Eleven arms of various skin hues and wearing shirt sleeves of various lengths extend into the center of a circle, where they stack on top of one another in a gesture of camaraderie.
Looking for a way to support small businesses in underserved communities? The Opportunity Finance Network may be your way to make a difference. — Getty Images/pixelfit

The Opportunity Finance Network is made up of members who provide assistance to community businesses. In particular, the network helps small business owners who work in rural and urban communities.

[Read more: Small Business Development Centers: What They Are and How to Find One]

What is the Opportunity Finance Network?

The Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) is a nonprofit that serves Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). Members work nationwide to help finance businesses and support job growth.

To become a member, you’ll start by filling out an online application. You’ll share your personal information, the type of CDFI your organization is, the year it was incorporated and why you want to join the OFN.

The network will notify you if you’re accepted about a month after you apply. If accepted, you’ll pay the annual dues based on the current size of your organization. While not everyone is accepted into the network, you can still become an OFN ally.

What is a Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI)?

CDFIs provide loans and other financial services to low- and moderate-income areas. Typically, these communities are not getting the resources they need from traditional financial institutions.

By offering assistance to low-income communities, CDFIs prepare them to unite with the economic mainstream. CDFIs receive funding from various sources, including local, state and federal governments, individuals and religious institutions.

In some cases, CDFIs can help people buy a home. Small businesses, nonprofits and microbusinesses are a few organizations that benefit from CDFIs. The OFN is a membership network made up of CDFI members who are helping fill the gaps of the long-standing issues of poverty and racial wealth gaps in the United States.

These gaps include housing issues, problems in health care and lack of education. The OFN currently has over 300 members located across all 50 states.

[Read more: What is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)?]

By joining the OFN, you have access to an extensive network of CDFIs that can help increase your impact on the community you serve.

Types of CDFIs

  • Community development banks: A community development bank is a for-profit corporation that aids in rebuilding economically distressed communities. In addition, they represent that community on their board of directors.
  • Community development credit unions: These organizations encourage the proprietorship of assets and savings and offer modest financial services to low-income families, particularly minorities.
  • Community development loan funds: A community development loan fund provides financing and development services to organizations, businesses and individuals in low-income communities. The four primary types of loan funds are housing, community service organizations, small businesses and microenterprises.
  • Community development venture capital funds: These organizations contribute equity and debt-with-equity features for small- and medium-sized businesses in troubled communities. They can be nonprofit or for-profit organizations and incorporate representation from the district.

Should I become a member?

By joining the OFN, you have access to an extensive network of CDFIs that can help increase your impact on the community you serve. In addition, members receive many benefits by being a part of the OFN network. These benefits include conference discounts, access to the OFN’s financing fund, potential loans and meetings with the OFN’s policy team.

If you’re not interested in membership or your application is rejected, you still have the opportunity to become an ally. Allies support the primary purpose of the OFN and have a desire to be active partners.

As an ally, you can join either as an individual or on behalf of your organization. You’ll still pay annual dues, but they aren’t as expensive as membership dues. Allies also receive conference discounts and a complimentary yearly publication, and are highlighted on the OFN website.

If you’re unsure whether membership is the right choice for you, you might start out as an ally. You’ll become more familiar with the organization, and it may be easier to apply for membership in the future.

[Read more: 9 Funding Options for Black-Owned Businesses]

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