Heron began as a grantmaker in 1992 and has continued to issue grants since then. If you would like to learn more about the early focus of the foundation, you can find more information here. It didn’t take long to realize that it would take more than our own endowment to address poverty in a meaningful way. That is why we began mission investing over a decade ago, which you can read about here. Below, we discuss the evolution of Heron and how we operate today.
For years, Heron has aligned an increasing portion of its assets with mission. Until relatively recently (2011), we were investing in programs and organizations that were meant to connect people and communities in need with a main stream that, if it could be entered, would flow steadily toward fair opportunity, employment and with them, steady income. We funded home ownership, education, access to credit and similar programs in service to this assumption.
After the economic crash of 2008, and the financial crisis that followed, we reassessed. In 2011, following a strategic review, we came to believe that in the United States, poverty had become structural, and the reliable opportunity that was a cornerstone of our national promise was available to fewer and fewer of us. And while the programs we had funded for years were important and necessary, they were not sufficient. We were winning battles, but not the war. The world had changed.
The urgency and size of the job of shifting an economy to greater accessibility and fairness required a full-on approach.
We fundamentally altered our strategy to focus primarily on investing in enterprises that create reliable income streams for people striving to get out of poverty. We also looked to invest in organizations that shifted the metrics of the economy as a whole, by measuring the positive and negative social impacts of enterprises of all sizes and kinds, as well as by providing data standards and comparability for like-minded investors and managers.
With a change of strategy came a change to Heron as an enterprise. We removed the division between the investing and the giving operations (traditional in virtually all private foundations), creating a “team of the whole” to deploy all of Heron’s capital in concert for mission. We now look to find and deploy the best combination of financial, human, knowledge and social capital within and outside our walls on behalf of enterprises allied with us. Staff members combine the skills of financial analysis, investing, research and community-building to this end and undertake initiatives focused on engagement, market segments and reinvention of the foundation's business model.