Exploring Innovative Ideas: Impact Investing

Exploring Innovative Ideas: Impact Investing

Posted on October 31, 2022 by Kellie Alexander, TPF Fellow 2022/24

Editor's Note: Abby Rolland [L], TPF Fellow 2020/21, launched into a position with The Presser Foundation as the Grants & Communications Manager in Philadelphia, PA. Abby, a presenter at the 2022 Exponent Philanthropy Conference, shared The Presser Foundation’s equity efforts during the “One Foundation’s Journey to Center Equity” session. Kellie Alexander [R], TPF Fellow 2022/23, took a deep dive into impact investing to pursue additional possibilities that catalyze change.


My academics at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy equipped me with a robust education in both theoretical and practical philanthropic studies. The Patterson Foundation has a culture to explore and ask big questions -- one reason I pursued the fellowship opportunity following graduation. Without question, there is always more to learn, leading me to pursue additional possibilities that catalyze change.

With piqued curiosity and knowledge gained from my studies, I began researching impact investing, an innovative way to achieve financial return while making a sustainable impact on society. Initially, the information I found struck me as scattered, confusing, and vast. There are several layers and many ways to accomplish financial return along with social good, making it slow to digest. Come October, I still knew little, but had a better understanding of the “right questions”-- a guiding step.

I took a deep dive into impact investing, including mission-aligned investing, at the Exponent Philanthropy Conference, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over the course of three days, here’s what I learned:

Glenmede provided insight on 4 approaches to mission-aligned investing that increases in impact, timeframe, and difficulty:
  1. Integrated: Explicit consideration of material Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors in the traditional investment decision-making process
  2. Mandated: Using ESG screens to avoid companies with poor ESG criteria and/or tilt toward companies with strong ESG characteristics
  3. Thematic: Dual goal to achieve measurable environmental or social impact and market-rate returns
  4. Concessionary High Impact: Primary goal to achieve measurable environmental or social impact while willing to sacrifice returns
    Source: Glenmede

Through a case study, groups explored several questions, including why to get involved with mission-related investments and what barriers may exist. Several items necessary to begin emerged:

  • Understand geography
  • Board alignment
  • What risk exists
  • Clear values and expectations
  • Defining goals and definitions
  • Ask for help and seek guidance
  • Review Investment Policy
  • Investigate types of investments
Andreas Hipple, an independent consultant, went through a list of practical steps to begin impact investing. First, answer the big three:
  • Can we do this and fulfill our fiduciary responsibilities, and what are the risks?
  • What is our internal capacity, and how can we do it?
  • Will it progress our mission, and is it relevant?
Then move on to the next steps:
  1. Find your board champion
  2. Look for roadblocks and allies
  3. Connect to your mission
  4. Start small but start
  5. This is an addition -- don’t get rid of grantmaking
  6. Ongoing learning
  7. Apply equity lens
  8. Ask for help from peers and partners

In summary, if you are interested in impact investing, start intentionally with conversations, alignment, and defining goals within your organization.

A concluding thought to impart: there is great importance in convening and conversing on impact investing in our sector. Exponent Philanthropy’s opening plenary left us with a statement -- We grow in might when Philanthropy unites. My own journey showcases this. I went from searching within a silo to joining conversations with practitioners in the space. Yes, we must do our own learning prior, but when ready, please emerge and share. We are stronger as a sector because of it.

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