I am starting a new category, "Inspired Legacy Partnerships for the World We Want," as a way to pull together thoughts that may be of interest to those we call "donors," or "clients," or "resourceful people," or rich people and their advisors, and the communities to which the resourceful people give and to which they may provide personal leadership. This is a tough topic to address at all, much less in public. We have as a society taboos about talking about money in public and we have styles for doing so, most of which I will violate, from time to time, in order to bring to the surface the underlying issues - which include social justice, for example, and economic inequality. We also have a whole set of taboos about being real with those who outrank us in terms of wealth. As a result the richer a person is, the less likely they will be challenged, and the more likely it is that they will be flattered and enabled by their advisors. The results for the wealthy are not always pretty. My longtime role models, or mission partners, in this exploration are Tracy Gary, and H. Peter Karoff. The difference, I think, is genre. Tracy excels at inspiration; Peter in the lyrical modes. My gift (unfortunately for both me and you) is satire. I feel pretty strongly that what the rich and powerful need most is a Fool. And I step forward somewhat reluctantly to play that role pro bono publico.
The purpose of these ongoing reflections, from the earnest to the satirical, from the high flown to the prosaic, is to encourage those citizens who have greater than normal wealth to work with their advisors to provide leadership, now, later, at death and beyond to the communities they support. We are not going to talk about technical planning issues. That, actually, strikes me as a dreadful use of donor time. That is what a donor should delegate. To discuss plumbing with plumbers is a glum task. Let the plumbers plumb the cathedral; you should work with the architect to envision and design it. Pedants can't help talking in their pedantic vocabulary; they have not got the personal skills, the self-knowledge, the humility, nor the moral imagination to escape from the trammels of their tax, legal, or financial mindset. Not all advisors are pedants, but, judge your own for yourself. Even those who are wise in their own right, do not sell wisdom; they sell legal, tax, and financial services and products. They are uncomfortable, most often, outside the boundaries of their professional practice, and wisdom or spiritual or philosophical insight is not a licensed trade.
"Touchy-feely" is what these advisors to wealth as a class call the topics we will discuss, topics like moral and civic responsibility, wisdom, caritas, philia, and the role of wealth in creating a healthy family in a just society. To them that is hogwash, or church talk. All well in its way, but not a billable event, nor conducive to a sale. They want to move as quickly as possible to dollars and cents and legal documentation. We in our conversation at Gifhtub will get there, to the verge of that, but we will start with what you are trying to accomplish: the ends first, the means second.
Technically competent advisors are as necessary to an inspired legacy plan as are plumbers in building a worldclass university. Such a school has hot and cold running water, good sewage, and few backups. But plumbers are not the whole of it, nor masons, nor gardeners, nor cooks. What animates a school as a community is a living body of knowledge passed on face to face by the carriers of those traditions. When the body of knowledge includes ideals and love who is the carrier? Not JDs doing their jobs on company time, not the CPA in his or her role as number cruncher, and not the financial advisor in his or her role as risk/return manager.
Insofar as you are more than flesh, more than matter in motion, or a balance sheet and income statement and tax returns and legal documents, to the extent you are a parent, a child, a citizen, and a moral and spiritual being, you cannot and must not put control of your planning in the hands of plumbers, cooks, legal experts and spreadsheet wizards. You will bring them in at the proper time to make good on your goals, but you must put, as they say, "First things first," and begin with the world you want in mind.
That is enough for one post. Let me leave you with a true thought. As a client of skilled advisors you have two non-delegatable duties.
- Give your advisors clear goals and priorities
- Give your advisors all relevant personal, tax, legal, and financial information.
Means and ends? Exactly. You cannot delegate the ends of life to an advisor, unless maybe it is your personal Confessor, or Guru. Nor can you ask your advisors to work in the dark, without clear facts about you and your situation. Your role, then, as a client, in partnering with your advisors for the sake of your own finances, for the sake of your family, and for the sake of your community and the ideals you hold holy, is to deeply meditate on the ends in view, and effects you would like to accomplish. Then you must reduce that vision to a form advisors can understand. And you must be forthcoming about "the facts" of your finances, your worldly belongings, what the Romans used to call your "impedimenta," the goods you drag like a mule through this world in your spiritual journey from which you exit with nothing at all except the project and ideals that live on in others.
How to reduce your thoughts and ideals to clarity in a way advisors can appreciate and act upon is the topic of this category. As rude as I am about advisors, they will appreciate that the "touchy feely" stuff has been done in advance of your hiring them, and they will be deeply appreciative of your ability to be forthcoming as to your resources and what you mean to accomplish. Better you tell them than that they have to make assumptions, some of which will be wrong. Far from being hostile to advisors, I am teaching you how to be their ideal client, partnering with them for the best possible outcomes all things considered.