By Tamara Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers
A few years ago, W.K. Kellogg Foundation program officer Tom Reis came to CEO Sterling Speirn with a double bottom line idea.
Rather than just pursuing the foundation’s mission through traditional grantmaking, Reis proposed using foundation assets to invest in for-profit businesses that related directly to Kellogg’s mission. He wanted to make what Kellogg came to call mission-driven investments. His plea was impassioned and it was research-based. The Board agreed and committed $100 million.
The outcomes have been impressive. They’ve generated an unexpected triple bottom line. The Kellogg Foundation has received a financial return on its investment, a social return through positive change on the problems it cares about, as well as what Speirn calls a learning return.
In eight months, Kellogg received a 26% return on their investment in Wireless Generation, a technology company that creates tools for personalized learning and teaching. Through the foundation’s investment in Revolution Foods, 200,000 healthy meals are being delivered to school children in nine states and the foundation has learned that school kitchens are often designed to re-heat frozen food, not to cook fresh food. And, through their investment in Acelero Learning, a for-profit company focused on efficiency and greater impact for Head Start, Kellogg is supporting higher salaries for teachers – an intervention that works to ensure retention of teachers while also obtaining better educational outcomes for children and economic security for families.
Last month, Speirn explored this model with WRAG CEOs. He acknowledged that every foundation doesn’t have what Kellogg did when it agreed to this work – an asset base in the billions, a broad mission statement that allows for an expansive determination of which businesses might help them further that mission, and a board and staff leadership team that was open to out-of-the-box thinking.
But he continued on to advise that the approach is flexible and can work at many levels, based on the given circumstances for each foundation. As he urged the WRAG CEOS to explore mission-driven investing, he poignantly noted, “We don’t always know the cost of success. We only know the cost of failure.”
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