Impact investors were once a rare breed who inevitably raised eyebrows at the financial advisor’s office. These forward-thinking pioneers asked tough questions about how their money impacted people and the planet and paved the way for expansive growth in impact investing over the past 15 years. They proved the heart can collaborate with the head and that it is indeed possible to get a competitive return without sacrificing core values.
With Millennials beginning to inherit the fortunes of yesteryear and awareness of global concerns ever-increasing, impact investing is at an all-time high. And thank goodness — we need purpose-driven enterprises now more than ever. Commerce as a vehicle for positive social, environmental, and political reform is an integral part of finding solutions to global challenges, as it encourages and rewards true innovation. Of course, that innovation must be financed, but luckily impact investors are in search of somewhere smart to put their money.
The number of options for impact investors continues to skyrocket, but just like their traditional counterparts, not all impact investment opportunities are created equal. It’s well known that 90 percent of startups fail — increasing the risk for impact investors who, on the whole, tend to support early-stage social entrepreneurs. In short: impact investors must choose wisely.
The Inside Job of Investing
Deciding where to invest our money is a more personal journey than it may initially appear to be. The most common approach to creating an investment portfolio is to evaluate the standard metrics for risk and market assessment, typically outlined in an array of statistics and graphs. This detailed analysis certainly satisfies the mind, but rarely does it meet the needs of the heart.
Despite my mentioning it more than once already in this article, heart isn’t a word often exchanged at impact investor gatherings — but it is implied. The bottom line is that impact investors care. They care about making a difference. They care about the next seven generations. They care about the role they play in this pivotal chapter of human history.
Surprisingly, though, amid all of this caring about global challenges, few impact investors have deciphered which causes they’re meant to serve. While they may be engaged on a number of issues, they haven’t pinpointed one that enlivens them or keeps them up at night. Part of this confusion is due to the overwhelming number of urgent problems begging for solutions, but a more pervasive reason is a lack of investment in self.
Too few impact investors spend the necessary time, energy, and even money required to dive deeply into self-reflection and inner excavation — the kind of work that gives us real answers about why we’re here at all.
Getting Clear on Our Purpose
Becoming clear about our purpose is a process that typically requires unraveling conditioned notions of what we “should” be doing. It is similar to choosing a major in college or a career path in life, and selecting our investments with the same care and consideration means taking the time to thoroughly inquire within. We need to be clear about the values and ideals that most fulfill us. We must constantly cross-check our choices with these pillars, and perhaps most importantly, we have to explore the uncertain terrain beyond our minds and venture into the wisdom of the heart.
As we push past layers of discerning logic and the endless train of cognitive processing, we enter a realm of awareness that’s less concerned with labels and form and more focused on sensation in its raw state. Accessing this unprocessed data can give us insight into our alignment with various situations, people, and information, before the reasoning of the mind takes over. The journey to this level of realization looks different for everyone, but it always requires dedicated time, energy, and intention.
Investors who want to be driven by their authentic self — to go beyond the cultural chatter about what they should be doing — would benefit by practicing a “sensory baseline” each morning, before the secular world weighs in on the day. This is primarily a stillness practice, where you find a quiet place in your house or nature to scan bodily sensations for 10–20 minutes — understanding that the body is the home to authentic insights into our being. Once still, scan the body for what’s alive, what’s constricting, and what’s moving through you. Just witness the sensations. Then reflect on your findings and allow them to influence your path as you bring your “whole self.”
The irony of moving beyond the mind to help with making investment decisions is that our choices become inherently more impactful, and thus more successful. We might end up defining success in different terms, however, as rates of return begin to pale in comparison to the evidence of positive change in the issues closest to our hearts.
The bottom line
As impact investors aligned with our greatest callings, we become less satisfied with transferring funds to distant mission-oriented endeavors. We find ourselves moved to be more involved and more invested in what we finance. We end up advising, encouraging, and committing to the end goal throughout the ups and downs. We become a sincere partner in a mission for good and may even laugh to discover that we forget to look at our return statements at all.
The intrinsic returns prove to be much more satisfying, but only when derived from a place of deep alignment. That begins with investing in our own self-exploration to discover where those alignments lie.