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Ask Tough Questions Before You Allocate Your Capital Or Your Attention

(Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash)

By David Lynn, Co-Founder and CEO of Mission Driven Finance, an impact investment firm and Certified B Corporation

In the spirit of Halloween (and with SOCAP just behind us), we thought we should pass along an important safety message. The more you know, right?

There’s a terrifying creature lurking among all of us Certified B-witches toiling to build better communities: The Impact Vampire.

You may have encountered this creature already. You and your team work hard every day, deeply engaged in initiatives that are actually changing people’s lives, and yet struggle to find more resources to do as much good as you know you can do.

And then, wham — out of nowhere flies in a creature slapping the words “social,” “impact,” “sustainable,” or other such buzzwords on some pittance of what they do. They talk about what a wonderful world it will be with them at the helm, and all these hidden investors come out of the woodwork, throwing resources at the creature without any regard to their own well-being.

In your gut, you know that this dude is bad news, but you notice that the people around you don’t seem to care. It’s almost as if they’ve been hypnotized. They act as if they’ve been waiting all their lives for this magical creature to free them from the limits of this earthly plane, turning them toward a decadent new existence of endless parties — where you can have your cake and eat it too. You keep trying to explain to people that they only think they’re in love — at the end of the day, this relationship is still going to be extremely extractive. But nobody listens.

Your gut is right. You just met an impact vampire.

How do you know for sure? Here are two good ways to identify them:

1. They’re deathly afraid of sunlight or anything that looks like transparency.

They have very glossy, shiny covers on their impact reports, but after you ask a few questions you may discover there’s not much soul behind the good-looking exterior — in fact, their insides may have already been dead for a long time. They don’t like being asked about the ratio of their impact offerings to “core business.” Some of them may also have a bit of Oz going on: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Need some examples?

  • Larry Fink makes the news for talking about corporate responsibility, but the next minute BlackRock invests billions in middle east oil pipelines.
  • JPMorgan Chase gets lauded for its Entrepreneurs of Color Funds and AdvancingCities initiatives, a mere drop on the balance sheet compared to its $9.7 billion quarterly profit. Quarterly! It claims to support the Paris climate accord but remains bullish on fossil fuels, having invested $196 billion since the Paris agreement was signed just four years ago.
  • Dimensional Fund Advisors has funds like “US Social Core Equity 2,” but if you read the prospectus, they are against contraception and anything with stem cells.
  • State Street put a Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street and built a gender diversity fund that didn’t actually vote for much in the way of gender diversity.

Mission Driven Finance is part of the community of businesses that have used a third-party verification of their impact. Use the free B Impact Assessment to evaluate your company’s impact on all stakeholders, including the environment, your workers, your community and your customers.

2. They don’t reflect.

Creating meaningful impact means constantly questioning, “Are we making the best choices?” and checking in with your community. But many impact vampires don’t want to look in the mirror, let alone think deeply about their work or be externally evaluated. Asking themselves the hard questions is too, well, hard.

In order to pick out the ones that don’t spend much time reflecting, look for responses like these:

  • Implicit bias? No way, we’re too smart for that, we don’t even need to measure it!
  • Diversity? Absolutely! Last year we had two women on stage at our annual investor conference.
  • Net positive? Just look at these short-term outcomes! It’s been phenomenal marketing. Clearly, we’re doing the right thing!

Now that we are all clear on how to spot an impact vampire, what do we do about them?

Just Say No

Impact vampires must be invited to enter your home and your portfolio. Ask tough questions before you allocate — your capital or your attention.

Attack with Multiple Stake(holder)s

The impact vampire is usually focused on a single constituency; often the investors that originally turned them and sponsored their first cofference.

When confronted with stakeholders that demand genuine and non-extractive efforts, an impact vampire’s power disintegrates and people come out from under their hypnosis. However, it generally takes more than one constituency to send them back to their nest. A variety of stakeholders all have to work together — including employees, vendors, customers, community, and the environment — and then the impact vampire will lose their luster.

Grow Your Super-Strengths

Just as you ingest garlic to fortify your blood against vampires and avoid being turned, you can strengthen your internal practices with the help of the B Impact Assessment. You too can use your whole business, not just a small part of your marketing budget, as a force for good.

Indeed, the more of us that can demonstrate and measure the depth of our commitment to a more equitable and livable world, the stronger we’ll be in withstanding and outlasting the impact vampires.

So in this Halloween season, please remember one thing: Impact vampires suck. Go gather your stakeholders and drive them out.

B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.


How to Spot (and Ward Off) an Impact Vampire was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Originally posted on B the Change - Medium by MissionDrivenFinance.


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