by Kelley Buhles
As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we can be pleased with how much we have accomplished since the organization’s founding in 1984. Our staff has grown dramatically and clients now number well over 2,000. The number of transformative financial transactions has greatly increased and the RSF community is even more deeply rooted in its mission, vision, and innovative work in the world.
In looking back over these 30 years, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money and that have brought associative economic principles into daily practice.
Over the next few months we will be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers that saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, helped direct our destiny.
In the fairy tales of old, the fairy godmother gives magical support and wise counsel to the hero or heroine of a story. She also tests their integrity and inner loyalty. In this relationship, the emphasis is always on the giving. Today, we use the word “donor” to identify a similar role in human affairs.
A very special donor to RSF was also one of our first, Mary Theodora Richards. She was a biodynamic farmer, musician, and a student of Rudolf Steiner. Similar to the fairy godmothers in the stories, she advised and supported Mark and Siegfried Finser during the organization’s formative stages. She encouraged them in word and deed.
Her interest in RSF came from her passion for associative economics and the threefold social principles identified by Rudolf Steiner. During their long relationship, Mark Finser and Mary Theodora studied these principles together. She was deeply inspired by the vision of RSF to bring spiritual elements together with practical movement of money in the world.
The number of times Mary Theodora Richards acted as “the first” in RSF’s history is astounding. She opened the first Investment Fund and the first Donor Advised Fund at RSF.
Many of the activities her gifts made possible are early examples of what has emerged as RSF’s innovative approach to financing-integrated capital. Here are a few examples. Mary Theodora was excited about leveraging her gift money to make lending activity possible. She was the first client to guarantee a RSF loan with a gift. She also allowed RSF to use her charitable funds to make loans to schools when not enough investor funds had been raised, in effect creating a bridge loan. In addition, she guaranteed a portion of our reserve funds, providing a larger safety net that was attractive to more investors.
Mary Theodora Richards was able to plant ideas she knew would be important to our future as a growing organization. She made a challenge gift to RSF to fund the first year of a retirement plan on the condition that it would be included in the budget for the following year. She funded our first computer and database system knowing the importance of technology for the future. In addition to all these deeds, she helped to fund the purchase of the original building on Fern Hill in New York which housed RSF until the move to San Francisco.
These are the many ways Mary Theodora Richards acted as RSF’s first fairy godmother, encouraging its growth and giving direct support when it was needed. This turned out to be the special quality in all of our most collaborative donors-the ability to see and cultivate in us what we have not yet seen ourselves. Like so many others over the last 30 years, she acted anonymously, never wanting to place herself in the foreground.
It seems very appropriate now, 24 years after her death, to honor her role in the life of RSF Social Finance.