Nonprofits are continuously under pressure to balance current and future needs when determining the purpose, structure, and governance of your endowment assets. Even when the appropriate strategy and process are in place to align saving and investing with long-term goals, one piece of the puzzle—spending—often takes a back seat.
Applying a disciplined strategy to how your organization spends its endowed resources impacts current budgets, future initiatives, capital projects, investment strategies, and administrative expenses. Disciplined spending can limit volatility and ease organizational strain. So a strong framework for spending success is essential to the long-term sustainability of your endowment assets.
Spending policy analysis: getting from here to there
Your organization’s spending policy should be carefully selected after a thorough evaluation of several key inputs. A qualitative review of the type of organization, time horizon, beneficiaries, purpose of the endowment, sources of funding, institutional resources, applicable donor restrictions, and the investment policy statement should factor into a quantitative analysis that addresses:
- Annual operating expenses and income
- Grant-making obligations, if any
- Capital expenditures
- Risk tolerance
- Expected total return from income or capital appreciation
- Investment-related costs
- General economic conditions
Objectives: set goals for spending success
The goal of a successful spending policy is to balance predictability and stability with the preservation of capital. The policy should include statements indicating your nonprofit’s position on the:
- Preservation of purchasing power expressed in a target return or measure greater than inflation
- Extent to which investment income is needed as a revenue stream to support the organization’s operating budget
- Possibility of exceptional spending and the prevention of erratic spending
- Role of inflation and investment-related expenses
Spending rate: choose well
There are numerous ways to determine the endowment spending rate for your nonprofit. Most organizations are familiar with less complex approaches that include spending income, assigning a pre-specified percentage of the beginning market value, simply deciding on a spending rate, and using the IRS minimum required payout of 5% for certain private foundations. In practice, there are three primary methods used today.
Moving average methods: one of the most frequently used approaches, this method tends to ‘smooth’ the overall spending rate and reduce the impact of a single year’s increase or decrease in your portfolio’s value. It involves the application of a spending policy rate (typically 3.5% – 5%) to a moving average of beginning-period market values over a defined historical period (typically three to five years or 12 to 20 quarters).
Inflation-based methods: these are calculated using the previous year’s spending, and inflating it by an applicable inflation index (such as one of the Consumer Price Indexes). Depending on preference, some organizations will then impose upper and lower bands on spending (e.g., a lower band of 3% and an upper band of 6%).
Hybrids: another way to determine the appropriate spending level for your organization is to adopt a hybrid calculation that uses a weighted average of both the inflation-based calculation and the moving average calculation.
Spending rates can be expressed as a maximum, a target, or a range.
Ready, set, govern!
In terms of governance, we believe that many of the same topics addressed by your investment policy statement should also be acknowledged by your spending policy. The spending policy should:
- Explain the intent or purpose of the endowment spending
- Define the spending calculation method used
- Identify the parties authorized to approve or amend the document
- Outline how to handle exceptional expenses like capital campaign expenses, debt service, operating needs, etc.
- Receive an annual signed and dated review
How can Truist Foundations and Endowments Specialty Practice help?
If a spending method has been selected by your organization, Truist can compare the spending objectives against our proprietary forward-looking expected return assumptions. We’ll also examine the strategic asset allocation outlined in your investment policy statement to determine if the allocation is appropriate and/or realistic. Based on these findings, we will make recommendations for the spending policy to ensure that the asset allocation outlined in the investment policy statement closely reflects the future liabilities of the organization.
If you haven’t yet selected a spending method, we will undertake a full qualitative and quantitative review of your organization. Using key inputs, we’ll model various spending levels over time that consider endowment income needs, inflation, investment related costs, and risk tolerance. The output of the analysis reveals multiple scenarios that demonstrate the relationship between spending, ending market value, and cumulative spending—both over time and in consideration of multiple investment approaches. We then provide this information to your investment or finance committee to inform the selection of a spending policy.
Spending with discipline
Whether incorporated into the investment policy statement or created as a stand-alone document, we recognize that your organization’s spending policy is critical to long-term sustainability. This document is a fundamental component of the investment decision-making process and, along with the investment policy statement, represent critical resources used by the investment committee to balance current and future spending requirements with maintaining the long-term value of endowment assets.
The following ‘Moving average methods’ policy is provided as an example. Additional sample spending policies are available upon request.