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Active management of endowments is positively related to greater returns in U.S. equities over time. “An active manager is trying to beat the index by making decisions to try and deviate from the index,” said David Belmont, CFA, chief risk officer at Commonfund Institute, Wilton, Conn.
In a new report, “Does Active Management Benefit Endowment Returns?,” Belmont and Irakli Odisharia, Ph.D., Market risk director at Commonfund, made the case for the active management of endowments using data from the NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments (NCSE). This means that the organization receiving the endowment would play a large role in managing the money rather than handing it off to an outside party.
More than 75 percent of respondents in the NCSE survey – which in 2013 included 835 institutions – reported that 50 percent or more of their endowments’ U.S. equity was actively managed, according to the authors. Over time, it was shown that these endowments had a greater return. Specifically, over seven-year period these same endowments had average return rates of more than 8 percent, while passively managed endowments return rates were 6 percent or less.
Another critical area in the active management of endowments is whether the organization in question has a chief investment officer (CIO). Given that the role of the CIO requires significant investment expertise, as well as day-to-day management skills, Belmont and Odisharia hypothesized that endowments with CIOs would perform better than those without one. The results of the study showed that during the seven years covered by the NCSE survey, endowments with CIOs earned an average return of 7.4 percent while those without earned 4.1 percent annually over the observation period.
While Belmont did not find these numbers particularly surprising, one aspect of the study did catch him off guard. While actively managed large endowments – those more than $500 million – were able to earn much more than smaller ones, they did not significantly outperform mid-sized endowments – those between $100 million and $500 million. Specifically, actively managed large endowments saw an average return of 9.93 percent while the return for medium-sized endowments was 6.10 percent; small endowments had an average return of 3.29 percent.
“It was surprising that the largest endowments did not significantly outperform the mid-sized ones,” said Belmont. “There seemed to be a limit to how much value you could get.” Belmont hypothesized that the reason behind this disparity was because once you have a critical mass of investment, “it doesn’t necessarily scale up at the billion dollar range.”
The Commonfund study showed that actively managing endowments can lead to what the authors called “excess returns” over time. Though they acknowledged this is slightly harder for smaller endowments, where the overhead cost of an in-house CIO might outweigh the benefit. They wrote that this can be mitigated through the use of consulting services.
You can read the full version of “Does Active Management Benefit Endowment Returns?,” for free by visiting https://www.commonfund.org/files/Marketing/2014%2001%20Does%20Active%20Management%20Benefit%20Endowment%20Returns%20%28Belmont%29.pdf
Whether it’s buried conflicts in the workplace or a pathological executive director, no problem is too difficult for the good doctor.
Attendees of Leah Eustace’s and Scott Fortnum’s Journey Deeper Inside the Donor’s Brain conference session were asked to fold and then tear shapes out of a piece of paper. When they held their work up, no two matched. “Every person followed the same directions with the same piece of paper and ended up with different results,” said Eustace. “Everyone thinks and behaves differently, including donors. The big challenge in fundraising is figuring out commonalities.”
Eustace and Fortnum presented during the Association of Fundraising Professionals 51st International Convention on Fundraising in San Antonio, Texas. The session built off their popular panel, “Inside the Donor’s Brain” (http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/inside-the-donors-brain/) from the previous year’s conference.
Fundraisers are suspect when they first contact donors, said Fortnum, executive director of The Living City Foundation in Toronto. Corporations are viewed as competent, while nonprofits are viewed as warm. “But if you’re trying to successfully run an organization, the confidence piece has to come in as well,” he said. “That’s why we see the most dollars going to a small number of organizations.”
Nonprofits sometimes have an uphill battle when it comes to perception. The presenters cited a study from Grey Matter Consulting (http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/survey-charities-should-spend-23-on-overhead/) that showed Americans believe nonprofits should spend no more than 23 percent on overhead but think they actually spend about 37 percent. “They think we spend too much,” said Fortnum. “That’s how people see us.”
Fortnum talked about the elaboration likelihood model: how likely is someone to think deeply about what they see, hear or read. He said there are two modes of processing information. Central route processing is looking closely and taking in details, while peripheral route processing is more about superficially scanning something. “How likely you are to use the central or peripheral route processing is elaboration likelihood,” said Fortnum.
Different donors are more or less likely to use one or the other processing routes, so it’s important that your fundraising materials have a mix of emotion and data. “None of this happens in a vacuum,” said Fortnum.
Put another way, there is fast thinking and slow thinking. “When we’re communicating with donors, we want to feed into fast thinking,” said Fortnum. “We want it to be easy for people, take them along the decision making process.” It’s important to prime your donors, “setting the context so you’re better able to lead people in a direction you know they want to go and have a positive impact.” The direct mail gift array with a certain amount circled is a classic example of priming.
Eustace, principal and managing director of Good Works in Ottawa, said not to forget the principles of persuasion. Reciprocity says that if you give someone something, they feel obligated to give something back. Eustace used an example from her own life. She had become disillusioned with the profession of fundraising when she was given a Chamberlain Scholarship to attend an AFP event. After she received the scholarship, “I started being an AFP donor and now am a big-time volunteer,” she said.
Consensus and social proof means people look to others to see if something’s a good idea. It’s the reason capital campaigns have quiet phases and crowdfunding sites have leaderboards. Consistency means you identify a few positive attributes of your organization, and your communications reference them. Time-sensitive appeals and matching gifts leverage the principle of scarcity.
You can give your donor meeting a sense of authority if your CEO can attend. “It often doesn’t matter that the CEO doesn’t have a relationship with the prospect,” said Fortnum. Finally, make sure your visual materials reflect your constituency. That’s the principle of similarity.