Every day, we're faced with choices about aligning our values with our financial activity. Our concern for the environment may lead us to buy local produce or to stop buying bottled water. In support of human rights, we might monitor which apparel manufacturers employ sweatshop or child labor. We might select Credo Mobile, who donate a portion of their profits, as our cell phone carrier. Or we can choose to use a credit union or a local bank as an alternative to the Wall Street institutions implicated in the financial crisis.
In the philanthropic sector, foundations are increasingly examining how their financial assets can work most effectively to further their mission, beyond grantmaking. At some level, this is just common sense. Why would a foundation that cares about health outcomes have their assets invested in tobacco, or a community foundation in companies that pollute the very neighborhoods it serves?
There's also a movement afoot towards "whole portfolio activation," ensuring donors' personal and philanthropic assets are invested in a manner consistent with their vision of social change. This can include screening investments; investing in innovative, socially responsible companies; and making mission-related investments.
Across the wide spectrum of Tides' work, aligning our financial activity with our values is a core operating principle. The clearest expression of this is our investment policy. Unique among major providers of donor advised funds, all of our investments are socially screened; we're happy to report our returns are pretty good, too. Our investment firm, Walden Asset Management, is also a leader in shareholder activism.
Our commitment extends beyond our investments to our day-to-day operations. We buy fair trade coffee for our break rooms and purchase office supplies from Give Something Back. Tides' Green Team invites and documents sustainability pledges from our staff (see right). And just as our clients and donors choose us for our values, we do the same when we select vendors: the venue for Tides' Momentum conference, the W San Francisco, employs a union labor force and industry-leading sustainability practices.
The latest issue of our bi-monthly email newsletter Tidings contains concrete steps you can take to ensure your investments, donations, purchases, and grants align with your values.
What steps are you already taking? Share them in the comments.
Lauren Webster is CFO of Tides.