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By: Carey Freimuth, Caritas Financial
In our last post, we discussed the importance of nonprofit Boards creating and maintaining an Investment Policy Statement (IPS). This article discusses the role of an IPS in the relationship between boards and their financial advisors.
A recent survey found that among private foundations with $1 to $10 million in assets, 30% did not have an IPS and additionally, 35% were not working with an advisor. These lapses can lead to a breach in fulfilling one’s fiduciary responsibility.
What is the role of the board vs. financial advisors?
The Board: it is up to the board to actively oversee an organization’s financial performance. According to the Prudent Investor Laws, the board or organization needs to adopt investment policies, thoroughly vet its financial advisors, and regularly review performance to fully fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. While this sounds daunting and time consuming, board members can delegate some of those responsibilities to an advisor. This increases the investment oversight, especially if the board members lack sufficient time to dedicate to this responsibility. This protects both the organization and the board members: if followed, the individual members of the board and the organization are less likely to be liable for the actions of investment underperformance. While it seems straightforward, many boards are lax in updating or reviewing the IPS (or even creating one!), reviewing performance, and monitoring their advisors.
Financial Advisors: Advisors can help provide board members with confidence they are doing good while acting responsibility. The board can delegate investment decision making to an advisor to help with faster decision-making, implementing a more goals focused strategy to improve risk management, and better track progress against goals. Moreover, many officers and trustees welcome additional education on the standards of care that they must follow as fiduciaries of the organization.
Like many people in their role, board members can be uncomfortable with all of the responsibilities and processes that need to be addressed in order to protect the organization and their position within the organization as a fiduciaries. An IPS lays the foundation for an organization’s overall governance structure to ensure that fiduciaries are fulfilling their obligations. A good IPS should clearly define the relationship between the advisor and client right from the start. These expectations give advisors a better sense of what the clients expect in terms of volatility and returns, while helping to educate clients on realistic outcomes and the importance of staying the course in challenging markets.
In sum, this division of labor that allows boards to supervise third-party advisors and the advisors to do the work of actively investing an organization’s assets creates a solid check and balance. And once your organization has an IPS in place that is reviewed regularly, you can feel more confident you are fulfilling your fiduciary responsibilities.
Best of Luck,
 Source: Association of Small Foundations 2013
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