July 23, 2007

Defending Robin Hood Foundation's Investments

WWRHD — What would Robin Hood do?

People are asking that question after a charity named after the hero of Sherwood Forest — the Robin Hood Foundation, in New York — announced last week that it would no longer invest in hedge funds run by board members and donors, a practice that had been criticized by members of Congress.

While the lawmakers said that allowing board members and contributors to benefit from the group’s investments was helping the rich and hurting the poor — the opposite of what the Robin Hood legend stands for they said — many philanthropy observers disagree.

“The original Robin Hood, as we all know, took from the rich to give to the poor. Modern day Robin Hood takes from the rich, gives to the poor, invests and grows the funds for the poor, then reinvests and makes the rich richer. Now that’s an adventure,” writes Lucy Bernholz, a nonprofit consultant, on her blog Philanthropy 2173.

Robert Frank, a Wall Street Journal reporter, writes on the newspaper’s Wealth Report blog that while legitimate concerns have been raised about the massive salaries and tax breaks received by hedge-fund managers, “the attacks on the Robin Hood investments miss the mark.”

The investment practice has helped Robin Hood increase its assets from $20-million to $144-million in less than 10 years, outpacing the average rate of growth for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index he writes. “How is that bad for the poor New Yorkers whom the charity aims to help?” he asks.

Read The Chronicle‘s article about the origins of the Robin Hood Foundation and other charitable work by hedge-fund managers.

What do you think? Is the nonprofit group embodying Robin Hood’s ideals? Has the criticism been overblown or is it a positive step that the charity has stopped the investment practice? Click on the comments link below to share your thoughts.