Mark and Debra Leslie honored for philanthropy

Last November, Mark and Debra were honored with the Outstanding Philanthropists award at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Silicon Valley Philanthropy Day.

The Leslies have been long-time friends and supporters of Opportunity Fund. CEO Eric Weaver and Mark Leslie met over 15 years ago, when Mark was in search of an opportunity to invest in the local community. “I wanted to invest in microlending because I believe that it has the potential to have generational impact.” says Mark.  “Eric and I agreed to try an experiment, he would identify worthy borrowers who could not get loans, and I would supply capital to guarantee the loans. Eric was pretty nervous about the whole thing and we issued only five loans in that first year.”

Fifteen years later, thanks to the support and leadership of the Leslies and hundeds of other donors. Opportunity Fund has become the largest microlender in the United States. In 2015, we invested $39 million in the dreams of 4,091 familes.

Mark’s speech at the Luncheon:

Debra and I and our family members Seth, Josh and Sara are all honored to be here today.

Debra has designated me as the speaker for today.  … But I have been told that it is for this one time only!
Let me take a moment to talk about one of our family’s favorite organizations and its impact on us, Opportunity Fund.  I met Eric about 15 years ago when I was in search of an opportunity to invest in micro-lending in the local community.  At that time, Lenders for Community Development as they were then known, was representing the local major banks like B of A and Wells Fargo as their lending agent in the local immigrant communities.  However, all of the loans were underwritten by the banks with their normal requirements around credit history and loan security.  So Eric and I agreed to try an experiment in micro lending. He would identify worthy borrowers who could not get loans, and I would supply capital to guarantee the loans which would be made by those same banks.  Eric was pretty nervous about the whole thing and we issued only five loans in that first year.
Well, here we are in the present day, and Opportunity fund is issuing about 2,000 loans a year and has become largest micro-lender in the United States. 
I tell this story because it is about “return on investment” in philanthropy.  I wanted to invest in micro lending because I believe that it has the potential to have generational impact.  My grandparents were immigrants to the United States with sixth-grade educations, and my generation has been able to stand on their shoulders to be here today.  Opportunity fund over the past fifteen years has changed the lives of many thousands of families and created tens of thousands of jobs!  And I am hopeful that in many, if not most of those cases, it has changed the trajectory of the family for generations to come.  It is a way to multiply and then exponaniate the effect of giving.
This has inspired us to look for other opportunities to change the world through leveraged giving.  And for that my family and I are grateful to Eric and his organization.
Thank you to the Opportunity Fund, to Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and to the Association for Fund Raising Professionals.