Risk Management Major Focus for Nonprofits

November 9, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The largest single investment risk cited by nonprofit representatives surveyed was overreaction to short-term events, cited by 58%.

A Mercer Hammond survey of 80 U.S. fiduciaries and board members, representing endowments and foundations, nonprofit health care and large private wealth funds, found the next highest risk was assuming that the future will be much like the pastthe so-called “Black Swan” eventcited by nearly 20% of those surveyed. Overestimating the ability to gauge risk was cited by 10%, while relatively few respondents felt that misalignment of incentives for investment managers or career risk associated with not following the pack represented a serious risk.       

Nonprofit organizations place a high value on capital preservation. Nearly half the respondents said their largest concern, when thinking about investment risk, was fear of losing money. Overall market volatility ranked second, cited by about one-quarter of the respondents, with an overheated market and high valuations, along with event uncertainty, cited by remaining respondents.  

Those surveyed identified the continued political and fiscal gridlock in the U.S. as the No. 1 concern in the global markets, outranking the European debt crisis or slowing economic growth in China.  

Survey respondents had an ambivalent attitude toward investment in Europe. On the one hand, one-third of the fiduciaries surveyed feel that equity valuations in Europe are simply too attractive to ignore. On the other hand, 40% of those surveyed by Mercer Hammond want their global equity managers to tactically reduce their exposure to the euro, either through asset allocation or the use of currency hedging.  

Mercer acquired Hammond Associates, an investment consultant for endowments, foundations and the private wealth and health care markets, in 2010 (see “Mercer to Acquire Foundations and Endowments Consultant”).