Thursday, September 20, 2007

Invest and advocate to achieve mission

I moderated a panel on social investing and community foundations at the 2007 Council on Foundations Fall Conference for Community Foundations (though you would never know it from omissions in conference program).

Panelists included Peter Kinder, KLD Research & Analytics; Lisa Richter, GPS Capital Partners; Mike Miller, Colonial Consulting; and Brian Byrnes, Vermont Community Foundation.

The panel gave succinct and useful definitions of hotly contested terms such as socially responsible investing, mission related investing, and program related investing. The nuance is important, and there are different requirements for the types of returns needed from each of the above (for private foundations more than for community foundations). However, I still think the term "aligned investing" should become the industry standard for linking investing practices with organizational purpose.

The session focused on process and possibilities of using endowed funds to invest in communities and to advance missions. The potential of shareholder action was discussed and the backlash against not aligning investing policies with mission statements was noted. There were proposals floated from the session room for tracking the investment holdings of all 600+ American community foundations, for finding ways to collectively invest as a field, and for finding ways to better connect community foundations to the PRI Makers Network. All good ideas (some more controversial than others) - lets hope there is some follow up.

Immediately afterwards, I moderated a session on advocacy, civic engagement and community foundations that featured Barbara Masters of The California Endowment, Judith Bell of PolicyLink and Emmett Carson of Silicon Valley Community Foundation. (Same conference program omission).

Key point from this session - Community foundations cannot achieve their missions unless they get involved in policy and advocacy. As all three panelists put it, "do it."

So here's what it all boiled down to - foundations need to use what they have to do their work - policy, endowments, grants, reputations, expertise, networks. I hope Mel Brooks appreciates my reflection on the whole - "If you got, use it."

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