One month on: Key takeaways from our charity property conference with Withersworldwide.

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Last month we held a charity property conference alongside Withersworldwide at its City hub, 20 Old Bailey; an afternoon full of compelling discussion and fresh perspectives on a wide range of topics, all centred on the theme of property development and investment for charities and endowments.

Following a warm welcome from Jeremy Wakeham, CEO of Withersworldwide’s business division, we began several interesting panel discussions.

The first looked at the green agenda, where our Managing Partner Rob West featured as a panel speaker.

Currently, only a limited number of charities are required to report their environmental impact, however, as ESG regulations tighten across sectors, discussion centred around the data-driven and practical steps charities can take to get ahead of the curve.                         

A key takeaway from this discussion was that for charities with operational or investment properties, collecting and getting clued up on data about their carbon footprint is key to empowering them to make green choices.

Additionally, the panel discussed how climate risk is now increasingly becoming a financial risk which charities and endowments cannot afford to ignore. As Rob West put it, “you cannot manage what you cannot measure”. This reminder rang especially true as the panellists agreed that mandatory reporting is likely to be enforced across the sector in the near future.   

Aside from environmental responsibility, conversation also tackled the ‘S’ in ESG. As socially focused organisations with people at their core, social impact remains paramount to a charity’s work in the built environment. The panel emphasised that a harmonious relationship between a charity’s property and the people it serves remains key to its success.

The second panel of the afternoon looked at the opportunities within property investment for charities. Chaired by Clearbell’s Senior Partner Manish Chande, the discussions provided ample ground to explore, given the financial, identity and behaviour challenges that charities face in the real estate sector. 

A key point for consideration was the ethical responsibilities that charities face in property and our panellists agreed that charities should ensure the investments they make align with the purpose of the charity and interests of their beneficiaries.

This panel covered a broad range of topics, from investment in real estate, to government legislation, inflation and the communications challenges surrounding charity funding. Amongst a plethora of opinions and viewpoints, all agreed that endowments and charities can and will play a central role in the property sector going forward.  

As an experienced advisor, with a background in overseeing numerous outsourced portfolios from charities and endowments, Manish steered important discussion about the issues that can arise from these collaborations. In particular, the panel explored how these functions work to improve time and resource efficiency, while also evaluating the nuanced approach that this type of investment necessitates.

While all contended with the issues of tax rules and complex ethical considerations that arise in charity investment when compared with traditional investments, the panellists agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each panellist’s attitude was moulded by their asset base, risk appetite and their charity’s unique priorities and circumstances.

Finally, we rounded out the day with a chat about flexible working and the future of the office. This session examined the changes to office culture in recent years, specifically how this has impacted the charity sector. By bringing together the expertise of property investors and managers, and figures from the charity sector, this conversation put charity work into the context of office property trends, pushing for more charities to undertake strategic reviews of their operational real estate. 

Manish Chande, Senior Partner at Clearbell said: “It was a privilege to take part in a day of engaging discussion, centred around charity investment and endowments in the built environment. With insight from the team at Withersworldwide and other expert industry voices, we were able to cut to the core of how we can best deliver charity development in a way that both champions sustainability whilst still ensuring strong returns.”

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