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14 Mar 2023
To spend or not to spend - a charity's question
Many charities will be casting more than just an eye over their spending budgets as we enter the new year. The downturn in markets in 2022 will have impacted many of their investment portfolios, with most major asset classes delivering negative returns over the past 12 months. This is likely to have created funding gaps for those charities embracing a traditional CPI+ strategy given the double-digit inflation figures we have encountered.
Widening funding gaps have coincided with a cost-of-living crisis that is severely impacting many households across the UK and for most charities, their utmost priority will be to meet the demand for their services. There will be many charities that will stick to the spending plans they have committed to – reassured by the strong returns they have enjoyed for much of the past decade. Some understand that they are long-term investors and some have 'time value' because they're not looking at spending significant portions of the portfolio – rather maintaining the spending plans they already had.
On the other hand, there will be charities that won't be so sure. Notably, we are being asked more frequently by clients about the point at which they should be thinking about decreasing their spending. Our overriding message is to put the past year into perspective before taking a scythe to spending commitments.
Our overriding message is to put the past year into perspective before taking a scythe to spending commitments.
We have endured 12 months of poor investment returns but charities should be viewing spending patterns based on a 10-year investment horizon and strategy.
Whilst the current economic environment remains fraught with uncertainty and many challenges lie ahead but markets are arguably providing investors with a smidgeon more clarity than they were six months ago. The same cannot be said for charities, with the cost-of-living crisis set to worsen in the coming months. The cost of Christmas is still being felt, food prices are rising and energy bills remain high. Let's not forget that many homeowners will soon be adjusting to mortgage rates that are more than double what they have been used to.
At a recent Investec charity conference, guest speaker Allison Taylor, the CEO of CAF Bank, suggested that charities needing to find extra money should look at their budget first. "Look at what you're spending your money on and see where you can adapt," she told the audience. Later, some attendees said to me that though her advice was obvious they doubted whether many charities had actually done that.
Some charities may not need to cut spending or seek efficiencies – but from an investment view, they should focus on the long-term and on staying the course. They need to keep talking to their investment managers to ensure they are meeting the charity's investment objectives and they need to have conversations about how much they can spend. If they do need to spend more, they need to ask their manager how that will affect their portfolio – and what can be done to minimise any potential funding shortfall.
From an investment manager's view we accept, that in our world, trustees may want to keep spending the investment pot because the need for their charity's services right now is higher than the need to keep the endowment for the long term. And that's fine with us – after all, a charity's endowment can be rebuilt if need be.