Farmers Conservation Alliance raising $1.5M
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
The first Farmers Screen prototype was installed in the Hood River Valley. Now the Farmers Conservation Alliance is using a novel offering to raise money for expansion. Click on the image to learn more.
The Hood River-based Farmers Conservation Alliance is taking a page out of the startup handbook and raising $1.5 million in mezzanine financing, an amount meant to nudge the nonprofit into self-sufficiency.
Rather than do a typical nonprofit capital campaign, Farmers Conservation Alliance is selling share-like "units." Each unit corresponds to a specific environmental benefit that will be delivered by FCA through its patented Farmers Screen, which allows for the safe passage of fish in rivers that feed irrigation districts.
For example, Farmers Conservation Alliance will sell 30 "major units"through the offering at a price of $25,000 each. For that price, 36 river miles will be guaranteed for safe fish passage, 1.5 megawatts of clean hydropower is enabled and agricultural landowners will save $66,125 annually in avoided operation and maintenance costs as a result of the screen.
The Farmers Screens, installed to keep fish safe in rivers where water is diverted for irrigation and hydropower systems, were officially approved last year by National Marine Fisheries Service. Some 25 of the screens have been installed to date, but the potential market is much larger — an estimated 75 percent of more than 300,000 river and stream diversions are unscreened. Depending on size, the screens cost between $25,0000 and $1 million to develop and install.
Farmers Conservation Alliance, launched in 2006, developed its own screen technology and was set up as a nonprofit with a mission to help farmers and the environment in rural Oregon. Over the years the organization received funding from sources including Meyer Memorial, the Lemelson Foundation and Oregon's economic development division.
Julie Davies O'Shea, FCA executive director, set up the new offering as a way to help the nonprofit, which she calls a social enterprise, get enough screen projects installed and in the works to be financially independent.
"We have a very thought out and planned business and we wanted to present it that way," O'Shea said.
The offering, complete with a detailed prospectus, was developed in partnership with the New York-based Nonprofit Finance Fund. Rather than offering investors a financial return, it details the social return that and investment made in the alliance will achieve.
O'Shea says she is in "first-date mode" with prospective investor/donors.
"They don't usually have a nonpofit showing up with a prospectus," she said.
What the FCA offering sets out to do, however, is deliver a measurable return on the money it receives, what O'Shea refers to as "growth capital." Once the offering is completed, O'Shea doesn't anticipate that the 5-employee organization will have to raise any additional funds but that it will be up and running with a national market for its fish-friendly screens.
The FCA offering will sell 30 major units at $25,000 each and 800 minor units at $1,000 each for a total offering amount of $1.55 million.
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