Our Investments

We seek to manage our endowment to ensure that it sustains and complements the strategies of our three grantmaking programs.

We believe that the size of the problems we seek to address is greater than the scale of philanthropic capital available to solve them.

Investment strategies that recruit commercial capital to solve problems at scale are an important element in meeting serious social and environmental challenges.

Our investment work, in part, is intended to prove that commercial returns can be achieved while addressing these challenges. Nevertheless, we believe that outcome-oriented investment strategies are a complement to, and not a replacement for, grantmaking.

Financial Returns and Mission Alignment

Summit depends on its endowment’s returns to sustain both grantmaking and operations.

We seek to earn a market rate of return on the majority of our investments. Our investment policy statement is the mechanism we use to ensure that the choices we make to earn market returns are also aligned with our mission. To meet these two goals, we use both positive and negative screens.

We believe that long-term value will accrue to businesses that pursue gender equity, use resources efficiently, and prepare for a net zero future. As a positive screen, we allocate capital to asset managers who share this perspective.

Summit uses negative screens as well. For example, we will not intentionally invest in a way that may provide short-term financial reward at the expense of our programmatic goals. Because so much of our work is focused on addressing the impacts of climate change, we will not intentionally invest in companies or projects whose profits depend on the sale of fossil fuels.

Similarly, our commitment to gender equality prohibits us from intentionally owning the equity or debt of companies that limit their employees’ access to reproductive health services. By virtue of these investment exclusions, our endowment returns
may or may not replicate those generated by broad market indices.

As a relatively small institutional investor, we may not always have the ability to control what outside managers own on our behalf. This limitation imposes a responsibility on us as investors to continually monitor our managers’ holdings. For instance, every year we estimate our endowment’s fossil fuel exposure and consider strategies to keep that exposure below a materiality threshold.

Where an investment can produce significant and identifiable benefits to our program ambitions, we actively consider non-financial benefits in our assessment of investment performance. Finally, as with our grants program, we do not accept or respond to unsolicited proposals for investments.

Concessionary Investments

We do not typically make concessionary investments.

In cases where we consider concessionary investments, it is only after a rigorous analysis of non-financial benefits and an understanding that such an investment would be more effective than a grant to achieve a given programmatic goal.

Such investments also typically are made to organizations with whom the foundation has a long-standing relationship.

There is a sentiment among some philanthropic investors that investment capital is inherently more effective than grants. After all, according to this line of reasoning, grants always have a negative return. We strongly disagree. We believe that grantmaking is an essential activity of a private foundation and provides crucial support for high value work that serves the common good as well as the goals we seek. 

Framing a grant in the language of investment is not necessarily more innovative than giving the money away. Grantmaking is a professional discipline at least as challenging as financial management. We believe it is often not only more dignified from the perspective of those receiving our support, but also more useful to achieving worthwhile goals. This view leads us to typically avoid hybrid investment-grant activities.