Richard Graves

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A Modest Story About Moving Cash

In Articles, Philanthropy on July 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm

This post is cross-posted from the Resource Generation Blog and is by Farhad Ebrahimi. 

Howdy! Farhad Ebrahimi from the Chorus Foundation here. I’d like to tell you a little story, if you’ve got a moment. It’s the story of how we moved our cash holdings from a large financial services company (Fidelity Investments) to a local socially progressive bank (Wainwright Bank & Trust Company, now a part of Eastern Bank). It was a pretty simple process, and it’s been a key part of how we’ve brought our investment portfolio to bear on the same issues that we address with our grantmaking.

But first, some background information

The Chorus Foundation is a small, Boston-based private foundation that I set up four years ago to focus on issues of environmental sustainability. If you’ll recall what was happening in the financial world at the time, you’ll appreciate how lucky we were that the vast majority of the initial contributions were made in cash. It was not unlike the scene in “Steamboat Bill Jr.” where an entire building facade falls onto Buster Keaton, only he just happens to be standing in the gap created by one of the open windows.

As time went on, we slowly began to invest that cash (emphasis on ssslllooowwwlllyyy). Our hesitation was only partially due to the lingering feeling that we’d just narrowly avoided being flattened; we’d also caught the mission-related investing (MRI) bug, and we weren’t terribly interested in deploying any cash for anything that didn’t fit the bill.

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Resolving the Great Contradiction

In Articles, Innovation, Philanthropy on June 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm

At the heart of philanthropy is a great contradiction, one that our generation is struggling to resolve. Many philanthropists accumulated their wealth through disruptive innovations, ruthless business practice, or as Balzac said “great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly.”

Many of the great industrialists, whose names are now synonymous with philanthropy, Rockefeller, MacArthur, and Vanderbilt, in life were rapacious men who struggled against labor, environmental, and social reforms, and lived in opposition to many of the causes that their legacies now support.

The reality that many of the leading climate change campaigners meet in John D. Rockeller’s mansion, Pocantico, to strategize how to implement climate legislation in the face of the hostility of Exxon-Mobil, the reunited children companies of Standard Oil, has an intrinsic irony that should be lost on no one.
Yet, this is the reality of philanthropy, where the fortunes from oil, railroads, aviation, and agribusiness fund civil society groups that take up the tools of petitions, boycotts, and organizing against latter-day robber barons.

This may be part of the reason why many foundations struggle with their split identities, working within the IRS defined mission of serving a charitable, scientific, literary, and educational purpose, but finding that many challenges have a root cause that implicates not only where their money came from but how it is currently used. Read the rest of this entry »