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Pharisees, Scribes, Rabbis, and Fools in Philanthropic Estate Planning

Judges_robe Approximately:

  • Under 10% of Americans leave anything in their will to charity
  • Perhaps 50% have no up to date will at all.
  • 95% of those who fail to complete their estate plan say it was because they could not see how it connected with their goals.
  • 97% of attorneys whose clients did not complete their estate plan said they were "unconcerned."
  • Over 93% of clients who did not complete their work said the attorney made them "uneasy."
  • Other common complaints from clients were to the effect that the plan was mystifying, and the advisor "talked down" to the client.
  • Still, despite these challenges, over 80% of planned gifts are actually bequests.

I observe, as a trainer of advisors to the wealthy:

  • They are mostly male, or adopt the macho mode, if female
  • They are proud to say, "I do not do touchy feely."
  • They are proud to sound like attorneys, see it as a badge of honor, and have no shame or compunction about talking in the jargon of their trade.
  • Mystification suits them down to the ground. They find it ego-gratifying.  And a mystified client is a good prospect for complex, costly techniques, once the client goes passive and defeated.
  • That the client never finishes the plan does not much matter when billable hours are collected on time.
  • Literary sensibility, refinement of sentiment, a cultured understanding of the the needs of society, a religious sensibility, good listening skills, empathy, are not part of what it means to "think like an attorney."

I observe in working with nonprofits:

  • Many fundraisers are women, often with degrees in English, History, Art, Dance, Sociology, Mythology, Psychology, Philosophy, History of Religion, and other useless subjects.
  • Fundraisers often have highly developed interpersonal skills.
  • Nonprofit personnel are often good role models for sacrifice and for devotion to something larger than themselves.
  • Often fundraisers have limited knowledge of the tools, techniques, and processes of financial planning, estate planning, and investment planning.

My hope:

  • Nonprofits will open a space for wealthy constituents to consider their "last will and testament," not as a dry legal subject, but as the constituent's last act on earth, whether tragic, comic, wise, foolish, vain, visionary, faithful, or inspired.
  • Nonprofits will see major gift fundraising as an extension of their mission, as an extension, say, of the liberal arts, if they are a college or prep school devoted to those, or as an extension of pastoral care if the nonprofit is a religious organization, or as an expression of social justice if the organization is devoted to that. 

Who is the Rabbi here?

  • I have been told by advisors, "Look, Phil, get off it. I am not the client's Rabbi."
  • OK, so where is the client's actual Rabbi? And why is the Rabbi who is out fundraising not raising the ultimate issues? Who else will? Rabbis, Priests, Fools and Liberally Educated Fundraisers. The attorneys won't. Meaning and truth and solidarity or love and human kindness are not attorney work, and will if engaged in disgrace the profession.
  • How, then, can our nonprofits, who are the soil in which living traditions of value grow, nurture their constituent's and help them be fruitful, so that when the apple ripens and falls, its seeds will grow another orchard? Is that not, as we say, in bidnis, a win win situation?