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CDFIs are very positive thinkers, but to understand what they do, it can be helpful to know what they aren't. They aren't charity,
they aren't commercial banks, and they aren't government programs.

CDFIs aren't charity.
They lend money and expect to get it back, with interest, so they can use the money to make new loans. In addition to having greater financial impact, this approach creates a respectful relationship between borrower and lender, rather than the dependent relationship implicit in charity.

"I call myself a bleeding heart conservative. That's what I think it takes——having a compassion for trying to make a difference in communities, but being very hard-nosed. All we can do is offer a loan that provides someone with the opportunity to own a home. But they've got to do the other half."

Martin Eakes, Self Help Credit Union

     
CDFIs aren't commercial banks.
Banks must make a profit for their shareholders. CDFIs have a social mission.

"I think what differentiates us from banks, in general, is that we have the ability to be patient with our capital. Our small borrowers may need a period of time when we say, just pay us interest on your loan for the next three months. We may say, 'let's rewrite your note.'"

Shaw Canale, Cascadia Revolving Fund

     
CDFIs aren't government programs.
They are private, grassroots organizations. Although they receive some support from state and federal government, CDFIs existed before this support was available and will continue to exist if government priorities change.
 

"The process of community revitalization takes a long time. In the South Shore community, my measurements show that it's taken eight years for things to really have changed. Government programs can't wait that long."

Richard Taub, University of Chicago