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Matchmaker, Matchmaker: How FinTechs and Nonprofits Can Swipe Into Great Partnerships

By Kate Griffin and Josh Sledge, Guest Contributor on 11/09/2016 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: Innovation, ALC 2016

Imagine two people meeting for the first time. Both are looking for a relationship and hoping to meet “the one.” The conversation starts slow; neither seems to be the other’s usual type. But they stumble upon a common interest or two, and even though they aren’t a lot alike, they’re intrigued by the things that make them different. The first meeting ends and they part ways...but they felt a connection and are eager to meet again to see where things go.

No, this isn’t the voiceover to a commercial. It’s what can happen when FinTech startups and nonprofit organizations meet to explore partnerships.

We see tremendous potential in these types of partnerships given the relative strengths of the two types of organizations. Many nonprofits work directly with the financially underserved, building trusted relationships and becoming partners in addressing their clients’ financial challenges. At the same time, FinTech providers are leveraging mobile and online technology to create new products and tools to help users more easily manage their financial lives. Put them together and you have a powerful combination: innovative technology tools complemented by ongoing relationships with trusted community partners -- all with the goal of building financial health.

But the mere potential for a great relationship isn’t enough to guarantee a match made in heaven. For many nonprofits, a partnership with a FinTech provider would be a first and it may take many conversations before a commitment. For FinTech providers, particularly start-ups, speed and customer acquisition are top priorities, and they may perceive nonprofits as being slow to adopt new things.

Squaring these two cultures was at the heart of a conversation held during CFED’s Assets Learning Conference (ALC) in September. CFSI, CFED and JPMorgan Chase & Co. collaborated on a session titled “A FinTech and a Nonprofit Walk Into a Bar” exploring nonprofit-FinTech partnerships. The session was well-attended and a general theme emerged from the conversation: Many nonprofits were interested in exploring how FinTech offerings might help their clients succeed, but are unsure how to assess a potential partnership.

A cautious approach is the right one to take, particularly for nonprofits that are just dipping their toe into the FinTech waters. In recent years, we’ve seen a wave of FinTech startups emerging with solutions ranging from basic spending trackers to digital currency platforms and robo-advisors. And it’s not just for-profit start-ups roaming the FinTech frontier. Enterprising nonprofit organizations like Commonwealth, EARN and Neighborhood Trust are leveraging their insights and experience to build tech-driven tools and platforms to advance financial health. This year alone, CFSI received over 350 applications from FinTech providers to its Financial Solutions Lab, a five-year initiative with JPMorgan Chase to identify, test and bring to scale financial innovations that substantially improve the lives of hard-working Americans. These applicants range considerably in their focus, approach and maturity. To learn more about the wide range of FinTech innovation just represented by the FinLab applicant pool, one needs to look no further than the 2016 FinLab Snapshot.

With so many options to choose from, where do nonprofits start to assess viable partners? During the ALC session, attendees heard from Catalyst Miami, a leading nonprofit working with FinTech solutions, about their experiences. This generated discussion on four key questions nonprofits should ask themselves:

  • Do I build, buy or partner? You see your clients facing a key financial challenge and want to find a new solution to solve it. Is this a specific challenge which an existing product doesn’t solve? Build it. Does a vendor offer a plug-and-play solution that can be incorporated into existing programming? Buy it. Is there a provider offering a customer-facing product or service that would meet your clients’ needs? Partner to bring the solution to your clients.
  • How do I vet potential partners? You probably wouldn’t marry someone you just met (unless things got out of hand in Las Vegas). You’d want to get to know them first. The same goes for FinTech partnerships. How do you know that the product being offered is a good fit for your clients? How do you know you can trust the company to do right by them? How does it make money and how will that affect business decisions over time? For early-stage providers, how do you know they’ll even be around in a year’s time? What happens if they sell to a larger company?
  • How does a FinTech offering fit into my program? A good FinTech partnership will complement the services a nonprofit provides, not replace them. This requires careful thinking about how a FinTech offering will fit into existing operations and the client experience. When will the offering be introduced to clients? How will enrollment work? What kind of training is required to get frontline staff bought in and comfortable discussing the product with clients?
  • How do I measure impact? The goal of a FinTech partnership is to increase the impact a nonprofit can have on its clients’ financial health and well-being. How does a nonprofit assess whether this goal is met? How do you measure a FinTech offering’s impact on engagement and client outcomes?

To see more fruitful partnerships emerge, we see a need to help nonprofits ask these tough questions and make sense of the answers. Greater visibility into emerging FinTech solutions and a decision guide might help organizations identify tools and products that would be a good fit for their clients. An assessment guide for vetting providers and a platform for nonprofits to share their experiences with different providers would inform nonprofits during the “getting to know you” phase of partnership exploration. Finally, an overview of best practices for integrating FinTech offerings into existing programs and a common set of impact metrics could help nonprofits implement a partnership and gauge if it’s working.

We see great potential in matchmaking between the FinTech and nonprofit communities. While we can’t guarantee that every partnership will convert on the potential we see, we are certain of one thing: Fintech providers and nonprofits should go on more first dates.

The Price of Hope: A Few Thousand Dollars

By Bob Friedman on 10/28/2016 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, From the Founder

Last month, I was humbled to give the closing remarks at the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. This blog post contains the prepared version of those remarks. I would be honored to hear your feedback and your ideas for how we can fulfill the American Promise. Please share your thoughts by Tweeting me at @CFEDBob.

First and last, I want to thank ALL of you for making this Conference, and this growing Movement. The core team – Kristin, Leigh, Jocelyn, Adnan, Melissa, Sean, Sarah, Karianna. My 80 colleagues at CFED, who pulled off this feat, and are as kind as they are smart, dedicated and good dancers; my 19 fellow Board members, all giants in their own right, who give their best; our Sponsors and Exhibitors, without whom none of this would be possible; 350 presenters, who made possible 70+ brilliant breakouts; 500 Hill advocates, who completed nearly 200 visits. And most all, all of you. Please stand—our partners and colleagues, our friends and family, our teachers and students, who everyday open the doors to the Opportunity Economy we seek. Sometimes I think we owe you a warning: this work can be habit forming. Those who enter rarely leave and instead, go on to lead.

I—we—believe in the promise of America contained in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I admit I amended “man” to “people,” but then, so has our history. The original version of the promise read, “Life, Liberty and Property,” which I used to think was an inferior version, but increasingly, I see the truth in it.

Until the last few months I thought—wrongly—that we had made great progress on Life and Liberty, and I could afford to focus on economic liberty and the basic economic endowment that could afford the Pursuit of Happiness. Tulsa and Charlotte, Minneapolis, Ferguson, Baltimore, Orlando and so many other cities have changed that.

Bryan Stevenson calls mass incarceration and the perversion of our criminal justice system the fourth stage of slavery in this country. But then he notes the hope: “The opposite of poverty is justice.”

As we rededicate ourselves to all forms of justice, let us recognize our particular calling: economic justice. I had the opportunity earlier this week to tour the National Museum of African-American History. At its base is the display of our original sin, the greatest cruelty and injustice of our history. But it rises to the greatest expressions of the human soul as one climbs—music and sport, politics, art and culture. In one corner, Booker T. Washington speaks: “At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, at the bottom of religion itself, there must be for our race…economic independence.” He might have added health and mental health, debt, stress and home, and so much more. As demonstrated in this conference.

I think liquid asset poverty is a form of economic slavery. Because property and wealth are inputs as well as outputs. The price of economic independence in this country is at least a few thousand dollars—the price of stability, the price of confidence, the price of hope—the price of a downpayment on the American Dream.

If so, asset tax policy—our two-thirds of a trillion annual upside-down investment in family economic independence in wealth inequality—is the continuing shackle of economic slavery. But it can become the key to the Opportunity Economy, where everyone, EVERYONE—people of color, women, people with disabilities (Ed Roberts called disability the equal opportunity disadvantage), immigrants, ex-offenders, the young, the old, even white men—has an economic place to stand, an opportunity to grow this economy, and to support themselves and their families in so doing. Instead of rewarding the rich, missing the middle and penalizing the poor, let us turn this annual investment averaging $2,000 for every man, woman and child every year into an investment in the promise of all people, so that the common genius may come out and flourish. In this universal infrastructure where, in Fred Goldberg’s memorable description, “everyone has a number and everyone counts,” will we have the political acceptability, ability and cash flow to target investments, give every child a more equal start and begin to close the racial wealth divide.

Now is our time. If economic exclusion is the fact of our time, economic inclusion is its promise. It is high time, in Langston Hughes terms, to “Let America be America again…the America that never was, yet still must be.” This is our work.

It is an ambitious calling—some might say an impossible calling—to turn the assets tax code right side up, to create universal targeted Child Savings Accounts, to close the Racial Wealth Divide. But the time is right…and ripe. The simple truth is that everyone will gain from opening the doors to the economy in this way to the talents, aspirations and sweat of every American—to the potential contributions of millions of new entrepreneurs, homeowners, savers, students, citizens. This is the way—it is the only way, I think—to begin to close the gaping racial wealth divide, in Lincoln’s terms—“to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all … to give everyone an equal start and a fair chance in the race of life.” In this way, we can fulfill the promise of America, which is truly, the promise of Americans…of all of us.

I know your lives are full, but if we are to take history in hand and bend its arc towards justice, it will require all of us to devote some time to explaining to our colleagues and friends, parents and children, the Promise at stake, and the time to continue this nation’s fight for an economy of the people, by the people, for the people.

And so I want to end where I began—thanking all of you, and all of your colleagues back home all over this country, who are the heart of this movement and the hope for realizing the American Promise. This is the room where it happens. Thank you.

Assets & Opportunity Network Leaders Bolster Their Skills at ALC Pre-Convening

By Dara Duratinsky on 10/24/2016 @ 01:00 PM

Tags: Assets & Opportunity Initiative, ALC 2016

Before the Assets Learning Conference in September, which brought together nearly 1,300 asset-builders in Washington, DC, Assets & Opportunity Network leaders came together to learn from each other and improve their ability to be leaders in their communities and the Assets & Opportunity Network. Nearly 60 Leaders from 27 states convened for the Assets & Opportunity Network Pre-Convening for an afternoon of peer sharing, preparing to lead delegations from their states to advocate on Capitol Hill, and deep-dive discussions on what it means to be a leader in the asset-building field.

To start the Pre-Convening, Network leaders reflected on what they consider qualities and skills to be an impactful leader in their communities. Qualities they identified included sincerity, honesty, the ability to build relationships, being concise and inspiring, maintaining coalitions, experience and knowledge and being able to support your cause with a mix of data and personal stories, all of which are inspiring qualities named by the people working across the country to create an opportunity economy and increase access and remove barriers to asset-building. In order to explore leadership roles and qualities more with their peers, leaders broke up into six groups to discuss other skills they would like to improve on and what support they need in order to do so. Their breakout topics included advocacy, coalition building, programmatic impact and data, fundraising and integrating financial capability. We know there are a lot of people who are also working hard in their communities to advance these issues, and we wanted to share insights from these peer discussions as well as what support the leaders identified as needs in these areas.

Leadership Skill: Advocacy

Advocacy on asset-building and financial security issues is critical to inform and influence the policies that regulate and fund the systems we live and work in. The advocacy group ultimately decided that in order to improve their ability and their partners’ ability to advocate for asset building policies and strategies at the local, state and federal level, the Network should create an asset-building introduction series.

Leadership Skill: Coalition Building

Coalitions are important in creating partnerships that can scale services and provide the masses needed for effective policy advocacy. The coalition building group included those working with local and state level coalitions and their concerns centered on capacity to move things forward, especially without salaried staff. A growing trend we have observed is decreased funding to support asset-building coalitions, especially at the state level. Other questions raised by the group included how to keep enthusiasm going, how to increase impact at the state level, how to formalize partnerships into a coalition and how to get more members interested in advocacy rather than just networking and information sharing. Ultimately, the coalition building group decided it would be helpful if the Network could guide members on action items and measurable targets for coalitions. In 2014, the Network released a Lessons & Insights document from our learning groups on coalition building. We plan to improve on and update this document to share with the Network.

Leadership Skill: Programmatic Impact and Data

Measuring programmatic impact allows organizations to determine the effectiveness of their programs and use that information to share with stakeholders like policymakers and funders. Demographic and policy data helps support advocacy. The Programmatic Impact and Data group focused on both measuring the impact of programs and finding the right data to use to make the case for advocacy. For programs, it can be difficult to juggle the metrics programs want to use with the ones their funders want and is also a frequent challenge to get back in touch with clients to measure their progress and the effectiveness of the services offered. For advocacy, certain metrics to make the case for a policy can be difficult to find or the ones that might exist may not tell the whole story. In both cases, the group noted the importance of supporting data with personal stories. This group concluded that the Network could help support their data needs by hosting a webinar series on data collection and analysis strategies (and sources) for programs, advocacy and coalitions.

Leadership Skill: Fundraising

Asset building organizations and coalitions are struggling for funding, which helps support staff and programs to carry out services and advocate. Two different groups discussed fundraising for unrestricted funds, which is something many nonprofits and coalitions are struggling with. The first group identified challenges, including foundations moving on from this work and former city-level asset building initiatives ending due to mayoral administration changes. Participants noted their interest in Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funds, but the funds are hard to find and are also for restricted activities. Finally, one participant suggested groups create coalition partner dues, host annual events for profit and begin fee-for-service work around training. These efforts can only be successful if you are viewed as a valuable partner. The first group would find it helpful if the Network created a database on where to access CRAs.

The second fundraising group concluded that it would be helpful if the Network could collect and distribute information on where organizations and coalitions are raising unrestricted funds. The Network also intends to adapt the Assets Learning Conference session on fundraising for advocacy and coalition building to an online training system and will continue to educate funders on the national level about asset building and financial capability and the financial needs of local nonprofits.

Leadership Skill: Integrating Financial Capability

Integrating financial capability into existing services, like workforce development, helps improve outcomes of those programs and improve the financial well-being of clients. The group that discussed integrating financial capability would like the Network’s support in collecting stories from organizations that have successfully integrated financial capability and have proof of impact.

Racial Wealth Divide

After the discussions on leadership skills, the room came together to discuss the Network’s role in closing the racial wealth divide. Attendees learned about the differences between racial equality vs. equity, discussed their experiences and challenges working on this issue within their communities and learned more about CFED’s work and the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative. Following discussions on this topic, the Network will spend the next year helping the field get comfortable talk about this issue in their communities, coalitions and in their organizations and make the space to continue these conversations at the regional and national level with peers.

Staff at CFED are committed to supporting leadership at the state and local level and will be using the insights shared during these peer discussions to inform our work over the next year and beyond with the Assets & Opportunity Network. If you’re not already a member, sign up for free here to stay informed and engaged with future learning, advocacy and leadership development opportunities and resources. In the meantime, check out this Network Leader curated list of leadership development tools and resources!

ALC Provides Launchpad for Latest CSA Findings and Developments

By Diego Quezada on 10/19/2016 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, Children's Savings Accounts, Education, Financial Capability

The 2016 Assets Learning Conference provided a multitude of opportunities for CSA leaders to connect, share best practices and generate new ideas for moving the field forward. CFED hosted both a CSA pre-conference September 27, which brought together more than 50 experienced CSA practitioners, advocates, funders and policy champions, along with organizing a set of workshop sessions on CSAs at the conference itself.

Benita Melton from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation kicked off the pre-conference session by noting the number and diversity of programs represented in the room, reflecting the growth and momentum in the field. At the same time, she pointed out that work remains in developing an account platform to help open accounts, improving parental engagement and improving data tracking data of educational outcomes—all of which were discussed throughout the day.

Following a presentation on interim outcome metrics, Frank DeGiovanni, formerly with the Ford Foundation, and William Elliott, with the Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion, commented that the field has made the evidence-based case that CSAs work by helping families save, and now programs should focus on improvements and understanding what factors help children do better.

The pre-conference session also featured a Shark Tank-inspired session that included three “pitches” from providers of new technology solutions to make provision of CSAs more accessible and efficient. Megan McTiernan of EARN showcased a new online platform that connects directly to savers' individual bank accounts and rewards them based on their saving activity. As part of the demos, Utah Educational Savings Plan and VistaShare’s Outcome Tracker also presented their products, followed by probing questions from the expert panel and audience.

In addition to the robust discussions during the pre-conference, the Assets Learning Conference highlighted CSAs in a variety of ways. At the opening plenary, CFED’s President Andrea Levere challenged the audience to expand CSAs from 29 states to all 50 states. She also urged attendees to join the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, which works to connect 1.4 million kids to CSAs by 2020. Finally, four workshop sessions at the 2016 ALC focused specifically on children’s savings, providing attendees with tools to design and launch CSA programs, the latest research on CSAs and strategies for how to pitch their programs to different types of funders and elected officials.

One of the highlights of the conference was a session on CSA research. At the session, Trina Shanks of the University of Michigan's School of Social Work reported on recent findings from a quasi-experimental study of CSAs. The so-called Michigan SEED site, which opened CSAs for kids in Head Start more than a decade ago, was part of the multi-year SEED Initiative. Findings from recent interviews with participants emphasized youth voices about CSAs gathered through qualitative data. This series of interviews revealed that financial barriers remain a challenge in the lives of the CSA savers and that communication between the parents and children about the value of CSAs is critical to increasing college aspirations. In addition, research on Kindergarten to College students, presented by William Elliott, found that more disadvantaged students – students in schools with a high percentage of the population on free or reduced lunch – saved at the highest rates, challenging conventional notions about saving.

Overall, the insights and new findings on CSAs shared at the 2016 Assets Learning Conference and pre-conference highlighted the incredible progress across the country over the past several years to expand CSAs and increase the effectiveness of programs.

If you would like to see speaker presentations and handouts from the CSA workshops and concurrent sessions, visit the Assets Learning Conference website.

Celebrating Success and Reflecting on Lessons Learned at the Financial Inclusion Policy Action Initiative’s Pre-ALC Convening

By Craig Sandler on 10/13/2016 @ 09:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, Economic Inclusion, Federal Policy

It was no surprise that ALC 2016 was packed with content, but there was exciting work being done during ALC week even before the conference officially began. For the past two years, CFED has been working on a three-year project with seven organizations funded by the Northwest Area Foundation’s Financial Inclusion Policy Action Initiative to build financial capability and security among Native and non-Native communities in the Northwestern region of the US. This cohort met early during ALC week in order to celebrate their accomplishments over the past two years of the grant, share their lessons and to chart a path for their work in the final year.

This two-day pre-convening event kicked off with a celebration of successes from the Initiative’s second year, highlighting the State and Tribal policy wins and successful advocacy that these partners engaged in over the grant. These wins included:

  • Expanding revolving loan programs to foster minority and Native entrepreneurship
  • Eliminating asset limits from state public benefit programs
  • Defending against predatory and payday lending bills that would strip many consumer protections
  • Expanding incentive savings programs for low-income individuals
  • Building critical financial education skills and awareness in Native communities.

As advocates always must, these organizations wrestled with daunting obstacles that stood in the way of their policy goals. Adversarial legislators, powerful lobbyists from the predatory lending industry, barriers to coalition-building and effective engagement, and institutional challenges, such as lack of jobs or structural racism, all made their efforts to build financial capability in the Northwest region an uphill battle. These organizations, however, were successfully able to overcome many of these barriers, building the systems and momentum needed for policy change at the State and Tribal level. This impressive and inspirational achievement energized the cohort to dive head-first into their work for the final year of the grant, where they will continue to fight for financial security in low-income communities.

The cohort also discussed some of the lessons learned over the course of the year. For instance, one key insight that emerged is that even progressive legislators don’t always act in the best interest of their constituencies and districts. Sometimes, legislative allies turn out to be less supportive (or sometimes even obstructionist) than those with a lived experience working on the issues or with populations most affected by the proposed policy change.

Another insight was that coalition partners and other allies are not always well-equipped or comfortable in advocating for change, thus building the advocacy skills and comfort of these partners is necessary. Several organizations, including the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition (MABC), Neighborhood Partnerships, and the Idaho Asset Building Network (IABN), kept this valuable lesson in mind as they invested time and resources in helping build their coalition’s capacity and comfort in effective advocacy. For example, IABN created a series of webinars on advocacy skills, rules, and strategies that helped build the comfort of its Network partners. Other organizations, including MABC, IABN, and Neighborhood Partnerships, hosted advocacy days to educate policymakers on key financial inclusion issues at the start of their legislative sessions. Neighborhood Partnerships also hosted an ‘advocate’s college’ to train coalition partners on effective advocacy and engagement. These lessons, and others, shared during the cohort meeting will prove invaluable as the partners go into their final year of this project.

CFED is delighted to work with such an inspirational group of partners on the Financial Inclusion Policy Action Initiative. Being able to celebrate the amazing accomplishments they made during year two of their project, and reflect on lessons learned as they gear up for year three, was an excellent reminder of how lucky we are to work with this cohort. We would like to thank all of our cohort members and their partners for making our pre-ALC meeting such a valuable and memorable one.

CFED would also like to thank our partners who provide invaluable technical assistance on this project, including Seven Sisters Community Development Group, Center for Responsible Lending, First Nations Development Institute, Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, and independent consultant Tanya Beer. Finally, we offer a huge thanks to the Northwest Area Foundation for their vision and leadership in building financial security at the State and Tribal level.

How HOPE Is Helping Create Opportunity for Families in Poverty

By Jessica Shappley, Guest Contributor on 10/12/2016 @ 02:00 PM

Tags: ALC 2016, Economic Inclusion, Education

This year, HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Credit Union) team members had the opportunity to join 1,300+ of our asset-building colleagues at the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. Throughout the conference we learned and conversed with some of the most innovative minds in the field on how to build an opportunity economy in the United States. After three days of meaningful discussions around what it takes to create a more inclusive economy, we left the conference more eager than ever to make a more equitable economy a reality, particularly in the Deep South.

People entrenched in long-term poverty experience a range of complex challenges that limit opportunity for some. The Mid-South (HOPE’s service region) is home to a quarter of the nation’s persistently impoverished counties – counties where the poverty level exceeds 20 percent for at least three decades. Families who live in these high-poverty areas often must overcome the lack of resources that support efforts to improve their quality of life as education, health care, financial inclusion and employment outcomes remain lower in persistent poverty counties.

It is important to not only understand where poverty occurs but also who it impacts. In the Mid South, more than 30 percent of the population lives in persistent poverty. This is the equivalent to the entire population of Mississippi – approximately three million people. Likewise, communities of color are more likely to live in persistent poverty. Thirty-five (35) of the 39 majority-minority counties in the Mid South are also persistent poverty counties. For some in long-term poverty, this can create an exceptionally difficult environment for them to make ends meet, much less move forward through homeownership, entrepreneurship or post-secondary education.

In areas that continue to suffer from decades of long-term poverty, it is crucial to create ladders of opportunity. This undoubtedly includes closing the racial wealth gap, turning the tax code right-side up and creating pathways to homeownership and post-secondary education.

Creating opportunity for families in poverty is no small feat but with thousands in the field sharing the same vision of a more equitable economy, overcoming these challenges has never felt so in reach.

Missed the ALC Applied Research Forum? Here Are The Best Parts!

By Kasey Wiedrich on 10/11/2016 @ 03:00 PM

Tags: ALC 2016, Data and Research, Events

Research has always been a key part of the Assets Learning Conference (ALC) agenda, and the 2016 ALC, held last month on September 28-30, was no exception. Research presentations were imbedded in sessions throughout the three full days of the conference, but this year we tried something new. We dedicated three hours in the first afternoon of the conference to an Applied Research Forum, designed to bring ALC attendees the latest findings from key research in our field and to highlight the implications of those findings for practice and policy as well as future research. We pulled together research from an array of different topics to look at the broader question about what is working to help individuals and families build financial capability, financial stability or health and well-being. The Research Forum wasn’t an event for researchers to speak to researchers, but rather to get information from researchers to the practitioners, advocates, policy makers and funders who want and need answers about what might be able to move the needle in their communities.

To tell this story, we went through a competitive process, selecting 24 presentations and papers out of over 120 submissions. The breadth and depth of rigorous research that we had to choose from and that we were able to highlight in the Forum speaks to our growing knowledge base and how far we have come from the days of having to simply establish the fact that low-income households can and will save.

Kasey Wiedrich, far right, on stage with Research Forum plenary speakers

The Forum opened with remarks from Gail Hillebrand, Associate Director of Consumer Education & Engagement at the CFPB, and then an opening discussion on household financial security and the key financial challenges facing American families. We heard new research that furthered our understanding of how Americans feel about their financial situations and the level of volatility with which they are dealing. We also heard evidence of the lack of resources that many families have to weather those financial shocks, and how those resources are particularly lacking for households of color.

Next we turned to research and evaluations of the effectiveness of different solutions to those financial challenges. We organized the presentations into seven topical break-out sessions, but looking across the presentations, researchers were mostly testing a common set of interventions in different settings and measuring the impact of those solutions on a related set of outcomes:

  • In the Credit-Building Loans session, researchers showed that credit building loans can help some people, but not all, establish or raise credit scores and that this improved credit can give people a greater sense of control over how they manage their money and borrowing.
  • In both the Behavioral Nudges and Encouraging People to Save sessions, we saw that incorporating behaviorally informed nudges, messaging, small incentives and gamification led to increases in account take up and how often people use their accounts, larger savings deposits and ultimately in one savings program, a reduced use of pay-day loans. But we also saw in the context of some matched savings programs that nudges were not successful over time in helping people overcome barriers to savings.
  • Looking at the overall Impact of Matched Savings, however, we found that that in the short and medium-term, IDAs and matched savings at tax time resulted in higher levels of savings and liquid assets, but there was no impact on debt or use of alternative financial services. In a CSA program, families with CSAs were able to maintain their initial savings deposits over the long-term, which is a positive finding given the barriers they faced to continue to saving the in the accounts.
  • In Financial Capability for Youth and Children, we found that providing access to youth-friendly accounts, combined with financial education and other support services, resulted in greater account take up, higher savings, increased financial knowledge and more positive financial behaviors and attitudes that we believe will help establish a foundation for financial well-being later in life.
  • Finally, there were a number of studies involving Financial Coaching, with evidence that one-on-one financial coaching can increase savings, lower debt, improve payment history and credit scores, lead to more positive financial behaviors and help people feel more positively about their financial situations.
  • When this one-on-one coaching or counseling was integrated into larger employment, human service or public programs (in Integrated Financial Empowerment Services), we also saw higher rates of people being banked, better rates of people bringing past-due accounts current, and some positive impacts on employment, although those didn’t result in higher incomes.

This quick and high-level summary of the research presented at the Forum is intended to help underscore how much we have added in recent years to the evidence base about what is working for whom and under what circumstances, but also demonstrates what work we still have to do to answer additional questions. We had a closing discussion on the topic of what we need from research going forward and whether we are exploring the right solutions for our current challenges. Panelists discussed how to make research applied and fit the realities of our communities, including explicitly exploring impacts on and collecting data in communities of color, incorporating the expertise and knowledge of practitioners, trying to better match the timelines of research and decision-making processes and thinking beyond solutions that are designed to only change the behavior of people and not also consider changing the economic and support systems in which we all operate.

The Research Forum was a great success and the ALC audience was very engaged in the discussions and sessions. We’d like to thank all of those who helped us plan the event, spoke in or moderated a panel, and finally all of those who attended. Personally, I feel lucky to work in a community that not only values research, but also values connecting research and evidence to the work happening in organizations on the ground and in public agencies and legislative bodies.

You can download most of the papers and presentations from the Forum on the ALC website as well as watch the opening and closing discussions on CFED’s YouTube channel.

2016 Assets Learning Conference Proves: This Is Our Moment

By Sean Luechtefeld on 10/06/2016 @ 09:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, News

If ever there was doubt about the potential of our movement to build a more inclusive and more equitable economy, it was put to rest when the field came together last week for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. Over the course of three days, 1,311 of you—including 360 speakers and over a dozen sponsors—participated in 90 sessions and 175 Capitol Hill visits. But the numbers only illustrate one small part of the bigger picture. If we take a step back to look more broadly at the last week, the ALC underscored what we already know: that together, this burgeoning field can achieve meaningful progress in our quest to bridge the racial wealth divide, expand proven solutions to create prosperity and build a new U.S. economy founded on the principles of justice, opportunity and inclusivity.

We all know that the challenges facing U.S. families and communities are immense, and these issues generated a great deal of thoughtful discussion at the conference. For example, attendees received a copy of The Ever-Growing Gap, a report we co-authored with the Institute for Policy Studies that underscores the relentless racial wealth divide that is keeping people of color from getting ahead. Likewise, attendees also discussed housing insecurity and student loan debt, which are forcing people out of the middle class at alarming rates. And, in the closing plenary, attendees witnessed a riveting performance by Anna Deavere Smith that personified many of the daunting challenges low-income families grapple with each day.

We know that solving these challenges—turning the tax code right-side up, putting college within reach, ensuring pathways to homeownership and more—won’t be a small task. But we do know that when the field comes together, our chances of creating a more equitable economy are much higher than when we work on our own. The ALC was a clear testament to that notion. For three days, each challenge raised was met with a host of ideas for policies, programs and people that can help us overcome some of the most significant obstacles we face.

As you return home and turn your attention back to the important work you do day in and day out, we would love for you to reflect on your takeaways from the conference. We want to hear more about what you thought of the 2016 ALC, both to make the 2018 ALC even better and to inform our work more broadly. Please take a moment to fill out the ALC evaluation in the Mobile App to let us know your thoughts.

Whether you attended the ALC or not, YOU are the reason CFED believes that the opportunity economy we envision is within reach. Thank you again for all that you do.

ALC Session Spotlight: Building Financial Well-Being at Tax Time

By Sean Luechtefeld on 08/29/2016 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, Taxpayer Opportunity Network

In just five weeks, 1,400 asset builders will descend on Washington for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. This week, we’re highlighting several of the 80+ sessions from which attendees will have to choose. If you want to get in on the action and participate in these sessions, it’s not too late! Register for the ALC by Friday, September 2 to guarantee your seat at the table and save $100!

If you’re interested in using tax time to boost the financial well-being of people in your community, here’s your personalized ALC agenda:

  • Taxpayer Opportunity Network Pre-conference Convening & TaxSlayer Training (Tuesday, September 27, 2-5:30 pm with reception to follow)
    Join peers and colleagues from across the country for the first-ever convening of Taxpayer Opportunity Network members at a pre-convening event, which will include an in-depth TaxSlayer training, conducted by representatives from the company. Advance registration for this pre-conference event is required.
  • Opening Plenary: Reclaiming the Opportunity Economy (Wednesday, September 28, 9 am)
    CFED President Andrea Levere will lead a vibrant discussion of the State of the Field. Then, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will welcome the many attendees of this year’s ALC who use tax time to build the financial security of taxpayers in their communities.
  • VITA: A Hub for Innovation (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
    Come to this session to hear from leaders working to build financial capability at tax time, including through such strategies as self-tax preparation, Facilitated Self Assistance and collaborative EITC outreach efforts. Participants will learn more about innovative programs and have a chance to ask questions about how to boost the financial well-being of vulnerable taxpayers.
  • VITA 301: An In-depth Workshop for VITA Practitioners (Thursday, September 29, 1:45 pm)
    In this workshop, experts in the community tax preparation field will review the latest hot topics, such as the transition to TaxSlayer, EITC refund delays, ITINs and more. They'll also share their tips and experiences for operating a successful VITA program. Representatives from IRS SPEC and TaxSlayer will also be in the room with us, and we will allow plenty of time for questions, networking and peer sharing.
  • Challenges and Opportunities Ahead for Tax Time and Tax Preparation (Thursday, September 29, 10:15 am)
    This session aims to provide an understanding of the most timely tax-time policy issues and the advocacy efforts underway behind them, not limited to but including VITA reauthorization, paid preparer regulations, myRA at tax time and tax-time saving.
  • Capitol Hill Visits (Thursday, September 29, 1:45 pm)
    On Thursday afternoon, 600+ advocates will meet with their lawmakers to raise awareness about and advocate for the expansion of the VITA program and opportunities to help low-income taxpayers save at tax time.
  • Leveraging the Tax Moment: How Can We Help Low- and Moderate-Income Taxpayers Build Financial Security? (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
    Experts in this session will discuss some of the latest innovations, pressing challenges for replication and lessons learned from the field when it comes to using the tax moment as a gateway to enduring financial security.
  • Volunteer Recruitment, Retention and Management: Model Practices (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
    In this session, presenters will explore best practices for volunteer management, strategies for recruiting volunteers for different types of financial capability services, and how to retain volunteers in financial capability programs over the long term.
  • Protecting Filers from Delayed Refunds (Friday, September 30, 11:45 am)
    This coming tax season, the IRS is anticipating delaying the disbursement of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. Practitioners and advocates should join this session to hear what you can do to help filers prepare for potential delays and avoid predatory short term loans.

These are just a small sampling of all this year’s ALC has to offer. Check out the full agenda here.

We hope to see you in Washington, DC, September 28-30! Learn more and register today at

ALC Session Spotlight: Building Your Capacity to Advocate, Communicate & Integrate

By Sean Luechtefeld on 08/26/2016 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, Integrating Financial Capability

In just five weeks, 1,400 asset builders will descend on Washington for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. This week, we’re highlighting several of the 80+ sessions from which attendees will have to choose. If you want to get in on the action and participate in these sessions, it’s not too late! Register for the ALC by Friday, September 2 to guarantee your seat at the table and save $100!

If you’re interested in honing your advocacy skills and improving the services you deliver, here’s your personalized ALC agenda:

  • Top Down & Bottom Up Integration Successes (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
    Successful integration of financial capability services into direct service programs requires the thoughtful planning and implementation of organizations and programs on the ground. This session will explore what successful integration into Head Start and workforce development programs looks like on the ground, and how federal agency support and legislation can take integration to the next level.
  • Upping Your Advocacy Game: Engaging Practitioners as Advocates (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
    This session will explore how state-based and national organizations have engaged and mobilized practitioners, service delivery providers, coalition partners and other stakeholders to advocate for change. The session will help participants understand the importance of advocacy and share some concrete ways to build skills and comfort in participating in effective advocacy.
  • From Grassroots to Government: Changemaking for Economic Opportunity (Thursday, September 29, 8:30 am)
    How does change happen in this country? Sometimes from the top down—and sometimes from the ground up. This plenary will examine both sides of the equation. We’ll begin with an address from a senior Administration official (invited) who will speak about the powerful momentum that has been generated at the federal level around the notion of financial inclusion and security. Then, Assets & Opportunity Network Steering Committee Chair Dave Snyder will facilitate a dialogue with The Reverend Starsky Wilson, Co-chair of the Ferguson Commission.
  • Broadening the Tent: Engaging Communities of Color in Our Coalitions (Thursday, September 29, 10:15 am)
    This session will examine how engaging communities of color in coalition building can lead to positive outcomes that benefit diverse stakeholders. Practitioners will share their effective coalition-building strategies and practices at the national, state and local levels, and participants will have a chance to think about their own coalition-building challenges, including getting feedback and input on how to resolve these challenges.
  • Capitol Hill Visits (Thursday, September 29, 2:15 pm)
    Capitol Hill Visits give ALC attendees the opportunity to educate federal lawmakers and their staffers about strategies that build financial health and well-being, including issues related to IDAs and VITA/EITC. To help get you ready, we’re also offering a Hill Visit prep session, “Everything You Need to Know to Tackle Capitol Hill,” Thursday at 10:15 am. Join us to make a difference in the communities you serve!
  • Workshop: Financial Coaching 101 (Thursday, September 29, 2:15 pm)
    In this interactive workshop, participants will have the opportunity to learn from experts and practitioners first-hand about the elemental foundations of financial coaching. Guest speakers and presenters will share best practices from the field and share the basic building blocks of what financial coaching is, what it looks like and how practitioners might integrate financial coaching in some way into their own service delivery. Additionally, participants will have the opportunity to showcase and demonstrate their coaching model, product or curriculum with participants.
  • Effective Communications Strategies that Won't Break the Bank (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
    Starting with the resources you DO have—plus targeted digital investments—this session will explore how a smart communications strategy can help you do more with less. In this session, you’ll hear from experts in policy, advocacy, media relations and digital communications who will show you how strategic use of communications tools can help you reach your goals and make the case for a more inclusive economy. You’ll walk away from the session with concrete tips for making the most of your strategic communications efforts.
  • Fundraising for Advocacy and Coalition Building (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
    Advocates and coalition leaders often report that fundraising for their work is a major challenge in the field. In this session, participants will hear from experts about the current funding landscape and how to craft a compelling message for funders. This session will be interactive and participants will practice pitching their fundraising message with their peers.
  • Policy Options and Political Opportunity for Reforming Unfair Tax Programs (Friday, September 30, 11:45 am)
    Every year, Congress chooses to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on tax programs to help Americans build wealth, but low-income households—and particularly households of color—receive little or no support. The result of these unfair, upside-down tax programs is growing financial insecurity, a widening racial wealth divide and skyrocketing wealth inequality. Speakers in this session will discuss the scope of these problems, their ideas for reforming and redeploying these tax programs, opportunities for advocacy engagement from the field, and the potential for real change with a new Congress and Administration in 2017.

These are just a small sampling of all this year’s ALC has to offer. Check out the full agenda here.

We hope to see you in Washington, DC, September 28-30! Learn more and register today at

ALC Session Spotlight: Children’s Savings

By Sean Luechtefeld on 08/25/2016 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, Children's Savings Accounts

In just five weeks, 1,400 asset builders will descend on Washington for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. Over the next week, we’ll be highlighting several of the 80+ sessions from which attendees will have to choose. If you want to get in on the action and participate in these sessions, it’s not too late! Register for the ALC by Friday, September 2 to guarantee your seat at the table and save $100!

If you’re interested in putting higher education within reach for all families, here’s your personalized ALC agenda:

  • Opening Plenary: Reclaiming the Opportunity Economy (Wednesday, September 28, 9 am)
    CFED President Andrea Levere will lead a vibrant discussion of the State of the Field, illustrated by insights from consumers about their own financial capability journeys. In addition, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will welcome the many attendees of this year’s ALC who use tax time to build the financial security of taxpayers in their communities.
  • CSAs 101: A Road Map to Designing and Launching Your Children's Savings Program (Wednesday, September 28, 2:15 pm)
    Join us for an introductory session on Children's Savings Accounts based on CFED's program design guide, Investing in Dreams. We will provide an overview of key considerations when establishing a new CSA program, and representatives from four CSA programs will also be present to share how their programs work, as well as to address participants' questions.
  • Research on Children’s Savings: Recent Findings and Implications for Policy and Practice (Thursday, September 29, 10:15 am)
    Recent research indicates that Children’s Savings Accounts may have profound effects on both participating children and their families. Speakers in this session will discuss their latest findings, including how CSAs affect children’s and parents' college expectations, the savings behavior of families, children’s development and more. Speakers will also discuss the implications of these findings for CSA policy and program design.
  • CSA Fundraising 102: How to Pitch Your CSA Program to Funders (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
    One of the most critical—and often most challenging—steps in launching a CSA initiative is securing a commitment of resources from those willing and able to fund such an effort. The ability to secure such commitments depends not only on identifying the right set of potential donors, but also on making the case effectively to these donors. Attendees in this session will learn about the potential sources of funding for CSA programs and how they can use research and other tools to build the case for their CSA program to foundations, corporations and individuals.
  • Advocating for Change: Advancing CSA Policy at the State and Local Levels (Friday, September 30, 11:45 am)
    This session will focus on the opportunities and challenges for further adoption of children’s savings policies by elected and administrative policymakers. Officials and advocates from the state and city levels will discuss the reasons they support children’s savings programs and share ideas for gaining additional support from public officials across the political spectrum.

These are just a small sampling of all this year’s ALC has to offer. Check out the full agenda here.

We hope to see you in Washington, DC, September 28-30! Learn more and register today at

ALC Session Spotlight: Racial Wealth Inequality

By Sean Luechtefeld on 08/24/2016 @ 11:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, Racial Wealth Divide

In just five weeks, 1,400 asset builders will descend on Washington for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. Over the next week, we’ll be highlighting several of the 80+ sessions from which attendees will have to choose. If you want to get in on the action and participate in these sessions, it’s not too late! Register for the ALC by Friday, September 2 to guarantee your seat at the table and save $100!

If you’re interested in solving racial wealth inequality, here’s your personalized ALC agenda:

  • Bridging Economic Inequality with the Racial Wealth Audit (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
    The Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University, along with Demos and CFED, are developing a racial wealth audit that assesses which asset-building policies will have the greatest effect on bridging racial economic inequality. Experts in this session will discuss design features of policies that affect racial wealth inequality and the importance of a racial wealth audit for developing the best possible policies to create opportunity for all.
  • Creating Opportunity and Financial Well-Being in Native Communities (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
    This session will explore the challenges/obstacles to building financial well-being in Native communities. Participants in this session will hear from experts about programs, strategies and solutions that are building financial well-being in Indian Country and will have the chance to engage in discussions about how to create long-term, scalable opportunities to build financial well-being and economic opportunity.
  • Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom: Nurturing Racial Equity in Our Networks and Nonprofits (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
    How can nonprofits take on the racial leadership gap and the racial wealth divide within our own sector? How can grassroots community-based organizations led by people of color gain access to and influence the asset-building field? How can organizations and funders deepen their commitment to racial equity internally and within their coalitions? In this session, we will share findings from Building Movement Project’s 2016 Nonprofits, Leadership & Race Survey. We’ll explore how organizations can advance the inclusion of people of color in our sector though strategic hiring, mentoring and leadership development. We’ll discuss strategies and best practices for funders and coalitions to increase influence and access for organizations led by people of color, and for building internal opportunities for employees of color within our own organizations.
  • What Does It Take to Support African-American Financial Capability? (Wednesday, September 28, 10:45 am)
    Participants in this session will hear from African-American-led organizations that are working collaboratively in six communities to improve financial capability and inclusion. Panelists in this session will share information about the African-American Financial Capability Initiative, an exciting investment the Northwest Area Foundation is making to encourage collaboration, foster peer learning and support collective impact strategies.
  • Pennies on the Dollar: How Racial Wealth Inequality Factures the Nation, and Why We Must Act (Wednesday, September 28, noon)
    Despite the success of many asset-building programs and policies, the level of income and wealth inequality has increased to historic levels not seen since the Great Depression, and households of color are suffering most. This honest, thought-provoking conversation about addressing the racial wealth divide will feature a panel of leaders representing organizations of color.
  • Immigration and the Path to Financial Well-Being (Thursday, September 29, 10:15 am)
    Historically, immigrant communities across the US have struggled to be part of the financial mainstream and have lacked the resources to achieve full financial inclusion. In this session, experts and leaders in the field will focus on the programs and services their organizations are offering to alleviate challenges while highlighting their present and future work to boost financial well-being among immigrants. This session will also explore ways that innovative programs and state and federal policies can help immigrants get ahead.
  • Broadening the Tent: Engaging Communities of Color in Our Coalitions (Thursday, September 29, 10:15 am)
    This session will examine how engaging communities of color in coalition building can lead to positive outcomes that benefit diverse stakeholders. Practitioners will share their effective coalition-building strategies and practices at the national, state and local levels. Participants will have a chance to think about their own coalition-building challenges, including getting feedback and input on how to resolve these challenges.
  • Entrepreneurship and the Racial Wealth Divide: Challenges and Opportunities for Black-Owned Business in the South (Thursday, September 29, 10:15 am)
    African-American entrepreneurs in the South face a unique set of challenges as they work to transform their businesses into assets for themselves and their communities. Prior research suggests that cash flow difficulties are a particular challenge for low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs and that the greatest disparities in business outcomes are experienced by African-American entrepreneurs in the South. The racial wealth divide puts African-American entrepreneurs in an even more precarious financial position from the beginning. This session highlights new research drawn from conversations with practitioners in 9 states and in-depth interviews with 30 African-American entrepreneurs in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi about the underlying drivers of cash flow inconsistency. Panelists and participants will share their reactions to these findings and consider their implications for program, policy and service-oriented solutions that might help entrepreneurs achieve financial security through business ownership. This session is sponsored by Capital One.
  • Race and Homeownership: How Housing Contributes to the Racial Wealth Divide, and What Should be Done about It (Friday, September 30, 10:15 am)
    Housing is the single greatest contributor to the racial wealth divide in this country, and this session will explore what can be done to create more parity in this space. Discussions will include how we got here (what policies produced the divide historically) and what the housing policy landscape looks like today, including how it helps or exacerbates racial wealth disparity. This session will also explore what needs to be done in the future to reduce racial wealth inequality.
  • Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap (Friday, September 30, 11:45 am)
    This panel discussion will focus on the causes and effects of the women’s wealth gap, with a focus on emerging policy and practical strategies to narrow the gap by expanding savings and investment opportunities for low-income women and women of color.
  • Closing Plenary: The Price of Hope (Friday, September 30, 1 pm)
    Our closing plenary, The Price of Hope, will reflect on all that has been shared and discussed over the previous three days, and leave us with a sense of renewed direction and purpose. The plenary will feature a performance and remarks from actor Anna Deavere Smith, whose recent efforts to document the “poverty to prison” pipeline etch into sharp relief the urgency and importance of creating pathways to prosperity for all children and families. In this final session, leaders from some of the nation’s most respected foundations and public agencies will share their vision for promoting equality and financial security for all U.S. families, including highlighting the unique role philanthropic institutions play in advancing prosperity for all.

These are just a small sampling of all this year’s ALC has to offer. Check out the full agenda here.

We hope to see you in Washington, DC, September 28-30! Learn more and register today at

5 Reasons to Register for the 2016 ALC Today!

By Sean Luechtefeld on 06/17/2016 @ 05:00 PM

Tags: ALC 2016

Register by June 24 and Save!

Are you planning to come to the 2016 Assets Learning Conference? If so, you only have one more week to take advantage of the lowest registration rates. Register by midnight on Friday, June 24, and save $100. If you’re a member of one of our networks, you'll save even more!*

Still need convincing? Here are five reasons why you can’t miss the premiere gathering of people like you working to build an opportunity economy:

  1. A diverse range of high-quality programming, including six plenaries and 70 concurrent sessions on an array of topics, including financial coaching, VITA and EITC, affordable housing, children’s savings and more.
  2. Access to some of the most influential names in Washington, who need to hear from consumer advocates. Keynote speakers include CFPB Director Richard Cordray and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and ALC attendees will once again have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the communities they serve with the return of Capitol Hill Visits.
  3. An incredible conference experience at an incredible price. In addition to keeping costs low so as many attendees as possible can join us, we’ve also arranged a slew of travel and destination discounts to help you make the most of your time in our nation’s capital (which, by the way, is gorgeous in September). Consider it financial capability for your travel budget.
  4. Full accessibility for attendees with disabilities. This year, we're partnering with our friends at the World Institute on Disability to ensure all aspects of the ALC are inclusive. When you register, let us know what accommodations you need, and when you’re at the conference, stop by the Disability Concierge to learn how to make the most of your ALC experience.
  5. An all-around great time with great friends and great colleagues. We know that you don’t get to connect with friends and colleagues in the field as often as you’d like, so we’ve designed the ALC to be optimal for networking. Back by popular demand, the D.C. Street Fair will be a great chance to connect, while Thursday evening’s “Choose Your Own Adventure Night” will offer something for everyone.

All these features of the ALC are available for one low price, but that price goes up after June 24. Save some cash by registering today!

* An additional $50 discount is available to members of the Assets & Opportunity Network, Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, I’M HOME Network and Taxpayer Opportunity Network. Joining these networks is free and comes with valuable benefits on top of your ALC discount!

New Assets Learning Conference Keynote Speakers, Plus Last Call for Digital Dream Team

By Sean Luechtefeld on 06/09/2016 @ 11:30 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, Events, News

Andrea Levere addressing attendees at the 2014 ALC.

In case you missed the news, we’re thrilled to announce the addition of two featured keynote speakers to the Assets Learning Conference (ALC) agenda! John Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, have both accepted our invitation to address the 1,300+ ALC participants who will join us in Washington, DC, in September. We’re also soliciting applications to join the ALC Digital Dream Team through midnight tomorrow; apply now to make sure you don’t miss out on this important opportunity!

Are you planning to come to the ALC? Are you looking to expand your social media presence and connect with other professionals in our field? If so, the ALC Digital Dream Team is calling your name! As a member of the Dream Team, you’ll help promote the Conference to bring more like-minded people to the event, and you’ll be critical in driving attendee engagement here in DC this summer. Not only is it a great opportunity to create content that showcases your expertise, but you’ll also have the opportunity to play a visible and influential role in the ALC experience. And, to thank you for your contributions, members of the Dream Team will receive a $75 Visa gift card and will be recognized during the Conference. We’re accepting applications through 11:59 pm PDT tomorrow, June 10, so apply today!

The ALC Digital Dream Team is just one of the ways we’re working to enhance the attendee experience this year. Throughout the summer, we’ll be announcing new and exciting upgrades to the Conference, including improved accessibility for attendees with disabilities. We’ll also be announcing new speakers who, along with Director Cordray and Commissioner Koskinen, will help us deliver our largest and most diverse set of sessions to date. Stay tuned for more details!

Haven’t registered yet? Register for the ALC by 11:59 pm PDT on Friday, June 24, and save $100! Join one of CFED’s networks and save even more! Learn more and register here.

Out of Prison, but Shackled in Debt

By Ariel Sankar-Bergmann and Carmen Shorter on 04/28/2016 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: Economic Inclusion, Financial Capability, Racial Wealth Divide, ALC 2016

Editor’s Note: April is National Financial Capability Month, and we are running a month-long campaign to raise awareness about the moments in one’s lifecycle when financial capability matters. Today, Ariel Sankar-Bergmann and Carmen Shorter explore the financial capability needs of formerly incarcerated individuals.

The problem of mass incarceration has been given some much-needed attention recently. With 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails, it is clear that changes need to be made to improve our nation’s criminal justice system. While finding ways to reduce the number of people incarcerated is key, it is also important that we understand the long-term impact that incarceration or even contact with the justice system can have on a person’s life, particularly their financial life.

A recent report from the Center for American Progress estimates that between 70 and 100 million people have a criminal record. The criminal justice system disproportionately impacts low-income individuals, and contact with the justice system can and does negatively impact a person’s economic situation. That’s because individuals leaving jail or prison will not only face significant barriers to finding stable employment, housing, education and access to public assistance, but they are also subject to a range of fines, fees and bail payments that can create a high debt burden.

The debts that former prisoners face are significant. For example, a study in Washington State found that “formerly incarcerated men face criminal debts that equal 36% to 60% of their annual incomes.” Simply having this high level of debt can create a barrier to employment. For example, a report by the Brennan Center, which examined the 15 states with the highest prison populations found that eight of those 15 states suspended driving privileges for former prisoners who missed a debt payment, effectively limiting their access to reliable transportation, which may significantly limit their ability to find and maintain employment.

In addition to debt related to fines and fees, former prisoners who are also parents often accrue significant arrearages in child support. This is because many states don’t suspend child support obligations while individuals are incarcerated. You may wonder, “How can someone pay child support if they are in prison?” The answer is: they can’t. For example, a study of 650 incarcerated parents in Massachusetts who had child support orders found that parents entered prison owing on average more than $10,000 in unpaid child support; by the time they leave prison, if their orders have not been adjusted, their level of indebtedness would increased to more than $40,000.

A new report by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights reveals that spending time in either jail or prison not only has economic consequences on the individual who was incarcerated but also affects the economic situation of their whole family. Women in particular carry the greatest economic burden of arrest and conviction: in 63% of cases, families paid court costs, and 83% of the family members paying these costs are women. The average debt for court fines and fees is $13,607; for families with low incomes and who lack a savings cushion, this much debt can be destabilizing.

Our mission at CFED is to make it possible for millions of people — including formerly incarcerated individuals — to achieve financial security and contribute to an opportunity economy. Many organizations serving low- and moderate-income clients are already working with formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. To take services to the next level and better meet client needs, organizations must tailor their services and build partnerships to better address some of the unique needs of this population. Below are three resources that organizations that are interested in expanding their work in this field can utilize:

  • By integrating financial capability services into transitional housing, workforce development, substance abuse treatment, family strengthening and other services dedicated to individuals with prior criminal justice contact, these programs can help families build a strong financial foundation. CFED worked with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to develop a planning guide that organizations can use to integrate financial capability into existing support services for individuals with criminal records.
  • Basic needs such as housing and other benefits can help stabilize individuals returning from incarceration. Today, the Shriver Center and the Vera Institute of Justice will be presenting a webinar on the fair housing rights of people with criminal records. Click here to register for it.
  • Come to the 2016 Assets Learning Conference on September 28-30 in Washington, DC and attend one of the sessions about policy challenges formerly incarcerated persons face and how organizations are developing programs to address the financial needs of formerly incarcerated persons.

The combination of debts and other barriers create a set of almost insurmountable challenges that formerly incarcerated persons face as soon as they leave jail or prison. While it may be tempting to try and ignore this problem, nearly every person who spends time in prison or jail will one day return home and join our communities. The question that we now face as service providers, policy makers and advocates is: how can we do more to make sure that the millions of formerly incarcerated individuals who will return home can successfully rejoin our communities and contribute to the opportunity economy that we hope to create?

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In Case You Missed It: Registration for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference is Now Open!

By Kristin Lawton on 04/07/2016 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: ALC 2016, News

You may have seen our announcement on Tuesday that it’s time to register for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference! Join us September 28-30 in Washington, DC, for our largest ALC yet! This year’s Conference will bring together more than 1,300 professionals committed to building an opportunity economy that works for all.

Highlights of the 2016 ALC include:

  • Six plenary sessions headlined by high-profile speakers, including CFPB Director Richard Cordray.
  • More than 60 concurrent sessions covering topics that you care about the most.
  • A half-dozen capacity-building workshops, tailored to fit your training needs.
  • An Applied Research Forum focused on the base of evidence that proves the effectiveness of asset-based strategies that help families climb the economic ladder. It's not too late to submit your research to the ALC Research Forum! Click here for information on how to submit before midnight tomorrow!
  • Capitol Hill Visits, as well as training on how to make the case for policies that strengthen the financial futures of families, communities and the nation.
  • Several networking events, including the return of the D.C. Street Fair-themed reception on Wednesday night. New this year: the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Night on Thursday, where you’ll get the chance to choose from a variety of activities!

Over the next several months, we’ll be announcing new features of what we’re working to make the best Assets Learning Conference yet! To make sure you’re receiving the latest news and updates about the 2016 ALC, be on the lookout for emails from CFED and follow us on Facebook and Twitter using #ALC2016.

Did you know? If you register before the early bird deadline on June 24, you can save $100 on the cost of your registration. Join one of CFED’s networks (Assets & Opportunity Network, I’M HOME Network, Taxpayer Opportunity Network and/or Campaign for Every Kid’s Future) and save an additional $50!*

To register for the Conference, visit We look forward to seeing you in September!

* To take advantage of the discount, register for the Conference using the same email address you used to join any of the networks mentioned above. Our system will automatically recognize your email address and apply the $50 discount. If you joined one of these networks in the past 24 hours, your discount may not apply automatically; please wait at least 24 hours before contacting CFED about a discount that is not properly applying to your registration.

ALC Registration Opens Next Week - Join a Network Today and Save!

By Sean Luechtefeld on 03/31/2016 @ 12:00 PM

Tags: ALC 2016, Assets & Opportunity Initiative, Children's Savings Accounts, Taxpayer Opportunity Network

The 2016 Assets Learning Conference (ALC) will take place September 28-30 in Washington, DC, bringing together 1,300+ professionals committed to building an opportunity economy that works for everyone.

You don’t have to wait until the ALC to connect with all these individuals, though. Many of the attendees are already members of the Assets & Opportunity Network, the Campaign for Every Kid's Future, the I'M HOME Network and the Taxpayer Opportunity Network. Consider joining them today to unlock a host of benefits.

As a Network member, you have the chance to shape the direction of the field. Members get the opportunity to connect with peers and experts, access special resources and learning opportunities, engage in federal, state and local advocacy—and more.

This year, we're offering a $50 discount on the cost of registration to members of these four networks. To take advantage of the discount, you must become a member of at least one of the networks before registering for the Conference. Registration opens next week, and once a member of one of these networks, the email address you used to sign up will be used by our system to determine your eligibility for the discount.

In other words, to prepare for the opening of ALC registration next week, you should join one of the following four networks. Joining is free and comes with a variety of valuable benefits besides your discount to the 2016 ALC.

Assets & Opportunity Network

The Assets & Opportunity Network is a movement-oriented group of service providers, advocates, researchers, financial institutions, policymakers and others who are working to implement strategies and advocate for policies that help people become more financially secure.

Join today!

Campaign for Every Kid's Future

The Campaign for Every Kid's Future is built on the belief that every child, including the most vulnerable, should have dedicated savings that build aspirations and financial means for a future that includes post-secondary education. Our goal is raise the visibility of Children's Savings Accounts (CSAs) and ensure that at least 1.4 million children have a CSA in their name by 2020.

Join today!

I'M HOME Network

The purpose of the I'M HOME Network is to serve as a learning and advocacy community that enhances members’ capacity to leverage manufactured housing as affordable housing in their work and to build on the successes of their fellow Network members.

Join today!

Taxpayer Opportunity Network

The Taxpayer Opportunity Network brings together organizations and individuals who provide tax assistance to low-income communities at no or little cost to taxpayers. The Network shares critical information for effective service delivery, connecting expert practitioners across the country and providing timely tools and resources.

Join today!

We hope you will add your leadership and energy to one of these networks, and we can't wait to share what we've got in store for you at this year's ALC. Stay tuned for information about how to register next week!

Submit Your Research for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference!

By Kasey Wiedrich on 03/02/2016 @ 04:00 PM

Tags: ALC 2016, Data and Research

On September 28-30, the 2016 Assets Learning Conference (ALC) will convene over 1,300 stakeholders to explore cutting-edge strategies to promote assets and close the opportunity gap. A key feature of the ALC will be a Research Forum designed to highlight evidence of promising solutions, identify gaps between challenges and solutions, and spark dialogue between researchers and policymakers, advocates and practitioners.

We invite you to submit research papers for the ALC. Selected papers will either be featured in the Research Forum or in concurrent sessions throughout the conference. We welcome empirical, applied evaluation and policy research papers broadly related to asset building, wealth inequality, financial inclusion, coaching and capability, financial well-being, household and consumer finances and economic mobility issues. We are especially interested in papers in two priority areas:

  • What are key financial challenges or decisions facing communities? Research that identifies or furthers our understanding of the financial challenges, needs, behaviors and preferences of households and communities, particularly low-income and communities of color.
  • What works, for whom and in what circumstances? Research that provides evidence of promising solutions — programmatic, policy or products — to these key financial challenges and needs or that show promise in building financial capability or financial well-being and its key drivers

For more information, including specific topic areas of interest, see the full call for research. If you would like your research to be considered for inclusion in the ALC, please submit a detailed abstract (1,000 words) for consideration to by April 15, 2016. Authors of papers accepted for the conference will be notified in May 2016 and will receive complimentary registration to the ALC. If you have any questions, please contact me at

2016 Assets Learning Conference: Save the Date!

By Merrit Gillard on 09/28/2015 @ 01:00 PM

Tags: ALC 2016

At CFED, we believe in the power of convening. There is nothing that helps more to move our field forward than gathering a diverse group of stakeholders to share stories and ideas.

Every two years, we do just that at the Assets Learning Conference. The ALC brings together a wide range of participants working to build more financially secure individuals, families and communities.

Exactly one year from today, we will kick off the 2016 ALC, which will be the biggest and best yet. From September 28-30, 2016, more than 1,300 people from across the country will come together to imagine and shape the programs, policies and processes that help build an opportunity economy.

These three action-packed days will give you a chance to learn from leading experts and connect with other service providers, researchers, policymakers, funders, fundraisers, financial institution professionals and a range of others.

Additional details, confirmed speakers and an agenda will be forthcoming, so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out highlights and stories from previous Assets Learning Conferences.

Also, for sponsorship information, download the sponsorship package here and email your questions to Jocelyn Harmon, Chief Philanthropy Officer, at For general inquiries about the Conference, email us at

We are very excited about this event and can't wait to see you there!

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