Her clients call her their “Minister of Money”
Donna Clifford has been a money person and a Unitarian Universalist for her whole life. At first, her faith and her finances weren’t particularly connected. She prepared taxes and helped people plan their financial lives during work, and spent time with her church friends after work and occasionally went to church conferences, where she met other “UU’s” as she calls them. She also married a UU minister.
But things didn’t stay separate. Her church friends started becoming her clients, coming to her for financial advice and help with their taxes. In her office, they started talking about values and investing, and asking her how to make sure their portfolios supported companies and projects they really believed in. Some brought up the term socially responsible investing (SRI), which in the ’90s, Clifford says, was not as common of a term as it has come to be today.
Clifford told them she didn’t know much about SRI but would look into it. When she attended the Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing (then called “SRI in the Rockies”) in Colorado in 1998, she learned about socially responsible investing and how people had the option to align their investment portfolios and retirement funds with their values, and to create an impact in their communities.
“I met such a wonderful group of people there, and I said, 'Yes!’” she recalls. “I’d heard all the stories about what they were doing, how they were working with their investors, and I said ‘This is where I have to be.’”
The next year, she joined Progressive Asset Management and began to close her tax practice. She opened Rainbow Solutions in 2002 with her wife Dorothy Emerson, who held workshops on the intersection of finance and justice. Dorothy has since retired and is now working on a book, and the firm is now called Rainbow Investment Solutions, but its SRI focus has remained the same.
Rainbow Investment Solutions uses a hybrid model to combine financial advising with its work with clients on impact investing, which it does through its broker-dealer, the Vanderbilt Financial Group. Clifford and advisor Terry Timmerman work in North Reading, MA. The SRI movement has grown out of progressive centers and is now accessible to all investors, so Rainbow Investment Solutions works with clients around the country, through e-mail, Skype, and visits.
Since the beginning, Rainbow Investment Solutions has been an LGBTQ-friendly company. In fact, Clifford says that before the Supreme Court legalized LGBTQ marriage in 2015, there were a lot of special considerations when it came to investing, especially when it came to ensuring that an investor couple protected their joint assets in the absence of legal marital rights. Now, LGBTQ clients are on a more equal footing, but she does note that there are still differences. For example, they may be particularly interested in screening for diverse hiring practices or non-discrimination policies at the companies they invest in.
“I think the most important thing in dealing with LGBTQ clients is developing trust, making sure they know we accept them for who they are, making sure they feel comfortable working with us for the long term,” Clifford says. “And like with all clients, we want them to understand that we take our fiduciary duty to them very seriously.”