I recently participated in a very good estate planning seminar for advisors put on by ZLC Financial entitled Strategic Planning for the Private Business Owner. There were some excellent sessions on Dealing with CRA, Planning for Tax and Taxation Issues Affecting Small Business, Positioning a Private Business for Sale, as well as sessions on using Insurance and Employee Benefits. Attendees were busily taking notes on all these technical topics to ensure that they were on top of the very best information to serve their clients. Everyone in the room seemed to be a skilled and savvy technician – and we all know that is very important.
Yet, when I facilitated my session on “Empowering Philanthropy” we all acknowledged that what really sets an advisor apart from other knowledgeable advisors, is not the technical prowess – it’s the relationship that the advisor has with his or her clients. Without a strong relationship, clients can very easily just change an advisor.
I shared the story of John, who year after year was named the top performer at the President’s Club event held for his financial services industry. When John was asked why he significantly out-performed his colleagues year after year, he explained that what sets him apart is that he is “naturally a very curious person“ and “loves learning about people”. He likes learning about his clients and their families and his clients like this about him and tell their friends about him. (This story comes from the book “Your Client’s Story” by Scott West and Mitch Anthony, Insight Press, 2005.)
With this in mind, we explored how to more deeply engage with clients to discover their stories, motivations and values around money – and to assist them to involve their families in these conversations. Philanthropy is a wonderful framework for these discussions.
Many clients have resources that will both support them during their lifetime and provide a tidy inheritance for family at a level which will still encourage children to be productive. There is often a portion of one’s estate that could be used to benefit community (especially in light of the fact that there will be taxes payable upon death and charitable donations can divert a portion of those taxes to social causes of importance to the client).
For those clients with significant wealth, engaging in philanthropy as a family is a fabulous means of openly talking money about and experiencing “the soul of money”. Philanthropy is a means of instilling in children an understanding of values and the blessings of money. It also can help the next generation to gain skills in how to communicate well, listen carefully, define goals, share expectations and be accountable.
I encouraged the advisors in the room to expand their engagement with their clients - to be “curious” and ask questions about a client’s first memory of helping others; causes that he or she stands for, believes in or supports; the major issues facing community; involving family in their philanthropy; what they want they want their “lifemark” to be.
These questions will help the advisor to more broadly and holistically service all the client’s needs and interests. And, my experience is that clients who are engaged this way, feel that they are being considered as a whole person and not just as a financial persona and this naturally draws them closer to their advisor.
At the end of my session, I asked participants to identify two clients with whom they would engage in a conversation about philanthropy within the next month – and to identify the next steps to make this happen.
I encourage you to try this. I’d be happy to share suggestions with you for having these conversations and would love to hear about your experiences.
As a philanthropy advisor, I enjoy working with families and individuals to create and facilitate a safe and productive environment to articulate values, interests and goals. Together we develop and implement a plan to make giving meaningful, satisfying and effective.