Across the country, MAF’s Lending Circles program partners with nonprofits to provide access to zero-interest social loans and financial education that helps low-income and immigrant communities build credit, save money, and achieve their financial goals. We’re thrilled to announce that we are welcoming four incredible nonprofit organizations to the Lending Circles network.
At MAF, we believe that everyone deserves access to affordable credit-building loans and financial education. We are excited to work with our new partners to bring Lending Circles to their local communities and help families build financial security nationwide.
Brioxy transforms communities by investing in the leadership of Black folks who are building possibility models towards Black sovereignty. As part of the City Dibs initiative, they train cohorts of Black leaders in cities across the country that are building innovative solutions in their neighborhoods. Lending Circles will be a complementary tool to support leaders in their fellowship program.
CAP OC seeks to end and prevent poverty by stabilizing, sustaining and empowering people with the resources they need when they need them. They boldly address the root causes of poverty and advocate for change through systemic reforms, social justice and racial equity. CAP OC is integrating Lending Circles into their financial empowerment workshops and their Family Resource Centers.
The East Oakland Collective supports residents of East Oakland, prioritizing Black residents, to navigate challenges and barriers to inequities through resource distribution and advocacy. EOC work towards racial and economic justice and equitable access, and their work includes homeless services and solutions, economic empowerment and community action. Lending Circles will pair with their financial literacy curriculum as core components of their economic empowerment programming.
The International Institute is dedicated to transforming the lives of low-income immigrants, refugees, and U.S.-born residents through innovative solutions to advancing economic mobility. IIMD will integrate Lending Circles into their Center for Working Families, providing financial coaching, training, and workforce development.
Like fireflies coming together in the night sky, we shine brighter when we’re together. In that spirit, Lending Circles providers from across the country convened for the first time in nearly two years for IGNITE: Connect, Reflect, Innovate.
We gathered around the “virtual table” to reflect on the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrate our partners who showed up for their communities, and learn from one another. With interactive workshops, guest speakers, games, and music, IGNITE was a day full of connection. We also unveiled a new offering for partners: MyMAF, a mobile app that puts a financial coach in people’s pockets. Read on for session highlights and event recordings.
Welcome & Fireside Chat
Incredible leaders Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez from La Cocina and Ahmed Mori from Catalyst Miami joined MAF CEO José Quiñonez for a fireside chat on what it means to show up, especially when times are hard.
Since La Cocina works with entrepreneurs in the food and hospitality industry, Debbie described how 100% of La Cocina organizations experienced some version of furlough, layoff, or shutdown in 2020. Despite this, La Cocina still managed to open the nation’s first women- and women of color-led food hall during the pandemic. How? By turning outward and launching a $2 million food security program that met the needs of the community. Ahmed described how Catalyst Miami likewise adapted to meet changing realities – launching a new program geared towards microbusinesses in the summer of 2020.
After two difficult years, how can we keep our fire going and continue to show up, do more, and do better for the people we serve? Two ways: turn to community for solutions and rely on trusted partners who do the same. As Debbie shared, “There’s an expression… ‘you always have to find a way out of no way’… in the worst times, we in our community have the ability to discover and enact a solution.”
Ahmed agreed, emphasizing the importance of working with partners who share a commitment to justice: “Hearing that folks in community want to create new systems in the cracks of the old..and in the cracks of the failed systems that oppressed them — that is ultimately what keeps me going.” Their fireside chat set the tone and energy for the day!
Sparking Innovation: Lessons Learned from Lending Circles
In Sparking Innovation, Marjan Nadir from Refugee Women’s Network, Rose Mary Rodriguez from Pathfinders, and Henry Rucker from Project for Pride in Livingshared how they adapted their Lending Circles programs to meet the challenges clients were facing during the pandemic. Refugee Women’s Network even launched its first Lending Circle during COVID-19. Some of our partners’ learnings?
During COVID-19, people had a greater need for building up savings. Lending Circles are a powerful tool to build a nest egg safely.
Local leaders and clients can help establish trust and buy-in with other community members. Henry explained how local church leaders and barbers became trusted advocates for Lending Circles in their communities.
Finally, participate in a Lending Circle yourself! When staff have firsthand experience, they’re better able to share the benefits to others.
Shining a Light: Undocumented Immigrants during COVID-19
Millions of immigrant families were excluded from federal COVID-19 relief and had to dig into savings and take on debt just to survive. In Shining a Light, practitioners offered real and innovative ways we can support immigrants as they rebuild during the pandemic, drawing on insights from MAF’s national survey of immigrants excluded from federal COVID-19 relief. We can start by offering more social safety net support to immigrants, providing more assistance to people getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and partnering with key organizations to reach more immigrant communities.
The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket
As we rely more heavily on technology to stay connected, we’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively to partners. Efrain Segundo, MAF’s Financial Education and Engagement Manager, demonstrated MyMAF’s financial education modules, actionable tools, and other exciting features to help communities take control of their finances.
Why MyMAF? MyMAF is a tech tool designed specifically for the people we serve. It is bilingual, accessible, and culturally relevant.
As one Lending Circles provider shared, “I can’t say enough how much I love this app…I love how aligned it is with our coaching approach.”
Fueling the Hustle: Entrepreneurism during COVID-19
Small business owners juggled a lot during the pandemic — everything from closings to reopenings, changing guidelines, and capital challenges. Through it all, entrepreneurs navigated these challenges with creativity and determination. Two entrepreneurs, Tahmeena and Reyna, shared how Lending Circles helped them build credit and grow their businesses.
Tahmeena used the $1,000 she saved through Lending Circles to purchase merchandise and start an online boutique called Takho’z Choice. In just three months, her small business was turning a profit. Reyna of La Guerrera’s Kitchen reflected how her mother had taught her about tandas, so she was familiar with the Lending Circles concept. Because Lending Circles allow people with ITINs to establish credit, they are an incredible resource. Reyna also noted the importance of providing immigrant entrepreneurs with mentorship and legal services alongside financial services.
Kindling Adaptability: Connection in a Virtual World
At MAF, we talk a lot about meeting people where they are. And over the past two years, that’s meant meeting clients online. How can we continue to provide relevant and timely financial services to clients in a virtual space? Casa Familiar’s Yessenia Sanchez and The Resurrection Project’s Sandy Guzman joined financial coaches from MAF to share best practices for “waving clients” into the virtual office—and how they kept things in perspective when things got tough.
MAF Financial Coaching Manager Liliana Hernandez shared a quote from Mother Teresa that inspired her: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This focus on serving the person in front of her helped take client-driven financial coaching to another level during the pandemic.
A celebration isn’t the same without music, and we were fortunate to have not one, but two musical performances during IGNITE. DJ OME kicked off the day with a lively set that perfectly set the tone for IGNITE. One attendee shared that DJ OME’s set was a better way to start the day than coffee — and we agree! And Analia and Ruben, two MAF clients, gave an incredible mariachi performance to close out our time together.
Keeping the Spark Alive
At the start of IGNITE, José shared: “In our communities, there are always different crises. It requires leaders to show up and do something, and do more, and do better. And I appreciate the people who are just doing it.” It’s clear that the MAF partner network is full of leaders doing just that: showing up and doing the hard work. With their leadership, we can ignite the fire that transforms recovery into reality.
We’ll continue to learn from our partners and we can’t wait to celebrate them again during MAF’s Quinceañera — coming up this October 14th! Stay tuned for more opportunities to keep these sparks alive.
We’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively for our partners. If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Joleen learned valuable lessons navigating the U.S. financial system from her parents and career working at banks and credit unions. Now she runs the Lending Circles program at Napa’s UpValley Family Centers to help her community do the same.
Joleen learned from her parents’ financial lessons.
Joleen fondly remembers sitting in the back seat of her father’s lowrider as her family went on a cruise. Life was a little hectic for the small family of five, but on Sundays they enjoyed quality time together at car shows.
Joleen’s parents were young teenagers when they moved from Yuba City to Napa, California to raise their three children. Napa provided Joleen’s father with a good paying construction job while allowing the young family to be closer to familial support. Since then, Joleen has called Napa home and hopes to one day purchase a house so that her daughter can grow up there.
As young parents navigating the U.S. financial system, Joleen’s parents found themselves using payday loans to pay bills since they were the only financial product available to them at the time. “My mom had so many payday loans, she would go hopping from one to pay off the other,” reflected Joleen. Joleen watched as her parents struggled to get themselves out of debt and become financially stable. “Being young and not having much money – it was a lot. Seeing that struggle and feeling like you’re never getting out of this hole.” Eventually, Joleen’s father earned his degree and secured employment which helped the family become financially stable.
As her parents gained access to better financial products, they better managed their money. “I am so proud of my parents and where they are today,” shared Joleen. After living in apartments all of her childhood, her parents now have their own home. Through years of hard work and sacrifice, Joleen’s father now has a job in the medical field while her mother takes care of the grandkids.
“What I took from my parents, I decided to obtain [a house] sooner. I really want that for my child. I want my own home, where she will have her own room.”
Her parents’ growth taught Joleen how to manage her finances at an early age. Soon after graduating high school, she opened her first college credit card. She knew how to read through the credit card terms and fully understand what she was signing before she made a decision.
Inspired by her mother’s time working as a banker, Joleen also worked at banks and credit unions.
Joleen loved helping clients get banked, although at times she felt limited by capacity and felt like she could not serve everyone due to cost. She was frustrated that even credit cards starting at 0% rates only had those rates for a short period of time, leaving clients in precarious positions when rates increased. On top of this, she struggled with the “shark-like” approach; employees were expected to push certain loan products on clients in order to meet monthly quotas. Monetary incentives served to motivate employees to meet these goals which Joleen thought translated to inauthentic sales interactions with clients. Instead of trying to provide quality service, employees were motivated to boost their own income.
Joleen yearned for an authentic connection where she could really listen and serve people. She had not envisioned working at a nonprofit but – as she puts it – “life carried her this way.”
Although Joleen always considered herself a numbers person, her real dream was to become a traveling makeup artist for a luxe makeup line. As a makeup artist, she helped clients feel good about themselves. She recalls clients feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for her service. “What I loved about artistry was the feeling – the service I could provide. The feeling of making someone feel beautiful.”
Joleen’s dream of traveling and providing this service on the road was about to become a reality when she realized she was pregnant. She recognized that being a traveling makeup artist meant leaving her newborn daughter for 21 days out of the month. Joleen’s love for her daughter set her on a different path.
“It’s crazy how having a child can change what your dreams and goals are.”
A coworker approached Joleen about a new opportunity at UpValley Family Centers, a nonprofit organization that has served Napa community members through their cross-generational programs for the past 20 years. Her coworker thought Joleen’s heart and care for clients would make her a perfect fit for UpValley. It didn’t take long for Joleen to become UpValley’s newest Economic Success Manager.
“The fact that I am able to provide a service, free of cost, makes it so much better. I am really able to connect with people and build relationships with people.”
In contrast to her time working for banks and credit unions, Joleen now uses her financial knowledge to coach and help clients reach their financial goals. Through a partnership with MAF, Joleen helped launch the Lending Circles program at UpValley. Now she connects clients to a 0% interest credit-building loan through the program.
Joleen says Lending Circles opens doors for clients individually, while building community.
In her first UpValley Lending Circle, clients came from different backgrounds and spoke different languages. Despite their differences, they worked together to decide the distribution order for the Lending Circle, taking into account who would benefit from going first.
One member from the circle had recently moved from Mexico. She didn’t think she could establish credit but through the program she purchased a car. It was something that she did not think was possible – and it was because of Lending Circles that she did it.
As a participant of two Lending Circles herself, Joleen has seen the impacts of Lending Circles firsthand. “Even though I can avoid a high-interest loan now, I was able to pay off my own car, no interest. I was able to do that with what I received [from the Lending Circle]. I loved that. My circle helped me pay off my car and boost my credit. And now Lending Circles are also helping me buy a home.”
As Joleen works towards owning her own home, she relies on her family’s support. She is saving money on rent and building up her savings by living with family. For Joleen, the Lending Circles program has a similar feeling of familial support.
“It’s that same concept of, how can we help each other – regardless if it’s blood or not – to reach what we really want in life?”
Joleen jokes that she would have referred clients to the Lending Circles program if she had known about it during her time as a banker. “Had I known, I would’ve been like I’m not trying to make a commission. Join this program instead!”
Mission Asset Fund is excited to launch new zero-interest, credit-building loans available throughout California to cover the USCIS filing fees for U.S. Citizenship ($725), DACA Renewals ($495), Green Cards ($1,225), Temporary Protected Status ($495), and Petition for Immigrant Relatives ($535). Eligible individuals can apply now at bit.ly/MAFheretostay.
We were inspired by the insights we’ve collected from our community
Over the years, we’ve maintained a commitment to building programs designed by and for our community.
Most recently, following the administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September of 2017, we responded to a very immediate financial emergency as families scrambled to come up with the $495 necessary to cover the USCIS filing fee. Over the course of a few months, we were able to issue over 7,500 grants to DACA recipients totaling $3.8M+ across the country to cover the USCIS renewal filing fee. We’ve also continued our financial coaching work at the Mexican Consulates in San Francisco and San Jose, and we’re in the process of launching several new mobile apps and resources like our Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants.
Through our work with immigrant communities over the past year, we’ve deepened our understanding of the top financial concerns and priorities for individuals, regardless of immigration status. We’ve learned about the importance of financial security and access to capital in moments of emergency. We’ve learned about the financial burden that USCIS filing fees can present to families, preventing a large number of eligible individuals from securing immigration protection. We’ve learned about the need for secure and stable employment for individuals to cover basic living expenses and provide for their families.
We’ve used these insights to inform the next chapter of our work. If you’re interested in learning more about our research insights, stay tuned for a blog series from our Research & Development team detailing some of our key findings from a survey we conducted with DACA recipients.
Learn more about the programs and spread the word
We’re excited to begin offering a series of new loan programs in California that facilitate pathways to immigration protection and stable employment for individuals and their families.
The Trump Administration ended DACA on September 5, 2017, igniting a wave of anguish and fear in communities throughout the country. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of young people came out of the shadows to register for the DACA program hoping that that would be the first step to becoming full participants in the U.S., the country many know as their only home. Despite the dark cloud of uncertainty in their lives, young immigrants are rising up, full of hope. They are organizing the social justice movement of our generation, advocating for a DREAM Act that would give young immigrants a path to citizenship, and pushing for comprehensive immigration reforms to help millions of undocumented immigrants as well.
I was boarding a flight at the crack of dawn to Los Angeles when the Trump Administration announced that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Since 2012, this program has provided young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children – commonly referred to as “Dreamers” – with protection from deportation and work permits. Scrolling through the headlines, I knew it would be a rough day. Not only was the Administration ending DACA, but it was doing so in a ridiculously cruel way. The announcement ended DACA for new applicants – many of whom were high school students who dreamed of pursuing higher education using DACA – while giving those already with DACA just one month to submit applications to renew their status if their work authorization ended by March 5, 2018. Dreamers were left to learn about the announcement on their own and determine whether or not they qualified.
154,000 Dreamers could extend their protective status for two more years. But they didn’t get any letters or receive a phone call. There was no outreach to encourage them to renew.
Immigrant communities and advocates were outraged by the announcement. Protests erupted in cities across the country. People were angry, and rightly so. Our government was breaking a promise made by President Obama that had radically improved the lives of the 800,000 young immigrants enrolled in the program. For years Congress had both acknowledged the need to reform America’s broken immigration system, but failed to do so, leaving millions of immigrants unable to come out of the shadows. DACA was a small, temporary solution for young people as we waited for Congress to fix our broken system.
In 2012, President Obama gave the executive order to establish DACA, under which the federal government promised not to deport immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were enrolled in school, had graduated from high school, or were honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S. Instead, the government would grant them permission to work and provide them with Social Security numbers. In return, Dreamers would register with the Department of Homeland Security and provide them with all of their personal information. Like the 800,000 Dreamers who registered for DACA, at MAF, we too believed in that promise—that they could live openly in the light of day.
When President Obama first created DACA, we started providing zero-interest loans to finance the high application fee (now $495). We worked with over 1,000 Dreamers in the last 5 years. For MAF, this was personal.
We witnessed the benefits of DACA on a daily basis. With DACA, we saw first-hand that our clients were better supporting themselves and their families by accessing higher paying jobs. They opened bank accounts and began saving. By every metric, DACA propelled them forward, unleashing their creative energy and human potential. With DACA, some of our clients enrolled in school, became doctors or nurses. Others, like Gustavo, secured better-paying jobs. He stopped cleaning houses and was able to get work as a Wells Fargo bank teller serving the Latino community
I spent the next day in Los Angeles, fielding emails and trying to think through next steps. Thursday morning, I was back in the MAF’s office where we had our first post-announcement staff meeting. We talked about our options, trying to figure out how to proceed. Doing nothing was not an option. Without knowing exactly how, on that morning we resolved to help as many Dreamers as possible to renew their status.
Dreamers only had four weeks to renew before the October 5 deadline, so every minute mattered. With that in mind, we agreed to offer zero-interest loans, but on a much larger scale than ever before. We were going national with these loans. This would be a huge operational challenge for us for two reasons. First, up until this point, we’d only financed DACA application fees for Dreamers in California. Second, although MAF is a national organization, we work through a network of nonprofit partners to serve clients outside of California. For the sake of efficiency, we needed to outreach to and directly serve clients all over the U.S., regardless of geography- for the first time ever.
We set a goal to finance 1,000 applications in 30 days – the same number of loans we had provided in the last five years.
I began contacting funders to solicit support for our new loan fund. We needed $500,000, and fast. While I was working the phones for funding, MAF staff members were working furiously to operationalize the new loan fund. Our communications team built a new website specifically for the DACA renewal loans, complete with a clock that tracked the number of minutes left before the window to apply for renewal closed. Our tech team streamlined our existing loan application by stripping out any information that wasn’t absolutely essential to processing the loan requests, and built a system for rapidly reviewing and confirming an applicant’s eligibility to renew at this time.
By the end of that first week, we’d secured a million dollars in commitments from the Weingart Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Chavez Family Foundation, and Tipping Point Community. With their support, we doubled our original goal accordingly and aimed to help 2,000 DACA recipients to apply for renewal. It was an absurdly ambitious and risky goal, one that could put MAF’s finances in a potential cash-flow crisis. But we had to do it. If ever there was a time to put it all on the line, it was now.
One week after the announcement to end DACA, we were ready to launch the new loan fund. We had 21 days until the deadline.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 12, we sent a series of emails and press releases to media outlets, colleagues, funders, and immigrant rights activists. I was in New Jersey that day, preparing to deliver a keynote address later that evening, when I received a call from Fred Ali, the Chief Executive Officer of the Weingart Foundation, asking us to consider offering grants instead of loans. He argued that the urgency and gravity of the situation necessitated grants and that loans, even at zero interest, would pose a barrier to some Dreamers. I was reluctant to make the shift right after launching the campaign, but hearing his commitment to work with us made it easier to take the plunge. Thanks to Fred, a new path forward opened for us.
I quickly called MAF’s leadership team and we agreed to revise our strategy. We re-launched the campaign later that day offering $495 scholarships to DACA recipients who needed to renew. By Thursday, September 14, just two days after launching the campaign, we received more than 2,000 applications. The campaign’s website briefly crashed due to the heavy traffic. We were ecstatic at the response, but the overwhelming interest created a number of new operational challenges. First, there was a very real possibility that we would run out of money. Part of the problem was timing. While we had secured commitments from funders, we had not received the money in our bank account. We had to front MAF’s general operating money while funders worked through their approval and disbursement processes.
Just 48 hours into the campaign, the first 2,000 applicants had already claimed all of the $1,000,000 in DACA grant funds.
I remember the conversations with my leadership team about how to proceed as some of the most nerve-racking of the entire campaign. We were literally watching the clock, counting down the hours until we would run out of money. That night, we considered shutting down the program. Very quickly, we’d met our goal of helping 2,000 Dreamers, which was already double what we’d originally planned for. But the truth was that we could not stop. Ending DACA was a national emergency, and we refused to abandon our community in the midst of it.
We considered reverting back to zero-interest loans. But we didn’t want to do that either. It would have been extremely complicated and confusing. Instead, we changed our messaging to alleviate some pressure. We started encouraging applicants to first consider asking for support from friends or family members before requesting funds from MAF. We trusted that those who could self-select out of the process would do so, in turn reducing demand and increasing the likelihood that we would assist those most in need. We agreed that I’d work the phones to push for more funding.
Ultimately, through the course of the campaign we raised $4 million dollars, eight times more than our initial goal. While I’d like to say that the money was a response to my exceptional fundraising skills, that wasn’t the case.
Funders understood the urgency of the situation, and many of them were able to expedite their approval processes – which usually takes months – into just hours or days. Fred Ali was working the phones too; he contacted his colleagues at other foundations, vouching for us and asking that they consider supporting the campaign. And like Fred, we had so many other funders working behind the scenes, calling colleagues and allies they knew would care and could commit quickly. Many of them contributed to the renewal fund, increasing our goal to helping 6,000 Dreamers renew their DACA status. Aside from the funding and cash flow challenges, we were now faced with a slew of major operational ones.
In theory, the process to deliver funds to applicants was simple. MAF would write a check to the Department of Homeland Security for $495, and mail it to the applicant, who would include it in their application package. But in practice, we hit wall after wall. For starters, there was the question of how to cut so many checks so quickly. During the earliest days of the campaign, when we were receiving upwards of 800 applications a day, I was traveling for work and our Chief Operating Officer was in Chile. Because we are the only two people authorized to sign MAF checks, this created an immediate bottleneck.
Our first workaround was a signature stamp. Aparna Ananthasubramaniam, Research and Technology Director, confirmed with our bank would recognize a stamp, got me onboard with the idea with a few days, but even that was too slow.
With applications coming in by the hundreds each day; and seeing our target go from 3,000 to 4,000, and then finally to 6,000 renewals, we needed to find a better alternative.
Within a few days, we outsourced the task to a third-party processor to manage the bulk of the work, allowing us to focus on the approval process and applications that needed individual attention. This was a huge weight off of our shoulders. Just like with cutting checks, mailing them sounded straightforward but proved enormously difficult. Prior to this campaign, MAF had never primarily communicated with clients via snail mail. Consequently, we didn’t have much experience sending large volumes of mail, and didn’t realize that it is both an art and a science, until it was almost too late.
Our original plan had been to send the checks via priority mail. To do this we needed the appropriate “priority mail” envelopes, which are available for purchase at every post office. So, on that first day, Mohan Kanungo, Director of Programs & Engagement, drove to the nearest post office to buy supplies. However, there weren’t enough envelopes for the hundreds of checks we needed to mail. So, he drove to another one. And then another.
Soon, MAF staff and their loved ones were driving all over the Bay Area to raid post office supplies. At one point, Mohan charged $2,400 worth of mailing supplies to his personal credit card.
He couldn’t use a company card because he’d given it to a fellow MAF staffer who was using it to purchase supplies at other post offices. Because we were new to bulk mailings, we also didn’t know that there is a specific way you are supposed to do them. MAF staff showed up with huge boxes of envelopes, figuring we would mail them the way we would any other letter. Turns out that our method was extremely inefficient because the post office had no way to processes the envelopes in bulk. Rather, each one had to be processed individually, which took approximately 1 – 2 minutes, meaning mailing hundreds of envelopes could take hours.
No one was happy about this. The postal workers were frustrated by the massive inconvenience it caused them because they were understaffed, too. We were upset with ourselves, as well. MAF staff had to remain at the post office for hours at a time while each letter was processed. It was time we didn’t have. Soon postal workers simply began refusing to process our mailings. Staff would get rejected at one post office and drive to another in the hopes they could mail it from there. Or they’d split a large mailing into a couple of smaller ones that would be less onerous to process, and get them out that way
Tara Robinson, Chief Development Officer, called the local office of the regional representative of the United States Postal Service, where she spoke with a woman in the business service network department. Tara asked her, “Do you know about the Dreamers?” She said, “Yes!” After explaining what MAF was doing and why there was such a time crunch, the postal worker worker jumped into action. We found our advocate. That same day, she organized a conference call with supervisors from numerous area post offices during which she instructed them to accept all of MAF’s mailings. Our postal shero explained how to create a manifest for our mail so that the postal workers could scan all of our envelopes in bulk instead of individually. She also provided the direct name and number of the Postmaster General if we ran into more problems.
Fueling our anxiety was the fact that we had promised applicants a response within 48 hours of submitting the initial application.
Initially, we thought that 48 hours was a relatively fast turnaround time. But in a time of crisis, 48 hours can feel like forever. Our office was constantly flooded with calls, emails, Facebook messages, and in-person visits, from applicants wanting to confirm that we had received their request and wanting to know when to expect the check.
Every single person on staff was answering phones and fielding inquiries – including me. We were woefully understaffed to field the volume of inquiries we were receiving, and decided we needed a more transparent and robust set of communications with our applicants. Aparna drafted a series of emails that would be automatically sent to applicants as their application worked its way through our process. One email was sent to confirm receipt of the application; another was sent to confirm that we had all of the necessary materials to review it; a third went out to confirm that it was approved; and a final email was sent confirming when to expect the check. We even created another automated email to tell applicants to expect another email soon with tracking information. It seems over the top, but these email communications considerably lowered the call volume.
While the automated communications helped to significantly reduce the volumes of calls and emails we received, we remained severely understaffed relative to the workload. We hired temporary staff but quickly realized that wasn’t going to work due to the nature of the highly sensitive information we were processing. So, we turned to our friends and colleagues, including La Cocina, and other key allies at Salesforce and Tipping Point, all of whom excused staff from work and sent them to our office to volunteer.
Then the office of the Governor of Washington contacted us and said “We heard you were the nationwide provider of DACA scholarships. We have an anonymous donor in the state of Washington. Can you process $125,000 of scholarships for our residents?”
Hundreds of organizations – both small and big – helped us to spread the word. There were videos, memes, vloggers and even a social media sweepstake sponsored by the Clever Girls Collaborative. The President of the University of California sent several press releases and social media messages to inform students about the scholarships, as did the President of the California Community Colleges. Without solicitation from our team, some funders approached us asking how they could support the initiative. Across the country, immigrant rights groups and legal aid organizations we’d never worked with before were advertising our renewal fund to their clients.
Spreading the word beyond the Bay Area was important because many of those organizations were operating in communities that lacked support for Dreamers, either because of the local political climate or because they were in rural, isolated areas, like Mississippi and Utah. We attribute a lot of our ability to reach these communities to incredible responses from both the media and social media. The campaign received more than 1,000,000 social media hits, and more than 100 media mentions, including coverage in New York Times, NPR, and Washington Post, among other prominent outlets.
We were humbled to give $3.8M to 7,678 Dreamers – making this the largest DACA renewal fund in the nation.
In the fall of 2017, MAF provided $2,513,610 to fund 5,078 DACA renewal applications in 46 states – that’s 6.7 percent of all renewal applications submitted. That means we funded one out of every ten Dreamers in the state of California who applied for a renewal, including 16 percent of all applicants in the Bay Area. And in January 2018, days after U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s injunction, MAF issued an additional 2,600 grants to Dreamers.
As one Bay Area legal aid attorney told me, “Again and again and again, Dreamers walked into our offices to apply for a renewal with a MAF check in hand.”
Over the past several months, all of us at MAF have spent a lot of time reflecting on the campaign, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and how the experience should shape our work moving forward. The campaign is a bittersweet victory. In terms of impact, we exceeded our wildest ambitions. We stood as a beacon of love and support for immigrants at a time when so many of our friends, families, and clients felt under attack. Nonetheless, as an organization we have struggled to celebrate the campaign because it represents the end of DACA. We believe in an America that is so much better than this, and remain stunned and absolutely livid that the Trump Administration ended DACA without offering a permanent legislative solution, leaving millions of young immigrants and their families in anguish. Living with that sort of pain is difficult. For all the sadness and disgust that we have felt in response to the Trump Administration’s actions, we have also discovered a deeper and more powerful resolve. While I know each MAFista took away something personal from the experience, we share these overarching lessons:
1. Timing is everything.
Proven solutions – no matter how great – are not always the *right* solution for every situation.We launched our fund with loans because making loans is what we do, and we do it well. But given the urgency of the DACA crisis – when we didn’t have time to deal with even the most modest of underwriting processes – loans simply weren’t the right product. At the beginning, we were so steeped in our history that we couldn’t see beyond loans. It took an outsider to open the door to the possibility of scholarships. However, once that door opened, we were flexible, ready to embrace the alternative approach, and operationalize it quickly.
2. Technology is critical to scale.
Time and time again throughout our campaign, we resolved bottlenecks and scaled services with technology. We engaged applicants throughout the country by creating a secure online application through our Salesforce CRM that people could complete and submit to us within minutes. We created automated emails to keep Dreamers informed and engaged throughout the application process. We outsourced the process of cutting checks to clients by building an electronic applicant database that we emailed to our third-party processor. Without question, absent technology, we could not troubleshoot obstacles in real time, and we would have been much more constrained in our ability to reach communities outside the Bay Area.
3. Trust is imperative to success.
Dreamers were willing to share their personal information with MAF – despite the climate of fear in which they were operating – because they knew that we were – and are – on their side. Similarly, funders, including ones that had previously never worked with us, were willing to bet big on us because they trusted their colleagues who vouched for us. Likewise, nonprofits referred their clients to us knowing that we were going to do right by them. All of this happened fast and trust was the key to making the campaign successful.
4. Uncertainty can be your friend.
As nonprofits, we plan our work over the course of years. We create theories of change, strategic plans, and budgets to demonstrate our good stewardship and fiscal management. In normal times, these tried and true practices help mark our progress towards achieving goals. I get it. But we’re not in normal times. In moments like these, no matter how perfect our plans are, the fact is that the fate of millions of families hang in the balance with the next incendiary tweet from Trump. We really don’t know the nature, or extent, of the next Trump-created crisis. This type of uncertainty necessitates a willingness and ability to take the ever-changing political climate into account, and change programmatic strategies accordingly.
The fight for social justice is long. We now have at least 7,600 more people ready to join the battle.
After September 5, 2017, MAF quickly mobilized to provide financial assistance to DACA recipients across the nation. Our campaign was inspired by our belief that DACA recipients and their families deserve the opportunity to continue building their future in this country. Hundreds of scholarship recipients shared with us the significance of receiving a $495 check from MAF to renew their work permits. The stories we heard reinforced the injustice of the administration’s decision to rescind DACA. But each story also revealed a force more powerful than injustice – hope for the future.
7,000+ scholarships. 7,000+ powerful stories. Here are just a few of the messages we received:
“It’s really hard to save $495 while having rent, utilities, veterinarian costs, and other bills to pay. I am also saving for college and my medical expenses. We always worry and try to help abandoned animals in need over helping ourselves. You help us get closer to our dreams and goals that will help the world someday. It may take forever, but I have hope that we will reach our dreams.”
“I had a very difficult year battling with cancer, and I’m just getting back to work. Without your help, it would’ve been incredibly difficult to put together that amount of money in such a short time. Once again, Thank you very much for your help and all you continue doing for us Dreamers whom solely purpose is to live just everyone else, because we too are Americans.”
“I was running on a great amount of stress because I knew my family was having a hard time economically, and the deadline to submit our renewal applications was very close. I was worried about my future, and even spoke to my college adviser about what would happen if I lost DACA. Thankfully, the president of our school informed us right away that DACA being revoked wouldn’t affect any DACA students at my school. Soon after this, I filled out the application for your scholarship.”
“My fiance and I were really worried that we wouldn’t be able to renew because of the money. You have inspired us. Thank you for all the things you guys are doing. It makes me feel that I have a voice and that I am being heard.”
“I am a student studying Political Science with a minor in Philosophy. I plan to attend law school in the future. I am on a competitive dance team, I have a dog, and I work three jobs, to not only support me financially but also to prepare me for a future career. You may feel this is bizarre, but I just wanted to help put life to the name you wrote a check to. I wanted you to know that your work goes beyond financial assistance. You’re helping us feel secure and pursue our dreams.”
Pilar celebrates her one-year homeownership anniversary this year. Her home is a beautiful, cozy, and peaceful place in South Minneapolis. She recalls the warm and loving home her mother created for her when she was young, and feels a sense of pride in the home that she has been able to create for herself.
A bold and passionate young girl growing up in a small town in Minnesota, Pilar and her mother had a very close knit relationship and relied on each other for support.
Pilar’s mother struggled to make ends meet as a single parent working a number of factory jobs. Despite the financial hardships, she provided Pilar with a warm and loving childhood. She made sure that her daughter was given every opportunity. When Pilar showed a passion for dance, her mother signed Pilar up for ballet lessons and sent her to a performing arts school.
In high school, Pilar was a cheerleader, a dancer, and a musician. She was never afraid to express herself – from sharing her opinions to dressing how she wanted to dress. She was a child of the ‘80s who adored the movie “Purple Rain” and the musician Prince. She saw parallels between herself and Prince: both were Minnesotans who never quite fit in and had dreams to make it big.
“Prince came from poverty, and was able to accomplish so much with so few resources. He gave people hope that they could make it too. He had a big influence on my life, and I listened to his music to get through hard times.”
Pilar worked hard and won a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s University, making her mother immensely proud.
She dedicated her professional life to public service, and she eventually moved to the Twin Cities after she was offered a job at Project for Pride in Living (PPL). PPL is an award-winning nonprofit organization in Minneapolis dedicated to empowering low income individuals and families to become self-reliant. Pilar is now the face of PPL. She works the front desk at PPL’s Learning Center, and she’s the first point of contact for anyone who walks through the doors. She hears intimate personal stories on a daily basis.
“I always wish that our clients only knew what they were capable of when they first walk in to the office. When I hear stories of people coming into PPL, I understand their stories and their background. I can relate. This is much more than a job for me – it’s a mission.”
PPL has employment and training programs, and holds graduations for participants who complete their programs. It’s common for graduates to express their thanks to Pilar at their graduation ceremony, saying that it was her encouragement and smiling face that made them sign up and stay on track.
Pilar first heard about Lending Circles from Henry, a fellow staff member at a Project for Pride in Living. PPL first started offering Lending Circles in 2015, and so far, they have served over 40 clients and generated a loan volume of a little over $13,000.
Henry encouraged her to sign up for a Lending Circle so she could both better explain the program to prospective participants and work towards her own financial goals. At the time, Pilar didn’t have any credit — she wanted to avoid credit cards because she’d heard stories about people spiraling into debt. Her only experience with credit was her student loans, and this wasn’t enough credit history to provide her with a credit score.
She met with a credit counselor and, for the first time ever, realized that homeownership was within reach as long as she could build her credit score. Motivated by this news, Pilar signed up for a Lending Circle. Her group decided on a monthly contribution amount of $50, and she felt closer to the group after each member shared information about their financial goals. When it came time for Pilar to receive her loan, it was the end of June in Minnesota and the heat was sweltering. She used her loan funds to purchase a much needed air conditioning unit. Pilar was living paycheck to paycheck at the time, and she could not have afforded the unit without the Lending Circle funds. It was not only a relief to her, but also her two dogs — brother and sister rescues — who were suffering from the heat. She described the financial education videos that accompanied her Lending Circle as “eye opening.” For the first time, Pilar felt comfortable managing a budget.
“This might sound crazy, but I honestly didn’t know that I had to pay my bills on time.”
Pilar is now a proud homeowner. “If it wasn’t for the Lending Circle and meeting with Henry, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” she says as she reflects back on the process. Pilar’s whole demeanor lights up when she talks about her home. She describes the house as a place that “lets me be who I want to be. After a stressful day at work, it provides a wonderful reprieve.”
But there is an additional bonus for Pilar. Her house is right next door to a very special house – known as the “Purple Rain house” to locals – the house that appeared in the iconic 1984 film featuring Prince.
Pilar knows her home purchase was meant to be. On the one-year anniversary of Prince’s passing, fans poured into her neighborhood in the rain and congregated at the Purple Rain house. Even though Pilar never ended up as Prince’s neighbor, she still feels like the magic of his presence and his legacy in her neighborhood. Laughing, she says, “at night, I think I see purple lights coming out of the basement. It’s really something.”
On the topic of of homeownership, Pilar says “I thought it wasn’t possible. So know that it is possible, regardless of where you find yourself.”
This group of passionate MAF advocates is fundraising and friendraising for justice
At the end of 2016, an exciting group formed at MAF: the Adelante Advisory Council (AAC) is MAF’s first-ever committee devoted exclusively to leveraging the best of fundraising and marketing resources to garner support for MAF’s programs and, more importantly, to raise awareness about the issues facing people living in the financial shadows.
The seven members of the AAC are passionate Bay Area professionals, each of whom brings a unique set of skills and expertise. They are united by their shared belief that everyone deserves a fair shot at financial freedom. AAC members collaborate with the MAF team to support fundraising initiatives, provide strategic advice, and serve as ambassadors for MAF’s work and mission.
Please join us in welcoming the Adelante Advisory Council to the MAF family! If you’re interested in becoming a member of the AAC, please reach out to email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.
Read on to get to know a few of these new MAF ambassadors and learn why they joined the AAC.
“I joined MAF because I believe that everyone deserves equal financial opportunity. Certain communities, particularly low-income and immigrant families, are currently excluded from the financial marketplace. The work that MAF does is crucial to building opportunity and an even playing field for all.”
“I joined MAF because I’m passionate about the positive impact that microloans can make for low- and middle-income families and individuals, particularly in immigrant communities. I joined the AAC to help broaden and strengthen MAF’s outreach to individual donors, and shape our communications at a time when low-income and immigrant communities are under extraordinary pressure. Now more than ever, MAF’s financial services can be a critical resource.”
She’s a bilingual UI developer and ping pong pro who’s passionate about using tech for good.
Meet Gaby Zamudio, a bilingual developer specializing in UI and an all-around positive, people person who’s always looking for opportunities to use her tech skills to support local nonprofits. Gaby is the Co-Founder of Meraki Creative, a community for women entrepreneurs and a former developer at Thoughtworks. Since 2016, she’s been a member of MAF’s Technology Advisory Council (TAC), a group of professionals from leading Bay Area tech companies who provide leadership, advice, and counsel to help MAF use technology to best meet the financial needs of low-income consumers.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Gaby and learn more about what drives her to support MAF.
MAF: Tell us about yourself. Hobbies, interests, passions?
GZ: I’m trained as a UI developer and designer and I love finding creative ways to display data and information. I recently had the opportunity to serve as an instructional assistant in a front-end development course at General Assembly here in San Francisco.
A fun fact that most people don’t know about me is that I played table tennis (a.k.a. ping pong) growing up, and had the chance to represent my region at competitions. Usually I was the only woman participating, which prepared me for the tech industry, where I often have a similar experience.
MAF: What issues spur you to action?
GZ: First, social justice has always been important to me. I was raised during a period of internal conflict in Peru when there were two powerful terrorist parties, so it was a dangerous time. Many people disappeared. My mom worked for a human rights organization and my dad was a sociologist and activist. My mom put so much into her work. As a child, I remember wishing I could see her more, and then opening my heart to realize that maybe other people needed my mom more than me. I felt conflicted because unlike many others, I had food and a safe place to sleep. But I so easily could have been in their position. This experience shaped my commitment to creating a more socially and economically just world.
Second, I care deeply about immigrant rights. I moved to the U.S. from Peru by myself at age 19, so I can relate to the experience of immigrants in this country.
Finally, I’m passionate about the environment. Growing up in a mining town, I’ve seen how these industries contaminate our communities. If we don’t protect our environment, we won’t be able to make progress on other issues like social justice and education.
MAF: What made you want to get involved with MAF?
GZ: I first heard about MAF through a friend who had participated in a Lending Circle, and I immediately recognized the practice. In Peru, many people participate in panderos to save money for big purchases while being accountable to a group. I love how MAF connects the practice of saving in a group with credit-building and financial education.
When I moved to the U.S. by myself, the financial system here was completely new to me. I didn’t know what credit was.
When I started college, it was confusing to navigate the student loan process. I could have easily taken out more loans than I needed and gotten myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But my experience taught me that everyone – not just immigrants – can benefit from more information and tools to navigate the financial system.
A few years after first learning of MAF, a friend suggested I look into MAF’s new Technology Advisory Council (TAC). Nonprofits don’t usually have the same resources for tech that for-profit companies do, and I’m honored to use my technical expertise to add to MAF’s tech capacity and help create a bigger impact.
MAF: Why do you invest your time and skills in the work we do together?
GZ: For me, it’s about empowering people. At the first TAC meeting, I had the chance to meet Luis, who now owns D’maize, a Salvadoran restaurant in San Francisco. A loan from MAF enabled him and his wife to build credit scores and then access bigger loans to grow their business. They eventually hired staff from their community, and now they give back by donating catering for their son’s events.
I hope to be a granito de arena (grain of sand) supporting this amazing ripple effect.
MAF: What are you looking forward to in our work together in the next few months?
GZ: I’m looking forward to supporting the development of the Lending Circles App and seeing the final version once it’s ready. I feel proud to have helped shaped the design of this one-of-a-kind app. I hope the MAF team feels just as proud! I’m also excited to reflect on what we’ve learned from this process as we move forward with more tech products.
Meet MAF’s four passionate new members of the Board of Directors: Alex, Cara, Lissa, and Sagar
MAF is thrilled to welcome four new members to our Board of Directors! They bring rich experience in law, financial tech, consumer advocacy, and business. Read on to learn more about these inspiring leaders and what motivates the work they do.
Before joining her current law firm as a Financial Services Partner and lead of the FinTech team, Alexandra worked as Senior Counsel in the CFPB’s Office of Law and Policy.
Alexandra learned about the power of informal lending practices at an early age while growing up in Monterrey, Mexico.
Her grandmother, a landlord, used to organize tandas to help tenants afford rent and other expenses.
Alexandra remembers witnessing firsthand how the capital from tandas helped people cover medical bills, car repairs, and other unexpected expenses. She’s eager to bring her legal training, experience in consumer protection, and deep personal connection to fair lending to her role with MAF.
As a corporate attorney for Dropbox, Cara brings valuable experience in the legal, finance, and tech spheres to her role as a Board Member. Before Dropbox, she held the role of Vice President & Counsel at BlackRock, where she specialized in alternative investment vehicles and provided advice on legal, regulatory, and general corporate matters.
Cara has an inspiring track record of leveraging her skills and expertise in the interest of justice.
Since becoming an attorney, she has provided pro bono immigration legal services to many of the same communities that are part of MAF’s Lending Circles network.
When asked what drew her to MAF, she shared, “What I see in MAF excites me deeply: an organization that has already found a sustainable, elegant, and effective way to foster financial inclusion of communities most in need.”
With 12 rich years of experience as a management consultant at McKinsey, Lissa is passionate about all things teams: cultivating and retaining talent, adapting to change, and building a purposeful culture. As Co-leader of McKinsey’s OrgSolutions, which provides clients with innovative design technology and advanced analytics to help them make the best decisions for their organizations.
Lissa shares that she’s long been dedicated to tackling income and asset inequality at its roots.
Over the past year, she’s found herself growing ever more passionate about defending the idea of an inclusive America.
She sees great potential in MAF’s Lending Circles model, which she describes as “both powerful and powerfully simple.”
A seasoned tech and finance professional with a passion for social justice, Sagar currently directs Strategy and Operations at Salesforce. In addition to his tech savvy, he brings valuable experience as a former member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters leadership board in Chicago.
His passion for financial inclusion stems from his family’s immigration story.
When his parents came to the U.S. from India, they had little savings and no credit history, and they struggled to make ends meet.
It was the generous help of family friends that helped them get on their feet and begin to build a future for themselves. Sagar knows that a strong social network can make or break someone’s ability to thrive, and he sees his role with MAF as an opportunity to build that network for others.
We’re delighted to welcome Alexandra, Cara, Lissa, and Sagar to MAF’s board!
We’re grateful to them for lending their skills and talents to help us take our work to the next level. ¡Adelante!