Program-related investments (PRIs) allow private foundations to move beyond grant-making and provide a way for private foundations to make impact investments, which generate social impact as well as financial return.
PRIs are a statutorily defined exception in the Internal Revenue Code to the rules prohibiting private foundations from making “jeopardizing investments.” PRIs can take many forms, including loans, equity investments, bank deposits, and guarantees. The primary purpose for making a PRI must be to accomplish a charitable purpose, with financial gain being a secondary purpose. PRIs are a powerful tool to complement grant-making in achieving an organization’s impact goals.
PRIs bring private sector discipline to social ventures, often enabling recipient organizations to prove the validity of their business model. They are particularly useful when grants alone are not enough to bring a solution to scale, or when an infusion of capital is needed to jumpstart or grow a social enterprise.
By providing this kind of investment capital to nonprofits and for-profits, foundations can fuel innovation, promote sustainability, and address persistent social and environmental challenges. And foundations that make PRIs are able to tolerate significantly greater levels of risk when compared to commercial investors – meaning foundations are able to fund organizations when and in ways the private sector cannot.
While PRIs have existed, per regulatory definition, since 1969, the field has grown and evolved significantly over the last two decades. The total dollar amount foundations invested in PRIs grew by a factor of ten between 1990 and 2015—currently, more than $1.3 billion is invested in PRIs.
Our Approach: The Rockefeller Foundation and PRIs
The Rockefeller Foundation has been making PRIs, on a formal basis, since 1997. Our current portfolio includes direct investments, mostly in the form of debt, and investments into funds—equity, debt, and guarantees. Three-quarters of the transactions in our portfolio are in emerging markets.
As a pioneer and thought leader in the space, The Rockefeller Foundation has viewed its PRI portfolio as a place to further social impact in multiple ways. Specifically by:
- Testing the impact investing thesis that individual investments can achieve both social and financial returns;
- Piloting innovative financing structures to attract private sector capital to fund social, economic, and environmental issues; and
- Providing financing to test and prove economic models related to the Foundation’s initiatives—for example, Smart Power for Rural Development.
How can program-related investments help achieve social impact?
Through a program related investment (PRI), The Rockefeller Foundation supported the Peterborough SIB pilot…, Senior Associate Director, The Rockefeller Foundation