Investing in a Healthy Dialogue


Fostering Healthy Investment Dialogue

During times of uncertainty, such as the volatility experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure communication is among your top priorities will go a long way in keeping your organization and its endowment or foundation working in the same direction.

Having a strong communication plan offers several benefits in times of turmoil, from keeping everyone focused on what is important, to improving relations with stakeholders. When you can deliver critical messages clearly and confidently, you can ensure everyone understands what is being asked of them and avoid added chaos and confusion.

Looking back, 2020 was a year that presented more than a few unexpected challenges that most likely kept investment boards scrambling to make the right decisions quickly. It was a year that experienced the worst pandemic since 1919, which led to a whipsaw effect in the stock market. 2020 saw bond yields hit record lows, and the U.S. government passed the largest non-war stimulus in U.S. history.


With this economic chaos, investment staff, and their committees and boards likely faced urgent questions and concerns both from inside and outside the organization. We can learn from the uncertainty of 2020 to better manage these issues going forward by having a plan in place to foster healthy dialogue a round stakeholder concerns.



Investment staff have several ways in which they can communicate critical messages to the right parties in a timely manner. Here, we will review some of the more important steps to take to ensure your communication plan is in place.


One of the first steps to creating a successful plan for communication is to make sure the “foundation” of what you communicate is reliable. This means having a clear understanding of the organization’s mission and how the foundation or endowment and your individual role as investment staff helps to achieve it. Keep this front of mind before diving in.


Make a list of what shapes your investment decisions, including enterprise-level items. 


It is important to put context around your mission and roles to evaluate the specific situation and identify if there are any areas of misalignment. First, ask yourself and key decision makers, what aspects of your mission shape your investing decisions? Make a list of enterprise-level influences that may affect your asset allocation. Determine whether there has been any change in how the portfolio supports your organization’s strategic plan. Consider asking, is your current asset allocation in line with your organization’s risk profile? These are valuable questions and concerns to bring to an Investment Committee for further consideration.

Finally, especially as spending priorities change during unexpected events, determine whether there are any material changes to cash in and outflows expected over the next 24 months. 


As you create and develop a communication strategy, it is often helpful to work from templates or checklists. These resources will not necessarily be comprehensive of everything you will ever need, but they can be useful tools to ensure you address key points. Our templates and checklists are designed to help communicators stay organized and hold themselves accountable for creating better and more meaningful messages.

Next, identify your organization’s key stakeholders, or those who are affected by its success or failure. These include board members, committee members, staff, donors and community members. During times of turmoil, it is helpful to have a full understanding of each stakeholder’s role and what they are accountable for to help things flow smoothly.

Finally, you will want to identify the most important information to communicate and how best to communicate it with your key stakeholders. Which method will be ideal to serve your organization – email, phone calls, video conference, etc.? Establishing a playbook that works for you will include a plan for how often you will communicate, as well as how you will receive feedback. After all, the best communication goes two ways.

Download Communication Playbook


Your Investment Policy Statement (IPS) defines your organization’s investment objectives and puts guardrails into place to guide investment decisions. An IPS is an especially valuable tool during times of turmoil because it keeps your investing decisions on an objective course during times of market disruptions, when you may be tempted to make decisions driven by fear or anxiety.

Ask several stakeholders to review your IPS and identify potential areas of tension from current market disruptions. Make sure your investment objectives are up-to-date and that you are clear on how you monitor portfolio performance and rebalance asset allocations. 


4. PUT YOUR IPS AND PLAYBOOK INTO ACTIONshutterstock_1478456339
Once you have finalized your communications playbook and IPS, you can start sharing! Start by focusing on communicating the key information you need to relay  and try to avoid getting hung 

up on making your messages perfect. The important thing is that key players have the information they need to continue serving your organization without disruption.

Remember, communication is an ongoing process, so it might take time to get into a routine that works best for your specific situation. 


Finally, a healthy investment dialogue should include ways to receive outside perspective, including constructive criticism from third parties that can help improve your nonprofit.

To encourage this, determine areas where your organization might benefit from additional expertise – or areas of potential weakness. Then, identify members of your support network who may be able to provide useful insight – including peers, industry groups, and outside professionals. From there, you can outline how you could consult a third-party to receive more guidance on relevant topics like liquidity assessment, stress testing, or donor engagement.

You may be surprised to find that when you ask for support, others are often eager to help keep your organization on track when you need it most. 


This was prepared by Fund Evaluation Group, LLC (FEG), a federally registered investment adviser under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended, providing non-discretionary and discretionary investment advice to its clients on an individual basis. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply a certain level of skill or training. The oral and written communications of an adviser provide you with information about which you determine to hire or retain an adviser. Fund Evaluation Group, LLC, Form ADV Part 2A & 2B can be obtained by written request directed to: Fund Evaluation Group, LLC, 201 East Fifth Street, Suite 1600, Cincinnati, OH 45202 Attention: Compliance Department.

Published March 2021 


Recommended Resources

Investing in Dialogue with Rhonda Fitzgerald

Rhonda Fitzgerald of Sustained Dialogue Institute joins us to talk about the five principles applied by Sustained Dialogue to facilitate healthy conversations around difficult topics such as race, gender, and religion. Hear how these techniques led to diplomacy breakthroughs like the Camp David Accords or the Dartmouth Conferences, the longest running continuous bilateral agreement between the former Soviet Union and the U.S.A. We also dive into how the process may vary across industries, the evolution in an increasingly virtual environment, and an example of an off-the-shelf event used at a hedge fund.


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