Absolute Return Magazine featured BoardAssist in a July 2007 article about hedge fund philanthropy:
MATCHING HEDGE FUND MANAGERS WITH NONPROFIT BOARDS
There are lots of opportunities, beyond simply writing a check, for hedge fund executives to get involved in philanthropy. Serving on a nonprofit’s board of directors is an obvious path to engagement, but it’s a path that may be difficult to follow without help.
Enter BoardAssist, a nonprofit that places high-impact board members in the nonprofit community. Founded in 2001, the New York-based group has traditionally worked to place executives on Wall Street with organizations that are meaningful to them. But as the hedge fund industry’s talent pool and influence balloons, BoardAssist is stepping up its outreach efforts to this corner of the alternatives industry.
Hedge fund executives are known as much for their munificence as for their reputation for bringing a laser-like focus to achieve tangible results. For BoardAssist founder Cynthia Remec, the latter quality is far more compelling. “The intellectual capital is the gift,” says Remec. “We are not looking to find candidates who are going to act as ATM machines on the nonprofit boards where we place them.”
Remec, a former Wall Street recruiter and corporate lawyer, says hedge fund managers tend to bring an intense work ethic and bottom-line single-mindedness. Her goal is to match the candidate with the nonprofit that is both the best cultural fit and that best meets both parties’ needs.
For example, BoardAssist recently placed Timothy Wilson, chief risk officer for $14 billion Caxton Associates, on the board of the African Medical Research and Education Foundation. AMREF conducts research and provides education to combat malaria and other health concerns in southern and eastern Africa.
Wilson’s interest in improving health and welfare in economically disadvantaged countries can be traced to his childhood experiences. His father was a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department, and as a boy he saw a broad swath of the world, having lived in the Bahamas, France, Haiti, Jamaica, Vietnam and Taiwan.
This spring, Wilson attended the organization’s 50th anniversary in Nairobi, Kenya. The trip impressed on him the urgency of AMREF’s mission. In western Kenya, says Wilson, “Many people, even now, aren’t sure that mosquitoes are the means of transmission of malaria.” Some believe the disease stems from other causes, like certain foods. AMREF is educating local volunteers who then meet with families to explain how malaria is transmitted and the necessity of using bed nets and other forms of malaria prevention.
“It was really helpful to me to be on the ground and see how the activities of AMREF were making a difference in people’s lives,” says Wilson, who now sits on AMREF’s finance and audit committee. “The gulf in terms of standard of living between our lives and those in rural Kenya is tremendous, and that’s the sobering aspect. The positive aspect is that such a modest effort on our part can very concretely improve and extend the lives of so many people in Africa.”
And elsewhere in this same article…..
Not surprising for people whose success is driven by a relentless focus on performance, hedge fund philanthropists stand out in that they strive to put their money and time into projects that are measurable and scalable – and ones where they can have direct involvement in their creation and oversight. “There has been a major increase in hedge fund philanthropy, both in terms of quantity, and more important, quality,” says Cynthia Remec, founder of BoardAssist, a group that helps nonprofits find qualified board members…..
Even if hedge fund managers fund a wide range of causes, there seems to be strong consensus around at least one goal: Improving education. Of the top 25 hedge fund foundations, 14 list education as a primary mission, according to an analysis by Absolute Return. “Hedge fund and financial services executives are very interested in job skills for adults, and very, very interested in education,” says BoardAssist’s Remec. “A lot of them came from a modest background and credit their education for helping them achieve what they have.”…..
Whereas the wealthy, generally speaking, may distribute contributions of time and money more broadly, hedge fund moguls are often more focused. “Hedge fund foundations don’t just give their money away and then do two site visits a year. They want to be involved in a much more hands-on way,” says BoardAssist’s Remec. “That mentality trickles down to individual board members, too. They don’t want to write five separate checks to five separate organizations. They want to write one much bigger check to a single foundation.”
BoardAssist’s Remec notes that hedge fund executives are much more focused on getting a “return on their time investment.” Instead of volunteering for two hours a month to serve soup at a soup kitchen, a hedge funder may try to use his time more efficiently, say by reviewing a foundation’s portfolio allocation. At least one hedge fund executive Remec placed has done just that. By repositioning one foundation’s investment portfolio, the hedge funder was able to boost annual returns on the foundation’s $15 million in assets by 4 percentage points, providing an additional annuity of $600,000. “That $600,000 could buy a lot of staff time to serve food to needy New Yorkers,” Remec says.