Thursday, September 13, 2007

Centers of Influence and Planned Giving

Thank you to Phil Cubeta for encouraging me to attend this week's meeting of the North Texas Chapter of the National Committee on Planned Giving. The topic was "Translating Ideals into Action: Tools for Effective Planning with Your Client or Donor."

The speakers included:

  • Dodee Frost Crockett, CFP, First Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor, Merrill Lynch;
  • Kathryn Henkel, JD, Partner, Hughes and Luce, LLP;
  • Michelle Monse, JD, President, Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation; and
  • moderator Jayne Grimes, CFP, Carter Financial Management, North Texas Chapter NCPG board member
The presentation was very informative, and reminded me a great deal of some recent conversations we've had at Central Dallas Ministries about working to engage the "centers of influence" who can affect our top prospects. For example, finding ways to educate financial planners and estate attorneys about CDM, so that they can refer their clients to us.

We are very grateful to the work of New York Life's Phil Cubeta in this regard, as well as our extremely devoted volunteer Bryan Cook, from UBS.

At one point in the presentation, the panelists were asked if they ever recommend specific charities to their clients. They all agreed that it is hard enough for planners to even ask their clients if they have charitable intent, let alone urge them to give to a specific charity. This was discouraging to me, but I understand the difficulty that they face. Asking about charitable intent is a loaded question for an advisor, akin to "are you or are you not a good neighbor?" or "how much or how little do you care about other people?" The client could feel very pressured to be or act a certain way, which is not the case when asked about their risk tolerance or even their feelings about leaving wealth to their children.

The panelists agreed that the only way they've ever recommended a charity is at the client's request, and then it is usually for advice on what sort of charity addresses a cause they already care about (i.e. "I want to help orphans in Dallas -- who does that?"). So, it's very unlikely that a wealthy donor will ask their financial planner, "Can you recommend a good charity to be the beneficiary of this foundation we're setting up?" (and even less likely that the answer will be your organization).

One of the planners did say that they keep an updated file on the "big charities in town.... Children's, the DMA, the Opera, UT Southwestern." No social services agencies were mentioned.

However, what really struck me was that the advisors all agreed that, when asked for advice on what sort of charity is involved in a particular cause, they call someone like the Dallas Foundation, the Communities Foundation of Texas or the Communities Foundation of North Texas to see "who is doing the best work in that area right now."

This confirms my belief that every local non-profit should submit a grant proposal to each of these foundations for every deadline that they have. And if you're like Central Dallas Ministries and have multiple services, submit for a different program each time so that they learn about your various services.

I think it's still wise to consider opportunities to engage advisors in learning about your organization's work for the purposes of referring clients to you, however unlikely it might be.

However, what is probably more valuable is to find ways to engage your current donors in considering ways to plan their lifetime giving.... and no, not just to your organization. Create forums in which they can consider the variety of organizations that they care about, and causes that resonate within their soul. Empower your donors with the ability to dream.

I think you'll find that our donors appreciate your concern for securing your relationship them, not with their estate. And I honestly believe that the funds will still be there for you.

And then, you need to be ready to have an advanced conversation with donors about what their giving options are. We don't all need to be experts on financial planning -- that's what people like Phil Cubeta and Bryan Cook are for. However, you need to be familiar with concepts like charitable remainder trusts and be able to explain them to donors.

I truly believe that fundraisers need to think of themselves less as marketers and more as financial planners.

Perhaps we should change our titles from things like "Director of Development" to "Philanthropic Advisor" or "Charitable Coach"?

I wonder how the title "Wealth Counselor" would look, embossed in gold, on a business card?

Speaking of counselors....

RANDOM QUESTIONS: Did they ever need philanthropy in Star Trek?