If we were to ask financial advisors, "Where does the planning process begin?" Most would probably say, "Goal Setting and Fact-Finding." Some might say, "Discovery," and mean by that Goal-Setting and Fact-Finding. But what if we said, on the contrary, that inspired planning begins with open-ended conversation or brainstorming among key stakeholders? Stakeholders for a given client might include a spouse, maybe children if the parent are comfortable including them, maybe business partners, but what about nonprofits, or mission driven agents of social change?
If we believe that the client's vision and values, let alone goals, should drive the financial and estate plan, how do we "brainstorm" vision, so that it includes more than self and family and dollars and dates? A client may have a vague vision or daydream of a better world, but until that vision has been brainstormed and reduced to some degree of clarity, let alone realism and feasibility, it will not be a factor in the estate and financial planning process.
I am not sure where such visionary conversations among stakeholders, including stakeholders for society, should take place. I am positive these conversations are not happening in financial firms, or law firms, with rare exceptions. (Advisors say, "I am not an advocate for giving. I am here to serve the client, not raise money." They also say, "I am not comfortable with that touchy feely stuff. Besides how am I to know how to advance this or that philanthropic cause?")
If you are a donor, an activist, a fundraiser, or for that matter a financial, tax, or legal advisor, where do you think such purpose-driven brainstorming conversations should take place? Questions at such a meeting might include, "What kind of life do you want for yourself and children? What kind of world? Who is an ally in the effort? Who has achieved results in your area of interest? What kind of funding would it take to move the needle on that issue?" How might we foster more such impassioned wide open, cross-silo conversations, from which an actionable vision for each client/donor might centalize so that it might inform their financial and estate plans?
I am thinking that donor networks or nonprofits might be a more congenial host for such conversations than are the cold and formal offices of financial and legal advisors, where the meter is running or the planning process glides forward on a relatively linear path to tools and tactics that can be provided through the planner's firm. On the other hand donors might feel that in such a nonprofit setting the fundraiser might have only his or her organization's interests in mind. We seem overall to lack a neutral, congenial setting for blue sky visioning of a better life in a better world. Absent that, it seems to me that we are not only moving less money than we might, more importantly, we are leaving our most capable clients or donors less than fully fulfilled. We all want a piece of that wealthy person, but none of us individually, or we collectively, are creating a place where that person's vision can come to life, so that it can be planned, funded, implemented and thrive.
(I am indebted for the phrase "inspired planning" to Tracy Gary who has devoted most of her adult life to promoting visionary and effective giving.)