3 Ways to Invest in Your Community

Image from the film It's a Wonderful Life

The appeal of investing in your own community isn’t new. If you’ve seen the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, you’ve witnessed Jimmy Stewart’s heroic speech to stave off a bank run on the Building and Loan Association. (It goes something like this: “I don’t have your money, George! It’s in Harry’s house! And Martha, your savings let the Wilsons build their house!”) Half a century later, you can still put your dollars in a local bank or credit union that invests in your town or region. And though federal regulations limit community-scale stock purchases, there are several other ways to revive the old classic—community investment.

Support Community Enterprise
If you’ve ever bought a share in a local farm’s harvest, you’ve participated in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Now consider Community Supported Enterprise (CSE). In a CSE, your up-front investment in, say, a woodworking shop earns furniture purchases over a period of time. For instance, in Morrisville, Vermont, a CSE saved a local restaurant from going out of business: Each CSE member gave the owner $1,000, and received $90 restaurant coupons every quarter.

Bank on Small Businesses
Members of the Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy (SHARE), a program of the E.F. Schumacher Society, can direct their bank deposits toward loans to local businesses of their choice. Members have lent to businesses like “Rawson Brook goat cheese … or Marty’s Washing Machine Repair Service,” says the SHARE website. Members often know their borrowers by name.

Invest in Community Loan Funds
Community loan and redevelopment funds offer the chance to finance community projects in your region. For instance, Vermont Community Loan Fund (vclf.org) provides loans and grants for affordable housing, community facilities, local businesses, child care programs, and other enterprises “that benefit lower-income Vermonters.” Investors get an interest rate that usually lags a little behind mainstream investments, though it looks generous by current standards.

Jeff Golden wrote this article as part of The New Economy, the Summer 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Jeff is the author of Unafraid: A Novel of the Possible, .

Interested? More ideas for sustainable investment.

Photo of Jeff Golden
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