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Alumnus offers investment options with triple bottom lines


Don Shaffer '91 isn't just after a double-digit return on his investments. He's passionate about supporting companies that do good.

As president and CEO of RSF Social Finance, Shaffer helps directs capital to innovative, "purpose-driven" enterprises while providing positive returns to 1,100 investors. The San Francisco nonprofit is careful to invest in companies that provide a triple bottom line. "Our investors are looking for low volatility and a very substantial social and environmental return on their money," said Shaffer, who earned a bachelor's degree in American history from the College of Arts and Sciences. "And our assets are up 15 percent in the last 12 months."

Since 1984, RSF has provided $200 million in loans and $90 million in grants to social mission organizations. Its loan portfolio has doubled in the last three years to $75 million, said Shaffer, an adviser of Entrepreneurship@Cornell.

For RSF to consider investment, a company must show a commitment to social entrepreneurship through its governance, employee policies, social and environmental principles and relationships with its community, suppliers and others. RSF's investment portfolio includes EcoTimber, the nation's largest sustainable hardwood and bamboo flooring company, and Small Potatoes Urban Delivery, or SPUD, a leading organic food delivery service.

"The quality and quantity of social entrepreneurship ventures are going up rapidly," says Shaffer. This increase can be attributed to a number of factors, Shaffer said, including a growing awareness of problems related to global climate change and young graduates who seek more meaning in their work and want more control over their careers. "It used to be wealth now, philanthropy later," Shaffer said. "That's not the case anymore."

Shaffer fits that profile. Prior to joining RSF two years ago, he was executive director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a network of more than 20,000 independently owned businesses across the United States 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 in companies addressing social and environmental issues.

He also has more than 15 years of senior management experience in several companies, including Comet Skateboards, a company Shaffer and Jason Salfi '92 started in Ithaca that uses local and sustainable business practices.

Shaffer said it was his years at Cornell that opened his eyes to the beauty of the environment and also to social causes, although he never considered himself an activist, he said. "I started to really care and connect the dots about how economic and social policies benefit some people, but don't benefit others."

Kathy Hovis is a writer with Entrepreneurship@Cornell.


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