Letter from the President – Lessons Learned

Sarah MahlabUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Canopy was created to do the pioneering work of developing a community investing ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. We collaborate with disparate stakeholders and actively work to connect public and private capital to produce mission-driven impact across the region. Our legal structure, a member owned LLC funded by membership commitments, represents both the complexity of stakeholders in the ecosystem and limitations presented by current legal structures as we seek to deploy investment capital in innovative ways. Our ambitious goals centered on building a financially sustainable business model that could be replicated in communities across the country.

Canopy’s work generated lots of interest and excitement. Early on, there were tangible ways to demonstrate value and strategically leverage work being done both internally and through our strategic partners. We provided investment fund managers with training to increase their capacity and shorten their time to market. We mapped the community investment ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past year, we’ve built momentum and curated opportunities that confirmed the need for our collaborative regional investing model. However, that momentum never materialized into enough tangible membership revenues. The widespread interest in following our work and observing the infrastructure being built was not followed by market participation.

Why? In part it was because Canopy’s broad membership model was too big of a bite. We weren’t successful in finding enough investors to cover the infrastructure costs necessary to do our work at scale. The market was instead interested in ways to access discrete areas of our service offering. Based on our commitment to building a sustainable business model, Canopy is now taking a step back to evaluate our initial findings and decide on the road ahead. Our founders remain committed to our initial vision, and Canopy will temporarily transition to The Russell Family Foundation while we figure out what comes next.

These are challenging problems to address but the potential benefits to our communities are significant. We need market-based mechanisms to play a major role in developing these solutions and creating structures that integrate community voices with public and private capital. Community investing and economic development is complicated work and we need diversity of thought, practice, and experience at the table. Canopy’s core team reflected that diversity by design. Together we were able to make great initial strides and lay the groundwork for a new regional investing model.

As Canopy pauses to reflect and refine our service model, I want to thank the founders for their leadership and vision. Canopy’s small team – Brad Harrison, Sarah Mahlab, and Lauren Sato – stands as a great example of how much progress a small group of dedicated people can make together. We also owe much of our initial success to Canopy’s strategic partners, who in many cases stretched their own work to partner with us.

Reflecting back on these early days at Canopy, I am most grateful for the opportunity to work with the many committed people across the Northwest who, in different ways and through different organizations, make a meaningful impact in their own communities. The momentum we all feel for empowering communities and supporting place-based impact investing is real and just now starting to take shape. We must continue to challenge ourselves and each other to move forward as active market participants, not simply market observers.

With respect,
Craig Muska

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