Skip to content

Enhancing institutional governance: Avoiding common pitfalls to empower the investment committee and strengthen spending policies

*This is the final installment in a three-part series focused on the attributes and benefits of effective institutional governance. *


The investment committee plays a crucial role within any organization entrusted with managing assets. As fiduciaries, committee members carry the weight of both legal and ethical duties, ensuring the organization's best interests are always front and center. This role, crucial as it is, comes with its own set of challenges, especially in the face of board and committee changes.

A universal goal among endowments, irrespective of their size, is the dual objective of providing immediate financial support while also funding future endeavors. This balancing act is made possible through a thoughtfully defined spending policy, which outlines how much of the portfolio can be distributed and how often. Such policies typically require investments to be strategically positioned to outperform inflation. To quote Yale's Nobel Laureate James Tobin: "The trustees of endowed institutions are the guardians of the future against the claims of the present. Their task is to preserve equity among generations." Achieving this balance requires a nuanced approach and adherence to best practices in investment committee governance.

Recognizing and Rectifying Decision-Making Pitfalls

The path to effective governance has many pitfalls. Decision-making can be hindered by indecisiveness, a lack of accountability, or the undue influence of a few dominant personalities, often colored by their biases. It falls upon board leadership to recognize and rectify these issues to foster a more functional committee environment.

Addressing Conflicts of Interest

Another significant hurdle is the potential conflict of interest among committee members, which can negatively impact investment outcomes, especially when personal gains from committee positions come into play. A robust conflict-of-interest policy is important for maintaining trust and ensuring the committee's decisions align with the organization's overarching goals.

Avoiding Recency Bias and Strategy Abandonment

One of the most critical missteps is abandoning a well-conceived investment strategy following a period of underperformance, leading to the all-too-common error of overemphasizing short-term results. Doing so leads to terminating and adding investment positions at sub-optimal times: selling low and buying high. This recency bias, or the overemphasis on recent performance, can derail long-term investment objectives.

Focusing on Controllable Factors

Committees may also fall into the trap of overanalyzing uncontrollable factors, such as market fluctuations or the economic landscape, diverting attention from the core principles that determine investment success. Essential elements such as asset allocation, risk diversification, expense control, and a long-term investment horizon lay the groundwork for favorable outcomes. Asset allocation, in particular, plays a pivotal role in determining returns, emphasizing the need to prioritize portfolio composition based on strategic considerations rather than the allure of particular asset classes or managers boasting recent top performance. This focus helps avoid the familiar hazard of investing too heavily in asset classes with favorable recent performance.

Embracing a Disciplined Approach

Embracing a disciplined approach to broad diversification and cost minimization is crucial for effective fiduciary risk management, ensuring that a significant portion of the portfolio remains available for future compounding and growth.


Empowering an effective investment committee requires recognizing and avoiding common pitfalls while also embracing a disciplined approach to governance and spending policies. By addressing these challenges head-on and maintaining a strategic focus, institutions can achieve their dual objectives of supporting current needs while safeguarding future opportunities. This comprehensive approach to institutional governance ensures a sustainable path forward, securing both immediate and long-term goals.

The content in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as personalized investment advice.