A Conversation with Kristin Hull

Story in: Among Peers

A Conversation with Kristin Hull

Much has been said about the new generation of philanthropists – individuals who aren’t just writing checks, but who roll up their shirt sleeves and bring all of their resources to bear: intellectual capital, networks, time, and influence. Kristin Hull is the embodiment of the new approach to philanthropy.

It’s difficult to fully capture the breadth and impact of her work in just a few short paragraphs, so let’s focus on three highlights:

  •  Bridging the Education Divide

Early in her career, Kristin noticed an education and opportunity gap in her home town of Oakland, CA. In an effort to provide low-income children with a learning experience on par with children of means, she co-founded the North Oakland Community Charter School, a public school that offers top-quality curriculum through a concept developed at Harvard.

  •  Impact Investing Trailblazer

Kristin is on the forefront of the impact investing movement. These days, Kristin spends a fair amount of time on the road advocating for impact investment and teaching other philanthropists how to get started.

  •  Social Justice Foot Soldier

Last year, Kristin launched the Nia Community Foundation, focused on grants and investments in Oakland that work towards social equity as well as environmental sustainability. Again from Barron’s “… her foundation has made 15 investments in companies that are based in Oakland or work there. Among them: People’s Community Market, a grocery store in a low-income neighborhood in west Oakland, where residents don’t have access to healthful food; Solar Mosaic, a crowdfunding platform that allows people to come together and invest as little as $25 to finance solar-energy projects for nonprofits; HUB Oakland, led largely by women of color, which will foster social enterprise in Oakland; and the Awaken Café, an espresso, beer, and wine bar.”

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kristin for carving out time to answer our “Among Peers” questions. We are proud to work with you Kristin and believe you are doing great work not only in your specific cause areas, but for the field of philanthropy as a whole. If people want to engage directly with Kristin, they can comment below or connect via LinkedIn.

1. WHAT CAUSE OR ISSUE IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHY?

Social justice and environmental sustainability are my big passions. I initially saw our public education system as a key leverage place to initiate change and move toward more equity. And now, having been in the field of philanthropy for a bit, I have added, as a strategy to move the dial on these issues, the concept of conscious investing. So often in foundation work we concentrate on granting out the mandatory 5%, and are not fully aware of the impact that can be made with our endowments – the other 95% of our foundation capital. I am really excited about activating our foundation endowment moneys to address causes we care about. So, in addressing my two important issues, I have a new “cause” of conscious endowment investing.

2. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO LAUNCH A PRIVATE FOUNDATION?

When we sold our family business I, for the first time in my life, knew I would have more money than I needed. I was excited to put our “extra” money to good use for those less fortunate, and to see what I could do to leverage the money for change through foundation giving.

3. WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW ABOUT BEING A GRANTMAKER THAT YOU WISH YOU KNEW STARTING OUT?

I know the importance of community and bringing people together. For me, the convening of non-profits and thought leaders, local community members, government actors and activists feels important. Many of us in the foundation world have access to funds, opportunities, as well as other people in powerful positions. I have found that sharing that access can be just as important as making the grants.

4. WHAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE YOU FACE IN RUNNING A PRIVATE FOUNDATION?

Being “out” about having resources can be a tricky balancing act. And yet, my most significant challenge right now is really knowing that all of my assets are activated toward Nia’s mission. To that end, I have been focusing a lot on conscious investments that can move the dial. While it’s a challenge, I have also been having a lot of fun in finding new tools, such as a loan guarantee for an Oakland charter school and another for Hub Oakland. RSF Social Finance has been really helpful in executing the guarantees. Because Nia (www.niacommunity.org) is a small foundation—my biggest challenge might be how to have the most leverage with the assets that we have.

5. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING?

I find that grant making is an enormous privilege and can be so meaningful. I get to engage in my community, with the causes I care most about. I get to sponsor new initiatives, to be a part of the solution by being involved, using the foundation resources, combined with my efforts to help make a difference. The gratitude that comes with giving has been tremendous.

6. NAME ONE PHILANTHROPIST, PRESENT OR PAST, WHOM YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE COFFEE WITH, AND WHY?

I strongly admire Kat Taylor. The innovations of starting a community bank with their foundation are inspiring. Her work in Oakland and beyond is impressive and moving. She is a true trail blazer and I have a lot to learn from her.

7. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY OF PHILANTHROPIC PEERS?

How are you using your endowments, the 95%, to further your foundation mission?  What innovative steps have you taken that you want to share?

8. NAME ONE INDIVIDUAL OR ORGANIZATION THAT HAS PARTICULARLY IMPRESSED YOU. WHY?

I’m particularly impressed with the HUB. Impact HUB is at its core a shared work space, designed to facilitate the creation of sustainable impact businesses through collaboration. So much so that I am co-founding our own here in Oakland (www.huboakland.net). Co-working fits my values of building community in many ways, and then providing support services and educational events for our world’s change makers has been really exciting.

9. IF YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH ONE THING WITH YOUR PHILANTHROPY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I am really after both social justice and environmental sustainability. One way we as philanthropists can shift more dollars in these directions is through our foundation investing. I see foundations can take a lead on changing the ways we engage with money. With Nia, I am on a mission to encourage all foundations to invest their endowments in alignment with their values and their foundation goals. If I can be a part of this shift, I will feel elated.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH WE HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER?  QUESTION: What’s next for you? ANSWER: In looking at helping other foundations align their endowment monies with their foundation grant missions, I recently partnered with Amy Domini to create Nia Global Solutions (niaglobalsolutions.com), a new division of Domini Social Investments. I had been in conversation with Amy about her extensive work in the field of Socially Responsible Investing, and we decided to join forces to create this new public equities product that will focus on the solutions that our world needs for both people and planet. I am excited to now be working on financial products that tie philanthropy goals with investment goals.