How can we construct a "Hub" to support donor centered giving? Do we need a new profession, as part of this, a life coach? What about materials? Ownership? Marketing? Here are thoughts toward a business plan. With thanks to Jeff Weissglass of More than Money, Jean Russell (a professional financial writer), financial advisor Drake Zimmerman, and philanthropy consultant Lisa Tracy, all of whom have contributed to this conversation.
"Life Coaching" for Gift Plans?
The whole idea of a "coach" comes up because most advisors are not well suited by temperament or education to the task of eliciting the deeper values that must guide the donor/client's estate, financial, and charitable plans. I am talking about the $250-$450 an hour JDs, the Trust Officers from Private Banks, the CPA from a big four firm, and the top financial people who are highly competent and decent human beings. Still, on average these "best of breed professionals" are narrow and deep, like surgeons. They do one thing well, and do it very well. That leads one to ask, "Who should do the values piece?" Some at the Open Space Giving Meeting mentioned life coaches. Good idea, but here are some road blocks.
Life Coaches may be considered lightweights in professional circles. They may not have the credibility to deal with major donors whose team include top advisors. Their's is an emerging profession. I have never seen one on a planning team for a big estate planning case. We could try to jump-start that profession within the trusts and estates planning field, but it could be a long way around to the goal of helping donors and causes in 2005. (I realize that life coaching is big in middle income comprehensive planning, but this is not the sweet spot of the planned giving market. The sweet spot is someone age 55+ with +5 mil of net worth, and possibly a closely held business, or an inheritance guarded by a phalanx of advisors.)
Life Coaches either do or do not segue into the initial "money talk." Either way there are issues. If the Coach does not know how to answer even rudimentary money questions, he or she may lose credibility and the client may drift off to the pure money types prematurely. On the other hand if the Life Coach knows enough about finance to be dangerous, he is a hazard to himself and to the client. Advisors will form a defensive perimeter around the client to protect him or her from what will be perceived a "pied piper," a well-meaning , unconscious incompetent who has wound himself into the client's heartstrings by playing on "values."
Life Coaches need to be paid. If they have no financial background and yet are the front end of a financial process, will their work be considered "financial planning" under state and federal law? Will it be considered charitable solicitation, under state law? If they are financial planners and the work comes under their "Registered Investment Advisor" are they then in competition with the other members of the team? (I am more concerned about the first group who talk values, drive sales to advisors, or gifts to charity, and claim that they are under no federal or state financial or charitable regulation. )
Clients are often not willing to pay to be generous. Generally, they think if they are donating millions to help the world, that someone - life coach, JD, or financial professional, ought to donate a few hours to helping them.
So, whether or not there is a life coach on the team is, I think, an open issue. The values role could be played in other ways: Some few advisors, like Drake and Lisa Tracy do values elicitation well, and have life coaching training. Scott Fithian would say his trainees do good work around values as well as money. Some organizations like Nautilus, Wells Fargo, Merrill, CITI, and Goldman have salaried staff positions in charitable planning who do play this role on company time, working with clients that are brought in from local offices. Certain people in the nonprofit sector, like Tracy Gary, certainly do the inspirational conversation well.
Materials and Delivery System
The donor/client/human has one non-delegatable responsibility: To set the vision. A "Coach" might help. But so might a seminar, a circle of friends meeting together (as at More than Money), a set of readings, or a Journal like More than Money Journal. What we may need is a book with worksheets, case studies, and success stories. Maybe tied to a website with links and updated info. That book might be supported with a seminar taught by a team including advisors, representatives of the cause, and donors who have gone through the process. (And maybe a Coach.)
Mission Centered Marketing through a Movement
One more point: Who is the person who should have the life-affirming conversation with an Evangelical? With a Planned Parenthood Activist? A Muslim blue collar business owner? You could make a case that it is a Yuppie life coach, or a professional advisor, but I think really the best person would be someone from within the donor's community. A "pro" can do it. I have worked with all those groups without making a mess. But the ideal person would be from the same "community of interest." That is what gets me thinking about working with orgs that are part of a "movement," like Tracy Gary with social change philanthropy, and Lenore Ealy with compassionate conservatives, or with some of my friends with Baptist Foundation of TX. So, I guess I am leaning towards this values elicitation role being held by a person who is considered wise, and a leader, or role model in those communities. Almost like Pastoral work. Otherwise the "life coach" becomes (pardon the phrase) the "Philanthropy Geisha" stroking all egos and flattering all passions. Baptists today; Feminists tomorrow. That is OK; call it Socratic, businesslike, or professional, but the best person is probably someone who loves what the donor loves, so they can kindle to one another's enthusiasm. Leads us, then, to work with orgs within a movement and to create versions of generic materials that reflect the shared values and culture of the groups.