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Aiming for impact

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New firm offers strategic advice to wealthy donors.

[01.12.04] — A new firm formed by a former Merrill Lynch executive aims to be a one-stop shop to help wealthy clients be more strategic in their giving.

Princeton Social Capital, based in Princeton, N.J., is targeting foundations and philanthropists with services designed to help them “be more effective in investing capital for social return in both nonprofits and for-profits,” said Curt Bassett, president and CEO.

Services the new firm will offer range from education and consulting for donors and foundations to managing foundations and grants, providing advice on social and program-related investments, and conducting research that helps donors make strategic investments and track their impact.

The firm, which initially will be staffed by seven philanthropy, legal and investment-banking professionals, lans to team up with a New York City-based software-maker to develop web-based products to manage foundations, said Bassett, who was director of foundation and strategic philanthropy at Merrill Lynch.

Princeton Social Capital, which also will contract with faculty and students at Princeton University and other schools to conduct research, is backed by a group of private social investors and chaired by Joe Long, retired chairman of Norwest Banks Texas.

A key market for Princeton Social Capital will be community foundations, which Bassett said have the potential to become a “centralized service bureau” for philanthropists in their communities.

A key strategy, he said, will be to help donors and foundations invest both in nonprofit and for-profit organizations to “maximize social return.”

The firm, for example, will help clients identify for-profit businesses that have both a financial and social “bottom line,” and in which they can invest their portfolios for market-rate returns, or their grant dollars through “program-related investments” for below-market returns.

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