Our Investment Strategy
Skees Family Foundation believes that we, and you, vote with every dollar and hour invested in social change. That’s why we weave our resources together to support:
- Our foundation’s mission-aligned grants,
- Family members’ volunteerism and causes, and
- Social-impact investments.
How We’re Different
We approach grantmaking in ways that differ from many funders, in ways intended to minimize the power imbalance between nonprofits and funders:
- No Restrictions: Unrestricted funding shows trust and respect for our partners. They know where the money is most needed, and we don’t have the burden of keeping track of specific projects.
- No Applications: All the information we need is found through our own research. This helps us keep our workload lighter by not having to go through hundreds of applications, and it provides our new partners a welcome surprise, with infinite return on investment.
- Limited Reporting: We have calls once a year with our partners to discuss how they’re doing and their plans for the future. We don’t ask for written reports – we talk to our partners and create enduring relationships.
- Multi-Year Grants: Two to six-year grants give us the opportunity to build relationships with our partners and for them to have the security of longer-term funding.
- Storytelling Assistance: Through our Seeds of Hope blog and the My Job social mission project, we tell the stories of our partners. We get to shine a light on their work, and they get a bit of free promotion!
- Funding Channels: Our partners are often challenged in finding their next level of funding. In response, we are creating a network of funders to help guide our partners toward their next grant. We can pass on our knowledge about individual organizations, as well as receive recommendations from other funders, saving everyone a lot of time.
- Crowdfunding: At SFF, our ambitions are larger than our corpus. To make sure our partners get the funding they need, we are creating a crowdfunding campaign to help other people within the same cause find great organizations quickly.
- Direct Impact Investments: For many of our partners, the ability to scale rests on access to capital, and we often maintain relationships through direct impact investments. This allows us to stay in touch with our partners and invest in someone we trust, while giving them access to affordable debt and a reasonable return to the Skees corpus.
- 100% ESG Market Investments: Beyond impact investments, the remaining majority of the corpus is invested with an Environmental Social Governance screen, ensuring our corpus is working for good. This helps us increase our impact substantially while avoiding investments that are working in contradiction with our mission, all while maintaining strong returns to support our grantmaking.
Our mission-aligned grants are focused on organizations whose primary work is outside of the United States. We do this for two reasons:
- Given our relatively small grantmaking budget, funding international programs allows each dollar to go further than it would in the U.S, enabling our foundation to have greater impact with our limited resources.
- We support organizations without geographic limitations through our discretionary board and family grants, both in the U.S. and abroad, that our family members are connected to and passionate about.
These grants are typically distributed every three years, and go out at the start of the new year.
Within our mission-aligned grants, we have two categories: Seed Grants and Catalyst Grants. Here’s how they work:
Seed Grants are two- to three-year grants with increasing amounts each year: $2,500 year one, $5,000 year two, and $7,500 year three, if the organization’s self-determined benchmarks are met after year one and year two. These partners are in their “start-up” phase. Eligibility for this seed funding is generally available only to organizations with an annual budget of $250,000 or less, in order to ensure that the funds have a significant effect on the budgets of selected organizations.
We encourage our Seed Grantees to use these grants for internal capacity building, but we do not place formal restrictions on the funding. By fostering the growth of small organizations that align with our mission, Seed Grants enable our foundation to support and work with social entrepreneurs building early-stage ventures.
Catalyst Grants are three-year grants, distributing $25,000 in year one, $15,000 in year two and $10,000 in year three. These grants are for organizations that have demonstrated some success with their models and are ready to work at a broader level by scaling or deepening their programs. Catalyst Grants are focused on organizations with an annual budget of less than $500,000, but groups with budgets of up to $1 million are eligible.
It is our hope that Catalyst Grants truly serve as a catalyst for organizations ready to scale, which our foundation views as critical to long-term change. Although the funds are for general operating expenses, we encourage these organizations to invest in expanding and deepening their programs in a self-sustaining way.
By allocating a large proportion of our annual grantmaking budget to a few nonprofits through our Catalyst Grants, we aim to have a more meaningful impact on our Catalyst partner organizations and the issue areas in which they work. Sourcing for these grants is done via our previous nonprofit partners (typically Seed grant recipients).
*This is a new process that will begin in January, 2021.
We intend to walk our talk about ending poverty from the grassroots up. Social change is not just for large foundations and robber-baron heirs anymore. We have the information, technology, and collaborative ability to create real change. From the smallest purchases we make (toilet tissue: recycled or not?) to how we spend our weekends (shopping or volunteering?), we believe our choices matter. To that end, we have created the following programs to integrate our family legacy of “philanthropy of the hands” with our grantmaking.
Our growing families learn to research causes and solutions, and to collaborate on grantmaking, at the hub of our homes—the kitchen table. Every year, each Skees family chooses a cause that best fits their family values and have greatest impact in making our world a better place. Together, they discuss, research, debate, and find a way to reach consensus on a $500 grant each year. If they pick a mission-aligned nonprofit partner, we will match their grant, for a total of $1,000. So far, these grants have further funded our mission-aligned nonprofit partners (see above); bolstered our family members’ philanthropic leadership in their local communities; and, often, wind up supporting grassroots groups in the U.S., reaching underserved youth and families, whose values closely parallel those of our global education- and job-creation partners.
Our all-volunteer family Board has designated their discretionary grants budget, for the foreseeable future, to the extended Skees family in the form of collaborative Generational Grants. These two-year grants may be designated to small nonprofits working to end poverty via education or job-creation in the U.S. or internationally and must be chosen through a Board-supervised, family-researched, vetting, and consensus process. We are excited to engage our nearly forty family members in three generations, from Dallas to Berlin, Kentucky to Korea, Hawaii to Ohio, to learn more about our mission and grantmaking process.
What are we doing with the other 95 percent? Besides operational expenses and grants that must total an annual “5 percent payout” of our corpus (our foundation’s endowment)—which we often exceed in our impatience to effect equality and prosperity everywhere and now—we have begun to shift our investments from legacy (stocks, bonds, real estate trusts, etc.) into social impact. We have chosen direct program-related investments (PRIs), debt, and equity that match our mission to end global poverty via education and job-creation, including college microloans in developing countries, water-filtration franchise jobs in East Africa, microloans and jobs in Latin America, and health education and access in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In this way, a growing percent of our corpus earns a modest financial return while directly advancing our mission. Check out our investments here; and stay tuned, because we aim to reach 100 percent before we work ourselves out of a job. In addition, 100% of our corpus is invested in ESG-screened investments.
Join us: Use your power, one dollar, one hour, one school, one village—or even one person—at a time. Together, we can.