Housing instability is an issue that runs deep in many major cities, including Charlotte. We love seeing our city grow, but with rapid growth often comes higher housing costs and displacement rates. A recent report from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute showed that 3,137 folks were actively experiencing homelessness as of June 2021, a 55% increase from 2,025 folks as of June 2020. It was during this timeframe when Liz Ward created Give Impact Advisory Services, which specializes in affordable housing and upward mobility in the greater Charlotte region.
Liz and her husband are both Charlotteans (multiple generations back), and Give Impact is one way that Liz shows appreciation for the communities that raised them. Since launching the company, Liz has already hired two employees: Maya (operations & client impact) and Tarang (finance & project management). Say hi to all three of them at our camp north end location, where they have a hip little office across from the kitchen.
Needless to say, we were super excited to ask Liz a few questions about her inspiring journey as an entrepreneur, small business owner, and community builder.
When did you start Give Impact? What led you to starting the business?
I launched Give Impact in August 2020, right after the pandemic started! You could say I was on the front end of the great resignation (but had no clue…!). I never thought I would be an entrepreneur, but I felt called to do something specific and it didn’t exist. In my prior work as a non-profit housing developer, I kept coming across groups that wanted to make a difference in affordable housing but didn’t have the expertise to navigate these complex investments. I felt called to create an independent firm that could provide this expertise to make a broader impact. It has been a blessing and I’ve grown so much over the last 18 months. I had no idea that I would be hiring two full-time employees within my first year. We’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible clients and help make progress in housing initiatives across the region.
What types of clients do you work with on upward mobility and affordable housing?
Our mission is to help our clients and collaborators identify the impact they want to make, ways to creatively maximize their resources and development plans, guide them to a strategy that will make a lasting impact on the community and help support them as they implement. We work with a broad variety of clients: affordable housing owners & developers (both non-profit and for-profit), market rate developers who want or need to incorporate affordable housing in their developments, foundations and companies looking to deploy capital for the benefit of affordable housing (including faith-based institutions). Some of our favorite projects last year included:
- West Boulevard Corridor: Give Impact helped Paces Foundation through rezoning and financing for a 120-unit senior affordable housing building, and worked with West Side Land Trust and West Blvd Coalition to ensure long-term stability.
- Downtown Davidson: Give Impact helped Davidson Housing Coalition design a rental subsidy program for an 8-unit affordable townhome project that will break ground in early 2022.
- Covenant Presbyterian: Give Impact helped the Church deploy $1.7 million in grants to three local affordable housing developers: Roof Above, Habitat for Humanity, and DreamKey Partners.
- Mecklenburg County Grants: Liz helped lead and negotiate $11.7 million in special grants from the county to DreamKey Partners, a local non-profit affordable housing developer.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in founding and running this organization?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one lesson. I think the crux of our success has been listening to what God is calling us to, and following. That includes stepping into the unknown and taking risks. This company has grown more than I ever imagined, and it was thanks to saying “yes” to opportunities that presented themselves. A big part of that was making sure we weren’t making decisions out of fear. Secondarily, I think it has been incredibly important that we’ve focused on creating a positive work environment, being authentic and working with integrity. That has been foundational to building a strong team and company.
What advice do you have for folks who want to do more to improve upward mobility in Charlotte?
Use the resources that you have. Whether it’s time, money, skill, or just willingness to learn – it all makes a difference. Listen to podcasts, read books – and share them. We have resources on our website and constantly post on Instagram (@GiveImpact) and LinkedIn, follow us! Also, don’t be afraid to talk with others and ensure those around you are aware of the challenges in our city. We also recommend putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. When you humanize the problem (and make it personal), the reality hits closer to home. Some people think it doesn’t affect them, but it affects everyone.
What’s something you’re most proud of when it comes to your business?
Ultimately, I’m just really proud of the change that we’ve helped enable over such a short period of time. We’ve also helped elevate AMAZING minority-owned firms and leaders in Charlotte which led to new business for them, and it truly makes us happy. This included Neighboring Concepts Architects (owned by Darrell Williams), Harmon Construction (owned by Ty Harmon) and Verde Homes (owned by Ron Staley).
You work on some pretty heavy, tough subject matter. How do you and your team stay so positive?
My team and I stay positive by our willingness to be open-minded, educate ourselves, have what people would consider to be ‘tough’ conversations, but most importantly, leading with a lens of love and equality. We know that we can’t be all things to all people, but if we lead with a focus on making a difference in people’s lives and do our best everyday with the skills and the gifts that we have – it will bear fruit. Maya always reminds me, “we only have today”. So, we live in the present and give thanks and make progress. We never lose sight of the purpose and that is what keeps us motivated.
To contact Liz’s team or learn more, visit their website at www.giveimpact.org.