Acknowledging our Cultural Mosaic

Our experiences with philanthropy are very often based on the culture in which we grew up.  In some cultures, the concept of sharing wealth is common and expected; in others it may be a foreign concept.

Last week, I conducted a workshop for a large financial institution for the wealth managers who deal with high net worth individuals.  As part of the workshop we explored each advisor’s personal memories of philanthropy.  Some advisors shared stories about how they and their children had personally donated hampers to families in need and others shared how they had supported a cause that had affected a family member and how they experienced the rewards of witnessing the impact of their donation. 

One advisor described how charity and philanthropy had been foreign concepts to her.  Growing up in a formerly communist country in Europe, the State was responsible for taking care of social needs and citizens did not think to support these personally. Another advisor explained that individuals from Communist Mainland China, with whom he had raised the idea of using some of their wealth for community, had rejected this outright. They had worked very hard to go from rags to riches and sharing their wealth was alien to them. 

These insights were very helpful for the whole group to consider. We discussed how we might still raise the opportunities that philanthropy offers even in these situations.  It was suggested that advisors could share examples of other clients who were in similar circumstances and how they had used philanthropy as a means to engage in financial literacy as a family and to use money beyond the self; or could describe the satisfaction that another entrepreneur and family was experiencing engaging in strategic philanthropy.   We discussed how to share these examples in a way that was not threatening or judgmental, framed as a possible solution to an issue, so that the clients could choose to learn more and feel in control. 

We acknowledged that often clients rejected philanthropy and other ideas without knowing what they could offer.  We agreed that it was still important to raise these ideas with clients and explore all their interests, financial, relational and emotional, in order to provide them with a full array of opportunities and solutions to address all their needs in a holistic way.  We also discussed the importance of timing and how we could gently refer to the issue of philanthropy only to come back to it at another time that might be better for the client.  Additionally, we reflected upon the fact that for those who find philanthropy an unfamiliar concept, they might be more disposed to considering a contribution to a charity that had significantly affected them or a family member personally so that they would see personal relevance.  In some cases, these contributions could also give the donor stature in their new community.  And in every case, we needed to be patient and to listen closely to clients. 

Recognizing the different backgrounds and experiences in the room, both personal and of our clients, was itself very therapeutic.  It allowed everyone to share their discomfort and challenges and once aired these experiences not only provided insights into different perspectives, but also allowed us to develop a more sensitive approach to raising philanthropy. 

Canada is often described as a cultural mosaic rather than a melting-pot; we are a rich nation where cultural differences are acknowledged and celebrated.  So too with philanthropy, it is important to recognize the cultural backgrounds that shape our and our clients’ perspectives and to adapt our approaches to address those differences.

As a philanthropy advisor, I work 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. 

For more information on how I work with clients to assist them to give with heart and for impact please visit the approach and services pages on my website.