At the Gates Family Foundation, we carefully manage our financial assets to preserve and grow the Foundation’s philanthropic capacity. Our founders designed the Foundation to be a perpetual resource that will serve the community for generations to come. We also realize the importance of using all the tools available to us for the greatest impact towards our mission.
In recent years, we have started to make mission-aligned investments — alongside of our grants — to expand our impact while also managing our endowment assets for perpetuity. As of 2018, the Gates Family Foundation has committed nearly $20 million total to impact investing. Our impact investments take three different forms:
Mission-related investments (MRIs) commit a portion of the Foundation’s endowment capital for mission-aligned purposes that meet a market-rate return expectation. So instead of selecting investments based on financial performance alone, we may choose to invest in an early-stage education technology venture fund, or a private equity fund that invests in land conservation. The idea behind MRIs is that foundations do not need to sacrifice financial returns to increase their social impact.
Program-related investments (PRIs) are impact-first investments that generally are structured to achieve below-market rate returns. Examples could include low-interest loans to funds that support affordable housing or increase economic opportunity for underserved communities. PRIs are eligible to be included in the Foundation’s qualifying distributions, but the Foundation has chosen to treat these as commitments above and beyond the required annual payout.
Socially Responsible Investments
The Foundation also makes socially responsible investments (SRIs) by being intentional about the vendors and partners we do business with for our daily operations. When our partners share our values of community service and commitment to Colorado, the money we spend with them is furthering our mission.
Impact Investments Team
If you are interested in learning more about both program-related and mission-related investments, the Mission Investors Exchange and Confluence Philanthropy are good resources. Both are associations of foundations and other philanthropic organizations that use PRIs and MRIs to accomplish their philanthropic goals. The associations provide a forum for networking, professional development, collaboration, and outreach to funders, including those new to the PRI, MRI, and social investing field.