Rural Maine Financial Coaching Collaborative

We promote financial capability by focusing on basic needs and training trusted frontline service providers and volunteers as coaches.

Photo of Christopher Linder
1 3

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

Maine: Bangor (04401); Brewer (04412); Old Town (04468); Dover (04426); Belfast (04915); and Rockland (04841)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

10/15 (start of a pilot combining individual development accounts & financial coaching)

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $250k - $500k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL

Facebook URL

LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

The current project was inspired by the findings of a 2016 Penquis pilot that involved providing monthly 1:1 financial coaching and support to participants in our Individual Development Account program. The percentage of individuals with savings increased from 57% to 93%, with average and median savings of $441 and $359, respectively. Of the 14 clients who initially provided their credit scores, 50% improved their credit. While we expected to see increases in savings as a result of the coaching element, we were surprised to find that half of the 30 participants experienced increases in income. Although the findings may not be entirely attributable to coaching, they were promising and galvanized the launch of the RMFCC.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Financial literacy classes have limited impact on low-income participants, tending to be theoretical, prescriptive, and paternalistic. Individualized coaching strategies that address basic needs while urging clients to take solid steps toward financial self-sufficiency have more impact, but coaching capacity is scarce in our rural region. Community providers do not currently have the resources to offer what they view as an entirely new service.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Instead of adapting approaches designed for urban environments, RMFCC is developing a high quality financial coaching model that responds to the unique needs of people in rural communities, combining personal support, wraparound services, accessible technology, and self-paced learning. Our approach features training a wide range of frontline service providers and volunteers in basic financial capability concepts and strategies that can be incorporated into their work with low-income individuals, e.g., online savings and tracking platforms. RMFCC will rely on a network of coaches who have earned the trust of economically vulnerable people through their roles as case managers and advocates. Our model builds on this trust and familiarity, ensuring that coaching responds directly to individual and family strengths, needs, and goals. Flexibility, ongoing communication, and warm handoffs are essential. With limited coaching expertise in the rural Maine nonprofit sector, training and deploying frontline workers and volunteers will allow more clients to benefit from coaching while reserving staff with higher level expertise for more intensive activities, e.g., foreclosure counseling.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Penquis works with staff of local housing authorities who help tenants address a range of needs through family self-sufficiency programs. Some participants also access family development accounts and financial coaching from Penquis. Penquis and housing staff meet monthly to coordinate service efforts and share data. This wrap-around approach allows the programs to reinforce clients' knowledge and skills, pinpoint service gaps, and identify additional resources to assist economically vulnerable families in meeting their basic needs as they build and protect assets. Our work is client-directed, goal-driven, and action-oriented. Clients set their own goals and staff walk them through such processes as filling out applications and opening bank accounts. Matched savings is an inducement to continue with coaching. All participants are female or male/female couples.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

RMFCC primarily targets two underserved groups: young families seeking to build assets and adults who are older and/or have disabilities seeking to protect assets. We show them alternatives to questionable resources like payday loans and help them make sound decisions about building credit or repairing credit harmed by expenses like mortgages, credit cards, and student loans. We reach these groups through our programs and nonprofit partners, including our healthcare navigator and LIHEAP program.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • illness
  • geography
  • gender
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Other CDFIs and stand-alone organizations do similar work in Maine, though most generally offer workshops and operate in more populated areas. Penquis partners with many of them through such groups as the Eastern Maine CA$H Coalition, led by the United Way of Eastern Maine, and the Maine Family Development Accounts Coalition, led by Penquis. The proposed project differs most from the approaches of other organizations in its collaborative nature, capacity-building strategy, and focus on 1:1 financial coaching. RMFCC coordinates diverse partners to recruit and coach rural, low-income clients.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

A couple of years ago, a small business owner and single mother of two school-aged children from rural northern Maine came to MaineStream Finance looking for business advice and technical support. In the process of receiving help with her business plan, she revealed additional needs, which MSF worked holistically with her to address. She applied for and received a $500 technology grant from MSF for low-income entrepreneurs to purchase business technology equipment. Staff helped her connect with our matched savings program, through which she saved and received a match for working capital. She also purchased a vehicle for her household with the support of yet another matched savings program. Today her business continues to be successful. We are currently working with fifty clients associated with local housing authorities and Head Start, and we expect final outcome data this fall.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

Penquis, Maine's largest community action agency, and chief partner United Way of Eastern Maine will first scale our impact by engaging more nonprofit partners and increasing the number of individuals receiving financial coaching through community service providers. We see the potential to expand further by providing training and technical assistance to other community action agencies and United Way programs interested in replicating the model. Our vision also includes marketing financial coaching and related products to employers as a means of supporting RMFCC's future developments.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Federations, Associations

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our solution requires modest funding because it capitalizes on existing resources, including helping relationships, and staff time/travel. It focuses more on skill building and coordination than on hiring staff for new or expanded roles. Marketing financial coaching to employers will help to sustain the collaborative. UWEM has in-kind resources to contribute, including an extensive volunteer network and grant writing capacity. Penquis also has administrative capacity to share.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The core RMFCC team consists of five Penquis staff who specialize in finance, program management, financial coaching, and communications and three United Way of Eastern Maine (UWEM) staff specializing in marketing, community impact, and volunteer coordination. Two Penquis staff are certified in financial coaching, and two additional staff are slated to receive financial coaching training this summer. Several UWEM volunteers will also be assigned to the project and trained.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Email
  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 66.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 100%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 33.3%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 33.3%

Partnerships - 66.7%

Potential to scale - 33.3%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 100%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 50%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Brittany Corner

Good Idea!