Yesterday I did a 60 minute breakout for a Fortune 500 financial services company at their annual conference. By agreement with the convener, I planned 30 minutes on "the big questions" that donors and clients ask as they contemplate their lives, mortality, and posterity. In the other 30 minutes, I agreed to talk tax, tools, and techniques. In the back of the room, were 6 highly intelligent looking, quite well dressed, people who paid very close attention to the life questions. ("What kind of person do you want to be in what kind of world? Where do you want to have an impact now, later, at death or beyond death? How wealthy do you want your children to be? Are there things in life you have not yet done that you would like to get back to while you still have time?") Then, as I pivoted into the technical stuff about charitable tools and techniques, in the context of estate planning, one raised his hand, and launched into a plain spoken directive: "You are going way too fast! Stick with the life questions. Do not push product and tools. Stay with the vision issues." His perspective is my perspective, and I welcomed it, so I asked him his role there. He said, "I am on the Board of this company" as were the five imposing figures to his right. That evening at the cocktail hour, another member of the Board sought me out. "What is your background?, he wanted to know. I summarized 27 years in financial services. He waved that off as nothing. (Which, I agree with; from a Board perspective, I had been another mid-level drudge managed to metrics.) "No, no," he said, "What is your real background?" Finding that I have studied literature, philosophy, and psychology at some depth, he launched into his professional history, his estate planning, and his own dilemmas in passing wealth to heirs.
Here is more:
- The talk was originally submitted as 100% about the life questions.
- The conveners wanted technical because the firm does technical and gets reps paid through technical
- Those authorities responsible for Continuing Ed were apparently mystified by my applying for CE credit for a talk on life questions, so the technical had to be prominently included.
Here is what I conclude:
- Steve Job's said that the iPhone is "the intersection of technology and the liberal arts." So estate planning and charitable planning are the intersection of the humanities and the technical. (The why of life with the how of money.)
- The humane side of gift planning is woefully under-represented in this hard-driven age of metrics and results.
- As gift planners get pushed and pushed to get results by the numbers, and as financial firms push their reps the same way, and as the liberal arts fall into the "nice to have" category at even the best colleges, and as the liberal arts continue to attract, not the future leaders, but the feckless and the disaffected (speaking as one), the gap between what wealthy people need (a space to reflect on what matters most) and what they get (a space in which to be planned and badgered by the numbers) will only continue to grow.
- What Board members want for themselves and how their orgs are run (whether law firms, accounting firms, financial firms or nonprofits) are at right angles - "Manage others to metrics, but treat me, precious me, as a person!"
On a positive note..... the big life questions are easy to ask. As long as you don't fear what happens next. What happens after you ask them may be what happened in the streets of Athens or Jerusalem, with results that were unpredictable, but could include poison or crucifixion, head up or head down, depending on the situation. The wealthy bear it away. This is their Republic, their world. We get to live here, but to pose questions about love, life, justice, as if wealth reported on up from the Board to the Most High, or to some inner light more reliable than personal preference, is more than your life is worth or mine. I do not ask the big questions - What kind of world class Fool do you think I am? - I just quote many people, mostly dead people, who asked those questions. And at least 50% of every talk I give is The Answers, which amount to products, assets under management, tools and techniques and gift opportunities. So, I know how my bread is buttered, and I keep the buttery side up, as I was taught, in 27 years under the yoke of metrics, under a Board, who would prefer something else altogether for themselves, and can't find it, won't find it. Poetic justice. Death in life. Running to metrics, objectively valid, and right on time.