After 28 years of leadership and service, IFF founder Trinita Logue has stepped down as president at the community development financial institution, which started in Illinois in 1988 and now has seven offices across the Midwest. Trinita chatted recently about how IFF started, the CDFI industry and what’s next.
How did you first become involved with nonprofits?
When I was quite young, I started going to classes at the local children’s museum. I fell in love with the idea of museums. I thought all museums were great and was drawn to spaces that were there for the public benefit. Later I worked with a group of small nonprofit theater companies on improving their spaces as part of an overall audience development program.
What is the origin of IFF?
I was working as the director of the North Loop Theater District for the planning department under Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. During that time, I met The Chicago Community Trust executive director, Bruce Newman. In the mid-1980s, Bruce hired me to be assistant director. One of the priorities he had in mind was helping small and medium-sized nonprofits with capital needs. Foundations usually don’t have people on staff doing that.
Bruce said, “I wish we could have this across all nonprofit sectors,” and I said, “We could.” The Trust’s priority was of course disinvested neighborhoods and special populations. Neither of us knew then that less than three years later we would be using foundation funds to make commercial mortgage loans to health centers, child care centers, and group homes for wards of the state!
IFF came about because we were trying to solve a problem for nonprofits. The need for quality facilities — but in low-income neighborhoods — is the origin. You don’t get great space in poor neighborhoods. It is that simple. I found myself in a situation to solve the problem and find the resources to work on it. That is a rare gift.
Name some accomplishments at IFF you are most proud of.
Everything is in the context of our core belief that stronger nonprofit corporations result in stronger communities. By that I mean financially stronger, and for so many nonprofit service providers, that means smart and strategic real estate decisions.
The first highlight is the partnership with the state of Illinois starting in 1991 that became the Child Care Facility Development Program. That’s how we went into real estate development and came up with the concept of designing and funding a sector-specific organized response to needs as well as implementing a package of design, data-informed location, finance, and development. We have done this over the years for other sectors too. And emerging out of this program, Joe Neri joined IFF to continue to develop the model.
The second is when Bill Clinton formed the CDFI Fund in 1995. Clinton originally wanted a program for small community banks to get equity so they could continue their lending. My colleagues and I got involved, saying this has to be for alternative, unregulated lenders too. Clinton, relying on guidance from Shorebank, agreed.
Another achievement is our Investor Consortium, formed in the mid-1990s with a group of visionary Chicago banks. These banks wanted nothing more than our success because they fully understood that we were meeting needs they could not meet. The Consortium was a landmark agreement, modelled to some degree on several similar affordable housing programs here in Chicago the banks formed, and copied throughout the country. The Consortium is still growing.
Other highlights are the growth and success of IFF’s real estate development activities, through comprehensive community development strategies designed and launched by the current CEO Joe Neri.
Finally (although I could go on and on!), IFF’s geographic expansion in the Midwest. A steady strategy over the last decade, to serve nonprofit corporations. We are now in 10 states — or maybe more! Stay tuned!
What are the challenges facing CDFIs in the next few years?
The right kind of money. Because of the risks we take — and we exist to take risks — we have to have very high reserves, sometimes called liquidity or net assets, but basically our own cash! That’s very hard to get. Many funders don’t want to give money and just have it sit there. But it’s not just sitting there; it enables IFF to continue to leverage other funds, to do business, and to keep growing and serving.
What’s next for you now that you’ve stepped down as IFF’s president?
I have spent my entire career helping nonprofit corporations grow and prosper; this will continue one way or another. And I have many interests to pursue — too numerous to name! I travel as much as I can to visit my large family and many friends. And I will be working as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton this year.
Please give us a hint of how you use your “down time.”
My favorite HBO shows are “The Newsroom” and “Homeland.” I would watch both again. I’m an avid reader and just finished contemporary Italian author Elena Ferrante’s series. It’s the story of two best friends over their lifetimes, starting when they were young girls in Naples, Italy, at the end of World War II.