A lot of what you do as a nonprofit leader (let’s face it – most of what you do) is highly complex and labor-intensive.  But here’s a great opportunity to do good in your sleep:  divest your organization’s assets from fossil-fuel interests, and invest them in green energy development.  Those leading this effort compare it – accurately, I think – to the high-impact campaign 30 years ago to divest in companies that helped sustain apartheid in South Africa.

This terrific article in the Huffington Post by Divest-Invest leaders Ellen Dorsey and Richard Mott, of the Wallace Global Fund, provides an excellent overview of the initiative’s brief history (begun in 2011 by university students disillusioned by governmental inaction, then given a big boost by environmentalist Bill McKibben), and addressing a few of the common anti-divestment arguments.

A few sentences that jump out at me: 

“No mission-driven or cause-based organization should hold positions in industries that pose a direct threat to its mission or to the public good.”

And –

“The claim that prudent financial management somehow trumps impact on mission is not just wrong on the facts, it stands the notion of fiduciary duty on its head, putting profit over values.”

But, the authors point out, you need not sacrifice performance to go green:  “The best analyses we have seen, in backcast studies by Impax, Aperio Group, and Boston Common Asset Management, all show essentially zero risk in being out of the top 200 fossil fuel companies.”

Indeed, there is a widespread belief (reportedly a hot topic of discussion at Davos last week) that fossil fuels are overvalued, so staying in fossil fuels might represent a significant risk.   

Governments are clearly not going to provide the trillion or so dollars annually required to transform global green energy options anytime soon.  But philanthropies, non-profits, and others, concertedly shifting assets away from fossil fuels and into green energy initiatives could have a huge impact – comparable, perhaps, to helping end apartheid.

I hope you’ll read Dorsey and Mott’s article, continue on to the Divest-Invest website, and give some serious thought to your organization’s portfolio.  Although these authors are addressing leaders of foundations with hundreds of millions of dollars under management – far, far more than most of us non-profit leaders – every little bit helps.  As you know, the ocean is just a zillion drops of water. 

I hope you’ll let me know what you think and do in response to this exciting call to action.



05/31/2016 12:42am

Yeah, I like their articles. Good post!


I am not sure why governments are not into this. They should have the moral obligation to make sure this succeeds but for some reason, they don't. It's great that people in the know suggest that we make an effort to focus on this and the profit would just be a bonus. The real benefit would be the better world our grandchildren will be living in.

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