Andrea Longton emerges as an important new voice in the national conversation encouraging Social Justice Investing

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

What is the greatest good we can do in this world?

THIS WEEK we are publishing two stories to introduce an important voice in the national conversation about Social Justice Investing: Andrea Longton—a nationally respected expert in this growing field of finance that encourages people to exercise their spiritual and ethical values while investing their money.

This is such an important area of interest for our long-time ReadTheSpirit readers that we providing two perspectives on Andrea’s work:

First, this is a Q-and-A with Andrea, interviewed by David Crumm with links to Andrea’s book and some of her free online resources, as well.

(Then, in this second story, financial expert and author Jonathan Grimm adds his perspective on Andrea’s new book.)

Andrea Longton. (Photo from the author used with permission.)

‘We can go so much farther—together!’

DAVID: Along with this article about your new book, we’re going to make sure to provide readers with links to your resource-rich website—and also specifically to the area where they can find out more about your podcasts. I’m highly recommending your work through our online magazine because you share our publishing house’s value of collegial cooperation in trying to spread valuable news to people in need.

ANDREA: I completely agree about forming collegial relationships. My philosophy is a linked-arm approach to connecting with colleagues to form new friendships as we work in this area. We’re going to go so much farther that way!

Working together, our purpose is figuring out: How can we get resources, opportunities and equity into communities in the U.S. that need them? We also want to do this globally, too, but my focus is mainly domestic right now. I think most of us who are working in this area think like this: Working together, we’re stronger. So, we’re willing to link arms without being threatened by rivalries. That’s a real advantage of working in this way.

DAVID: Those values are bedrock for both of us. The first thing we’re suggesting this week is that reaers order a copy of your book. Then, let’s talk more about what readers can find online through your website right now. If people go to—what do you hope they will notice when they visit?

A Free Online Book Club Starts Soon

ANDREA: We’ve designed the site to address the questions: What are we talking about? What is social justice investing? And what is this new book about?

And another important question for us as we developed this website is: When I arrive, do I feel welcome in this community? We want people to find answers to questions like: How do I get involved? Even if I’m new to the idea of social justice investing, how can I finding information that is helpful to me?

Then: How do I dig deeper? One thing we’re excited about is creating a virtual book club. We’re going to go through the book together online, probably five chapters at a time. Finance can be really overwhelming and intimidating, but if you break it down into parts, it becomes much more accessible.

As we talk about this, I believe in focusing on: What’s the next step? I don’t assume that everyone is trying to understand everything in detail all at once. That’s nearly impossible. But we can talk about: What’s the next step I can take?

DAVID: Tell us more about the book club opportunities.

ANDREA: First, we decided to set this up with start and end dates for the series so we can go through the book live and folks can join with their questions if they’re interested in doing that. We’re doing it as a Zoom experience so people can see that there’s a real community forming around you. So the first start-to-finish series will be live. But then, we’re also going to be recording those sessions so that you can go back to previous sessions, if you want.

And we’re making this available free through the website.

On our calendar right now, Book Club Meeting No. 1 is on May 9 starting at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Then we will continue on a weekly basis, so the next one would be May 16 and so on. These will be 45 minutes to an hour. The recorded sessions will be available on the website sometime afterward.

DAVID: And this is free, right?

ANDREA: That’s right. There’s no fee. We will welcome people and learn more from them, at the same time, about what areas they want to know more about.

Appearing in person to Washington D.C., California, Virginia and North Carolina

DAVID: Beside this wonderful Zoom opportunity you’re providing, people might want to take note of your schedule-and-events page.

Between now and July, for instance, I can see you’re going to be in Washington D.C.; Oakland, California; Arlington, Virginia; and Union Grove, North Carolina. Those are just some of the places that people could meet you in person if they get the information from that part of your website.

ANDREA: We are trying to keep expanding opportunities for people to get involved. We’re working on adding more locations, so it’s good to check back on that page over time. I’m reaching out to my national network of professional social justice investors and I’m so pleased that people are wanting to invite me to do events near them.

Andrea’s friends give us ‘Energy Boosts’

DAVID: And I’m pleased that your new book models that kind of collegial value. It’s literally a collaborative book. Your name appears on the cover as the author, as it should, but there are a lot of other writers who contributed interesting and inspiring stories about specific ways we can help our world, using these principles.

How many co-authors are in this book?

ANDREA: There are 20 different stories in the book that we call “Energy Boosts” and 19 of them were written by contributing authors. I wrote one of the 20. So there are 19 people who have joined me in this book.

DAVID: I think that whole approach to putting this book together illustrates the breadth of this movement. Readers will discover they’re not alone in these pages. Opening this book introduces readers to a whole community of people living and working today.

I should also explain to readers: This is not a historical book. You don’t really write about the earlier eras when faith-based leaders like Maimonides or John Wesley or early American Quaker writers—the historical list is very long—urged their followers to consider embodying their core values in the way they spent and invested their money. In this book, you are showing us the contemporary depth and diversity of this movement right now.

And you’re introducing readers to the key concepts they’re going to need if they begin stepping into this field. So, let’s talk for a moment about one of the key words readers will find as they explore your book: “sustainable.” There’s a lot of depth behind that term. So, please, talk to us about that one example of a core concept in the book.

‘Sustainability is a huge word …’

ANDREA: Sustainability is a huge word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different folks—even within the impact-investment industry. If you say ‘sustainability’ to one person they’re going to think about something completely different than what another person thinks when they hear the word.

But, mainly, I’m focused on talking to everyday people about their personal investment choices and personal finances. In that context, the word “sustainability” refers to questions like: Will your family have the financial security needed for expected and unexpected life events? And do you as a person or a family have financial earnings that will sustain you through those events? No one has a crystal ball that can show exactly what those events will be, but we can make reasonably informed decisions about what a financial cushion for your life should be.

DAVID: Let’s talk further about that concept, though, because what you just described will mean vastly different things for various people. For some, their basic financial security means an enormous house in an expensive zip code and multiple cars and other amenities. That’s completely different than families who intentionally are living on a more limited budget so they can donate to important causes and can invest some of their funds in ways you are describing.

When you talk to people about this kind of social justice investment, are you suggesting to people that they should down-size their own living situation to be able to participate in helping others?

ANDREA: You’ve just identified the beautiful part of financial planning—and the hardest part of financial planning. Sustainability looks different to everybody and everyone defines what they need in their own way—and I am not trying to pass judgment on people about those choices. It’s up to every person to decide how they want to approach this.

One person may define sustainability as trying to maintain their 3,000-square-foot home; another person may define the goal as living in community with a refugee family they are hosting in a blended household in a much smaller house. And that’s why I refer to the beautiful side of finance—meaning, it’s a set of tools you can use to try to get you where you want to be. The hard part is being real with yourself about where you can be.

I understand that these are big conversations in families. What I’m trying to show readers are practical ways to start those conversations. For a lot of people, the only financial advice they’re getting focuses on the question: Do you have enough money to get by right now?

If you do want to consider social-justice investing, these conversations and decisions are hard. Now, in addition to trying to take care of yourself and your family, you’re adding hard new questions: Do these decisions I’ve been making—and these plans I’d like to make—mesh with what my values are? Does this mesh with who I want to be as a person?

DAVID: You already have an impressive background as a professional in finance. I’m urging readers to find out more about you—by providing those links to your website and also recommending that they people read your book.

But you’re more than just a financial expert. You also live out these values you’re writing about in your own life. How do you balance your work between these big realms of secular finance and spiritual-and-ethical values?

ANDREA: It varies. If I’m going to speak at a meeting of financial professionals, if I begin by introducing myself as a person of faith, they’re going to turn off my message before I get started.

But I’m also going into settings where people already share the values that come from my faith. For example, that event you mentioned in North Carolina is in July and it’s the Wild Goose Festival. At Wild Goose, I’m comfortable introducing myself as a person of faith—and that will make sense in that context, because people at Wild Goose understand what I’m talking about when I say I want my investing to be in line with my values as a Christian.

In that kind of setting, I like to talk more about how this conversation has gone in my own family.

DAVID: I’m going to present this part of our coverage of your book as a Q and A so that readers can get a feeling for your overall style as a writer. The way you’re talking here is very much like your “voice” in the book. In many cases in these chapters, readers will find you describing family conversations and community conversations, too. Right?

ANDREA: Yeah, that’s right and those personal conversations are not quick—and often they’re not easy. Having these conversations—and doing the research involved for this kind of investing—is a multi-year process. And it involves so many questions that are all interrelated to our lives and, in my family’s case, our faith. I’m active in my Presbyterian church, for example.

DAVID: And, while your book is specifically about investing—putting your money to work in various funds and projects—a family involved in a congregation also needs to talk about donations. So, to be clear, the book is about the many issues you need to understand to start making social-justice-informed investments, but you also recommend that people be involved in helping people in other ways, too, right? Like donating to a church.

ANDREA: My family definitely supports our church and I think as Christians we are called to give—so yes, I do believe in giving. But as people with resources living in this country, there are many different ways we can use those resources to support our families—and to make the world a better place at the same time. That’s why these family discussions are a multi-year process.

Each of us has different kinds of resources: We have our time and our talents as well as our “treasures”—our money. In this country, there are a lot of us who have the privilege of enough money so that we can do more than just support ourselves and our families. We can give—that’s one very important way. And many Americans also have some money that they are setting aside for future needs that they are choosing to invest in various ways to try to ensure those resources are there for them later.

If we decide to get involved in this way, then we need to ask: How can I use the tool of my money to reflect the values I live by?

DAVID: That’s a pretty good summary of what people will find in your book. What else would you say about what you hope readers will find in these pages?

‘It takes a series of baby steps.’

ANDREA: I am very fortunate that I learned about social justice investing from some of the pioneering investors who already were doing this. Going back to our conversation a moment ago about the 19 co-authors in this book: I am thankful to that whole community for the wisdom I have learned.

So, what do I hope readers will find in this book?

I hope people will improve how they use their money. If you’re working with a financial advisor, then call your financial advisor and say, “I’d like to move my money toward social justice investing.” If you’re a DIY investor, or you want to get started as a DIY investor, then use the Investor Values Tool to research investments that you want to make. If you’re a 401K investor, then call your HR manager and say “I’d like some investment options that reflect my values. Can we look at social justice investments?”

I hope people will get these conversations started because it truly does take a series of baby steps to make all of this happen.

That’s what I hope people will find in this book—the tools they need to take the first steps in what I hope will become a life-long process.

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