The GiveWell Blog

Wait till next year

I’ve talked a fair amount about the question of what a foundation should do with all the money it has left over, after giving all the money it can give for a year. Now Jon B raises an interesting alternative to both investing it traditionally and to investing it in “responsible companies”: loan it to another charity.

There is a version of this idea that could be good – loaning the money to a charity that uses loaned funds only for liquidity (immediate access to capital), not in order to take the interest as donations (directly or indirectly).

A perfect example would be a microfinance organization that just needs to borrow money (to lend to the impoverished), and doesn’t have enough collateral and/or credit to do all its borrowing at a reasonable interest rate. If a foundation has money it won’t be using until next year, it can lend that money to this organization, and plan on getting paid back with a reasonably low interest rate (as though the borrowing organization had solid credit/collateral). There is, of course, a risk of default. In this case the foundation is essentially donating not its money, but its tolerance for risk and its ability to postpone spending. You could think of it like donating shoes: you could sell the shoes and give the proceeds to charity, but if the charity actually needs shoes, giving the shoes directly saves a little bit of transaction cost. That would make sense. If I’m being dumb, I hope my hedge fund friends correct me.

Charity Bank, the site Jon links to, appears to be a confusing blend of this idea and the less compelling idea of donating your interest to charity – which seems to me like just a fancy way of making a direct grant. Opening a (UK) Charity Bank account, you choose between 0% and 2% interest per year – all well below UK market rates – which makes me think that a lot of the value is in effectively donated interest payments. In addition, I can’t find any details about what charities it is investing in. Without this, it is really hard for me to picture whether there is really a need in the nonprofit sector for credit/liquidity, as opposed to good old money.

I still think the whole topic of “responsible investing” or “aligned investing” is overblown, and now I’m writing more about it. Bad Holden.


  • The GiveWell Blog - Exploring how to get real change for your dollar. » BRB on May 5, 2007 at 12:15 pm said:

    […] I got involved in the debate on “responsible investing,” or whether foundations should try to align their investing with their grantmaking (i.e., not hold stocks that work against the values they exist to promote). My position is that it isn’t worth the effort and that too much is made of this issue, but that didn’t stop me from posting a whopping four times on the topic: one, two, three, four. When I get back, I intend to raise more of a stink about the issue I asked about in the second of that series: why are foundations investing (rather than giving away) such a high proportion of their assets in the first place? […]

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