Giving Matters: CommunityWorks builds brighter futures through lending, financial coaching

Giving Matters: CommunityWorks builds brighter futures through lending, financial coaching

The Greenville Journal | October 14th 2020

Many families and individuals in underserved communities have big dreams for homeownership and new business ventures. But their goals can’t be realized without funding and financial knowledge to guide sound decisions. CommunityWorks fills these needs for capital and business acumen with targeted lending programs and financial wellness and small-business coaching. The nonprofit also empowers women across South Carolina through the CommunityWorks Women’s Business Center.

Founded in 2008 as Greenville Housing Fund, through a partnership between United Way of Greenville County, Greenville County Redevelopment Authority and the city of Greenville, CommunityWorks is now a diverse Community Development Financial Institution. Tammie Hoy-Hawkins, chief executive officer, said the organization operates much like a bank, providing funding from $5,000 startup loans to $750,000 for larger projects.

CommunityWorks small business client. Photo provided.
“We’re a nonprofit lender offering access to financial services that are often not available from traditional lenders,” Hoy-Hawkins said. “Because we are mission-focused, we provide equitable opportunities that strengthen communities.”

In addition to extending credit to minority and women-owned small businesses, CommunityWorks makes loans to preserve and create more affordable housing and support commercial revitalization efforts in low-wealth communities. Certified financial coaches help clients reduce debt, become mortgage-ready and reach their financial goals.

Recent projects that CommunityWorks has been instrumental in moving forward are the Renaissance Place Senior Apartments on Pleasantburg Drive and the YMCA Judson Mill Community Center.

The Women’s Business Center is one of only two in the state providing similar resources and tools for female entrepreneurs, Hoy-Hawkins said.

“We offer one-on-one coaching, as well as seminars and workshops covering topics like marketing, branding and e-commerce, to help women who want to launch a startup or grow their business to the next stage,” she said.

CommunityWorks leverages various sources of funding to carry out its mission, including grants from foundations and government funding sources like SBA and USDA financing for lending in rural areas. CommunityWorks is a preferred lending partner working with Greenville County to allocate Federal CARES Act money to local businesses, nonprofits and other agencies.

Individuals, foundations and financial institutions also support its work through impact investing, generating beneficial social outcomes alongside a financial return.

“They can see their money at work in their own community, helping to provide access to affordable credit for local businesses and supporting affordable housing,” Hoy-Hawkins said. “Because of the work we do, they are able to get a certain return of good at the same time they’re getting a financial return.”

The Community Foundation of Greenville supports CommunityWorks through both philanthropic gifts and impact investment, said Bob Morris, president.

“First, we provide unrestricted grants to support its operating budget,” he said. “Second, we provide capital for it to lend to women-led and minority-owned small businesses by investing in promissory notes and certificates of deposit. We feel both ways are having a profound impact.”

In September, CFG awarded $100,000 in capacity-building grants to 15 local nonprofits, including a $7,500 grant to CommunityWorks. These funds, which were to be disbursed in February, were given early to meet pressing needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Also in 2020, CFG made $200,000 available to CommunityWorks in return for promissory notes to be paid back in 2030.

“We deployed over $2.6 million for the Payroll Protection Program using our own capital, with the goal to replenish once loans are forgiven by SBA. We were able to help 200 small businesses that desperately needed funding to stay afloat,” Hoy-Hawkins said. “The Community Foundation and other philanthropic organizations stepped up to cover that need.”