Put Your Money Where Your Values Are

Put Your Money Where Your Values Are

I’m on the board of a local nonprofit organization, where I oversee our endowment. Some of our money is invested in stocks that I find ethically dubious. It pains me that, in the service of our worthy cause, we support corporations that are contributing to the world’s problems. Yet when I raised the issue with another board member, he said I had to put our organization’s financial health first. How can I uphold my fiduciary duty to the organization while making the case to divest our endowment of these stocks?

Paul Sutherland: Many fiduciaries—even nonprofit directors who are trying to save the world or walk an ethical path with their foundations—think their endowment is only about money. When it comes to investing, they place ethics and virtue in the “sounds nice” bin. So you are not alone.

What I find interesting is the board’s idea that being unethical is supportive of good financial health. I would ask the board some very specific questions about how they believe the endowment should be managed:

•Do they want to support organizations that misrepresent their products, or are run by a management that has lied or manipulated company resources for its own gain?

•Do they want to own stock in companies that profit from manufacturing or selling products like tobacco, pornography, graphic violent video content, guns, or alcohol?

•Would they prefer to invest in companies that help build resilience and sustainability into our world, are healthy for our planet, and have a low impact on the earth’s resources?

To me, investing with values seems logical, practical, and imbued with common sense. If you believe in the law of karma, the golden rule, that ethics matter, then it follows that if a company comes from a place of unethical greed, the results will be poor. There have even been studies finding that ethical companies do better than their amoral counterparts.

For years, I’ve made spiritual jewelry for my family and friends. I’d like to take the leap and start selling my work commercially. What’s your best advice for people hoping to turn their passion into a business?

Just go for it! You will learn along the way. However, I would start by interviewing other jewelers and asking for their advice. Having lunch with four or five people in your field will be more valuable than any high-priced consultant. Ask each of the artists what they think you should do to make your business successful. Write it all down.

A final piece of advice: stop talking. Don’t tell them about your plans; you’re there to listen and learn. Then take the advice that fits, and make it
your own.

Ever since my dad died, my elderly mother has been calling a psychic in the hope of staying connected with him. The sessions do seem to give her comfort, but lately, “Dad” has started giving her advice on what to do with her money, and naturally this leaves me concerned. What can I do to protect my mother?

I would visit the psychic and talk with her about the advice she’s giving your mom. Ask her to give you references for other clients she has worked with, and find out about her training. Who are her mentors, and does she check in regularly with them? If this psychic is legit, she will be open and honest about her gifts and her training.

But whatever you find out, it still seems silly to take financial advice from a dead guy—even if it is your dad—rather than a professional.

I was born into wealth—a lot of it—and I’ll never have to work for a living. I recognize my good fortune, and yet, surrounded by so much privilege and “access” and without a meaningful calling, a lot of my peers and family members have lost themselves and self-destructed. What is your advice for avoiding those traps and living a fulfilling life?

Look for friends who are good-hearted, practical, and well grounded. Chose advisers who are seasoned, honest, practical, and down to earth; avoid the brown-nosing, obsequious, codependent yes-men and yes-women you often find orbiting the wealthy.

Poor, middle-class, and wealthy people can all fall into self-destructive behavior. Making stupid choices isn’t unique to the 1 percent, nor is “lack of fulfillment” a rich person’s disease. It is epidemic in our society.

I work with a lot of wealthy people, and I can say that I do not see any difference in my “born to wealth” clients and their sense of fulfillment. I do think that guilt, envy, comparing yourself to others, a lazy mind, and a feeling of entitlement can mess with people who have significant resources at their disposal.

You were born to affluence so that you could make a difference with your resources and talents. My advice: go use ’em. And if you’re afraid that you’re low on the talent scale, buy yourself the skills with your money, time, and effort. Then go make the world better.

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