caters events, and her tamales will soon be featured at the hot bar at the local Whole Foods.

Gathering Support

Marisabel Torres of NCLR
Marisabel Torres of NCLR

We are thrilled to announce that sixteen organizations have joined us to support SB 896. We have received letters of support from groups including Opportunity FundNCLR and the Center for Asset Building Opportunities. San Francisco Supervisor David Campos has also written a letter of support.

Without programs like Lending Circles, Alicia’s dreams of running her own business would have been impossible. Alicia was able to access capital safely and build her credit and confidence through our financial management training. She also received support from another nonprofit organization, La Cocina. SB 896 will provide more people with the opportunities they need for a fair shot at success.

Alicia is working hard on a business plan that will transform her bustling food cart into a brick and mortar restaurant. With the support she received from Mission Asset Fund she are moving towards achieving her goal. With the successful passage of SB 896 we will see more low-income Californians, like Alicia, accessing loans and building their financial stability to realize their dreams.

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As a recent college grad myself, I know that just because I have a credit score doesn’t mean it’s a good one. In fact, many of my peers and I are learning that having a good credit score translates into direct savings in our pockets as we start thinking about financing larger purchases and investments. It turns out that the majority of MAF’s clients who take out one of our social loans actually start with much lower (or nonexistent) credit scores than the nation as a whole, meaning that if they have access to loan products their paying a lot for them. That’s because, for people with low credit scores or very limited credit histories, even a small positive change can have a large impact on the interest rates for important lines of credit such as car loans, mortgages, and even credit cards.

A credit score doesn’t just determine if you get approved for a credit card, but also how much interest you pay.

Most of our clients start with credit scores below the national distribution. As we can see in the chart below, the median credit score of one of our members is around 650, while the national median is somewhere closer to 720. That translates into much higher borrowing costs for our participants.

Our programs include both access to social loans as well as financial management training, which helps enable people to take the first step in towards gaining access to more affordable credit. Often lack of or low credit gets talked about in terms of lack of  access. It’s true that if you don’t either don’t have a score or have a very low score you won’t have access to the same type of financial products as those with established histories. But even if those with nonexistent or poor credit who do have access to these products will pay substantially more for them. I’ve laid out how much you’d be expected to pay for various loan products depending on your credit score in the infographic below:

Social Loans Enable Affordable Credit Credit Distribution

By making positive payments on their social loans, participants are improving their credit one step at a time. A higher credit score means lower borrowing costs for debt. If  hard-working people with limited or damaged credit want a chance at avoiding sub-prime rates, then using low-cost financial products like a social loan, paying back loans on time, and saving are all great places to start.

Social Loans MAF affordable credit infographic

Remember, responsible low-cost credit (like social loans) builds responsible, reputable borrowers!

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Five years ago, we never could have imagined releasing this publication. When MAF first started it’s social lending program, Lending Circles, we had no idea where it would go. We were just trying out a new idea. But then that idea grew its own legs. It growing and expanding – all the way from one neighborhood in San Francisco to five U.S. states.

We’re excited to release this online magazine taking you through a tour of five years.

You can read for the first time our founder’s story. Jose Quinonez, our CEO, has an amazing story in this booklet about a young boy’s journey of opportunity and growth starting with a job at a flea market.

You’ll also find inspiring stories of lives that were changed by social lending. Read about one of our members, Christina Ruiz, who runs the amazing fashion truck in San Francisco called TopShelf Boutique (and be sure to visit her when you’re near San Francisco’s Crocker Galleria). Isa Hopkins wrote about her in the Grist Magazine article “Peer to Peer Lending Cuts out the Wall Street Middlemen“. For Christina, her first career as a bartender meant her finances were “cash-only”.

But what happens when a cash-only bartender wants to launch a fashion truck and needs a business loan from a bank?

You can also read about Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, the dynamic Executive Director of the Pilipino Worker’s Center in Los Angeles. Everyday she helps low-income live-in domestic workers find ways to save money from their paychecks so they’ll be OK if a job ends unexpectedly. The staff PWC is a tight-knit community who gets serious stuff done. They are our only partner who runs all of our social loan programs: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Dreamers, Lending Circles for Citizenship and Security Deposit Loans. Their members affectionately call “Lending Circles” by its Filipino name, “Paluwagan”.   

But as everyone knows, great stories aren’t everything. Results matter, too.

That’s why you’ll also find great infographics showing how many millions people are saving by reducing high-cost debt. You’ll see average credit score increases and see what kind of a growth trajectory we’ve been on.

Bookletcapture
Click to check it out

Where do you think we will go next?

 

 

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