Monthly Archives

July 2021

What is the right financing mix for our project?

By | Education

One of the most common questions we receive from groups interested in raising community investment is “What is the right amount to be raising in bonds and how will this financing fit with our other sources of funding?”

The long and short of it is, there is no correct financing mix. Every organization that we work with is unique, and therefore, there is no magic one size fits all answer to this question.

However, in this blog we will attempt to give you some high-level ideas and thresholds for project financing. Once we begin to work with your organization and better understand your project and financial situation, we will be able to provide your team with some guidance on how much your organization can raise in community bonds.

We always recommend that this work is done in close cooperation with your finance/accounting team and Board Members, as they will have important insight on the risk tolerance of your organization and its capacity to carry debt.

Types of financing available to nonprofits, charities and co-operatives

When we speak of an organization’s project financing, we will often refer to their capital stack. In simple terms, the capital stack represents the underlying financial structure of an asset or real estate deal. Often, the capital stack is presented as a graphic that shows the different types of capital in a deal stacked above each other, like a cake with many layers.

Types of financing that may appear in a capital stack:

In the case of co-operatives, it’s also possible to issue preferred equity in the form of preferred shares. This cannot be done for charities or non-profits because they cannot be owned.

Finding the right mix for your organization will mean balancing your appetite for risk and your cash flow situation. Ultimately, the goal of your organization should be to align your sources of financing with your project timelines and key cash output milestones, and balance this with finding the lowest cost of capital through a combination of the tools above.

Percentage of total financing

There is no correct percentage of bonds within an organization’s capital stack. It could be as little 5% for a large project or as much as 100%. In the past, most of our clients have raised 10-40% of their total financing in community bonds.

For certain organizations, it may make sense for the bond total to be a larger piece of the puzzle. This is common when an organization needs to access a large sum of capital quickly, and don’t have the time to fundraise, or when traditional lenders are only willing to finance a smaller piece of the project.

“Bonds are such a great tool for community organizations to use when considering a capital raise,” says Mary Warner, Co-Executive Director at Tapestry. “Community bonds allow the organization to set the terms of the financing in a way that works best for them and allows them to reach out to their community in a new way, offering a chance for their supporters to invest in the future of their project, and to directly benefit from a financial return on that investment”.

Total dollar figure

“There are a lot of factors that go into determining how much an organization wants to raise but we have seen many partners accomplish their goals in raising between half a million and five million in their first raise,” says Mary.

Setting an initial goal within this range can help set your organization up for success. This is simply because the concept of bonds will be new to your community, there will be no existing marketing and messaging around your project, and you won’t have had the opportunity to test your community’s appetite for investment yet.

Due to certain fixed costs (ex. Legal, marketing etc) raising less than $500,000 in bonds isn’t generally a cost effective way to raise capital. Typically, the more you raise, the less it will cost per dollar of financing.

Once an organization has successfully completed an initial raise, they will have the opportunity to tap into their existing investor base and issue reinvestment campaigns. They can also build on the message of a successful bond raise and consider raising bonds for different projects in the future.

“We’ve seen this type of sequential bond raise with several partners, including SolarShare and ZooShare,” says Mary. “Building on the success of their initial raises, and foundation of proven ability to raise and manage community investments, has allowed these organizations to expand their projects and further their missions.”

We often see reinvestment campaigns that are much larger than first time raises. This is because, with time, issuers become more comfortable with their investor base, gain a better understanding of their community’s appetite for investment, and have built a solid marketing narrative around the organization, project and offering.

For example, our largest single raise to date has been $16 million, and this was a reinvestment campaign for an organization that has done repeated raises.

If a first-time raise over $5 million dollars is being contemplated, there are many things the organization will have to consider to ensure the raise is successful, including having sufficient staff and marketing support to maintain momentum.

Some organizations may have an easier time with a larger first campaign if they have:

  • Experience running a substantial capital fundraising campaign
  • A large and engaged pool of donors, members or supporters
  • A large project that will gain significant community and/or media attention early on

Deciding which types of financing should be used for different expenditures

Ideally the duration of the liability should match the duration of the asset, to the extent possible. In simple terms, this is why a mortgage would have a 25 year maturity, while a car loan would have a 3-5 year maturity.

In the context of your project, you should be thinking of the underlying asset of your project, and its associated projected cash flow.

Generally, community bonds will work well for funding long-term assets. A line of credit would be better suited to funding a short-term project or addressing a short-term funding need.

Relationship to other funding sources

Typically, if there is a mortgage in place for a project, community bonds will be subordinate to the mortgage. In other words, in the case of a default, the financial institution holding the mortgage will have the first right claim on the asset, followed by the community bond holders.

These details will be negotiated as part of your mortgage deal, and you should inform your financial institution of your intent to raise community bonds. In our experience, traditional financial institutions welcome community bonds as part of the financing mix as they view them as standing in the place of equity, and as an additional capital buffer.

“When considering community bonds as part of your capital stack, if it will be in tandem with a mortgage, it is important to engage the mortgage lender with the idea early on,” says Mary. “We have seen many organizations use both community bonds and a traditional mortgage so it is a possibility but it is important to be clear with the lender or potential lender about your intentions so that you can have firm expectations about how much will be raised and what the timelines for financing are.”

Where do we start?

Figuring out your project financing can be complex, and at Tapestry we understand this very well. We are always happy to speak to your finance/accounting team about how community bonds could fit into your own unique mix.

If your team is interested in pursuing community bonds as a source of financing, we encourage you to reach out to our team and register for our Intro to Community Bonds Workshop.

 

 

Community Bonds supercharge the electric vehicle transition

By | Client Stories, News

Earth Day Canada is building the infrastructure of the future, and using community bonds as a way to engage all Canadians in the electric vehicle transition.

Seven in 10 Canadians who plan to buy a new vehicle within the next five years are likely to buy an electric vehicle (EV). “The change is coming,” says Pierre Lussier, President of Earth Day Canada, “The Canadian Government has pledged to ban the sale of gas cars by 2035, and major car manufacturers like Volkswagen and Honda have made similar commitments to phase out sales of combustion engines.”

While the electric car industry is evolving rapidly, charge points aren’t always easy to find. This unmet need is why Earth Day Canada is building a network of 100 fast-charging stations that will stretch across New Brunswick and Quebec.

For the past 25 years, Earth Day Canada has been supporting Canadians to lower their impact on the environment. In recent years, the organization has had a strong focus on mobility. They developed a ride-sharing application used across Quebec, and partnered in creating the first zero-emissions refrigerated lightweight truck in Canada.

“We are actively working to develop new ways for mobility because we acknowledge that at the centre of the climate change issue is the way our society moves. We want to be part of getting EVs to the masses and democratizing the needed infrastructure,” says Pierre.

The EcoCharge network will extend to areas where there is currently a lack of fast charging equipment; not only in the metropolitan areas of Montreal, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke, but also in less populated areas, including Victoriaville, Gaspé, Rouyn-Noranda, Chelsea, Saint-Félicien. The locations of the EcoCharge stations, which will be installed by the end of 2021, can be viewed here.

To bring this project to life, Earth Day Canada has brought together a network of dedicated partners, including IGA (Sobeys), the Quebec Association of Electric Vehicles (AVEQ), Natural Resources Canada, Investment Quebec, Fondaction, as well as our team at Tapestry Community Capital. Jointly, these partners will support in financing the $14.75 million project.

The Community Bond campaign

Together, Earth Day Canada and Tapestry, have developed a $2 million investment campaign that will mobilize private capital through the use of community bonds. “They are the perfect tool for our vision,” explains Pierre, “because this isn’t just about financing, it’s also about building a community around these service centres.”

The investment campaign will be open to all Canadians interested in investing with impact. In addition to the environmental return of the project, community bonds will offer investors 4% interest per year for a period of 7 years or 3.5% per year for a period of 5 years. Investors will also receive free recharging time at EcoCharge stations.

“We are so excited about this campaign,” says Ryan Collins-Swartz, Co-Executive Director of Tapestry. “Not only will this be the largest community bond campaign in Quebec to date, but it will also be the first of its nature across Canada,” he shares. “There is something very powerful about allowing the average citizen to participate, not just emotionally but also financially, in a cause that they believe in. We hope this investment opportunity will give those interested in making a difference the agency to be a part of the positive change.”

A convenient charging experience

Earth Day has partnered with IGA to install the chargers across 50 IGA sites so that customers can charge their vehicles while they shop for groceries. With a speed of 62.5 kW, the charging stations will be the fastest network of charging stations in Canada and will be able to fully charge a vehicle in just 20 minutes. Built for the future, these stations will always be installed in pairs and can be combined to provide 125 kW of electricity to meet the needs of the next generation of electric vehicles.

“Access to charging stations on private property multiplies charging options for citizens, complements public initiatives and reduces pressure on public property” says Montréal City Councillor, Sophie Mauzerolle. The EcoCharge network is a much needed complement to the existing 225 public fast-charging stations already in operation across Quebec.

Building a more sustainable Canada

With more charging infrastructure available, the decision to buy an EV should become an easier one for those looking to make a car purchase. Even at current rates of EV penetrations, within 10 years of operation, EcoCharge will have saved 33,000 tons in GHG emissions.

“We all have a role to play in fighting climate change,” says Pierre, “and we don’t have any more time to wait for solutions.”

“We know that EVs are the way of the future and a part of the answer,” says Pierre, “so, together we are going to build the infrastructure that this country needs to expedite the transition.”

What’s Next?

To learn more about how you can participate and invest, visit the EcoCharge website and register for their upcoming Investor Information Session.

Community Bonds that turned Waste into Power

By | Client Stories, Success Story

The project that charmed Ontario

“Everyone is just so excited to talk about poop,” laughs Daniel Bida, Founder of the ZooShare Biogas Co-operative. I’ve just connected with him over Zoom to hear about the recent completion of their biogas project at the Toronto Zoo. “The joke never seems to get old and that’s an advantage we’ve always had,” he says, “it’s part of what drew people to our story and mission.”

With a background in finance and a passion for the environment, Daniel has always been fascinated by the potential to turn waste into something useful. Ten years ago, that curiosity turned into a bold vision to build Canada’s first zoo-based biogas plant.

The plan was simple – take zoo waste (yes, poop!) and commercial food waste collected from the Greater Toronto Area, use an anaerobic digester to produce biogas, and burn that gas to produce clean power. His plan also revolved around financing the project through community investors, like you or I, who could invest as little as $500.

“We’ve been really lucky that the media loved to tell our story. I think that’s partly because the conversation on food waste and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions has really picked up in recent years, and partly because of the ‘cuteness’ of our project,” says Daniel, “these two elements really helped us to raise the financing that we needed.”

To date, the organization has raised over $7 million from over 700 investors, to invest in the project and to refinance earlier investments that are now maturing. The co-op also joined forces with Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation, who made an investment in the project in exchange for 49% of the equity, and the Federal government, which granted $2.7 million from the Low Carbon Economy Fund.

What started as a mere idea, now stands fully constructed across from the Toronto Zoo processing zoo poop and commercial food waste, producing biogas, and running a combined heat and power generator to produce clean power for Ontario’s electricity grid.

Now that the project is operational, it will divert 15,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year, reduce CO2 emissions by up to 20,000 tons, generate 500kW of renewable energy each year, and produce a nutrient rich fertilizer as a by-product.

The Investors made all the difference

“I don’t think I realized at the time how proud people were to become investors in ZooShare,” says Daniel, “that’s something I only came to understand with time.”

While Daniel’s plan for the biogas digester may have appeared simple on paper, the execution was far from it. He was working in what is still an emerging industry and using a technology that was not widely understood in Ontario at that time.

ZooShare faced several hurdles along the way, including finding long-term suppliers of waste and dealing with organic waste that was not free of plastics, just to name a couple.

In 2017, ZooShare held what Daniel describes as their most difficult Annual General Meeting. They had come up against so many hurdles that they were faced with a major decision. “Essentially, we were at the point where we either just had to pull the plug and return investor’s money, or as a Board and co-op, make the decision to deploy the capital we had even though all the financing to complete the project was not yet in place ,” shares Daniel.

The co-op was quickly approaching the cut off date of their feed-in-tariff contract – a key element of their business model to ensure that their renewable power would be purchased by the Ontario power grid. They needed to begin generating power to maintain the contract, and to do that they needed to finance the combined heat and power generator.

They put the decision to the investors. “I was fully expecting for people to ask for their money back,” shares Daniel, “I really thought there was a limit to the patience the members would have after the previous delays we had faced.”

“But I was wrong, this wasn’t a traditional boardroom,” says Daniel, “the investors just said ‘you just keep fighting, you get back in there!’ It was really powerful to have that type of support.”

With their community bond investors behind them, they met the deadline to generate electricity. There were still hurdles ahead to be met, but it was clear at this point that the investors were in it for the long haul.

ZooShare investors gather for the groundbreaking.

Impact First, Returns Second

“The patient investors we have are the reason we were able to do what we did,” says Daniel. “These are people that were motivated to make an impact. They weren’t people who wanted to make a return and the impact was ‘a nice to have’. They wanted to make an impact and the return was ‘a nice to have.’”

With a background in finance, it was very interesting for Daniel to see the ways in which different people perceive risk. “When we got started we priced our offering based on the pricing of securities with a similar risk profile,” he says.

“I’m not sure that the people who ultimately invested in ZooShare would have been swayed by a 0.5% or 1% difference in interest.” says Daniel. “That’s not to say that they didn’t care about the return, they did, but they cared about the impact first.”

Daniel believes that if you are doing something environmentally or socially positive and you offer at least an average return, then it really comes down to telling a compelling story.

Some advice to those looking to raise financing

The ZooShare Biogas Co-operative was one of the first non-profits in Canada to issue community bonds. As pioneers in the space, they have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with fellow organizations looking to build a project and finance it through community investment.

Reflecting on his experience, Daniel shared three pieces of wisdom for those looking to follow in the co-op’s footsteps.

1. Assume things are going to go slower and cost more than you think.

Pad your assumptions so that you don’t have to go back to the drawing board and find more funding. Be frugal and diligent with the money you have in pocket. Having some wiggle room will give you the flexibility to make good decisions.

2. Even if things don’t go as planned, it’s important to keep investors informed.

My approach was always to be hopeful and optimistic, but also as forthcoming and transparent as possible. I think investors appreciate and respect that.

3. Don’t issue bonds to build something until you are ready to build.

When we got started, I really felt that we needed to have the money in hand to prove that we were serious to the other stakeholders we were negotiating with. The problem was that once it was in the bank, we were paying interest on it and as the delays piled up, so did the interest costs. You don’t want to be paying for capital that you aren’t using.

What’s next for Zooshare?

From the very start, one of the main drivers behind this project was to leverage it as an educational asset. It is one of the reasons that Daniel selected the Toronto Zoo as the site for the digester. “Our hope with this project is not just to process waste and generate power, but also to introduce people to biogas,” says Daniel. The co-op is actively working with the Zoo, Parks Canada and a renewable energy education charity called Relay Education to make this a reality.

Expansion could be a likely next step for ZooShare. In bioenergy, Daniel explains, economies of scale are very much at play. The co-op could conceivably build another digester tank, take more waste and generate more gas. “There is strong demand for renewable natural gas (or RNG), to be sold as gas, rather than used to generate electricity. We are actively exploring this market,” says Daniel.

Daniel stands next to the completed biogas digester. Photo Credit: Dan Pearce.

A time to celebrate the accomplishments of Zooshare

While Covid-19 may have thrown a wrench in their plans, ZooShare still intends to find a way to celebrate the launch of the facility. They will be releasing a video about the project next month, and hope to host an open house in the fall so that the public can tour the facility.

Stay tuned to the ZooShare’s newsletter and social media to stay up to date on what they have planned!

 

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