Why I picked it up: Philanthropy is changing rather dramatically, with more donors expecting evidence of impact before making (or repeating) gifts. One outgrowth of this shift is "impact investing," where a donor isn't a donor at all, but an investor … an investor that expects returns both mission-related and financial.
What you need to know: First, the terminology. The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) defines impact investing as "investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return."
An impact investor would thus look at a for-profit company through the exact same lens as a nonprofit. The investment choice would be the entity that can return the most bang for the buck, via both impact and financial returns.
Now, to this particular report, The Center for Effective Philanthropy surveyed 64 CEOs of private US foundations that give at least $10 million/year. Note, this is not a big sample size, so a grain of salt is prudent. (And it only covers foundations; impact investing is on the rise among individuals with high net worth as well.)
That being said, 41% of respondents said their foundations were already practicing some form of impact investing. That seems like a lot, but when it comes to dollars, it is pretty tiny. The median amount going towards impact investing was less than 1% of program/grant budgets. The median amount of endowment funds being used for impact investing was 2%.
Are you confused now? I had to sort it out as well. The thing with impact investing is that it is malleable. The returns are both mission-related impact and financial. Thus, a proposal for an impact investment could be categorized as a program/grant expense because of the mission-related impact. Or it could be categorized as part of the endowment because of the financial return. Heck, I suppose some foundations could say their investment is in some part both.
The future of impact investing appears to be growth. Foundations practicing impact investing reported that it was a relatively new venture for them, but that they were seeking to increase their financial commitment to it. To date, however, the actual financial commitment of foundations to impact investing is small.
Note: the report also explored negative screening, or the practice of reviewing companies that endowment funds are invested in for red flags in conflict with their missions. Such as an environmental organization choosing not to invest in fossil-fuel companies. To be honest, I wasn't terribly interested in this part of the report and only skimmed it.
Implications for museums: Based on this report, this seems to be something to be aware of, and to consider if you have the right project. Impact investing may accelerate dramatically over the next few years … or stabilize at a relatively small portion of foundation allocations. I'll keep monitoring it and share new information going forward.
What concerns me more, however, is the bigger shift towards impact-based philanthropy. That's when foundations and donors expect far greater evidence of impact than museums have historically been prepared to supply (much less compete on). This trend appears to be accelerating much more rapidly, with far more dollars at stake. For museums to respond they need to invest more in measuring and understanding their lifelong impact on individuals and communities, and how they can deliver that impact more effectively than other choices.
Read or skip? Skip. Honestly, this report was difficult to read. While they took pains to define terms, it still ended up a being a bit of a muddle and I had to work to sort out what they meant. This may, in some part, be a reflection of how new impact investing is. But unless this is something you are seriously considering for your museum, skip. I'll keep looking for better resources.
Full citation: "Investing and Social Impact: Practices of Private Foundations." Research report published by The Center for Effective Philanthropy. Released 2015.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
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