"There is no such thing to my mind as an innocent stockholder. He may be innocent in fact, but socially he cannot be held innocent. He accepts the benefits of the system. It is his business and his obligation to see that those who represent him carry out a policy which is consistent with the public welfare."
— Louis Brandeis
There are several forms of shareholder engagement that endowments can undertake to address material investment risks, improve corporate sustainability performance and support policies that move society towards sustainability. These include:
How (Mutual) Fund Families Support ESG-Related Shareholder Proposals , Morningstar, February 2020.
Morningstar research takes a look at the proxy voting record of 50 major mutual fund families and find that support for ESG shareholder proposals has been on the rise over the 5 years from 2015 through 2019. The report also provides the 10 firms most likely to support these proposals and the 10 least likely to support the proposals.
Investors Overwhelmingly Oppose SEC’s Move to Restrict Shareholder Rights, Timothy Smith, Boston Trust Walden and Susana McDermott, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, February 2020
As of the February 3 deadline, more than 14,000 comment letters have been filed and listed on the SEC’s website on the SEC’s proposed amendments to restrict shareholder proposals, including from more than 31 asset managers, 7 pension funds, 73 faith-based groups, 60 prominent scholars, 9 state or local government officials, 2 unions and several thousand individual investors. Numerous investor groups also filed letters including Council of Institutional Investors, US SIF, ICCR, PRi and the Shareholder Rights Group.
An Overview of Shareholder Engagement Approaches and Issues for Endowments
IEN Webinar: Proxy Voting and Shareholder Engagement for Endowments, February 2017
IEN Webinar Introduction to Proxy Voting, July 2016
Proxy voting can be a powerful tool for improving corporate performance on social and environmental sustainability issues to enhance long-term value. Increasingly, stakeholders are calling for endowments to be more active owners, and many argue that doing so is a responsibility of fiduciaries. This webinar provides a basic overview of proxy voting, including:
A recap of the 2016 proxy season (what were the big issues and results?)
Mechanics of how to vote proxies (how do we do it?)
Effectiveness of proxy voting (what impact does it have on companies and society?)
Proxy voting by external managers (how can we have a say in proxy voting if we don’t own the shares directly?)
🔐Endowment proxy voting policies, principles, and activities
The Intentional Endowments Network's "Engaging Investment Managers on Proxy Voting & Other Forms of Shareholder Engagement" document outlines potential questions for investment managers on their proxy voting and other shareholder engagement activities around ESG. To signal your endowment’s commitment to sustainability, your institution can share a list of questions, such as the one provided below, with both managers and advisors. Sharing your questions and interest in writing at the beginning of the dialogue will allow your managers and advisors an opportunity to prepare for an informed conversation on engagement.
The 2018 Asset Manager Climate Scorecard provides information on how fund managers voted on a number of climate- and governance-related resolutions.
Ceres tracks shareholder resolutions filed by their investor network participants on sustainability-related issues that companies are facing, focusing on climate change, energy, water scarcity, and sustainability reporting. On Ceres' website, you can sort resolutions by filer, company, issue and more, and get information about the resolution, including full resolution text, status, vote count and supporting memos: Ceres' Shareholder Resolutions Database.
PRI's Collaboration Platform: is a private platform for PRI signatories to collaborate and enhance their impact on a range of global engagement initiatives including invitations to sign joint letters to companies, opportunities to join investor-company engagements on specific ESG themes and requests for support for upcoming shareholder resolutions.
Investor groups coordinate public statements or letters in support of various initiatives or policies related to sustainability, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and other materials investment considerations. An updated list of ongoing sign on opportunities are available here.