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.

 

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 Max@acf.org.uk

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