Seven candidates. Three seats. The campaign is on! This year, your CDFI’s vote for the OFN Board is more important than ever. Get to know the candidates through candid interviews with CDFI Connect.
First up in our series of Board interviews is Dave Glaser, President of Montana and Idaho CDC. After you read the interview, learn more about Dave and the other candidates here.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivates you to keep pushing for the industry.
Before I started working in the CDFI industry, I worked as a COO at an environmental consulting firm. I never worked in finance before coming to Montana and Idaho CDC. Instead, I was primarily working in companies that were in turnaround situations or high-growth modes. When I came to the CDFI world, I saw a huge opportunity to really grow and meet the needs of our customers, the people we serve.
I am a horizons person—I love to see broad and open horizons of possibility. I sailed across the Atlantic when I was younger, and I remember the feeling of seeing nothing but infinite horizons in all directions. When I was recruited to Montana & Idaho CDC, I saw that same kind of horizon for making a difference. I love pairing smart business with really big impact.
When I first started, I worked in our consulting group helping small businesses. One of my first clients, Rachel, a teacher, wanted to start a business to work from home and be with her kids. Her daughter had celiac disease, and she’d developed great recipes for gluten free products and made amazing gluten free flours. She came to us for the capital and know how. She had very little experience running a business, but she had an amazing product. So we sat down and worked through how to make it happen. She ended up starting with a microloan and was able to run the business and be there with her kids.
A year later, she came back with an opportunity to expand her business. A grocery store in New York wanted her flours, but we advised her against making this leap. Instead, we worked with her to grow her business incrementally. I picked up a map from the corner store, drew a circle 300 miles in diameter around her home and said, “First, get in every single store in this circle, and then let’s talk about further expansion.” And the reason for this is she needed the power to negotiate with food buyers to get the best possible price. Rachel lives on the reservation just north of our main office in Missoula. Having her succeed was a big driver for me. I wanted her to be successful. She left the office with that map. She came back about a year later and came into my office and set the map on my desk and said, “I own it. What next?" She ended up in 1,000 stores across the U.S.—I love that!
What is the most important role for OFN in the CDFI industry right now?
With a new CEO, OFN is poised to kick open doors that haven’t been open before and be an even stronger binding force for all CDFIs. We all share the same pains and questions—how do we find better and more diverse sources of funding, how do we capitalize better, how do we lend better? Predatory financial companies are trying to creep into the lives of the people we are trying to help. We need to be better, smarter and faster to get there first. We will not win unless we can reimagine how we approach our businesses.
We have to be smarter about services, and we also have to get a lot better at talking about what we do. We have for years communicated to the same people about the same stuff—primarily to federal agencies, foundations and banks about the impacts they care about—and that doesn’t necessarily resonate with most of the country. We have to learn how to better communicate what we do to the average person on the street to broaden our horizons for capital and support. We have to do more, better, and OFN can and will provide the leadership for where we are headed.
When you think of someone who is poor and can’t get a loan, they go online and immediately end up falling into the trap. They don't think of CDFIs. We need much better brand recognition so that low-income people across the country know that we are the first, best place to get a loan if they can’t get a loan at a bank.
OFN is still a hitching post for CDFIs across the U.S. We are only 240 members strong, but lots of CDFIs come to our conference. Because of that, we are in a position to really be the entity that helps open those doors of opportunity. As a CDFI, we have always looked to OFN as the group of people who are forward thinking and solving the problem we haven't thought of yet. I see this moment in time as the opportunity of the decade for finding someone who can lead OFN to truly identify doors, kick them open and then let us do what we do best as CDFIs—innovate and make huge impact.
Where do you want to see us go during your tenure?
I feel an obligation to OFN and to my peers across the country to ensure that OFN is consistently forward-looking. My number one priority is working with our board to find the next amazing CEO—that person who has what it takes to truly lead us to where we need to go. At the end of the day, the right leader empowers everyone to be leaders as well, to catalyze staff, members, board, all of us to work together and move the industry forward. We need an individual who can empower not just the OFN staff but all of us across the country—to inspire us and keep us showing up every morning. And really importantly, to think differently about the way to approach our problems. More, better. Reimagine.
At Montana & Idaho CDC, we have been questioning basic assumptions about how we operate. We ripped apart our engine 18 months ago and have been putting it back together because we were done doing the same old thing we’ve always done. We want to be smarter, better and faster. We have been reimagining and rebuilding ourselves.
This was inspired by OFN and our work with the small business finance collaborative. The staff at OFN got us thinking. They helped us hold up the mirror and identify our problem areas and really work through them. This challenged us in a way we had never been challenged before. Throughout this process we worked with our peers in the industry. It was so great to learn alongside colleagues, to share pain and triumph.
Basically, we sat down as part of that collaborative to write our growth plan. First, we put together projections and budget over the next five years. There was a moment when we all looked at the numbers and said "that sucks," because basically what we were doing is growing our loan fund to meet the market demand without changing anything else. Losing money to provide small business loans. That just seemed wrong. Not only is it exhausting, but it just seemed anathema to what we are as an industry and as a group of people working at the CDC. And we decided that instead we would do it differently—build a machine capable of delivering impact to the people we serve, providing great customer experience, and breaking even at a minimum.
We are speeding up our capital. The idea is that it currently takes us 33 months to make someone bankable. At the end of three years, it will take us 18 months on average. We looked to other industries to see how they do it and see if we can take some tips from them. This initiative is right for our mission, our customers, and our financial model—a great place to start! This is what I want to see happen more broadly for other CDFIs, to provide more forums for shared experience and ultimately, innovation.
Why is it important to you to be a part of the OFN Board during this industry and organizational inflection point?
I believe we are all obliged as members to help and support OFN. I was on the policy committee before I ran for the board. I have colleagues at Montana & Idaho CDC who are on boards of other national organizations. We at the CDC feel it is important to do that in the best way possible because people helped us when we were getting going. When we needed help, we reached out to CDFIs across the country and they were so open to helping us, and we want to do the same. I am pleased to run for the board again, and being on the board is a lot of work. That said, I am so happy to do it because I feel I owe it to my peers across the country and to the staff at OFN. We are in this together.
What do you uniquely bring?
Experience. I have been on the OFN board for four years and have seen big changes in that time. That experience is particularly important with the transition to a new CEO. Additionally, I bring a fairly broad view of our industry. I spend time going out and visiting CDFIs across the country each year. Yes, I work for a relatively rural CDFI in the American West, but because we are so curious about how other CDFIs work, I have the opportunity and privilege of talking with CDFI practitioners from all over—always thinking of how to solve our group pain rather than just our particular CDFI’s pain. We are swinging for the fences, fundraising better and telling our story better—each of those things are areas of growth I want to share with the rest of the industry. Success or failure, I want to share our experience if it can help others. Bringing that to the table—our philosophy of swinging for the fences and trying something different—is something that could be helpful to OFN. That knowledge could also be very helpful in the selection of our next CEO. And I love my colleagues on the board. They are amazing.
To ensure an efficient voting process, we are asking Members to identify their Voting Delegate in advance of the Membership Meeting at OFN Connect. Please contact Emily Tunney with the name of the Voting Delegate for your organization. Voting Delegates will be able to pick up their ballots a half hour before the start of OFN Connect.