From education to activation: exploring the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s journey into impact investing | Big Society Capital

You are here

From education to activation: exploring the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s journey into impact investing

The Case Foundation, a US foundation created by digital pioneers Jean and Steve Case, drives social change by focusing on three key pillars: revolutionising philanthropy, unleashing entrepreneurs and igniting civic engagement. The Case Foundation is committed to catalysing the impact investing movement. 

In 2016, we partnered with Omidyar Network and The Giving Pledge to look at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s journey into impact investing, in hopes that it can serve as inspiration and guidance for others.

As organisations rethink how to blend profit and purpose, we encourage you to watch the webinar to learn from RBF’s journey. Here are a few key themes that came to light:

1. Define your impact

“Impact investing means different things to different people.” At the Case Foundation, we believe that a broader interpretation allows more people to gather around the impact investing table. But that does not relax our expectations around what it means to generate both social or financial returns. Instead, our definition of impact investing focuses on three necessary conditions to help narrow in on just what each of us means by “impact”:

  • Intentionality – are objectives clearly articulated across social and financial goals?
  • Measurement – will the organisation track performance across both objectives?
  • Transparency – does the organisation share – or intend to share – insights into their process and performance to help create more examples around what works and what doesn’t?

2. Know what you own; then develop an investment process that leverages your strengths

The RBF’s programmatic approach spans several sectors, including democratic governance, sustainable development and peacebuilding. The grant-making arm of the RBF has developed a thoughtful approach to promoting sustainable development, particularly around the environment and climate. "When the time came to evaluate how the entire investment portfolio – and ultimately the endowment – could reflect the principles and values of the RBF, they looked to their strengths. “25% of our program dollars go to fighting climate change,” Justin says, “we thought this was so fundamental to the work we do, that we should start there.”

By leveraging a diverse set of tactics, including divestment, an ESG lens (integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance factors), active ownership, and investing with Impact managers, RBF and PWP set out on the task together. With these tools in mind, they looked to activate RBF’s vision on what a thoughtful climate-focused strategy might look like. We’ve seen time and again Foundation’s struggle between focusing on grantmaking vs. using their investment levers, but as Justin points out, “every foundation has different tools on its tool belt – the endowment is just one of those tools.”

3. Commit to a measurement framework

Once the mission was clear and the rigour made explicit, activating the strategy was next. The RBF and PWP started by shifting the Investment Policy Statement (IPS), transforming the objective of the portfolio from “maximising returns” to “continue in perpetuity with generational neutrality.”

Formalising this mission – and bringing stakeholders like the Board, senior leadership, and the Investment Committee along in the process – is a critical step to ensure that impact is sustainably interwoven into the way investments are identified and selected.

By drawing on the journeys of organisations like the RBF, we will develop a stronger narrative around what impact investing can look like across actors. We hope that sharing these insights will provide high net-worth individuals and families, foundations, corporations, and others concrete examples to follow. We will continue to look for opportunities to showcase case studies and lessons from various organization, as part of our broader efforts to take impact investing to the next level.

We invite you to watch the full conversation here. You can also learn more about the RBF’s journey through The ImPact’s recently launched case study; “Rockefeller Brothers Fund: Impact Investing Case Study.

Sign up to the GET INFORMED: Social Investment for Boards campaign to find out more on how trusts, foundations and charities with investable assets can make social impact investments. 

Last updated | 
5 June 2017