Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good

Do you want to know the definition of social investing? Yes, Social investing, also known as “mission investing” or “Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)” in the philanthropic world, involves placing assets into investments that provide a societal or mission-related benefit in addition to a financial return

Social investing is an investment approach that considers both financial returns and positive social/environmental impact. It aims to support solutions for sustainability challenges while providing competitive financial performance.

I first learned about social investing when my niece’s elementary school installed solar panels funded by an impact investing initiative. Seeing the children learn about renewable energy while their school’s electricity bills dropped thanks to the new panels showed me first-hand how we can do well financially while doing good for society. I was curious to learn more.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll clearly explain everything you need to know about social investing: from its explosive growth and far-reaching benefits to practical strategies for aligning your money with your values. Read on to learn how you too can become an “impact investor” by using your capital as a catalyst for change.

Let’s dive in.

Definition Of Social Investing?

So what does social investing actually entail? Simply put, it’s an investment strategy that:

  • Considers both financial returns and positive social/environmental impact when selecting investments
  • Aims to support solutions for sustainability challenges like climate change and social injustice
  • Intentionally directs capital towards companies demonstrating social/environmental responsibility

The key difference from traditional investing lies in the intent to make money and make a difference. By aligning your capital with your personal values, you become an “impact investor” – empowered to drive transformative change through your financial decisions.

While terminology varies, common types of social investing include:

  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI): The broadest approach, using investment screens to avoid harmful industries and favor ethical companies
  • ESG Investing: Analyzing environmental, social, and governance factors alongside financial metrics
  • Impact Investing: Targeted investments aiming to generate positive, measurable impact + financial returns

Regardless of the approach, creating both financial value and social value guide all social investment strategies.

Social Investing Key TermsDefinition
Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)Using values-based screens/criteria to pick ethical investments and avoid objectionable industries
ESG InvestingAnalyzing a company’s environmental, social, and governance practices alongside financial factors to evaluate investment potential
Impact InvestingSeeking targeted investments that aim to generate positive social/environmental impact alongside financial returns

5 Key Drivers Behind the Rise of Social Investing

Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good
Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good

Several powerful forces are fueling tremendous growth in social investing:

1. Growing Investor Demand for Values Alignment

Surveys show a strong preference among Millennials and Gen Z investors to align portfolios with personal values. Seeking meaning beyond money, they favor companies acting responsibly towards society and the environment.

2. Mainstream Embrace of Sustainability

Issues like climate change and social injustice now dominate public discourse and consumer consciousness. People seek out brands advancing sustainable solutions – and investors want portfolios that mirror these values.

3. Strong Performance of Sustainable Funds

Contrary to popular belief, sustainable investment funds often match or outperform conventional counterparts, attracting investors seeking both impact and returns.

4. Tech Increasing Accessibility

Advances in technology and online investment platforms have democratized access to social investing, allowing small retail investors to participate.

5. Supportive Governmental Regulations

Policy initiatives around sustainability reporting and ESG disclosure further propel investors towards responsible companies with transparent, ethical practices.

As individuals and institutions wake up to sustainability, billions of dollars flow into the social investing universe each year. And that’s just the beginning!

Who Ultimately Benefits from Social Investing?

The beauty of social investing lies in its immense potential to create a positive ripple effect at scale. Everyone stands to benefit:


  • Gain fulfillment through values alignment
  • Possible competitive financial returns
  • Societal and environmental progress


  • Economic and social empowerment
  • Job creation, infrastructure, access to services
  • Local development and self-reliance


  • Scaling of renewables, clean tech, and green solutions
  • Conservation efforts and biodiversity protection
  • Climate change mitigation, reducing environmental harm

While investors enjoy the client-facing benefits, the cumulative impact of shifting billions in capital to ethical companies ultimately empowers communities and environmental efforts exponentially. Talk about a win-win!

Key Factors for Aspiring Social Investors

Ready to align your money with your values? As with any investing, establishing your goals and assessing all angles sets the foundation for success. Let’s explore key considerations:

Clarifying Your Social Investment Goals

Financial returns likely remain important – that’s reasonable! Seek a balanced “double bottom line” – competitive earnings and meaning. Studies show sustainable funds often have market-rate returns, but remember risk still exists. Gauge your expectations and risk tolerance accordingly.

Equally important, clarify the impact you wish to make. What specific issues do you want to direct capital towards? Do you care about clean energy access in developing nations? Empowering women or minority founders? Conservation of green spaces? Quantifying your values Provides clarity in selecting suitable investments to fund your vision of progress.

Selecting Causes and Companies That Resonate

Pinpointing issues you care about helps identify potential investments. For inspiration, explore resources like The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) and The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) to discover areas for impact. Both offer valuable insight into social investing best practices in driving developmental progress on societal and environmental issues.

Once you land on causes, research companies and funds targeting those specific impact areas. Read publicly available sustainability reports and impact analysis to gauge alignment with your priorities. Don’t hesitate to ask questions directly about their vision, metrics, processes and impact management methodologies. Choosing investment partners to fund your values requires diligence to ensure shared objectives. There’s so much good we can do with smart capital!

Evaluating Your Investment Options

While social investing once meant limited choice, tremendous diversification now exists across asset classes:

  • Individual Stocks: Conduct research to directly invest in companies with ethical practices
  • Mutual Funds/ETFs: Gain instant diversification into hundreds of sustainable companies
  • Impact Investing Platforms: Combine returns with funding solutions to pressing societal/environmental issues
  • Community Investing: Support job creation, access to services, and economic opportunity locally

A blended portfolio mitigates risk while allowing you to personalize strategies across issues you care about – win-win! Leading robo-advisor apps like Wealthfront and Betterment now offer this simplified access to customize and automate social investing.

Conducting Due Diligence on Impacts

Financial returns should not come at the cost of ethical compromise or “impact washing”. Rigorously investigating a company’s environmental and social practices is critical.

Tools like third party ESG ratings and comprehensive corporate sustainability reports lend credibility and transparency into measurable impact achievements. Don’t simply take claims at face value – proactively dig deeper into impact methodologies.

Constructive shareholder engagement also demonstrates commitment through actively holding companies accountable to high ethical standards.

This independent oversight encourages transparency around demonstrating social investing commitments authentically.

Exploring Your Social Investment Strategy Options

Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good
Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good

Now that you understand key considerations, let’s explore popular strategies to tangibly put your capital to work on issues you care about!

Socially Responsible Investing: Aligning Values Through Screening

Socially responsible investing (SRI) utilizes values-based investment screens to avoid objectionable companies and direct funding towards ethical alternatives. By selectively channeling capital this way, you create “demand signals” that encourage responsible corporate practices aligned with your principles.

  • Negative screens exclude investments in industries like fossil fuels, tobacco, weapons manufacturing, poor labor rights histories etc.
  • Positive screens actively seek out companies demonstrating ethical leadership on environmental, social and governance fronts. This includes renewable energy companies, sustainable agriculture firms, diversity-focused employers, community development projects and beyond.

SRI Investing Considerations

  • Define your precise exclusion/inclusion criteria
  • Leverage resources like US SIF’s “Do No Harm” framework
  • Remember screens shrink the investment universe which CAN limit diversification if overly restrictive
  • Guard against “impact washing” with proper due diligence

SRI provides a simple way to start aligning money with values. Blending negative and positive screens allows you to customize filtering of investments tailored to your vision of progress.

ESG Investing: Evaluating Holistic Business Sustainability

While SRI focuses on screening, ESG investing takes a more comprehensive approach of evaluating environmental, social and governance factors alongside financial performance to gauge a company’s sustainability.

This analysis includes metrics like:


  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Energy, water usage
  • Waste management
  • Biodiversity protection


  • Employee relations
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Community engagement
  • Human rights track record


  • Board independence and diversity
  • Executive compensation alignment
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Data privacy and security

By examining these ESG factors alongside traditional financial analysis to evaluate risk, profitability outlook, and growth prospects, investors gain a more complete picture of an organization.

Prioritizing more sustainable companies through ESG integration allows capital to serve as a catalyst for positive transformation towards ethical business practices.

ESG Investing Key Points

  • Utilize ESG data and ratings from reliable providers like Sustainalytics
  • Ensure methodology aligns with your values and priorities
  • Remember, ESG metrics evolve. Ongoing research is crucial.

Blending ESG insights with financial projections paints a fuller picture of corporate sustainability and future value creation potential.

Shareholder Advocacy: Influencing Responsible Business Practices

Beyond screening and analysis, shareholder advocacy provides another powerful lever to steer companies towards ethical practices. By constructively engaging as active owners, shareholders encourage accountability on issues like:

  • Climate strategies aligning with Paris Agreement
  • Improving diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Respecting human rights across the supply chain
  • Prioritizing data privacy and security

Filing shareholder resolutions and proxies allows investors to directly vote on company policies and leadership issues aligned with values and sustainability imperatives.

Exercising your shareholder rights keeps sustainability conversations anchored firmly at the boardroom table. It’s a common misconception that profit maximization and purpose cannot coexist. Shareholder advocacy refutes this notion by providing theTOOLS and avenue TO harmonize financial and social value creation.

Impact Investing: Capital with Intentional Impact

While the above strategies influence through screens and engagement, impact investing pursues a more direct approach – intentionally targeting measurable positive social and environmental impact alongside financial returns.

This involves directing capital specifically towards solutions tackling issues like:

  • Climate change
  • Broadening access to renewable energy
  • Empowering affordable housing
  • Advancing food security

Often through private debt or private equity structures, impact investors fund early-stage enterprises driving disruptive innovation for good. While financial returns may be below market benchmarks, some accept discounted rates in exchange for securitizing meaningful progress on causes they care about.

Others pursue market-rate or even market-beating returns using the same targeted approach. Leading impact investing funds like Calvert Impact Capital demonstrate that competitive earnings and intentional positive outcomes need not be mutually exclusive.

Key Considerations for Impact Investing

  • Understand risk-return dynamics may differ from public equities
  • Leverage resources like GIIN to source viable impact investing pipelines
  • Define targeted social/environmental objective(s) to guide investment selection

With trillions required to bridge financing gaps for achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, impact investing’s potential to channel material private capital to public good is tremendous.

Responsible Investing Platforms Simplifying Your Journey

While social investing once seemed complex, technology now democratizes values-aligned investing for even novice investors. Several leading platforms offer simplified access:

Online Investment Platforms Simplifying Sustainable Investing

Wealthfront and Betterment provide convenient access to SRI/ESG options alongside automated portfolio management for ease and diversification.

  • Fractional share investing unlocks access regardless of account size
  • Intuitive tools and dashboards track performance
  • Educational content helps investors learn sustainable investing dynamics

Catering to the conscientious investor, these platforms make social investing understandable and accessible to everyday individuals – not just institutions.

Thematic ETFs: Personalized Issue Exposure

Prefer getting more targeted exposure to specific impact areas? Thematic ETFs like iShares Global Clean Energy offer focused exposure to companies driving renewable energy innovation.

Spanning issues from electric transport to diversity and inclusion, these specialized funds allow you to handpick areas of impact while still enjoying the diversification benefits of funds.

Community Investing Platforms

Looking to drive local change? Community investing platforms funnel capital towards underserved groups, funding solutions that:

  • Create local jobs
  • Develop affordable housing
  • Support small businesses unable to access traditional credit

By directly investing in your community, your capital lifts up those around you – catalyzing grassroots impact starting right at home.

Managing Trade-Offs: Navigating Social Investing’s Nuances

Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good
Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good

While the benefits seem clear, social investing deserves nuanced evaluation like any investing approach. Consider these factors:

Potential Benefits

  • Channel capital towards solutions for issues you care about
  • Competitive risk-adjusted returns possible
  • Values alignment and societal progress

Potential Drawbacks

  • Limited universe may constrain diversification
  • Underperformance periods possible during downturns
  • Mission preservation requires proactive screening and engagement

By acknowledging these dynamics, you can caliborate appropriate expectations and tactical adjustments:

Mitigation Strategies

  • Maintain core diversified assets for stability
  • Measure success beyond just short-term financial returns
  • Focus on long-term compounding towards goals

Rather than see these as deterrents, view them as helpful considerations to craft an aligned and balanced personalized approach.

The key lies in identifying your comfort level, priorities and defining success across both financial and impact returns.

With technological advances making social investing incredibly accessible, living your values through investing continues becoming easier and easier. You truly can do well and do good – it just requires thoughtful strategy and diligent commitment.


What Is An Example Of Social Investing?

Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good
Definition Of Social Investing: Investing for Good

There are a few prime examples of social investing in action:

  • Investing in a mutual fund that screens companies for positive ESG (environmental, social, governance) practices and excludes objectionable industries like tobacco or weapons manufacturing – This utilizes values-based criteria to direct capital towards more ethical companies.
  • Providing debt financing for an affordable housing developer to construct apartments for low-income families. The combination of reasonable financial returns and measurable expansion of access to housing aligns with core social investing principles.
  • Buying shares in a publicly traded company innovating clean energy technologies like solar panels or EV batteries. Supporting the growth of renewable energy solutions creates environmental impact and may offer attractive return potential.
  • Investing in a social impact bond that funds nonprofit programs addressing social issues like job training for unemployed individuals or rehabilitative services for prisoners. The investor earns a return if the programs achieve predetermined improvement benchmarks.

Which Is The Best Definition Of Investing?

The best universal definition of investing entails committing capital towards assets or initiatives you expect will appreciate over time and/or generate a steady income stream, in order to grow your overall wealth. Investing balances risk and return across different time horizons to meet your financial goals via exposure to securities like stocks, bonds, real estate, or alternative assets based on your personal risk tolerance.

What Is The Difference Between Impact Investing And Social Investing?

While often used interchangeably, impact investing refers specifically to investments intentionally targeting measurable positive social or environmental impact as the primary objective, alongside financial returns. The impact comes first, while financials are secondary. Meanwhile, social investing is an umbrella term encompassing various responsible investment strategies, like ESG incorporation or shareholder advocacy, that consider impact as an important variable but not the singular goal. Many social investment funds do seek impact, but may not measure or report it as rigorously as dedicated impact investing vehicles.

What Is The Focus Of Social Investing?

The core focus of social investing is to channel capital towards driving solutions for global sustainability challenges, including issues like climate change, access to essential services, economic empowerment, social justice, conservation, and community development. It aims to leverage investment capital as a catalytic force for transformative and ethical progress on societal and environmental priorities by funding innovative companies, nonprofits, projects, communities, and funds aligning with those objectives.

Why Is Social Investing Important?

There are several key reasons why the growth of social investing matters:

  • It meets growing investor demand, especially among younger generations, to align portfolios with values by supporting ethical companies and progress.
  • It directs vastly more private capital towards market-based solutions tackling pressing issues compared to philanthropy alone.
  • It accelerates corporate accountability towards sustainable practices.
  • It empowers nonprofits and social ventures by increasing access to capital.
  • It enables investors to pursue competitive returns while funding positive impact on people and planet.

What Are Two Examples Of Investing?

Two common examples of traditional investing include:

  • Investing in public stocks: Purchasing shares of publicly traded corporations to potentially profit through price appreciation and dividends. Stocks offer part ownership in a company while bearing risks of volatility.
  • Investing in investment property: Buying real estate like residential rental properties or commercial buildings with the goal of rent revenue and long-term property value appreciation exceeding expenses. Careful selection and management are key.

And two examples of social investing are:

  • Shareholder advocacy: Leveraging shareholder voting rights to promote corporate accountability on issues like climate responsibility, equitable employment practices and sustainability reporting transparency.
  • Impact mutual funds: Funds screening investments based on positive ESG practices and intentionally targeting measurable social or environmental impacts like renewable energy financing or access to essential medicines.

What Are Examples Of Social Investment Policies?

At the national public policy level, examples include:

  • Establishing dedicated social investment funds to expand access to capital for nonprofits and social ventures addressing poverty, healthcare access, economic inclusion, clean energy, and education.
  • Tax incentives for investors to encourage higher participation in funding impact-oriented businesses and funds. Some countries allow tax deductions for investments undermining certain public policy objectives like fossil fuels or tobacco.
  • Regulations requiring corporate sustainability reporting and diverse board representation to steer investor capital towards companies exhibiting ethical practices.

How Do You Define Social Impact?

Social impact refers to the tangible effects an organization’s operations have on people, communities and society. It looks beyond financial metrics to also gauge outcomes like:

  • Expanding economic opportunity through living wages or skills training
  • Improving access to essential goods and services like nutritious foods, clean water, healthcare, or financial services
  • Advancing equitable treatment of individuals regardless of identity or background
  • Funding solutions tackling issues like affordable green energy access or sustainable agriculture

Measuring social impact requires identifying key performance indicators tied to these community and societal outcomes.

How Does Social Impact Investing Work?

Social impact investing directs investor capital specifically towards enterprises and funds delivering products, services and innovations that solve defined social or environmental issues in ethical and impactful ways. It works by:

  • Consciously funding organizations and initiatives contributing measurable positive outcomes on people and planet
  • Providing patient capital with expectations of sub-market financial returns (sometimes zero pecuniary return) in order to secure measurable advancement of social good
  • Tying financial returns to impact performance using metrics like lives improved or carbon emissions reduced to guarantee outcomes

Leading impact investing institutions like Rockefeller Foundation, Omidyar Network and TPG Rise Fund build and manage portfolios exclusively focused on scalable models purpose-built to resolve critical social and environmental priorities. Robust impact reporting provides transparency.

By embedding impact accountability directly into deal structures, social impact investing unleashes the power of private capital to consciously drive change.

Conclusion: Let Your Money Make a Difference

Hopefully this complete guide has demystified the world of social investing – its tremendous potential along with pragmatic considerations for navigating trade-offs.

While terminology and strategies may vary, any investment approach optimizing for financial returns AND ethical aligned positive impact sits firmly under the umbrella of “values-guided investing”.

So reflect on what really matters to you. What type of future do you wish to manifest through directing your capital?

Dive deeper into issue areas close to your heart – and explore vehicles to fund those visions. Seek solutions merging profit with purpose.

And if we all push towards that moral arc through our little spheres of influence, our collective positive impact compounded over time may surprise us.

Here’s to driving change… starting from within.