The F.B. Heron Foundation: 100 Percent for Mission - And Beyond

By Charles Ewald, Heidi Krauel Patel, Jaclyn Foroughi
2018 | Case No. SI140 | Length 22 pgs.

In late March 2017, Clara Miller, director and president of the F.B. Heron Foundation (“Heron”), a philanthropic institution focused on helping people help themselves out of poverty, sat down to put the finishing touches on her President’s Letter. In previous years, the letter included Miller’s lucid thoughts regarding major changes within the organization and advocated for movement toward a “philanthropic world”—a world in which “all sectors—public and private companies, partnerships, nonprofits, government—[were] actively and broadly philanthropic in their regular operations.” In her 2017 letter, however, Miller had more to talk about than ever.

Over the prior five years, Miller, who joined Heron in 2011 with over three decades of nonprofit management experience, had led the organization through a strategic and operational transformation. In 2012, she launched a five-year plan to invest 100 percent of the endowment toward better fulfilling the organization’s mission. By December 2016, Heron had done just that. In the process, Heron’s board and staff reset the organization’s investment policy statement and unified the investment program functions to create a new operating model.

Miller realized that there was still more work to do. The board and staff saw 100 percent as a “false summit” and looked ahead to optimizing an endowment that was 100 percent aligned for mission. And while Heron had been influential over the years in encouraging others to adopt the organization’s original vision of being more than a private investment company, the practice was still rare in philanthropy. It seemed that the goal of a “philanthropic world”—one going beyond the walls of the foundation or philanthropy alone—was more urgent than ever.

This case describes how the Heron board went about visualizing the future in terms of leadership, strategic direction, and Heron’s own leadership within the philanthropic world.

Learning Objective

Provide students with an opportunity to understand impact investing from the perspective of a philanthropic institution through analysis of its investment and grant-making strategy, examination of the portfolio’s asset allocation, and assessment of the firm’s mission alignment.
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