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What NFPs should consider when developing ESG strategies
Article

What NFPs should consider when developing ESG strategies

In February 2022, we surveyed senior professionals at not-for-profit organisations to develop a deep understanding of the sector. In this article, you’ll discover why ESG strategies and practices should be part of your investment strategy, and what you need to consider.

Top ranking considerations driving ESG strategies for investing in the NFP sector:

  • 44 % say ensuring the investment approach aligns with the organisation’s mission
  • 20% say to meet donor and community expectations
  • 11% say reduce potential for reputational risk
  • 11% say the personal beliefs of those on the Board or relevant Committees

ESG considerations

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations have become a hot topic in recent years – particularly in the NFP sector. Encouragingly, the survey overwhelmingly points to the driver of this ESG focus being for organisations to ensure their investment approach aligns with its mission.

However, respondents also said personal beliefs of those on the board or relevant committees were influencing the ESG approach, potentially pointing to some weaknesses in governance in this area.

Incorporating ESG considerations into investments is important to respondents, but ranks below managing risk and generating returns. This suggests organisations are aware of responsible investing, however some do not have the appetite to prioritise it, as they believe there is a trade-off with financial outcomes.

As NFPs operate at the coal face of societal needs and occupy an altruistic position in the community, it might be assumed that a wide range of ESG considerations are embedded in the management of NFP capital.

However, the question remains, should a NFP have this expectation placed on them, or should the ESG approach be one that naturally aligns with their organisation’s mission and purpose?

For example, it would be expected that a NFP providing support for gambling addiction would avoid gaming investments. However, should it also be obliged to avoid investments in fossil fuels? There is a danger that the inclusion of such a restriction would more likely be reflective of the Board or Committees’ personal beliefs and preference.

This seems to be supported with the survey showing 11% of respondents felt personal beliefs play a role when formulating ESG policy for an organisation.

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Video: Partner Christian Golding tells you how NFPs can shape their approach to ESG.

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Another popular response for factors driving ESG considerations in NFPs included ‘to meet donor and community expectations.’ It is likely that donors may become increasingly sensitive to how their contributions are being managed.

Therefore, NFPs may benefit from the increasing focus on ESG through additional donations and sponsorships, particularly from corporate and larger sophisticated donors. The challenge for NFPs will be to utilise transparency and promote their ESG approach to all stakeholders.

More broadly, Boards or Committees which focus on ESG investment considerations to ‘fulfil governance expectations’ and ‘to reduce potential reputational risk’ indicate a sound governance approach and awareness of the importance of managing this, at times, emotive area.

What this means for you

When considering ESG strategies and practices for investments, NFPs should:

  • Have a sound Investment Policy Statement (IPS) – ensure that your ESG approach is workshopped and clearly documented in the organisation’s IPS.
  • Invest in education – the ESG landscape is evolving, therefore keeping those in relevant roles and the associated policy up to date, requires ongoing education and regular policy review.
  • Make time for self-reflection – the individuals on Boards and subcommittees should regularly reflect on their approach, ensuring their personal beliefs do not cloud their views when acting for the NFP.
  • Implement proactive PR/communications management – ESG is an emotive topic, so effective communication to stakeholders is critical.

Return to the not-for-profit survey insights hub here.

This content is general commentary only and does not constitute advice. Before making any decision or taking any action in relation to the content, you should consult your professional advisor. To the maximum extent permitted by law, neither Pitcher Partners or its affiliated entities, nor any of our employees will be liable for any loss, damage, liability or claim whatsoever suffered or incurred arising directly or indirectly out of the use or reliance on the material contained in this content. Pitcher Partners is an association of independent firms. Pitcher Partners is a member of the global network of Baker Tilly International Limited, the members of which are separate and independent legal entities. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

Our experts

Ben Brazier

Ben Brazier

Managing Principal Adelaide
Robyn Cooper

Robyn Cooper

Partner Brisbane
Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

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Michael Minter

Michael Minter

Managing Partner Newcastle and Hunter
Christian Golding

Christian Golding

Executive Director Perth
Melissa Alexander

Melissa Alexander

Partner Sydney
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