The Foundation’s assets are invested in a balanced fund managed by Fiera Capital. Our approach to investing is based on the words of the New Creed:
“We are called to be the church:
To live with respect in creation;
To love and serve others;
To seek justice and resist evil”
These words guide our actions as people of The United Church in so many ways. Since its creation, the Foundation has striven to ensure that the funds we are entrusted with are invested in a way that is consistent with both the values and mission of the Church, and the fiduciary responsibilities of the trustees of the funds.
We are so grateful for the generosity of the people of the church –both those past, present, and those planning for the future who have contributed to funds that support the work of the church and that are gifts from generous United Church people and organizations. It is our responsibility to be faithful stewards of those resources. Being faithful stewards is more than ensuring financial returns – it is about caring for all of creation and all our relations.
United Church Stewardship of Funds
The United Church of Canada has three national investment bodies: the Treasury Fund of General Council, The United Church of Canada Foundation, and the Pension Plan of The United Church of Canada. A separate Investment Committee comprised of expert volunteers advises each. Both the Pension Plan and the Foundation have separate boards with separate board member/trustee fiduciary duty obligations. The Treasury Fund is most directly accountable the General Council and its Executive.
The national investment bodies operate within the legal framework for investment by charities and pension funds. They owe certain fiduciary and other duties to their beneficiaries. Each national investment body endorses an approach to responsible investing that includes the incorporation of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into their investment policy guidelines and proxy voting policy guidelines based on the sole purpose of the financial best interest of participants and members.
The national investment bodies see the growing importance of responsible investing as affirmation of our belief that corporate responsibility and long-term performance are not mutually exclusive but are complementary. Responsible investing reflects our central goal of providing returns aligned with values. We embrace responsible investment (RI) in our investment strategies because it is an integral element of sustainable business practices and ultimately, long-term profitability.
The national investment bodies are signatories and/or members of various bodies that encourage institutional investors to act as good stewards of their members’ capital through the integration of ESG factors and active ownership (monitoring, engagement, and voting) practices. The Treasury Fund and the Pension Board are both signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI); the Foundation is in agreement with but not a signatory to UNPRI. Under the UNPRI, institutional investors pledge to incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes, and to be active owners, across all asset classes. Participation in the public policy process is encouraged by UNPRI, which asks for investor commitment to promote implementation of the principles, including action to “support regulatory or policy developments that enable implementation of the principles.”
The national investment bodies support that
• responsible investing is a positive force influencing corporate behaviour through encouraging responsible actions;
• responsible investment is more than negative screening;
• engagement can be a powerful tool to change corporate behaviour;
• promoting ESG issues in the companies in which we invest serves both parts of our mandate: to generate good financial returns while honouring the values of the organization we serve and the denomination.
The national investment bodies use engagement to encourage companies to improve their ESG practices in areas such as sustainable environmental practice; fair treatment of customers and suppliers; responsible employment practices; conscientiousness with regard to human rights; sensitivity toward the communities in which they operate; respect for free, prior, and informed consent; and best corporate governance practice. The breadth and depth of engagement is limited by the available resources and staff time that can be devoted to this activity.
The three national investment bodies have differing fiduciary obligations with respect to the adoption of investment/divestment recommendations.
The Foundation, like the Pension Plan, has its own board and is a legally separate entity from the General Council. The Foundation’s board is responsible to its donors. Any Investment/divestment proposals approved by the General Council of The United Church of Canada will be implemented by the church Treasury because any impact on investment returns will fall upon the body that proposed it. However, the other two investment bodies, The United Church of Canada Foundation and the Pension Plan, are separate entities from and are not under the authority of the General Council. The United Church does not own the funds that the Foundation and the Pension boards administer.
It is normal practice for foundations and pension funds to have independent trustees to ensure the best interests of and protect those they serve. These trustees cannot abandon prudent investment practice or engage in activities that might diminish the benefits to those in their care. As trustees, they have legal obligations to discharge their fiduciary responsibilities. They must make their own decisions to adopt or not adopt investment/divestment recommendations. In the instance of the pension fund, the Executive of the General Council serves as the administrator. This role, however, is not delegated to it by the General Council. It is an independent role bound to the fiduciary obligations described above.
Elements of Being a Responsible Investor
Many issues can be addressed comprehensively with a responsible investment framework, which guides the Foundation in being a responsible investor through the keys practices of:
• engaging Fund Managers that have strong ESG leadership and that are UN PRI signatories
• exclusionary screens that seek to limit or avoid sectors of investment due to ESG and
• ethical criteria
• strategic partnerships to engage more forcefully as socially responsible investors
The United Church of Canada has a long history of seeking a theological, social, and ecological policy base to address justice concerns. Both the church and Foundation understand that economic issues are faith concerns because they are at the heart of ensuring a dignified life for all people and living with respect in creation. Responsible investing is an investment and a theological issue, with both perspectives taken into consideration.
Historically the United Church has identified several business activities that are inconsistent with the church’s values. The Foundation has named securities of companies materially engaged in these areas as unsuitable for investment. These business activities include tobacco, gambling, adult entertainment, and antipersonnel weapons. Companies that engage in these business activities in a material way are not considered part of the national investment bodies’ direct investment universe.
Responsible Investment Reference Group (RIRG)
The Executive of the General Council formed the Responsible Investment Reference Group (RIRG) to support investment bodies in matters of responsible investment and the implementation of their responsible investment policies. The RIRG consists of representatives of the national investment bodies and six people appointed by the Executive of the General Council who have experience related to responsible investment and corporate social responsibility and familiarity with United Church social and environmental policies and partnership practice.
The RIRG will assess requests from the General Council, the Executive of the General Council, and other courts of the church to review specific situations where there is a belief that these guiding principles are not being honoured. The RIRG has developed a framework to guide its work. The outcome of any review will be to provide the national investment bodies with an assessment of the specific situation with a proposed action. Notwithstanding any suggested action, responsibility for all investment decisions rests solely with each body within the parameters of their investment policies, fiduciary duties, and legal restrictions.
We encourage congregations, communities of faith, and United Church organizations to carefully consider their values when investing and discuss those values with the investment manager of their choice. You can visit our Investment Resources page for more information on the important things to consider when investing your organization’s assets.
Note: The Boards of Trustees of congregations are subject to provincial or territorial legislation governing Trustees. The Trustees Handbook with Concordance (2016) describes the responsibilities of Trustees with regard to investments, and offers guidelines for congregational investment policies. Trustees are encouraged to seek appropriate professional advice before making investment decisions on behalf of their congregation.