Cooperative Economics | "Impact-First" Investing | Transformative Leadership

The Church Real Estate Problem

I was just looking through some old emails and found this framing for a gathering I pulled together two years ago. This description of the “Church Real Estate Problem” continues to be a major opportunity for church leaders and impact-first investors. I’ve seen a number of real estate developers and consultants emerge in this landscape which affirms my hunch about the size of the market.

My colleague Elizabeth Garlow and I are starting to map how “Religious Assets in Transition” could emerge as an important opportunity for impact-first investors. Right now it appears that catalytic capital is essential to helping make sense of the kinds of pre-development work that makes real estate repurposing responsive to the social mission of a congregation.

What are your hunches about what is needed?

What questions should we be asking as churches recalibrate with public health at the forefront of our minds?

The Church Real Estate Problem:

  • $500 billion in underutilized, inefficiently managed church property (Thrivent Financial informal research)
  • Most of the money spent to manage these assets (and other assets) doesn’t align with our values, faith vision or social commitments

Church Economic Decision-Makers unconsciously separate Financial Decisions from Social Analysis and the hopes/values/vision of their Ministries

  • Too often we let near-term needs and status quo “conventional wisdom” guide our decision-making, not recognizing the ways these billions in annual spending unconsciously shape our communities 
  • Many churches are seeking tangible ways to help in: creation care, care for immigrants, living wage, anti-racism work, and other community ministries.
  • The top economic decision-makers at our churches consider these social ministries separate from the church finances and property management. 

The CPA Co-op as One Solution

  • A holistic approach to thinking about our economic actions (purchasing and investing?), in ways that help make progress healing wounds and divisions, and promoting justice and equity. 
  • While helping church decision-makers continue meeting near-term needs, (even improve performance and quality of service delivery), make progress towards longer term goals.
  • The co-op brings a values-integrated framework into vendor evaluation, making it easier for church decision-makers to get the needed market insight, guarantees around service and price that minimize the risk of making changes, and make decisions more aligned with their justice, creation care, racial equity, and community vision. 
  • The result: CPA Co-op Member churches manage time more efficiently. They more cost effectively manage their properties, while ALSO integrating their social values into more of their economic and property-related decisions.

What’s our 2018 Experience Look like?

  • 107 collaborated on $16.9 million. In 2018, 107 CPA Co-op Member-owners collaborated on $16.9 Million in contracts/purchases in 10 purchasing areas (energy, facility management, security, copiers).
  • 57% went to minority businesses. $9.6 million from these churches and schools went to Black and LatinX-owned-businesses. For example, meet Traveon Smith, founder of LGC Security who grew from 3 to 100 employees. Meet Gladys Martinez, from Bolivia who runs a Janitorial company serving our member churches. 
  • 40 solar projects were installed (and financed off the balance sheet) in ways that strengthened each church’s near-term and long-term financial position. 
  • Collective action against excessive fees. Companies often use their power to charge fees often increasing fair-market prices by 20%, 50%, even 80%+ in some cases. As a co-op, we fought back in December and won against a pretty large energy company.  
  • A relational culture that creates tension. Our culture at CPA Co-op “brings diverse collectives together and allows them to embrace the tension of living between the ‘world as it is’ and the ‘world as it should be.”

My Questions for You 

As CPA Co-op looks at significant growth in the next few years and a deep desire contribute more meaningfully to the bigger church economics and church real estate problems / questions:

  • What role do you see we might be most constructive in playing? 
  • Where do you think we might be able to contribute most? 
  • What potential collaborators / similar creative organizations do you think we should be talking to? 
  • Who else might have some really helpful advice / insight for us as we try to look at the big picture and try to discern our unique gifts and abilities and the world’s greatest needs? 
  • What risks / challenges do you see on the horizon over the next 5-10 years? What about 20-30 years? 
  • Where do you think we may be able to really help in moving the needle on some of the difficult trends we’re facing?

Invitees to February 2019 Gathering 

  • Dave Odom, Executive Director of Faith & Leadership, Duke Divinity School
  • Sara Hunt, Head of Christian Engagement, Thrivent Financial’s Church Solutions Group
  • Martin Trimble, Supervising Organizer MD-DC-VA-NC, Metro IAF
  • Paul Hazen, Executive Director, US Overseas Cooperative Dev Council/ Former CEO of NCBA CLUSA
  • Chris Crothers, Program Officer, Jessie Ball duPont Fund (funder of CPA Co-op)
  • Ann Fedorcak, VP, Specialty Finance, National Cooperative Bank (investor in CPA Co-op)
  • Kathleen Hall, Director, Episcopal Diocese of Washington
  • Rebecca Yarborogh, Deacon and Senior Advisor, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina
  • Paul Eichelberger, Treasurer / CFO, Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • Jessicah Duckworth, Program Director, Lilly Endowment
  • Alison Powers, Program Officer, Capital Impact Partners
  • Tucker Bartlett, Executive Vice President, Self Help Ventures Fund
  • Rosemary Mahoney, Former CEO, CoMetrics
  • Rev. Rachel Cornwell, Director, James Company
  • Paul Bradley, Executive Director, Resident Owned Communities / ROC USA
  • Doug O’Brien, Executive Director, NCBA CLUSA
  • Nathan Schneider, Journalist / Author / Asst. Professor, Univ. of Colorado – Boulder
  • Greg Brodsky, Founder,
  • Steven Irvin, President & CEO, Amicus Solar
  • Esteban Kelly, Executive Director, US Federation of Worker Co-ops

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