Program Related Investment Fund:
Q&A with Rosa Benitez, Senior Program Officer
The Weingart Foundation is committed to advancing fairness, inclusion, and opportunity for all Southern Californians — especially those communities hit hardest by persistent poverty. As part of this commitment, this year the Foundation formalized our Program Related Investment (PRI) Fund, which allows us to expand the impact and scale of our grantmaking through low-interest loans. Rosa Benitez, senior program officer, oversees impact investing at the Foundation — including the PRI Fund. We recently sat down with Rosa to get her perspective on the Foundation’s approach to PRIs.
Can you explain what the Foundation’s PRI Fund is and why is it important now?
Rosa: PRIs can take different forms, including equity investments, loans, and loan guarantees. Our PRI investments are basically low-interest loans that provide the Foundation with another way to support nonprofits. While we have made a handful of PRIs over the past several years, we felt it was important to establish a more formal program at this time and step up our efforts in this area. PRIs play an important part in our equity strategy, allowing the Foundation to allocate additional funding to under resourced communities.
You’ve been at the Foundation for a number of years now, but this is a relatively new role for you. Tell us about what’s changed with your position.
Rosa: My role within the foundation is now primarily focused on the management of our PRI Fund. My responsibilities include sourcing PRI deals, conducting the due diligence process, and performing the ongoing monitoring of our PRI portfolio. Given my previous experience, I’ll also maintain grantmaking responsibilities in the area of housing and homelessness.
How does the PRI Fund work?
Rosa: The Foundation augments our regular grant distribution by supporting a revolving PRI Fund through an allocation from our corpus. In other words, our PRI Fund investments are in addition to what we are required to distribute as a private foundation.
What is the goal of the PRI Fund?
Rosa: Our goal is to advance equity by providing capital to nonprofits to maintain or expand facilities and/or increase services to historically disadvantaged or under-resourced communities in Southern California. Specifically, we are providing these loans, on a select basis, to applicants that advance equity in one of the following two ways: 1) by increasing the production and preservation of supportive and affordable housing for homeless and low-income individuals, or 2) developing programs or capital projects that will bring new or expanded services in high need or underserved communities.
Who is eligible to apply to the PRI Fund?
Rosa: Our main focus is to provide direct lending to nonprofit organizations working in Southern California. In addition, and on a select basis, we will make loans to Community Development Financial Institutions if those investments provide our Foundation with the opportunity to achieve greater impact and the ability to leverage our PRI dollars with other funders or capital investments. Applicants will need to have secured a viable and dedicated source for repayment.
Can you say more about your geographic areas of focus?
Rosa: As with all of our grantmaking, the PRI Fund supports organizations working in the following five Southern California counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura. On top of that, the communities of Southeast Los Angeles County and South Los Angeles are areas of additional focus for the Foundation.
What types of loans will be provided?
Rosa: Loans will be provided in the form of working capital and bridge financing, as well as predevelopment and acquisition loans.
What is the typical loan size, term and interest rate?
Rosa: The size of the loans vary, depending on need, credit quality and risk, and the term varies depending on the borrower or project needs. Loans will be made at interest rates lower than prevailing market rates for loans of similar duration, credit quality and risk.
Are there some examples of recent PRIs at the Foundation that you can share?
Rosa: We recently invested in a pre-development and acquisition loan program in LA County that supports affordable housing near public transit. We also provided a homeless services organization with a working capital loan to expand their permanent supportive housing in San Bernardino. Another recent example is a bridge loan we made to a local, downtown service center for a capital campaign to build a multi purpose facility, which will increase recreational opportunities for low-income individuals and help to preserve their cultural heritage in the community.
How does an organization apply for a Program Related Investment?
Rosa: Given the special nature of our PRI Fund, we are not accepting unsolicited requests for the Fund. I would encourage people to reach out to me if there is a project that they would like to discuss to see if it meets our guidelines.
Nonprofits can contact Rosa Benitez, senior program officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (213) 688-6320.