This post is an excerpt from the complimentary resource Essentials of Impact Investing: A Guide for Small-Staffed Foundations, created by Exponent Philanthropy and partners Mission Investors Exchange and Arabella Advisors. Want to align your investments with your mission? Download your copy >>
By Jesse Fink, The Fink Family Foundation
When my wife, Betsy, and I formed the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation [now The Fink Family Foundation] 15 years ago to help solve large-scale environmental problems, we were faced with a big question: how could a foundation of our size be impactful when hundreds of billions of dollars are needed to achieve our mission globally?
We started with two core principles. First, as former entrepreneurs, we wanted to be catalytic—to take risks to prove new models, so that larger funders with less risk tolerance would feel able to adopt them, too. We focused most of our funding on seeding new organizations and pilots in the Northeast, where we have strong local relationships and knowledge.
Second, we recognized that the scale of environmental problems dwarfs available philanthropic capital, so we needed to find impact leverage wherever possible. This led us to invest in scalable solutions, such as innovative business models, technology, human capital, and market-based solutions. Once we began supporting market-based solutions programmatically, we recognized that we could also push the field forward through impact investing (which we called “issue-based investing” before there was a common name for it).
We first researched and implemented a half dozen PRIs, including more traditional loans for low-risk land conservation projects, as well as higher risk loans for unsecured food hubs and food recovery projects. We also made a few small investments in third-party funds focused on clean energy. We learned from some of the failures and saw the huge potential of the successes, and decided to make mission-aligned impact investing a core of our work.
Recently, we asked our long-term trusted advisor Mark Cirilli, co-founder and managing director of the impact investing advisory firm MissionPoint Capital Partners, to help draft a comprehensive impact investment strategy and policy for our foundation. The resulting document, built in partnership with our trustees and team, codified a few core values that have driven our work: