Storytelling for impact: four key lessons in impact investing comms

By: Bridget McArthur

Open up a financial magazine today and you can be sure to find the words “impact investing”, or at least “sustainable investing” or “ESG”, written somewhere. Even one year ago this was a rare occurrence in mainstream trade publications; five years ago, it was practically unheard of.

Through Aspectus Group’s work with leading players in the impact investment ecosystem, including the Global Impact Investing Network, Big Path Capital and ImpactUs, we have played a role in popularising the impact investing narrative.

But the journey isn’t over yet; there are still many myths to dispel, and values and metrics to champion. Thoughtful and smart communication on behalf of impact investing clients requires clear and compelling communications principles. To ensure the movement is not sidelined as a passing trend but establishes itself in the mainstream, you need to get the story right. To that end, we have developed four steps to effective impact investing communications.

  1. Think global, communicate local. Impact investing is enormous in its scope and means different things to different countries, regions and people. Rather than painting with broad strokes, it’s critical to remember that impact investing is not one size fits all. What makes a real impact will be different for every community, as will the unique challenges in achieving and measuring it. When introducing or expanding on impact investing and its various concepts to different people around the world, tailor your messaging accordingly, while tying it into the wider global narrative.
  2. Get past the alphabet soup. Aligning values with investment can take many forms, as evidenced by impact practices such as ESG, SRI and CSR and mechanisms such as CDFIs, ETFs and ITCs. While it’s necessary to understand these concepts, it’s even more important to look beyond them to explain what impact investing is and how it looks at investment capital differently; that it goes beyond avoiding doing harm and focuses on creating a measurable, positive impact. All impact investments are responsible investments, but not all responsible investments are impact investments. Responsible investing is important, but don’t let the acronyms and abbreviations distract from impact investing’s powerful narrative.
  3. Be a network ninja. The impact investing universe is vast and diverse, involving all manner of businesses and philanthropic organisations. Communicating impact means working with a multitude of constituencies and developing a common language. Non-profit organisations, for-profit companies, investment firms and government agencies all have their own needs and methods. To be effective means collaborating with all these different players. Take the time to understand both the differences and commonalities of all the groups you are working with on a given campaign and see how you can help them drive a narrative that suits everyone.
  4. Embrace the sceptic. The value of impact investing has been proven time and time again, through research and returns as well as anecdotally. Demand has grown exponentially. Still, there are and will always be sceptics. Some question the power of capital to change things. Some want to call out the potential for abuse, acutely sensitive to programmes that might exploit the poor or be used as greenwashing. While it’s tempting to pull out defensive comms strategies, it’s important to remember that these critics usually at their core share the commitment of impact investors to make positive social and environmental change. Resist the urge to paint them as sour naysayers. Every good argument needs its devil’s advocates. At a time when the industry is scaling so rapidly, impact investing needs a critical eye, and can and should withstand the utmost scrutiny. Learn to engage with the critics, invite them to look closer and be there to answer their questions.

Impact investing is all about inclusivity, not the creation of an exclusive club of moral ‘elites’. The focus on directing capital towards what’s good, rather than simply excluding what’s bad, is what makes impact investing unique. As with any investing strategy, impact investing is going to have different philosophies and approaches. Greater institutional involvement is changing the field, but the core commitment will stay the same: changing the world for the better one investment at a time. And that’s a narrative worth communicating.

Bridget McArthur is a Senior Account Executive with Aspectus Group, a global communications and public relations agency with a dedicated impact investing practice.

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