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How One Congregation Got Started in Socially Responsible Investing
Finance for Congregations, Financial Investment for Congregations, Corporate Responsibility, Socially Responsible Investing

First Parish in Cambridge (Unitarian Universalist)

By Jennifer Griffith, member and former Chair of the Investment Committee at First Parish, Cambridge, MA, from Remarks at a Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Workshop on Global Justice, Corporate Accountability and Responsible Investors, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly—June 28, 2003

I just recently stepped down as Chair of the Investment Committee at First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have been asked to tell the story of how First Parish in Cambridge moved to a socially responsible investing approach.

In 1994 the Committee hired a traditional investment firm to manage the endowment. At that time we requested that the manager only buy stocks and bonds from companies in the Domini Social Equity fund—a very easy way to be at least minimally socially responsible.

Through my own (limited) investing in the Domini Social Equity fund I was aware of the range of SRI activities occurring and some of the investment management firms on the forefront.

Periodically over the years I brought up the idea of changing investment managers, but received a lukewarm response because most everyone felt that:

  • our only duty was investment performance
  • the investment manager we had was doing a good enough job
  • change would require a lot of our time.

However, also over the years:

  • the bank had merged and then merged again, so it was now a huge corporation
  • the investment climate changed
  • we added some new members to the Investment Committee.

I recently asked our investment manager if we could obtain information about:

  • how our shares were voted on shareholder resolutions (not easily, but could be done if we really, really wanted this information)
  • if there was any way we could have input into how they voted our shares (NO)—the only way would be to vote all our shares ourselves—just not practical for us to do.

The committee did not like those answers, especially considering our shares were probably not being voted the way we would want. We were finally ready for a change!

Committee members obtained information about firms that they knew of, and then decided on two firms to interview—and guess what? The financial performance of the investments they manage was similar to, or even a bit better, than what our endowment had experienced. We just hired one of the main SRI firms.

Now the sky’s the limit!

  • Just by moving our investments to an SRI firm, First Parish in Cambridge is now supporting efforts to affect real change and our proxies are finally being voted the way we would want them to be!
  • Our church also now has the opportunity to act proactively and develop our own issue focus and shareholder resolutions, if we choose to take advantage of this service. This is up to the church as a whole and we are just beginning the process of educating the congregation.
  • Initially we are using the UUA’s investment screening criteria, but again will be engaging to congregation to determine if anything should be changed.

In conclusion, you can get your congregation engaged in socially responsible investing by asking questions about your church’s investments—are they really reflecting our UU values?

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