(Crain’s Chicago Business, 07 May 2007) 

WHY WE SHOULD WATCH HER: Her success in the financial markets determines whether charitable organizations, from international human rights programs to juvenile justice initiatives, continue to be funded.

CROSSROAD: Amid high turnover at Ameritech Corp., she stayed at the company from 1987 to 2000, moving to different investment divisions such as capital markets and risk management as colleagues left. That gave her the range of experience she needed to become a chief investment officer.

Susan Manske loves the intellectual challenge of investing. And she’s good at it, which is why more forests in Latin America are being saved and more human rights initiatives in Africa are getting funded.

Since Ms. Manske joined the MacArthur Foundation four years ago, her team’s investments have increased the foundation’s endowment to $6 billion from $3.8 billion in 2003, at an average 19% annual gain. That beats the Standard & Poor 500’s average annual gain of 13% over the same period.

Foundations are required to give away 5% of their assets every year, so by increasing assets by $2.2 billion, Ms. Manske’s team generated an additional $110 million for good works. This year, for example, MacArthur will give $5.5 million — $1 million more than last year — to 180 local arts organizations, including the Art Institute and Northlight Theatre.

“I strongly believe that teams with diverse skills — the fixed-income person, the equity person, the private-companies person — generate better ideas than individuals do,” says Ms. Manske, who supervises 11 people. “We’re long-term investors with a globally diversified portfolio.”

Previously chief investment officer of trust investments for Chicago-based Boeing Co., Ms. Manske, 48, has applied an investment formula that has beaten most major charities for the past four years. In 2005, MacArthur’s 15.5% rate of return was higher than 61 of the 64 non-profits surveyed by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, beating both the Rockefeller Foundation (12%) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (5.2%).

For non-profits, getting good returns isn’t easy, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Non-profit organizations have to protect their assets and not invest in anything too risky,” she says. “There are rules that govern how foundations need to be prudent investors. On the other hand, if you don’t invest aggressively enough, you don’t have enough money to give away.”

Talk about pressure: If Ms. Manske doesn’t make the right choices, millions of dollars for charity disappear. When MacArthur had lower returns in the early 2000s, it avoided a dramatic dip in grant-making by spending more than the required 5% of its endowment, but couldn’t give extra support to some deserving programs.

©2007 by Crain Communications Inc.