Here’s what you need to know right off the bat: Foundations are only legally obligated to grant out five percent of their full endowments annually, but many are trying to figure out how to leverage the other 95 percent outside of traditional grantmaking.
Often times those transactions are made in the form of a loan, but they’re rarely made as an equity investment a la venture capital — a radical idea that has the philanthropy world excited (and, in many ways, divided).
Should philanthropy be dabbling in the risky, fledgling world of impact investing?
“The biggest problem with foundations is for people running them who do not have this experience, it is overwhelming,” said Barra Foundation Director Tina Wahl at a conference late last year. “For us, I needed to educate myself. I needed to get comfortable with some of the concepts so I felt I could intelligently speak with people on my board from investment backgrounds.”
But smaller foundations like the Patricia Kind Family Foundation are finding themselves much more nimble and capable of jumping into the impact investing world than foundations with larger endowments and bigger boards.
Media, Pennsylvania-based Untours Foundation, realized by the travel agency‘s late founder Hal Taussig and his wife Norma, is one of those smaller foundations making mission-aligned impact investments in social enterprises.
Six of them, to be exact.
“All of the endowment is out working on the street at any given time. We almost have no money in the bank at any given time,” said Director Elizabeth Killough. “Hal didn’t believe in the stock market and didn’t think it was right [for foundations] to make money that way.”
Killough said the Untours Foundation has partnered with former Kind Foundation director and impact investing advocate Laura Kind McKenna to start pushing other foundations to start making mission-aligned equity investments with their ungranted assets.
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“I think it’s a new idea for board and staff,” Killough said. “Change is always scary.”
The foundation has a few rules for what they invest in, she said. They have to be “super green businesses with real models of change” and they must “hire vulnerable populations.” Here’s the foundation’s current equity investment portfolio:
- One Degree Solar: Affordable solar light company.
- Equal Exchange: Fair Trade coffee, tea and cocoa wholesaler established as a co-op. Untours invested in Equal Exchange nearly 20 years ago.
- Icestone: A Brooklyn-based green countertop manufacturer.
- Oke USA: Imports Fiar Trade Certified organic bananas.
- Plasticoncentrates: A minority-owned plastic-dying factory in Chester.
Though the foundation mostly does loans, Killough also said Untours is also a recent equity investor in local social entrepreneur Yasmine Mustafa‘s ROAR for Good.
To boot, the foundation joined Judy Wicks‘ Circle of Aunts and Uncles earlier this year, where members are actively seeking out local social entrepreneurs to invest in..
“We have to change the whole paradigm and get people to realize they’re missing an opportunity to work on their missions,” said Killough.