Nonprofits Reluctant to Raid Investments for Short-Term Needs

Nonprofit leaders often use investments to supplement their revenue. But the holdings in an organization’s portfolios aren’t necessarily intended for the large, quick fixes increasingly required as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Among organizations with investment holdings, 94% of financial managers view them as having long-term horizons, and 78% plan to maintain their portfolios in perpetuity, according to the annual Endowment & Foundation Survey from financial advisory firm Captrust Financial Advisors in Raleigh, N.C. Captrust Financial Advisors based its findings on survey responses from 171 managers at nonprofits.

These plans are coming under strain. The coronavirus pandemic spurred a variety of finance-based responses within nonprofits. More than three in 10 managers (31%) reported suspending or terminating programs or services. Granted, the same percentage reported increasing programs or services. The latter likely were those that directly addressed pandemic-related needs.

There were, however, more distressing signs than positive ones. Overall, 79% suspended or cancelled events. While 7% of nonprofits had an increase in staff, four times as many reported reductions. And, 24% experienced increased fundraising or planned giving as did reduced fundraising or planned giving.

Only 7% reported no impact on their activities from the pandemic.

Overall, nonprofits have been scrambling for funding. More than half (57%) have taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, while 5% used the Payroll Tax Credit and 4% took out economic injury disaster loans. But what many are not doing, unless in the direst of straits, is dipping into investment account principal.

Long-term investment planning means relying substantially on investment return. A majority of nonprofit financial managers (61%) anticipate annual returns of 6% or less on their portfolios, while slightly more than one-third (35%) believe their investments will generate returns of between 7% and 8%. Only 4% expect holdings will throw off returns greater than 8%.

A given nonprofit’s activities influence the investment objectives. Managers at organizations that primarily engage in grant-making or scholarships, or which focus heavily on programs, want their portfolios to perform well compared to market benchmarks and direct their funds to be invested accordingly. But those that offer a balance of grants, scholarships and programs tend to seek investments that take inflation, along with their expenses, into consideration.

Nonprofits that rely on investment returns tend to be risk-shy. Leadership at nearly two-thirds (65%) of nonprofits have an annual loss tolerance of 10% or less, meaning their funds are steered toward less volatile equities such as fixed-income securities. This is especially true of nonprofits that focus on awarding grants or scholarships. All in all, only 13% are willing to take annual losses of more than 15%.