Educating Advisors in Philanthropy
We have been asking the general question, "What education is appropriate for those engaged in philanthropy?" We could ask the more limited question, "What education is most appropriate to those who advise clients about philanthropy?" One answer is the syllabus for the American College's Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy. (I hold that designation.) If you check out the course work you will find that it consists mostly of tax, legal, and financial training, with some attention to marketing. Other topics are treated in passing, but there is nothing on informed grant-making. And, there is nothing on what you might call vision, values, ideals. There is no taxonomy of the nonprofit sector. There is little on civil society, or the value of the nonprofit sector. There is nothing drawn from the moral, philosophical, and religious traditions of giving. If philanthropy belongs in "the Ideal School of Arts and Sciences," this curriculum is almost exclusively from the sciences - money, law, tools and techniques, strategies and tactics.
Vision and Priorities: The Donor/Client's Responsibility
To prospective donors and clients I would say: Recognize that ends in view, the purposes served, the vision and goals - the wisdom - of your financial, estate, and philanthropic plans is your non-delegable responsibility. You can bring in advisors for help on tools and techniques, on tactics and strategies, and on effective grant-making, for that matter, but the ends in view, the balance among priorities, only you can set that direction. "Cultivating wisdom, or large-mindedness, is not my job," so most advisors would assert. Most fundraisers would say the same. Most grant making or foundation consultants would agree that they serve the client's stated agenda, rather than conveying or cultivating wisdom and virtue. ("That would be presumptuous," they might say. "I don't want to impose my values." "One person's wisdom is another's folly; it is a free country; the client gives us the ends in view, and we apply the needed strategies.")
Cultivating our Humanity - Whose?
So, whose calling is it to "cultivate our humanity," in Seneca's phrase? Yours as a donor, parent, citizen, spiritual being. Yours as a nonprofit leader. Perhaps we each can cultivate our humanity, beginning with our own, including spouse and heirs, and then the communities to which the family belongs, contributes, and amongst whom it dwells or worships. In that effort we are not just client and advisor, or donor and nonprofit fundraiser, but fellow human beings and fellow citizens. Even those without wealth are able to give of time and love and energy.
Are Life Coaches the Answer?
I have heard it suggested that the wisdom consulting role (the role of Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, as I wryly put it) is best filled by a Life Coach. I can see that emerging as an answer. (Tracy Gary suggests it as does Jerry Chasen, both of whose judgment I deeply respect.) But here is a caution. We can very neatly for rhetorical purposes separate the conversation of ends from the conversation of means. We can say, for the conversation of ends, talk to a) your Rabbi b) your Life Coach c) your therapist. For the conversation of means, we could say, talk to your tax, legal, and financial advisors, plus a consultant on grant-making. But in truth the conversations go in circles and zigzags.
What begins as a conversation about a tactic ("Should I go with a donor advised fund or a foundation?") quickly becomes a conversation about family ("Who will run it when I am gone?") and one about society ("How will my charitable vehicle make the world a better place?") and one about finance ("How much could I afford to contribute? Can it come at the expense of taxes, rather than my kids? What property is the right property to give? Cash? Stock? Closely held stock? Now? Later? At death?"). The conversation swings among such considerations, ricocheting off imponderables. ("Did I tell you that Mary, our daughter is in rehab?" "Are you aware that my husband has terminal cancer?" "Does it matter that my spouse is a nonresident alien?"). So, the Life Coach who cannot in any way respond to the financial and legal and tax items embedded in the questions above may not be able to keep the conversation going. The Life Coach might encourage a vision that is in reality just an empty dream, or even a dangerous delusion, if the Coach has no sense of financial facts and feasibility. The Life Coach may or may not be privy to the financial information, and may or may not be accepted as a peer at the client's planning table, among advisors each of whom is, candidly, vying for "client control." So, while an interesting adjunct to the team, and perhaps a good person to help the client keep from stalling in the process, a Life Coach may not necessarily be the right catalyst for a feasble overall vision.
Creating an Open Space for Civic Reflection
For those of you who are conveners, or in donor networks, or who work for nonprofits or community foundations, the "hole" at the center of the the philanthropic process, the hole around helping clients articulate high ideals, in the context of wealth, family, and community, represents a missed opportunity. No one person can fill that role. And, all who might try have a "leash," in that each is most likely tied to an institution that allows that advisor only so much slack. ("Well, Jack, you have spent hours with that client/donor. What are you billing? What gifts have you raised? How much product have you sold? etc. When are you going to bring in the check?").
To create an open space for donors, or clients to connect with their own wisdom traditions, their own ideals, their inspiration (as Tracy Gary calls it) - that strikes me as a key unmet opportunity in Dallas, and in most places. I am talking to some people here about it, and would be interested in your thoughts. A bibliography would not be hard to create. A book club would be easy enough to convene. Charles Collier's book, Tracy Gary's, H. Peter Karoff's, Bill Somerville's, or those of Amy Kass come to mind. Let's see if we can create a space for civic reflection that is oriented to inspired action in concert with advisors and nonprofits. How do we make a living doing that? I have no answer to that. It seems like volunteer work. For those whose gift is time and talent, and whose "excellence" or virtue is the art and science of cultivating our humanity, I can't think of a better way to foment a better world, while respecting the moral agency of our leading citizens.