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A Valuable Visit: Au Sable’s Endowment Managers Visit Great Lakes Campus

Oct 03, 2017

In the world of high finance, managers of institutional endowments are charged with preserving an institution’s endowment capital while at the same time producing sustainable financial growth that can contribute to the organization’s ongoing work. Judged by their performance in these areas, endowment managers sometimes never actually see the work their client organizations are doing, or where they are doing it. The Au Sable Institute intentionally changed that relationship with its own endowment manager, Colleen Chandler of RMB Capital, and her associate Andy Park, by arranging a visit for them to Au Sable’s Great Lakes Campus during an important event in the life of the Institute, a Symposium of Recognition for Founding Executive Director Dr. Cal DeWitt and Au Sable’s Annual Alumni and Friends Reunion (see “A Great Celebration: Au Sable Community Honors Founding Executive Director Dr. Cal DeWitt” here). Responding to the invitation of Dr. Fred Van Dyke, Au Sable’s current Executive Director, Colleen and Andy made the six-hour drive from their Lake Forest (Chicago), Illinois office to the wild woods of northern Michigan, and were surprised at what they found.

“We came to Mancelona, MI to learn about Au Sable and we came away truly inspired by the Institute’s mission to educate, serve, protect and grow. In many respects, this too is our mission as investment managers of the endowed funds. Cal Dewitt used the term ‘guardener’ to describe environmental stewardship and I think it is also a fitting word for our work as Au Sable’s portfolio manager,” shared Colleen. Thanks to the careful management of Colleen and her colleagues at RMB, the Au Sable endowment has not only grown in monetary value, but is increasingly invested in companies and funds that are developing sustainable solutions to energy production, agriculture, and business systems. Under Colleen’s leadership, the Au Sable endowment not only invests in socially responsible companies and funds (a strategy often referred to as “negative screening” because it is defined by what a company does not do) but also follows a strategy of “impact investing,” selecting investments in which companies act in ways that actively promote positive social and environmental change. In the latter strategy, managers like Colleen look for companies which may enjoy competitive advantages as a result of environmentally-efficient design or manufacturing, or that offer products or services that address environmental problems. As a result, Au Sable’s investments yield gains from companies like Tesla that are now producing electric cars. In all of these efforts, there is deliberate intent to make the Au Sable endowment not just a source of institutional income, but an active force in advancing Au Sable’s mission to inspire and educate people to serve, protect, and restore God’s earth. As Executive Director Fred Van Dyke explains, “We want the entire Au Sable community to understand that we are now intentionally using Au Sable’s endowment to advance, support and be consistent with the work of Au Sable itself. When people give to Au Sable, sometimes gifts are used for endowment growth. But that’s not just a financially prudent decision. That’s a way of using some gifts to advance environmental change and business solutions that support them.”   

Both Colleen and Andy were impressed by what they learned about Au Sable’s work during their visit. Andy explained, “We witnessed the Doxology sung joyfully while standing in the Jordan River, we were taught about the dent-de-lion and the grass of Parnassus and were fed by the passion of the administration, professors, and students of Au Sable.” The visit included the opportunity to hear Cal DeWitt and other speakers describe the history and work of the Institute, participation with students in a study of the ecology of the National Scenic River, the Jordan, about 35 minutes from the Institute, and an opportunity to meet with Au Sable’s Board of Trustees to explain and discuss current investment performance and strategies. As Board Chair Dr. Robert Zwier noted “The Board’s meeting with Colleen and Andy was a great opportunity not only to see the significant endowment growth in the last year but also to understand and explore investment strategies that are consistent with Au Sable’s passion for sustainability. Getting to know the investment managers personally enriches the Board’s ongoing analysis of investment results and strategies.”

Going forward, Colleen and Andy will have a deeper appreciation, and personal experience with how Au Sable is engaged in delivering its mission to inspire and educate people to serve, protect and restore God’s earth. And the Au Sable trustees and staff will have the opportunity for more intentional and effective collaboration with Colleen and Andy in the development of the Institute’s financial resources. “It was a great visit,” noted Executive Director Fred Van Dyke, “and now Colleen and Andy know how to get here. We hope to have them back again soon. They will always be welcome on any occasion.” Colleen and Andy, thanks for coming! We look forward to making a difference together through wise investment and stewardship of the Au Sable endowment.