How Surdna Foundation Is Using its Grantmaking to Champion Impact Investing 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How Surdna Foundation Is Using its Grantmaking to Champion Impact Investing 

It took them some time to come around, but the Surdna Foundation continues to be a big proponent of foundation involvement in impact investing. 

Last year, we saw the foundation make a $100 million commitment (about 10 percent of its endowment) toward investing that directly supports its mission or otherwise aligns with its values. The funder just announced $650,000 in grants to organizations that strengthen the field by providing resources and otherwise helping institutions that want to take the plunge. 

It’s the latest move for a foundation that has become a champion for the idea of using an institution’s assets, not just for grantmaking, but also to make investments that bring about both social and financial gain. The practice can allow a foundation to align more of its assets behind causes it favors (although some forms of impact investing count toward an institution’s 5 percent mandatory payout).

It’s a hot topic in philanthropy, with a set of funders like the Packard and Kresge foundations, along with smaller trailblazers like the Heron Foundation, practicing and often advocating impact investing. On the other hand, some foundation leaders like Hewlett’s Larry Kramer are less compelled, finding it more impactful to maximize endowments and stick to the main philanthropic mission of supporting nonprofits—although Kramer has also suggested that foundations do have an important role to play in building the field of impact investing so that the large flow of private capital coming into this space is used wisely. Others, particularly smaller foundations, find themselves daunted by the idea of mingling the investment and cause-driven aspects of the operation...

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