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The Scope of Effective Philanthropic Planning
At the heart or center of your life work and your legacy is Vision. But vision alone won't do it. You also need a plan. For that you need advisors. Nor will you change the world by yourself. You need allies, collaborators, and civic friends. So, beyond vision, could we say that you also need Leadership? At least you need to convene and build a Team? And you need to be able to manage (or get managed) a complex process.
- Vision? What is it a vision of? Well, the diagram shows you the scope of a vision that encompasses a significant life work and inspired legacy. We can start anywhere. The lines going this way and that make the point that there is no one place to start. The elements are intricately inter-connected. Start where you are, but include each element in the vision that you are deepening, enlarging, and bringing into focus, so that it will inspire you, guide others, and get the results you want for self, family, and society. Getting the vision in focus takes time. And it takes research, conversation, collaboration. A mature vision is the fruit of experience. We start with a vision, make a Fool of ourselves, realize it was a dream, and start again, sadder and wiser. (I speak from experience, a Fool still after all these years.)
- Let's start for expository purposes with the lower left, with Identity, also known as Self. Ah yes, don't we usually start with Moi, as Ms Piggy would say? Self, though, or Identity goes beyond our own skin. We are who we are because of our personal history, our, where we came from, where we are and where we see ourselves headed: our Life Story. Our identity reflects Family, those we love and have been loved by. Our identity is also embedded in a Community and its Traditions, our Heritage. The apple contains the seed. The seed contains the orchard. Our life work and legacy are the seed that we plant in the present and the future as the past was implanted in us by those who loved, reared, taught, and cultivated what was best in us. The "Self" part also includes our Values, our Ethics, our Worldview, our Politics in both the narrow and wide sense, not only our voting patterns but our sense of what it is to live in a good or just society, a world we want, as Peter Karoff says. So, even though we are talking now about Self, you can see we are also beginning to talk about everything else on the diagram. For the self is oriented in time, and from its little spot in the world, armed with its financial and personal resources, it looks forward and back in time, sees itself surrounded by concentric circles of relationship, and, its vision, bounded by a horizon, sees perhaps glimmers of eternity like stars rising.
- Now come to Finances. I work with those who work all day with money. Speaking of vision and horizons, money people tend to see finance as about lowering risk, increasing return, lowering taxes, and growing assets over time. I call that a "prudent plan." We all need a prudent plan to care for self and family come what may. But we also need an "inspired plan." An inspired plan includes all that a prudent plan does but goes beyond that to create a positive impact on society. This diagram is meant to "open the eyes" not only of clients but also of advisors whose worldview is bounded by money and prudence. Under Finance, an inspired plan will include a Financial Plan for lifetime needs, an Estate Plan for legacies at death, and a Philanthropic Plan for creating social impact. The philanthropic plan will include the various tools and techniques of giving. It will also include a philanthropic budget for giving now, later, at death, and beyond death. And it will specify how the money will be given or used to create a social impact. (Tracy Gary's Inspired Philanthropy is wonderful on these topics. She has generously made her key worksheets available for free under Resources on her book's website.)
- From Finances, we found ourself glancing at the other key points on our diagram: Time Frame for Giving, Recipient, Impact, and Logic Model. In other words, we went from money to what it is for and how it will be deployed for social effect. Start with a Benefit you might want for society. Work back to a project or organization that might produce that benefit or be conducive to that result. Then begin to consider what investment might be needed to get a meaningful result, and think about the timing of that investment. Now, later, at death, after death? When will the money, or for that matter your time, life energy, and leadership, have the greatest impact? If you think now or soon, do your Finances support freeing up time or money now to get impact? If so where should the money go to get impact? An existing nonprofit for their general fund? For a specific project inside the nonprofit? For a social venture? For a double bottom line business? Under Benefits and with Time Frame and Finances and Values in mind too, think about yourself and your loved ones. On your present plan will your kids be rich when you die? Do they have the values, the character, and the experience to handle wealth productively? If you are trying to pass on your values as well as your valuables, would it make sense to model giving and teach giving and to mentor heirs starting sooner - as part of your life work -- rather than later, or after you are dead? You may conclude that life work is legacy. Doing it now, or starting soon, with your children may be the best "legacy" you could leave. Raised and mentored that way, a big inheritance may be a blessing, one that will help them lead more productive lives as they follow your example of civic engagement.
- Now we come to "Logic Model." Some people also may call this a "Theory of Social Change." The point is that results do not happen by chance, or always by plan either. We think we understand what will connect our inputs to our outputs and outcomes, but not all plans or strategies for achieving a result succeed. The model must, like any theory, be tested, scrapped, modified as experience grows. You might think that for every social need you could go to a website and download "the current wisdom" and the theories of social change that have been proven to work. Would it were so. The field of giving is so fractured and the knowledge so embedded in silos that it is very hard for new funders to benefit from the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before. When I am asked where to find such knowledge, I suggest the donor reframe the issue. What the donor needs, generally, is not a book, or website, but an appropriate introduction to a face to face living network. It is not enough even to know that such networks exist, you may also need an introduction from a mutual friend to "break into" the field. I am not sure that it is good or bad that funders are cliquish, aren't we all? But this is not just a knowledge game, it is a game of civic friendships, and friends of friends, and being handed from one person to another, as gatekeepers open doors, and friends vouch for friends.
- Back to Vision, Leadership, and Team Building: I treasure my friendship with Tracy Gary, and others established funders like Steve Johnson, and H. Peter Karoff, who have opened doors for me, and introduced me into the world of established philanthropy, of heirs, and old money, and long standing traditions of giving. But I am a Dumpster Dweller, not an heir. Almost all my work experience is around "Wealth in Transition," that is, entrepreneurs who have made it all themselves, and who at a certain point, begin to ask about life work and legacy. They have done a lot, but long to do more, to have an impact on family, but also on society, to stand for something and to live up to what is most alive in themselves, to leave a mark, and to be the kind of person their children will be proud of, and draw inspiration from. For these new or soon-to-be-funders, the diagram is meant to explode in the brain like a grenade. Most should immediately recognize that 99% of their planning is under Finance. For all the products, tools, tactics, and fees, the planning is visionless, blind, myopic. Even philanthropic planning under finance is all about money, all about tax. Sad, very sad.
So, how can such a new or potential funder get going? Where to begin? I would say this: Work on a draft of your financial and estate plan to see if you can "step up" your giving, now, later or at death. See if you can step up time devoted to civic engagement, perhaps with your children and spouse engaged as well. See if you have more money than is needed for your own and children's financial security. See how much "stacks" up in your estate. See how much will go in estate taxes when you and your spouse are gone. All that is a draft. Keep it in draft and go in search of wisdom, not cunning.
For the life work and legacy plan to come into focus, you need to supplement the "suits" around the planning table with voices from the larger culture and community. You need to spend some time with nonprofit leaders, with other funders who are active in various causes that might appeal to you. You need to find time for a little introspection too. Recall where you come from, think about who you are and what you have achieved, ask what more you might yet do. What is unfinished? What higher work calls to you? What lives in you from your family, your religious and cultural life, from your community, your traditions that you can live out and pass on? (I recall the image of a man moving through a crowd sheltering a candle in his hands.)
Then as these memories, thoughts, aspirations, dreams, scraps of poetry, parables, stings of conscience, begin to move in your mind, and begin to move your heart, and begin to flow into a vision, then comes Leadership. Having done your draft plan to see what resources you can free up, having talked to people in your issue areas, and visited nonprofits active in that area, having meditated and awoken at night with fears and hopes, and having talked with loved ones, there comes the moment when you convene your team to communicate the vision and lock the plans down for now.
Do your Plans Paint your Accurate Moral Portrait?
In closing, let me ask you: If I were to review your estate and financial plan, would I be able to see your vision of a life work and an inspired legacy? Would I see you as you are? Does your plan embody what is best in you? Or it is just a prudent plan, one that would fit anyone else with your net worth, income and expenses? Is your plan generic and prudent or unique and inspired?
As a professional who sees lots of plans and who sometimes has a chance to talk with the clients of highly regarded advisors, I have the overwhelming sense that clients are far better people, most often, than you would ever know from reading their plans - even though the plans are state of the tax and financial planning art. The plans, very often, are all about self, family, money, tax. Yet the families are about life, love, values, community, hope, and impact. Somewhere we as a client/advisor team are failing. We are not failing the cunning, selfish client who lives in all of us. But we are failing the idealist buried inside.
Who will lead? From inside the advisor silo, I am waving my arms at you from afar: Please do not think your advisors have this all down cold, that they will counsel you, and prod you, on vision, values, aspiration, or life impact. Not their job, they will tell you that. "Not my job." (The only person whose job it ever was went by the title of "Fool." Only a Fool would prod a wealthy and powerful person to mediate on eternity before writing an estate plan.)
Since only a Fool would help you when it comes to uplifting your vision, or prodding your weaknesses, and since Fools are in short supply, you must uplift your own vision. You as a person, parent, citizen, human soul must set the higher vision and convene the team around it. It is our obligation, each of us, to plan our wealth and life in a spirit that one might almost call "prayerful," unless you prefer laughter of the angels.
I hope from time to time this blog will stimulate you not only to optimize tools and tactics, but to throw your life energy and your financial resources towards goals that reflect what is best in you. May your best efforts prosper!