When former investment manager Ron Cordes started a charitable foundation in 2007, he got frustrated because he could only “do good” when he was actively giving the money away to needy causes.
Then Cordes discovered impact investing. At first, the Cordes Foundation allocated 20% of its $10 million endowment to private-equity investments aimed to have a social or environmental benefit. Today, all of the foundation’s assets are invested in projects that promote the family’s values.
“There are real investing opportunities with impact. It’s not about disguised philanthropy,” said Cordes, who made his fortune primarily after he sold his firm AssetMark in 2006.
More than a quarter of family foundations are now engaged in impact investing in some form, according to a 2019 Global Family Office report from UBS and Campden Research. The average wealth of the families UBS surveyed was $1.2 billion.
Climate change was the top cause supported by family offices, according to UBS, with health and clean water ranking high.
With so much capital involved, family offices — which can be managed privately or within a brokerage firm — rank with pension funds and institutional investors in the impact world. They might even be more important because they have the funds as well as the flexibility to make innovative investing decisions.
“If some family is into renewable energy, they don’t have to ask 15 people where they can invest,” said Shawn Lesser, co-founder and managing partner of Big Path Capital, an impact investing firm.
The push to make such investment decisions is driven by a younger generation, but that does not mean it is exclusively a millennial pursuit.
Jennifer Kenning, co-founder and CEO of Align Impact, an investment management firm, said her oldest investor is 99 and she has other clients driving investments who are in their 80s.
Want proof that impact investing can pay off? Ask the folks who put money into Beyond Meat Inc. through ImpactAssets, a fund that aggregates charitable investment accounts, known as donor advised funds. Beyond Meat’s initial public offering in May 2019 sizzled.
“We got a lot of attention from that, because we were an early investor, and it was such a high-flying and attention-getting IPO,” said Tim Freundlich, CEO of ImpactAssets. The fund participates in 675 private debt and equity investments, making three new deals a week, Freundlich said. In contrast, most venture funds only do about 20 deals in a year.
Beth Pinsker writes for Reuters.