Overseeing the management of a not-for-profit’s endowment fund is one of the most important roles for the board of directors. A strong investment committee, made up of board members and staff, will not only ensure the continued health of the endowment and the organization but also attract other donors looking for good stewards for their contributions.
The Importance of an Investment Policy
Each endowment should have a comprehensive investment policy that drives the management of the fund. According to the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA), investment decisions must be made in relation to the not-for-profit’s overall resources and purposes.
The endowment’s objectives should guide its investments and management. For this reason, it is important to articulate an objective that reflects the organization’s own circumstances. For many not-for-profits, the primary goal is to preserve and grow funds for the organization’s long-term stability while providing a predictable contribution to support current activities. As a living document, the investment policy can change over time as objectives or other factors change.
The investment policy should include an optimal asset allocation. The investment committee must analyze the risk and return of potential investments (including stocks, bonds and alternative investments such as hedge funds and private equity) to determine the best mix and to obtain the total desired return. To maintain flexibility for responding to changes in the investment environment, it is best to establish ranges for each asset class instead of set percentages.
On a quarterly basis, the investment committee should review information on the performance of each asset class. Allocations can then be adjusted based on both performance and any change in circumstances.
The investment policy should include a spending policy for the endowment, setting a percentage that can be spent annually. The spending policy will impact the performance of the fund, as well as its ability to fulfill the donor’s intent.
UPMIFA sets standards for endowment fund spending. It provides that an organization can spend as much of a fund as it determines to be prudent for the “uses, benefits, purposes and duration” for which the fund is established.
UPMIFA allows not-for-profits to adopt a “total return” strategy that bases the spending rate on the endowment’s total value (including appreciation) rather than on only income. To ensure reasonably consistent cash flows, many organizations using a total return spending policy apply “smoothing” mechanisms to minimize the effect of market volatility.
The investment policy should include benchmarks for evaluating the performance of investments and managers, too. An internal investment committee can meet quarterly to review performance, consider recommendations for changes to the investment strategy and rebalance asset allocation as necessary.
Help is Available
Endowment management can seem overwhelming, especially for volunteer board members with many other demands vying for their time. For help with many of the critical decisions, including asset allocation, vetting of fund managers and financial reporting compliance, contact Barb Miller at [email protected] or call her at 312.670.7444.