Intentional Investing

Intentional Investing is one of the six Stronger Foundations working groups. Its principal purpose is to examine, discuss and debate challenging questions about foundation practice related to its theme. On this page you can find snapshots of each meeting to date, including content, reading materials and outputs. The group's work will contribute significantly to the raw material gathered through the initiative as a whole, from which ACF will create a variety of products, including a 'rapporteur's report' summarising the breadth of discussions and evidence gathered.
The group is comprised of senior foundation representatives drawn from across ACF's membership, who will meet 7 times over an 18 month period. The meetings, which will vary in format depending on the topic and desired content, will include presentation of evidence (by experts from within and beyond the foundation sector), small group discussions, whole group exercises and visits. The group's full terms of reference can be found here.
The members of the group are: Danielle Walker-Palmour, Friends Provident Foundation (group chair); Andrew Gibbs, Burdett Trust for Nursing/Junius S Morgan Benevolent Fund; Janie Oliver, Access Foundation; Joanna Heywood, Big Society Capital; Diana Sutton, Bell Foundation; Sian Ferguson, Ashden Trust, Mark Leonard Trust and JJ Charitable Trusts; Mark Bromley, The Hinrichsen Foundation; Matthew Cox, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation; Christine Oliver, Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation; Helen Carter, Francis C. Scott Trusts; Jackie Turpin, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust; Navprit Rai, Trust for London; Jen Hooke, ThirtyPercy.

Meeting Snapshots

Meeting #1 (February 2019) - Introduction

The working group looking at Intentional Investing first met in February, chaired by Danielle Walker Palmour of Friends Provident Foundation. A round of introductions revealed a variety of approaches to investment, with the age of the foundation and its founding values being central to how foundations view and use their endowments.

Members discussed whether ‘intentional investing’ was the most appropriate title for the working group. ‘Mission-aligned investing’ was suggested as an alternative, but it was felt that this unhelpfully implied that investing should be seen as separate from (although linked to) mission. Another suggestion was ‘good investing’, or to hold off naming the group until further deliberations. 

Some clear themes emerged that the group might address in future meetings. These included using foundation investments to challenge the status quo, the importance of a foundation’s time horizon and its consequences, and the public benefit requirement as a guiding principle.

These themes manifested in the questions that arose for the group to consider, ranging from constructing ethical portfolios to asking why more foundations are not currently viewing their investments through the lens of intentionality.

ACF will now work with the group’s chair Danielle to form a work plan for the next six meetings, inviting external expertise and critique to provoke, challenge and inform the group.


Meeting #2 (April 2019) - Mission-led investing vs maximising returns: seeing both sides

Larry Kramer, President of the US-based Hewlett Foundation, joined the group’s second meeting via a pre-recorded video interview. Following on from an article in which he ‘made the case against impact investing’, Larry gave a nuanced perspective on how foundations can achieve impact; in his view, strategic grant-making can have greater impact than making low return investments that may over time risk eroding the value of the endowment. Larry also touched on the different tactics foundations can deploy in tackling issues such as climate change, and the merits of the perpetuity model.

The group then dissected what they’d heard and how it might have challenged some of their own views on this issue. Reflections included: does foundation divestment make any difference to fossil fuel companies, or in reality do other investors step in with less benign intentions? Is the perceived need for specialist expertise among staff and trustees putting some foundations off using their investments in different ways, or is this an excuse? How do foundations change their investment approach given the constraints of their size and existing portfolios?

The group then broke into smaller groups to build on some of the key ideas from Larry’s interview. Is intentionality enough? Is shareholder activism an effective tactic? Is it true that philanthropic divesting has little or no impact on the companies? The discussion covered themes including the power of collective action, the range of tools that can influence corporate behaviour, and the lack of transparency around investments.


Meeting #3 (June 2019) – The intentional investing landscape: how has it changed over the last four years?

Two speakers joined us for this session; Kate Rogers, Co-head of Charities at Cazenove Capital, and Richard Jenkins, the authors of ACF’s report Intentional Investing in 2015. The group considered the questions: what has changed in the four years since the Intentional Investing report came out? Have the investment options outlined in that report changed (exclude, select, influence, deliver, or financial return only)? What additional opportunities have arisen over the last four years?

The speakers made many observations of the intentional investing landscape based on their experience and expertise. These included that the law is permissive to foundations investing intentionally and there are more options and research available. They increasingly see foundations wanting to make more use of their as yet underutilised endowments, as well as an increase in foundations looking to influence investment behaviours. They posed that there should be a floor’ of ethical investment that all foundations should be achieving as society is demanding this. They also discussed the importance of board diversity in bringing fresh approaches to impact investing and ESG issues.

The group wanted to consider some practical approaches to moving the sector along the spectrum of capital, as outlined by Bridges Impact + and the Impact Management Project. The group asked ‘in 12 years’ time, will the decisions we’re taking now seem woefully lacking?’, a question which framed the discussion around these two questions:

  • What are the fundamental questions that we might want to ask (of regulators and the sector) to change opinion and practice?
  • How would you go about driving change in the sector in relation to investment practice?

Some of the group’s reflections included:

  • Foundations are in a powerful position and should be clear with investment managers what they want.
  • How do we educate ourselves and ask questions of our trustees, without letting knowledge reside with once investment expert? One way is to employ an adviser who is looking out for you.
  • How can we be clear on what the impact of a particular product is?
  • Foundations could disclose investments in annual reports so that the public can judge for themselves.
  • If foundations won’t publish details of their investments, we could ask them to ‘explain or change’. We say in our accounts that we are achieving public benefits in relation to grants, but not investments. We could seek to clarify legally what ‘public benefit’ means in terms of trustees investment duties.
  • The Living Wage movement is a good example of how standards can be created.

Stronger Foundations blog by Max Rutherford (Head of Policy, ACF): Is intentional investing beyond returns becoming a moral, social and financial imperative?


Meeting #4 (September 2019) – Social Investment

For its fourth session, the topic of discussion was ‘social investment and the role of foundations in market development’, in which the group considered the role of foundations in developing a successful and sustainable portfolio.

The working group was joined by Chris Coghlan, Finance Director at the Access Foundation, which works bridge the gap in the social investment market so that charities and social enterprises have better access to capital. Chris’ presentation specifically explored Access’ total impact approach, through which it takes into account the social and environmental impact of all its operations including investments.

The presentation led to an interesting discussion that unearthed areas of concern around social investment. The group saw charity bonds as a useful way to transition from commercial investing to social investment, but pointed out that charity bonds are at present only a tiny portion of the overall investment market.

Group members recognised that for many foundations Access’ level of investment transparency is difficult to achieve, as details of a portfolio are not always easy to access. With the aim of developing greater transparency, the working group stressed a need for common language. Clearly mapping out the range of individual investments strategies on to a standardised spectrum would enable comparison with peers.

Chris’ total impact approach resonated with the group. Members highlighted the need for factoring in impact when considering returns on investment, as this can too often be thought of solely in terms of financial profit. Negative and destructive impacts of investments must be considered alongside positive impacts to make investment truly intentional.

Further reading

Below you will find a suggested reading list, which the working group identified and considered as part of its deliberations. If you would like to send suggestions to us, please do by emailing

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