Expert view: The return of volatility to the markets

Investment markets have recently experienced a return of volatility after an abnormally calm period.

So now is probably a good time to review that vital investment question about your reserves: are they appropriately diversified into suitable investments?

I assume that your charity has strategic and contingency plans to answer the contextual questions "how much might we need?" and "when?", so that you can balance your investments' likely liquidity against their likely risks and rewards. I am also assuming that you are looking at your total funds and liabilities - don't forget your defined-benefit pension scheme, if you have one.

Jonathan Ruffer, chief executive of Ruffer Investments, has neatly summed up the dilemma - and the partial solution - facing charity trustees and their advisers. "I can't be sure of getting the event or timing right, so I start with a basic view of the world and choose investments that stand up under 'what-if' scenarios," he says. Unsurprisingly, Ruffer's firm is known for its absolute return funds.

Ask yourself: "If riskier investments might fall, can our charity afford to see things through to any recovery? Or should we switch into safer investments to ensure a cushion?" Check that your risks remain appropriate. For example, more than half the earnings of the UK's largest companies come from abroad.

The Children's Society carried out a review last summer against the expectation of tightening monetary conditions. Our investment committee's response to this base view of the world was to layer our investments. To underpin our short to medium-term ambitions and risks, 40 per cent of our total liquid reserves lie in cash. For our long-term funds, we were as interested in investment performance in a downturn as in an upswing.

The result is that 25 per cent of our long-term investments is kept in an absolute return fund as a further emergency buffer. Twenty-five per cent is in international equities for their expected high long-term growth rates. The other half is in a spread of UK equity funds that range from the defensive to the adventurous. The portfolio is still held with asset management firm Schroders. The number of fund holdings means we have also diversified our investment manager performance risk.

The return of volatility to investment markets suggests it's time to review whether your charity is diversifying in suitable investments to ensure money is growing and available when you need it. Thinking this through for your charity allows you to talk with your investment advisers and achieve the best fit for your circumstances.

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