The Gorge Community Foundation held its annual “state of the foundation” meeting via Zoom on Thursday, Nov. 8 with over 30 donor advisors and representatives of designated fundholder organizations in attendance. Participants received an update on the Foundation’s funds and investment strategy from Ferguson Wellman fund manager Jim Coats as well as news from board chair Gil Sharp and executive director Jill Burnette on GCF activities and grantmaking. Coats’s presentation described Ferguson Wellman’s approach to developing a strategic investment policy during the pandemic, managing risk in a changing environment, and best practices for socially responsible investing. Thanks to all who participated as we navigated a new online format for convening and sharing information.
The Gorge Community Foundation Board of Directors has announced the following nine grant recipients from the Joan Burchell Fund. This year’s grants are dedicated to addressing food insecurity throughout the counties that comprise the Gorge, exacerbated by the necessary response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizations selected to receive grants will use the funds to increase access to safe, healthy food for children, families and seniors affected by coronavirus measures.
The Dalles Farmers Market: To implement a revamped SNAP program for families to shop for produce and healthy food at the market.
Hood River Farmers Market: To supplement a matching incentive program.
FISH Food Bank: To supplement additional food purchases owing to increased need.
Oregon Food Bank: For food acquisition, storage & distribution specifically for the Columbia Gorge Food Banks.
White Salmon Valley Education Foundation: To provide food to families in the White Salmon area.
The Food Bridge Project: To purchase greenhouse supplies for two farms providing produce for families in need.
Back Packs 4 Kids: To provide meals in Klickikat County to children when not in school.
Stevenson-Carson Educational Foundation: To supplement meals to school age children.
Washington Gorge Action Programs: For of area food banks throughout Klickitat County.
Burchell grant recipients are located in Wasco, Skamania, Klickitat and Hood River Counties and represent a diverse group of applicants. As always, those applications not funded through the Burchell program will be made available to our Donor Advisors.
That is, companies are having to change their business models to adapt to the new normal, and in most cases, are using the downturn as an opportunity to address inefficiencies across corporate functions when the economy begins to recover. As investors sift through data regarding the impact of the global economic shutdown, corporate updates are likely to include strategies for survival in the near term and plans for positioning themselves in the future, including permanent changes in business practices.
Socially responsible investing (SRI) originally came onto the scene with a goal of using ethical and moral criteria to screen “bad actors” out of client portfolios. From SRI evolved the notion that environmental, social and governance factors (ESG) could have financial relevance. The thesis is that better corporate behavior enables companies to position themselves to face long-term opportunities and threats instead of a myopic focus on near-term profits. By and large, the “E”, or environmental pillar of this discipline gets the most airtime. Nonetheless, the “S” and “G” pillars of social and governance are taking a critical role as we navigate the current pandemic.
As we ponder how sustainability in corporate behavior will evolve during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, several areas stand out, including:
1. Corporate travel and events
Stay-at-home mandates have shut off all corporate travel, events and entertainment. Yet, employees and their customers still manage to stay connected through programs like Microsoft Teams, WebEx and of course, Zoom. Many companies are finding that these tools are effective in carrying out the tasks typically assigned to in-person meetings or larger events. Of course, in many cases, face-to-face meetings, events and travel are invaluable. But at the very least, the required shutdown is forcing companies to reconsider the cost-benefit of excessive travel and events that can be replicated at a lower cost in terms of time, money and in the use of fossil fuels. It is a reasonable to expect that corporate travel and events will not revert to the old norms any time soon.
2. Stakeholders beyond shareholders
The primary objective for publicly traded companies is to provide value for its shareholders. However, the nature of the current downturn is requiring companies to consider stakeholders aside from the owners of the company, most importantly their employees. Instead of laying off as many employees as possible in order to protect near-term profits, we are witnessing many companies taking alternative actions, such as eliminating CEO and other C-suite pay. Companies are also using government-assisted furloughs and committing to pay for health benefits for employees who no longer have working hours. In addition, several firms, including Ferguson Wellman, have all but guaranteed that every employee will keep their job. Again, the nature of this crisis has changed the playbook for typical corporate behavior in a recession.
3. Collapse in oil prices
One of the major side effects of the pandemic has been a dramatic decline in human and industrial mobility. This has caused demand for oil, gasoline and other fossil fuels to collapse. At the same time, “OPEC+” members Russia and Saudi Arabia failed in their negotiations to curtail the supply of oil. The combination of these factors has caused a drop in oil prices to levels not seen in 20 years. The structural movement toward renewables is in large part dependent on the economics. In other words, the incentive to switch to renewables or forego the use of fossil fuels is much stronger when the cost of gasoline is higher. This crisis has eliminated that incentive in some industries, as substitution is no longer a wise economic decision.
4. Mortality rates and pollution
While there is still a great deal of uncertainty, early studies are beginning to show that communities with high levels of pollution display higher COVID-19 mortality rates. While highly speculative, this discovery could make corporations and voting constituencies more open to behavior, cultural norms and even regulations enacted to reduce the levels of pollution.
5. Flexible business models
Large corporations are only known to operate in one product type, service offering or customer set are shifting their capabilities to benefit society in these challenging times. Companies such as General Motors have rapidly shifted automotive production facilities to produce key components for ventilators. Nike has shifted some of their facilities that make footwear to produce face shields that are critical for the healthcare workers on the front lines. And of course, healthcare companies, such as Abbott Labs, are rapidly scaling-up production for diagnostics to test antibodies in order to determine COVID immunity. In many cases, there is a natural overlap between acting for the benefit of society and adding to profitability, but this crisis has displayed the tremendous ability of large corporations to do their part.
As always, the past can provide perspective for things to come. After 9/11, we did go back to feeling comfortable with flying, but we continue to take off our shoes when entering airport security. This simple analogy reinforces that as investors and consumers, we most certainly will one day go back to normal, but some practices from recent months will endure. As we evolve into our new normal … we will also find new opportunities to analyze and invest in companies.
Peter Jones, CFA, is vice president of equity research and analysis for Ferguson Wellman Capital Management and lead portfolio manager for our Global Sustainable Investing (GSI) strategy. Launched in 2018 as an ESG solution for individuals and nonprofits that overlays MSCI data on our investment principles, GSI has become the fastest growing investment strategy in the history of our firm.
The Gorge Community Foundation Board of Directors has announced that 2020 grants from the Joan Burchell Fund will be dedicated to addressing issues of food insecurity throughout the Columbia River Gorge exacerbated by the necessary response to the coronavirus pandemic. This is a one-time decision to help our communities protect our most vulnerable citizens through this time of need. If your organization provides meals or access to safe, healthy food and you wish to apply for funding, please click here for more information. Applications will be due on April 15 and grants awarded by the end of May.
After a year-long review process led by the Foundation’s investment committee, the Gorge Community Foundation is delighted to announce that the Portland firm of Ferguson Wellman has been selected as its new investment manager.
The process was initiated by the investment committee, consisting of board chair Gil Sharp, treasurer Nate Reagan, board member Branden Buel and community leader Rob McCormick, as an exercise in prudent financial oversight and a desire to ensure that as the Foundation grows, its assets are managed to the highest standards and with an intentional, articulated investment policy and long-term strategy. A request for proposal led to responses by four firms, which were then narrowed to two – Ferguson Wellman and incumbent UBS – for further review. After reviewing the qualifications of both firms, Ferguson Wellman was selected, based on their extensive experience with other regional non-profit foundations including Western Oregon University Foundation and Friends of the Gorge.
The Foundation is deeply appreciative of the professional and skillful handling of our investment portfolio by Keith Sheppard and the Mt. Hood Investment Group of UBS for almost twenty years.
Ferguson Wellman, founded in 1975, is a private, employee-owned Portland investment advisory firm serving individuals, families and institutions. They have designed and managed customized investment portfolios for clients’ IRAs, trusts, foundations, endowments, corporate retirement and pension plans. The firm manages $4.97 billion for 832 clients. The Gorge Community Foundation’s account will be managed by executive vice president Jim Coats, an OSU grad with a master’s degree from Columbia University and a long family history in the Gorge ranging from The Dalles to Goldendale.
to our 2019 scholarship recipients. We wish these outstanding students every success in the years ahead.