Back to top

Mission-Aligned Investing: A model for maximizing philanthropic impact and equity

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

By Shira Hodges

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But, whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. – Martin Luther King Jr.

During this period of racial reawakening, philanthropy is grappling with a number of unavoidable realities around power, equity and insularity. Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia is working hard to amplify the local movement, to ensure the moment is not lost. One path forward is for foundations to use all their resources and tools to address racial inequities and better support their community. Mission-aligned investing pools resources from your local foundations to share costs and grow racially equitable support. 

Mission-aligned investing goes beyond grantmaking to align an organization’s assets with its institutional values and mission. Aligning assets with mission, for intentional and measurable impact, is one way of “walking the talk” on racial equity. To this end, Philanthropy Network has launched a Mission-Aligned Investing Cohort, to create a space for philanthropic leaders to learn, connect and lead change using a racial equity lens. This post (the first in a series) will outline Philanthropy Network’s goal, cohort and learning journey.


Over the last few years, there has been a growing interest within philanthropy to explore what mission-aligned investing can accomplish. The interest and excitement are real, but a variety of obstacles exist—most notably, a lack of practical experience. Philanthropy Network adopted the Mission-Aligned Investing working group model in 2017 from Laura Kind Mckenna, Patricia Kind Family Foundation, and Elizabeth Killough, and the Untours Foundation. The working group meets several times a year to serve as an informal forum for sharing information and growing knowledge.  Despite the interest, mission-aligned investing efforts mainly moved forward in siloes and remained limited to a handful of foundations. In 2019, with The Barra Foundation, we conducted an impact investing landscape scan to explore challenges and opportunities to scale mission-aligned investing efforts in the region.  See the executive summary here.

Our learnings from the working group and the ecosystem scan identified several ways to address challenges and scale the effectiveness of mission-aligned investing in the region.  This research was further shaped by the Equity Cohort we ran in May of 2019 Philanthropy Network’s commitment to focus on social justice and racial equity. As an organization, we felt our responsibility was to educate and mobilize our community to act.  In 2020, we established the Mission-Aligned Investing Cohort in partnership with Andorra and Common Future.

Mission-Aligned Investing Cohort

The Mission-aligned investing cohort is a 12-month program to help foundations align their assets with their mission and invest in the community envisioned through a racial equity lens.  The cohort is designed to increase a foundation’s ability to overcome barriers to mission-aligned investing, including culture, strategy, capacity and opportunity flow.  The cohort leverages peer exchange, collaborative leadership, coaching and systems thinking, all grounded in a racial equity lens.

Our objectives include:

  • Stronger place-based investing goals and progress towards those goals
  • Tangible and meaningful alignment between foundation assets and mission
  • A deeper understanding of community wealth-building strategies
  • Strategies to incorporate racial equity into investment strategies
  • A shared vision and plan to activate Philadelphia’s community capital ecosystem

In total, 10 foundations that range in size from $3M to $180M signed up to join the program.  There were a variety of reasons why they joined, but all had a commitment to use more of their resources to advance our collective mission and incorporate racial equity into their practices. 

“As a relatively small funder [$25M], our Directors have always been interested in maximizing the Foundation’s impact in the advancement of its mission. Rethinking how we use the Foundation’s endowment and what it is invested in, is an obvious next step. How to go about the learning process and taking action were more challenging. So, when the MAI Cohort was formed, the Foundation joined, and it has been a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with and learn from other funders,” said Cohort Member Mindy Aldridge, President, The Nelson Foundation.

One of the invaluable aspects to this approach is the peer-to-peer learning.  Each foundation was at a different stage in the mission-aligned investing journey so they brought with them a wealth of experience and knowledge that they could share with others. Each foundation is represented by its ED/President and a board member. This provides an opportunity to help build board awareness, understanding and support.

Cohort Member Tina Wahl, President, Barra Foundation said, “The opportunity to learn with and from each other has been paramount.   We learn about concepts but also look at deals foundations have invested in, in particular, how did you take your first step and what did it look like to get there?  The cohort helps move us along, we have a year together to probe the process and then to talk offline with colleagues in the cohort to dig in deeper and get practical advice.  Also having Board members and staff together “in the room” is critical.  The Executive Director does not have to translate concepts for their Board member.  That ED can rely on the experts in the room—both peers and outside speakers—to de-mystify mission-aligned investing for their Board member.”

Learning AND action will also highlight another important aspect of the program.  (What is so exciting about this cohort is that it is action oriented – it isn’t just a bunch of foundations getting together to talk and learn, but to walk the walk-in addressing issues in our community). 

We are seven months into the cohort, so the impact of the program is yet to be determined. Our hope is that this group not only discovers new ways to support their mission, but identifies opportunities to take collective action that better supports our community and addresses social and racial inequities in our region. 

We look forward to sharing more about our mission-aligned investing journey, what it means to invest with a racial equity lens and the impact this program has had on foundations and the communities we serve. Together, the Greater Philadelphia region can be an example and a catalyst for other cities. Please watch for future posts. 

If you’re interested in participating in the working group or learning more about Philanthropy Network’s mission-aligned investing work, contact Shira Hodges, Interim President at

Shira Hodges is Interim President of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia