Less than 100 per cent is not enough

Sonja Swift

‘Only when the last tree has died, and the last river been poisoned, and the last fish caught will we realize we cannot eat money.’ Cree Indian proverb

My generation and those to come are inheriting a precarious future. Peers of mine, all young trustees of the Next Gen Fellowship in Mission Investing,[1] are also inheriting the responsibility of stewardship for money set aside for social good. Our goal is to have 100 per cent mission-driven endowments because anything less is ultimately a contradiction.

When I asked my peers how philanthropy must change to address the challenges of our times, the replies all centred around one thing. As Justin Rockefeller puts it: ‘Foundations need to put their money where their mouths are in relation to social and environmental change by shifting their focus from the 5 per cent – grants – to what they do with the much louder and larger 95 per cent: their endowments.’

In other words, conscious investing, not just grantmaking, must become integral to philanthropy. Lindsey Franklin shares a perspective common to our generation: ‘The amount of grantmaking dollars we have is no match for the scale of the problem.’ As Richard Graves points out, foundations and university endowments are the institutions designed to exist longest in society. Ironically, ‘while the concept of an endowment is to sustain into perpetuity, people don’t invest like there is a future.’

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