Over the last few weeks I have had a chance to serve on panels or give talks to advisors and gift planners at the National Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, Advancement Network (Community Foundations), The Carter Center, and by webinar with Advisors in Philanthropy. The topic is always some version of how gift planners and financial advisors can better collaborate to serve the high capacity people that some of us call donors and some call clients. Collectively, we need at least four distinct skill sets, plus a humble recognition of our own limited capacities, and a willingness to work with others across disciplinary boundaries. (And we need to overcome what holds us back.)
1) Skill set 1: the ability to listen for the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our fellow citizens who have so much. Not just needs and wants. Not just hearing and serving the grudging, disgruntled "bad angel," so often inflamed by the radio or the news, but the better angels that pass through us, as through walls, in pursuit of a soul worth saving, or a world.
2) Skill sets 2: technical ability in a speciality area, relevant to the work. Such areas include estate and financial planning, legal work, investment planning, business exit planning. Also included might be strategic philanthropic consulting, family dynamics consulting, family governance work, or the negotiation of gift agreements.
3) Skill set 3: ability to keep a process moving and take responsibility for an outcome, inclusive of many stakeholders.
What holds us back? Each discipline is like a creature in an ecosystem. Each discipline has evolved to forage, feed itself, fend off competitors and reproduce its own systems. This is what it means to be well trained, well educated, and disciplined. Yet, the cross-disciplinary work above asks the dog to climb trees, the cat to swim, and butterflies to pull a wagon. The creatures are not built or incentivized or disciplined or managed to work in this fluid way towards a result which is good for client family, good for the community, and which may or may not pay as well as business as usual - and is much more difficult and requires much more education and does not apply to that many clients.
What is coming next? Study after study shows the wealthy givers are not happy with our respective performances, taken on average. They expect us to work better towards their ideal outcomes. Specifically, what is coming next is a shift from creating "endowed funds" at nonprofits, to creating outsourced endowments held by advisors in various tools, like foundation or donor advised fund or even CRT and CLT. The driving force for field change is the convergence of assets under managememt, and the donor's desire to use gift agreement and staged payments to hold charities accountable for getting agreed upon results. Dr. Steven Meyers of The American Committee of Weizmann Institute is in the forefront of this with a new book about to be published, on Personalized Philanthropy. Certain advisors are listening intently. Tim Belber, with a new book coming out on values-based legacy planning is in the forefront. John A. Warnick is lending a forum to discuss all this. Advisors from Todd Fithian's Legacy network, including Tim, but several more, are following these developments.
Who loses? For once, the ones who lose are the ones who should lose. If you are a charity that takes endowment money and treats gift agreements as lover's lies, promises made to be finessed, you will lose. If you are a fundraiser who hits and runs with solicitation, rather creating a reasoned gift plan, you will lose. If you are a fundraiser who distrusts advisors and refuses to collaborate, preferring to work around them, you will lose. If you are a supervisor of fundraisers who insists on current dollars, and booking the principal to your endowment, rather than allowing for outsourced endowments when appropriate, you will lose. If you are an institution whose prefers to treat fundraising as a gimme gimme function, run like a boileroom, or with road warriors using a one or two call "ask," you will lose, even if your organization has billions in your endowment, and very wealthy, very loyal (reasonably patient) donors. You will lose because what you do is not the best that can be done for those you serve, or solicit. And so far you don't seem to care. And it shows.
The winners? Dare I say it? The winners are advisors who manage assets, lawyers who create foundations and other outsourced endowment tools, and advisors and others who can appropriately negotiate and shop outsourced endowment gift agreements. Community foundations and national donor advised fund complexes are well-positioned, as outsourced endowment holders and accepters of hard to value non-cash assets. Insurance sales may also arise to replace gifted assets or to complete the gift at the end of life. Also those winning are those nonprofit gift planners, like Steven Meyers, who see themselves as working for a match between donor mission and their organization's capacities, and who seek the best possible outcome, on behalf of that shared mission, regardless of who holds the money. Also winning are those supervisors who are able to take the long view and support gift planners who operate at this level and in this spirit.
The market in gift planning is so obscure, so opaque, so small, and so thin, that it does not clear in anything like a rational fashion. We are overdue for a correction. I believe we are about to see a more client-friendly approach that will result in our better angels being better served for the benefit of our communities.