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.
Next up in our series of Board interviews is Nick Elders is Vice President of Technology Solutions for Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF). After you read the interview, learn more about Nick and the other candidates here.
Tell us a little about yourself and what motivates you to keep pushing for the industry:
I started my career in the community development industry as an intern at Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF) in 2001. At the time, CRF needed a data entry person to coordinate the data entry and analysis of a survey of CDFIs and community development organizations sponsored by the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Des Moines. The FHLB desired to better understand the interest of community development organizations in becoming members of the FHLB system in order to leverage new and existing programs offered by the FHLB of Des Moines. In a way, the project was a precursor to the FHLB of Chicago’s new Community First Fund lending program – only 15 years before FHLB Chicago’s program officially launched!
As the project wound down, I realized the work CRF was doing to build the capacity of the industry was very much in-line with my personal and professional values. I expressed interest in joining the organization and was fortunate enough to be hired as a full-time employee.
Early in my career, I served as CRF’s Business Analyst. This position required I become very familiar with each of our respective business units, document and breaking down how each accomplished their work while also thinking through how we could be more efficient. I worked with our fundraising, lending, loan servicing and asset management teams to optimize our operations. Boiling it down, optimizing our operations came down to the right mix and alignment of people, process, technology, and customer experience.
As my work at CRF continued to evolve, we began to understand the challenges we faced as an organization were not unique to CRF. Part of our mission as a supporting organization is to support other community developers and nonprofits, including CDFIs, dedicated to improving economic opportunity for underserved communities and their residents. In an effort to bring scale to our industry, we started to offer the solutions we built internally to other CDFIs across the country. Working with external organizations afforded me an opportunity to get to know and interact with a wide range of CDFIs, both small and large, urban and rural. My experience at CRF helped me to appreciate and value the range of CDFIs while also uncovering the need to foster a transition to the next generation of CDFI leaders.
In terms of the most moving moment of my career, I’d point to the day my team and I were in the lunch line at a recently financed CRF borrower. We indicated we were from CRF. The borrower gave each of us a hug! I asked if he interacted with our SPARK platform during the loan process. He asked, “Are you the SPARK guys?!?!” We indicated we work on SPARK each day and a new round of hugs were immediately administered. Seeing the borrower’s eyes light up and knowing that our technology solution helped him open his business immediately validated the years of work leading up to that moment.
What do you think the most important role is for OFN in the CDFI industry right now?
I believe the most important role for OFN to play in our industry is that of “catalyst”. To me, this means encouraging CDFIs to be the best they can be, continually striving to innovate, developing new solutions, collaboratively solving intractable problems, and growing the power of this industry to realize meaningful change. Through its work in the areas of industry advocacy and federal policy, organizational consulting and capacity building, capital facilities, research, performance recognition and awards programs, organizing industry events and creating the space where CDFIs collaborate, innovate, develop and share best practices, OFN is enabling each of our respective organizations to do more together.
Where do you want to see us go during your tenure?
In my view, our industry needs to modernize our infrastructure, standardize our existing offerings, develop new products and services that meet the needs of low income people operating in distressed areas, share best practices, raise the general awareness of our industry, deepen our existing partnerships with the banking community and work to eliminate predatory lending and practices that continue to plague low-income people and low income areas.
No one CDFI will have the answer to every problem. Further, the days of vertically-integrated organizations are limited. To clarify, many industries support and foster specialization as a means of reaching larger economies of scale. Our industry continues to lag behind with many CDFIs operating as individual units focusing on all aspects of a lending operation including human resources, payroll, technology infrastructure, fundraising, balance sheet management, audit, marketing, sales, fulfillment, loan servicing, asset management, compliance, reporting, and the list goes on. We must transform our existing hierarchical structure to a “network of networks” approach – whereby CDFIs operate in more of a “value exchange” vs. doing it all individually. In doing so, I am confident, AS AN INDUSTRY, we will move from a lender of last resort borrowers find by accident to a lender of choice borrowers seek out in our respective communities.
Why is it important to you to be a part of the OFN Board during this industry and organizational inflection point?
In my role at CRF, I am directly involved in building solutions that require me to use both my ability to cultivate strong relationships and to harness technology to improve the performance of my organization as well as the industry. My experience and my position at CRF affords me a unique perspective on operational challenges facing the industry. I believe the solutions we are developing will position our industry for the next stage of growth and development. We need to get this right. But the work we do and the solutions we build cannot be accomplished in a vacuum. As a member of the OFN board I will be able to shape and contribute to the future vision of what CDFIs can become and what we can accomplish. As a person who is deeply committed to this industry and our movement, this is important to me both personally and professionally.
What do you uniquely bring?
Once an idea or concept has firmly taken hold in my mind, I pursue that vision relentlessly. At the same time, I look to others in the industry to join in the discovery, crafting and implementation of those concepts as a means of making the world a better place for all. I have a “never quit” attitude and am inherently curious. I enjoy working with a broad range of people and forging strong relationships with colleagues at CRF and across the industry. Through my work at CRF, I interact with CDFIs, Credit Unions, Banks and Lender Service Providers in an effort to stitch together the lending ecosystem. In my work, I collaborate with my peers to find solutions that work for the smallest CDFIs, all the way up to the largest banks. I bring a unique outlook and level of exposure many of my CDFI peers are not often exposed to, which makes sharing that information and knowledge all that more important.
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.