Foundations & Endowments

Direct Indexing: A Revolutionary Investment Strategy for Nonprofits, Foundations, and Endowments

Direct Indexing: A Revolutionary Investment Strategy for Nonprofits, Foundations, and Endowments
Nathan Wallace
June 20, 2023

The Evolution of ESG Investments

Historically, nonprofits, foundations, and endowments with investment assets often found it challenging to align their financial strategies with their core values. Until recently, the investment landscape offered limited options for those seeking to invest in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) values. However, since 2012, the ESG investment sector has seen a significant surge in both the variety of options and total assets managed. This change has been driven by both advances in investment technology as well as changing values among investors.

Trending Up for ESG
Source: Bloomberg 

The Challenge of Aligning Investments with Values

Despite this growth, finding investment options that truly align with an organization's values can still be a hurdle. For example, the iShares ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF (ESGU), one of the largest ESG ETFs, includes companies like Exxon Mobil, Schlumberger, and EOG Resources in its portfolio. This can be a deal-breaker for organizations committed to combating climate change or reducing fossil fuel dependence.

The Solution: Direct Indexing

This is where Direct Indexing comes into play. This innovative investment strategy involves investing in a diverse range of individual stocks with the aim of closely tracking a broad index. The beauty of Direct Indexing lies in its customizability, allowing nonprofits and foundations to construct portfolios that genuinely reflect their mission, without compromising on performance or diversification.

Direct Indexing
Source: MDPI

Direct Indexing in Practice: A Case Study

Consider a school that advocates for environmental stewardship and opposes meat consumption. Using Direct Indexing, this school could avoid investing in meat production industries and companies contributing significantly to global climate emissions and pollution. Simultaneously, it could maintain a portfolio that continues to track the S&P 500, ensuring that its values are not compromised for returns.

The Impact of Direct Indexing on Non-profits

By aligning their investment strategies with their core values, non-profits, foundations, and endowments can leverage their assets to further their mission and amplify their impact.

The Advantages of Direct Indexing

Direct Indexing is gaining traction among nonprofits seeking to harmonize their portfolios with their values. It offers a  balance of risk management, diversification, and the ability to track a broad market index, while specifically targeting companies that resonate with the organization's mission or values. Companies such as Patagonia have been at the forefront of ensuring that their assets are managed in concert with their values, while not sacrificing returns.

The Future of Non-profit Investments: Direct Indexing

In conclusion, Direct Indexing is an increasingly popular option for non-profits seeking to align their investments with their values while managing risk and maintaining diversification. By managing costs effectively and creating customized portfolios based on individual company selection criteria, Direct Indexing allows for non-profit investments to be both meaningful without having to potentially sacrifice profitability—truly a win-win situation.


MSCI ESG Multifaceted Chart
Source: Pension Research Council