Profile: Eva M. Roby, President and CEO, Mission Investment Fund of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Eva Roby has been at the helm of the Mission Investment Fund (MIF) since 2011 and held other senior leadership positions dating back to 2002. MIF is a financial ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that provides loans, investment vehicles, and financial stewardship consulting to ELCA congregations and related ministries.

During Ms. Roby’s tenure, the organization dramatically increased net assets and loan volume while strengthening the organization’s capital position. What’s more, she spearheaded MIF’s efforts to automate banking and create many new product offerings, including capital campaign services. Under Ms. Roby’s leadership, the ELCA established another financial ministry, the ELCA Federal Credit Union.

Mission Investment Fund was one of the early participants in IFF’s Investor Consortium, contributing our fifth largest cumulative investment since the program was launched in 2004. Today the Investor Consortium finances about 40 percent of IFF’s loan portfolio – supporting critical infrastructure in low-income communities throughout the Midwest.

IFF: Mission Investment Fund is one of the largest and longest-serving members of IFF’s Investor Consortium. How did you find us? And, why did you stay?

Eva Roby: I was introduced to IFF by Andy Waters, who was MIF’s Vice President of Lending for many years. [Andy is now IFF’s Managing Director of Closing and Portfolio Management.] He told me what kind of organization IFF was, and it seemed to me it was a collaboration just waiting to happen. Because when we fund loans with IFF, we’re able to increase our outreach into the community, and we can designate what initiatives we want to participate in to make sure they align with our mission. I think it’s just a great partnership.

Plus, IFF is just an outstanding organization – very committed to serving the full needs of nonprofits. The mission of IFF just says it all for me: ‘IFF strengthens nonprofits and the communities they serve by providing leadership, capital, and real estate solutions.’ It’s so clear and simple. It’s not dressed up. It just is what it is. And IFF’s mission is very similar to the mission of the Mission Investment Fund.

Plus, knowing Andy and how protective he was of the assets of the Mission Investment Fund, I didn’t have any doubts it would be a good bet for MIF. And it has been.

IFF: There are “socially responsible investors” and “faith-based investors” and “impact investors.” Is there a particular way that MIF labels itself – and, if so, why?

Ms. Roby: From time to time, we use all three. But whenever I get to a podium, I refer to what we do here at the Mission Investment Fund as “impact investment.” To me, it sounds more action-oriented, rather than passive. The Mission Investment Fund helps build new churches and buildings where exceptional ministry work takes place. We generate measurable impact on congregations and ministries and the individuals and ministries they serve. We are not just making loans. We’re trying to build healthy, progressive congregations and ministries.

IFF: Both MIF and IFF provide loans and real estate consulting for capital projects at targeted, mission-driven organizations. Why is capital lending so important to your clients’ success? Why do congregations/ministries come to Mission Investment Fund instead of a traditional bank?

Ms. Roby: The mission of the Mission Investment Fund is to help build the church. If you look in the ELCA constitution, the Mission Investment Fund was formed as a financial ministry of the ELCA for the sole purpose of providing loans to congregations and related ministries for capital projects. So I think we’ll always be a better choice because we ARE the church. We are one of the church’s ministries, so we understand ministry needs. We literally work in the same building with other ministries; we are colleagues. Congregations and ministries are not going to get that kind of knowledge and understanding or ability to collaborate from any other kind of institution.

Our loans are used for pretty much the same types of projects as IFF loans – to purchase properties, construct new buildings, and make renovations. When we go in, we’re not just looking at the building; we’re looking at the building’s suitability for the vision of the congregation or ministry. We need to be involved in this kind of work because sometimes we are the only lender who will finance a new-start congregation or a congregation that has fallen on hard times but that we still see as a viable institution.

IFF: What kinds of projects would congregations and ministries not be able to do without financial support from the Mission Investment Fund?

Ms. Roby: They certainly wouldn’t be able to take on larger capital projects. Congregations of course depend on their members sharing their income with the church, but member support usually is not enough to do much beyond running the day-to-day operations and maybe saving some funds for the future. So unless they’ve received a large endowment from a member, it’s seldom enough to fund a $2 million or $3 million or $5 million project. It’s not like they can draw those kinds of funds from their regular savings. Even if they have a small endowment, the congregation may not choose to use the funds for a capital project or they even may be restricted on the use of the funds. That’s when the Mission Investment Fund has the opportunity to step in and help the congregation.

For example, we have some very large congregations that have outgrown their facilities or want to expand their outreach to the community. Maybe they want to develop or build a community center, or an afternoon program for children, or a kitchen to feed folks who are falling on hard times. We have a congregation that bought a piece of land and started from the ground building a sanctuary, classrooms, and preschool care. We’ve even had some congregations that have decided there was a need in their community for a senior assisted living facility, and those are quite expensive – for one, we made a $12 million loan. So it ranges from those kinds of very large projects all the way to something as simple – but just as critical – as replacing a leaky roof or broken boiler.

IFF: Are there any particular loan projects that stand out to you – maybe something that hit home for you?

Ms. Roby: I’m really inspired by the congregations and ministries that have been challenged.

At the top of my list would be Peace Lutheran Church in Tacoma, WA. They were welcoming to the diverse community that they became as the neighborhood around them changed. They took up the challenge to protect their low-income neighbors from the rapid gentrification in the neighborhood. They asked the Mission Investment Fund to help them purchase properties in the area, and then they converted those homes to affordable housing units for folks who had been in the neighborhood for years and years but were suddenly finding themselves unable to afford to live in the neighborhood. So to me, they dared to change. They positioned themselves to serve their neighbors. They didn’t run, they didn’t close – and they’re doing very well. It’s a very diverse congregation now, and the work they do just moves me.

Then there’s the church that just outgrew its facility – Normandale Lutheran Church in Edina, MN. They followed through on a multi-year vision and process to enhance the spirit of their members and the community. The changes they made to their fellowship areas were dramatic. The sole purpose was to ensure that fellowship would take place with all of the members together. You don’t always think of churches as creative, but they built very creative, open, light-filled spaces that encourage people to gather and come together.

Finally, there’s one of our investment stories from Trinity Lutheran Church in Westbrook, ME. They became investors in 2006 after receiving an endowment from one of their members. They chose to use their investment proceeds to support multi-cultural membership – specifically, to do outreach to a community of immigrants from African countries. They offer English language classes, host food drives, and open their doors to worship. It really shows the hearts of the people that serve that church that they would take their investment earnings and split them in half – one half to support something that’s going on in the congregation, and the other half they push to support the community.

IFF: You’ve said that you enjoy attending gallery openings, the theater, and dance events with your husband and daughter. What are some of your favorite venues in Chicago?

Ms. Roby: My husband is an artist, and I met him at one of his art exhibits. He’s from Ethiopia, and I’m from Mississippi; we feel very fortunate to live in Chicago with world-class art museums and a community that appreciates and supports the arts. It’s very inspiring to us. We’re interested in all areas of the arts, but probably our most beloved is paintings because that’s what he does as an artist. Our top three places would probably be the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, and the DuSable Museum of African American History.

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