What Drives Outperformance at Endowments & Foundations?

A new study has found “no ‘systematic evidence’ that funds with dedicated CIOs perform any better than endowments without dedicated CIOs.” This according to a recent article in Institutional Investor.

The study, which “examined characteristics linked to higher returns at nonprofit endowment funds,” also found that compensation for CIOs was unrelated to returns. What does matter, however, is fund size: Endowment funds larger than $100 million on average delivered net annual returns of 7.6 percent, while fund under $1 million fund earned 3.8 percent annually. The difference, the study found, was almost entirely driven by asset allocation decisions, with larger endowments and foundations tending to invest more in “riskier, higher-returning assets.”

The researchers also found that expenses and governance structures drove performance, with independent boards linked to higher returns and higher administrative and travel expenses associated with poorer performance.

Although CIO compensation did not seem to impact fund performance, the study found that compensation for nonprofit CEOs, officers and directors had strong positive correlation with endowment returns. The study also found that health care and hospital funds showed weaker performance than foundations focused on the arts, the environment, and human services.