The Brief | February 21, 2024

The Brief: Fusing philanthropy and investing in multi-donor funds

The team at


Greetings Agents of Impact!

In today’s Brief:

  • Multi-donor funds for catalytic capital
  • Electric industrial boilers
  • Solar securitization in Africa

Featured: Catalytic Capital 

Multi-donor funds emerge as a creative architecture for collaborative, catalytic capital. Heading for Change has one. So does Upstart Co-Lab. Unlock Ownership is launching its own. Multi-donor funds built on top of donor-advised funds “can pursue deep impact investing fused with philanthropy, quickly, affordably and in a manner that supports a high degree of flexible design and collaboration,” ImpactAssets’ Tim Freundlich writes in a guest post on ImpactAlpha. The $3 billion asset manager now supports three dozen multi-donor funds and adds roughly one new initiative per month.

  • Philanthropic investing. The more than $229 billion held in nearly two million donor-advised funds represents a potentially rich source of catalytic capital, Freundlich says. Because the assets have already been moved to a charitably-intentioned “pocket,” donors can accept longer time-horizons, higher risks or lower returns, he says. “They can often be first or ‘early in’ money, move more quickly, and adopt a somewhat fearless and flexible orientation to catalyze the intended impact.”
  • Flexible design. Multi-donor funds can be set up in a few days, with little start-up expense, and operate with much lower levels of capital than typical funds. Market-rate investments, catalytic capital and grants can coexist in a single portfolio. And because of their legal structure, multi-donor funds can allow for pluralist or democratized governance. “MDFs can function almost like decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs,” Freundlich says, but without the need for blockchain technology.

Dealflow: The Transition

AtmosZero raises $21 million for zero-carbon industrial boilers. Coal- and gas-fired boilers have generated steam power and heat for buildings and industrial processes since the Industrial Revolution. AtmosZero, based in Fort Collins, Colo., has built an electric boiler that uses heat pump technology to turn heat from the air into high-temperature steam. AtmosZero touts maintenance savings, since electric boilers don’t require combustion inspections. The modular design of the company’s “Boiler 2.0” makes it “a scalable, drop-in replacement product rather than complex and expensive customized projects,” said AtmosZero’s Addison Stark

  • Electrify everything. The Series A funding will support AtmosZero’s first commercial pilot, a 650-kilowatt electric boiler at New Belgium Brewing’s headquarters in Fort Collins. AtmosZero will work with Fort Collins Utilities to deliver 100% renewable electricity at the brewing facility by 2030. The company plans to expand in Europe through its Amsterdam-based subsidiary AtmosZero Europe. 
  • Industrial decarbonization. MIT-spinout venture fund Engine Ventures (formerly The Engine) and 2150 co-led AtmostZero’s financing, joined by Energy Impact Partners, Constellation Technology Ventures and other backers. AtmosZero recently secured a $3.2 million grant from the US Department of Energy to develop an electric boiler that simultaneously produces both steam and refrigeration. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels isn’t just an environmental imperative — it’s a geopolitical one, too,” said Engine’s Michael Kearney.
  • Check it out.

D.light closes $7.4 million solar securitization deal in Nigeria. Securitized financing enables d.light to move loans to solar customers off of its balance sheet, freeing its capital to finance new customers. The off-grid solar product company clinched 10 billion Nigerian naira ($7.4 million), guaranteed by d.light’s current and future product sales in the country. Nigerian investment management firm Chapel Hill Denham put up the capital, and African Frontier Capital structured the deal. Denham’s Bolaji Balogun described the deal as a “pivotal stride in sustainable infrastructure investment in Nigeria.”

  • Off-grid growth. D.light says it has sold more than 30 million of its products in Africa. Nigeria is one of d.light’s fastest-growing markets for solar home systems, inverters and solar-powered appliances, as well as mobile phones (for more on Africa’s off-grid solar market, read, “Zola, Sun King and M-KOPA offer three paths to Africa’s off-grid energy future“). D.light has issued more than $500 million in securitized debt financing since 2020, including a $238 million vehicle for the Kenyan market and a $125 million facility in Tanzania.

Dealflow overflow. Investment news crossing our desks:

  • Malaysian public pension fund manager Kumpulan Wang Persaraan invested $21 million in two startups and two fund managers to address financial inclusion, food security and climate change. (KWAP)
  • London-based Juniper raised €1.7 million ($1.8 million) to provide reproductive health insurance that covers a gap between employer-sponsored plans and the public health system. (EU-Startups)
  • Indian EV finance, insurance and maintenance company Vidyut secured $10 million in debt and equity, while electric two-wheeler maker Pure EV raised $8 million in equity (see, “India’s growing appetite for electric vehicles”).
  • Bangladesh-based PriyoShop clinched $5 million to supply inventory, financing and a business management app to mom and pop shops. (Tech in Asia)
  • Omnivore, Siana Capital and Unleash Capital Partners led a $6.5 million Series A financing round for Ayekart, a fintech company that lends to India’s small and mid-sized agribusinesses. (Omnivore)

Signals: State of the Field

Impact investing at a crossroads. “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi never said it, but the truism does describe the arc of many movements for change. But nothing is inevitable. “Impact investing is at a crossroads,” Fran Seegull of the US Impact Investing Alliance writes in her annual letter on the state of the field. At stake: “Its ability to generate innovative solutions at scale to the world’s greatest challenges.” Seegull calls for accountability, collaboration and system-level thinking about systemic crises like climate change and inequality (the Alliance sponsors ImpactAlpha’s Policy Corner).

  • Industry angst. Angst is palpable in conversations across the impact ecosystem. Even as yawning capital gaps remain for global priorities like the Sustainable Development Goals, some big banks and asset managers are backpedaling on climate and diversity commitments in the face of conservative attacks. Elections around the world this year may well determine the arc of change. Terry Mollner of Stakeholders Capital convened a group of sustainable asset managers to try to meet the moment by recasting the field as “common good investing.” How angsty are you? How are you charting a path forward? Shoot us a note, or reply to this email.
  • Top priority. From “socially responsible investing” through “ESG” to impact investing, investors that prioritize the common good have cast about for the best way to describe their work. “It is time that our industry’s name clearly identifies what we have done since its inception: common good investing,” argues Mollner, a longtime leader of, well, common good investing. In a guest post on ImpactAlpha, Mollner recounts how he rallied fellow asset managers like Trillium’s Matt Patsky, Domini Funds’ Amy Domini, ImpactAssets’ Tim Freundlich, Green Century’s Leslie Samuelrich and Boston Common’s Geeta Aiyer, and his hopes to advance the discussion at next month’s Confluence Philanthropy Practitioners Gathering in Denver. Read Mollner’s guest post.
  • Climate retreat. The climate voting records of BlackRock, JP Morgan Asset Management, State Street and Pimco were suspect even before the firms dropped out of the Climate Action 100+ network in the face of escalating anti-ESG attacks by conservative politicians. The big asset managers are “just finally telling the truth about their own stewardship practices,” says Eli Kasargod-Staub of Majority Action, which tracks proxy voting records. Climate Action 100+ launched in 2017 to engage the biggest corporate emitters of greenhouse gases, first by pressing for disclosure and more recently for action plans to reduce emissions. Rep. Jim Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has attacked such investor collaborations as “collusion.” BlackRock, which will still participate in Climate Action 100+ through an international subsidiary, said it would “cast proxy votes consistent with decarbonization” objectives only when “clients have instructed us to do so.” It’s default: “A sole focus on advancing their economic interests.” 
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Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Shannon Mullins, a former sustainability and climate change manager at Deloitte, joins The Predistribution Initiative as head of special projects… Ilona Limonta-Volkova, previously with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, joins TruStage Ventures as an investor… UBS Wealth Management’s Santi Miller has been seconded to Ownership Works through October.

SVX is hiring an impact investing fund services manager in Ontario… Kresge Foundation is hiring an arts and culture senior program officer, a data application engineer, and fellows… Lumina Foundation is on the hunt for an impact investing director in Indianapolis… Morgan Stanley Investment Management seeks an ESG and sustainability intern in New York. 

S2G Ventures has several openings on its investments team… Mission Driven Finance is recruiting a business development and partnerships senior director… Wadhwani Foundation is looking for an impact manager in India… The deadline to apply for the Women-led Impact Investor Challenge, a $100,000 program hosted by Vancouver-based incubator and accelerator Spring, is this Friday. 

👉 View (or post) impact investing jobs on ImpactAlpha’s Career Hub.

Thank you for your impact!

– Feb. 21, 2024