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June 2008
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August 2008

July 2008

Community Assets - Like Self Reliance and Mutual Aid?

What if you could look down on your town, as might a player at a game of Monopoly, and follow the movement of all the money? What if the money on your part of the game board were gradually, but relentlessly draining into the hands of another player? Would you say, "That is life." Or would you say, "Such is luck." Or would you begin to wonder how you might win? C.A. Fitts, a conservative thinker, is driven to the conclusion, interestingly enough, that our local communities will only thrive to their fullest potential when we act in concert with others in our face to face networks to keep our attention, money, time, talent and civic loyalties among those we personally know and trust. She sees herself, I believe, in the tradition of Adam Smith, but she is equally part of the tradition of mutual aid and civic association that Toqueville noted on his trip through 19th century America. That tradition includes sewing bees, barn raising, casseroles for a bereaved neighbor, church socials, Chattauquas, Rotary, and Kiwanis. Self-reliance, yes, and mutual aid too. Of course, not all community is place-based. Some might be mission-based, cause-driven, or held together by online conversation among civic friends who may never meet, but whose "casserole" to a neighbor is mediated by a paypal account.

Two Fools

Gheyn2fools He squats with his rump on my brogans at the foot of the podium, inside the hollow space,  wherever I give a speech about My Personal Journey from Success to Significance. It is his laughter you hear, and that is his Royal Scepter you hear knocking against the mahogany to punctuate my straight-faced moral discourse. "We must transform ourselves, if we wish to transform society. We must be the change we seek in the world." And the knocking and laughter gets louder and louder, until the whole podium begins to shake and move across the floor - "Ah," cries the crowd, "behold a miracle!" (With Thanks to Tom.)

The GiveWell Pledge

The Give Well Pledge, a new model for funding philanthropic research:

Now the big question is whether our research can move a lot of donations. The bottom line about GiveWell is that if our research ends up influencing a lot of people’s giving, the project will work: sharing information will be worth charities’ time, and doing research will be worth our time and expense. If we can’t influence donors, then our research isn’t worth doing, and we’ll rightly go out of business. We’re not going to answer this question fully in the coming year, but we’re hoping to get a start on it.

That’s why we’re introducing the GiveWell Pledge, which aims to demonstrably increase our influence while preserving donor choice.  A GiveWell Pledge is a formal, advance commitment to give to one or more of the charities we recommend after an additional year of research. The donor gets the final choice of charity, and pays no fee to us, but we get the benefit of being able to (a) show exactly how much money we’re moving; (b) show our direct donors, the ones who pay our operating expenses, whether we’re succeeding in our mission; and (c) show the charities we’re asking for information what’s in it for them.

Legacy Planning In Canada

From BCBusiness Online:

In line with their penchant for tweaking all sorts of social norms, wealthy boomers are shifting away from traditional estate planning – dividing their cash and assets between the next generation – toward the newer concept of legacy planning: figuring out how they want to be remembered and how they want to contribute to their families, communities and the rest of the world. A 2005 survey by global insurance giant Allianz found that boomers and their parents actually felt that the non-financial things an individual leaves behind – values, morality, faith – are 10 times more important to them than who gets the stuff or the money.

However, while exceptionally wealthy Canadians (those with upwards of $10 million) are increasingly leaving the bulk of their estates to charitable causes, our need to leave a monetary legacy for the kids remains pretty strong. Economists have identified four basic motives for this. First, there's the altruistic: the sheer pleasure of knowing our children will benefit. There's the egotistic, when the bequest has more to do with our own selfish desire for immortality than to help our children. There's also the strategic, when we use the promise of inheritance as a carrot to extract filial obedience, such as joining the family business, getting a degree, choosing a "suitable" mate or maybe even visiting us in our old age. Lastly, there's the accidental motive: we may not intend to leave anything when we die, but we wind up saving more than we can spend, so our heirs luck out.

Sunbridge: Touching Hearts, Changing Lives


The SunBridge Legacy Builder System is a practical and elegant array of training, tools, and support for the wise and caring advisor.  With our help, you can gracefully weave legacy building into your marketing and client services.  By creating greater value for your clients through legacy building, you will soon discover that you can make more money in your practice, enjoy more satisfaction in your work, and find greater meaning in your life.

Tools described here. Story telling, or as some say story selling. Good planning helps the client complete a narrative arc. But don't get me started. Hate to have to have you read Aristotle's Poetics.

Private Equity and Small Businesses in Transition

Question for You: I take this essay in Private Wealth Magazine as suggesting that the big money investors have been getting 25% returns from buying out Main Street businesses? And, given the disproportionate returns, more money from hedge funds, pension funds, family offices, and wealthy private investors is now flowing into these private equity funds? Is this another example of a community being drained for the benefit of the forces of homogenization and centralization?

More Questions: As boomer business owners age, will they sell out to Wall Street? And will we see fewer locally owned and operated businesses on Main Street? What influence will absentee owners have or fail to have on the quality of life in a community?  For those in the life insurance business who use insurance to make a market for otherwise illiquid business interests at death, does the rise of private equity reduce the need for life insurance produts for business continuation and transfer?

Conducting the Philanthropic Dialogue

Randy at InKnowVision, a planning back office for high level financial advisors:

GenSpring Family Offices just released its most recent study, entitled Men & Wealth. You can read all of the pertinent data by downloading the study, of course, but there are some things I find particularly interesting and puzzling.

What puzzles Randy is that his client base and that of Genspring are about the same, successful entrepreneurs, but Genspring's survey shows that most are philanthropic, while Randy, working with clients through their financial advisors, finds that most such clients express little interest in philanthropy. My experience is the same as Randy's when working with client goals  via other advisors.  Here is my interpretation.

Most frontline advisors fail to quicken the client's latent philanthropic or civic passion. The advisor asks macho questions and gets macho answers. Most top producing, commission based advisors, particularly in the insurance industry (with whom I assume Randy works) are in fact men. Most of their clients are self made men. Remember, tough guys don't eat quiche; they don't dance, and they don't do touchy feely. At least they don't want another tough guy catching them at it. Philanthropy is (apparently) gendered female. Here is how a real man asks another man about a sappy topic like giving:

Q. Age?

A. 56

Q. Net Worth?

A. $10.5 million

Q. Year started in your business?

A. 1978

Q. Business form?

A. S Corp

Q. Married?

Y. Yes

Q. Wife a foreign nationals?

A. No

Q. Real Estate owned out of state?

A. No

Q. Health problems?

A. No.

Q. Philanthropically inclined?

A. No.

Q. Want to reduce taxes?

A. Yes

An effeminate, touchy feely, humane,  and entirely appropriate and even necessary conversation might go like this:

Q. Do you have a plan to take care of yourself, family, and business?

A. Yes.

Q. Been reviewed lately?

A. Yes.

Q. Does your family really understand the ins and outs of it all?

A. Maybe not.

Q. Would it be helpful if our firm diagrammed it for you so you could explain it to them?

A. Yes.

Q. In your planning, are there any things you love or care about that go beyond spouse, children, and your business?

A. What?

Q. Do you want in any way to have an impact on something beyond self and family?

A. I am not sure what you mean.

Q. Are there things in the world that get you upset, or you want to fix? Things left undone that you may have wanted to do earlier in life? Do you want to make an impact, say, in your community. country, or in the larger world, if you could?

A. You mean, like, through my church?

Q.  Is that of interest to you?

A. Well, at one time I wanted to be a minister, actually, or a missionary, believe it or not..... I was raised that way. I grew up poor in the inner city. My father left when I was a kid. My mother raised me in the church. I always thought I would be the minister one day and help kids like I was helped.

Q. Do you still plan on getting back to that dream?

A. Yeah, well, sort of. Been thinking of cashing out and doing something new..... Not a minister. It is a little late now for that.  But do something for the kids. But I also want my family and business to do ok.

Q. Would you do more for the at risk children, if you could, if it did not interfere with your other goals for your family and your business?

A. Yes. Yes, I would.

Q. Do you have any idea of when?

A. Not sure. Not sure what is possible.

Q. Would you enjoy getting started sooner rather than later if you could?

A. Yes, I would love it. I have always wanted to to do that.

Q. Would you want your project for the kids to be something you do alone? Team up with others? Start a venture? Give?

A. I don't know. Who do you talk to about this stuff? Can you help me think this through? I mean, am I crazy? Could I actually make this work? I would love to make this happen in my lifetime, if I can....

Q. Yes, I believe I can help. Let me ask a couple of more questions. Does your spouse share your vision?

A. Yes, I believe she will, or does. We need to talk more about it.

Q. OK, what about your children? Have you thought about how much is  enough for them? How much might be too much?

A. Sort of. Yes. I mean we want to do something for them, but they are both doing well on their own. We don't have to leave them rich.

Q. Do they share your vision of helping the disadvantaged? Would they participate?

A. Well, maybe, but not likely, not at this stage. They are still in their twenties. Maybe as they grow they will grow into it. I don't know.

Summary Close:

  • OK. So lets summarize my understanding of what you want.
  • You want us to review your existing plan and diagram it so you can explain it clearly to your spouse.
  • You want us to explore what you might be able to do for the disadvantaged children.
  • You want to do that without shortchanging your other goals for your spouse and your own life style.
  • You want to determine if now is the right time to begin your project, whether it is possible.
  • You want to leave your kids something, but not a lot.
  • So, are we in agreement as to goals for our engagement?
  • As a next step, then, let me collect your documents, see your CPA to get the financials, and let me run some numbers.
  • I will be back with a mini-feasiblity study to see if you can likely afford to take on the project for the disadvantaged at some point in the foreseeable future. I can also introduce you to some people through the community foundation who work with disadvantaged children, so you can begin to scope out what a meaningful project might entail.You might also want to talk to your minister and see if he has projects you might volunteer for in the meantime, to get a feel for the work.
  • Is this process in line with what you want?
  • Would it make sense to meet next time with your spouse present?
  • Should we think about getting the children into the conversation at some point?


The second conversation above is open ended; exploring for purpose, for buried passion; for things the client might not dare discuss with a hard headed accountant, or tax advisor, the things he or she might more likely discuss with a trusted friend. Out of that conversation of purpose comes a new financial plan, a new plan for the business, a new estate plan. In that plan money is freed up for a noble purpose, so is time and life energy. Such clients become passionate advocates for the advisor.When money moves to or through a nonprofit, maybe in this case, the projects done through the client's church, the nonprofit too becomes a passionate advocate for the advisor, and referrals may flow.

So, what does Genspring do differently? I am not sure, but I'll bet someone there has mastered the liberal art of asking open-ended questions, listening with empathy, and following the emerging theme where it leads.

Imagine that a client like the man above dies with his dream buried in his heart. How well served was he? Sometimes there is no dream. But more often, in my experience, a human being yearns to fulfill some larger intention. We are called, as advisor, client, citizen. Don't let the long distance call go into voicemail.