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Financial Advisers: Roadblocks to raising the philanthropy question

Financial advisers and philanthropy seem like a perfect match.  As trusted wealth consultants with a strong personal understanding of their clients, financial advisers are uniquely positioned to positively impact their business, the individuals and families they serve, and society at large.  So, if philanthropy is good for advisers, clients, and society, what barriers keep advisers from starting these conversa­tions? How can these hurdles be overcome? The obstacles are diverse, but several surface more often than others.


The reason most advisers give for not starting these conversations is that they feel uncomfortable initiating a values-based conversation about philanthropy. This uneasiness can stem from many sources: (1) The con­versations feel “too personal,” despite the reality that they are no more intimate than values-and-goals–based financial planning; (2) advisers often believe that phi­lanthropy “isn’t their job,” despite contradictory expec­tations from high-net-worth clients; (3) they fear they will appear “preachy,” which can easily be avoided by pre­senting philanthropy as an opportunity rather than an obligation and by simply asking open-ended questions.


Advisers also hold back because they are not con­fident that they possess the understanding, skills, and experience to help their clients explore and craft a phil­anthropic plan. Although some financial advisers have built successful practices by acquiring the skill to develop philanthropic plans for clients, for those advisers who have not, there are lots of resources that both the adviser and client can tap into for real progress—resources that are valuable only if the adviser opens the conversation first. Philanthropic support organizations (such as the National Center for Family Philanthropy and World­wide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support), community foundations that are located in most major cities around the globe, and a host of philanthropic advisers are just a call or click away.


Clients’ perceptions of their own wealth can also be a hurdle, especially when advisers assume (correctly or incorrectly) that clients are too worried about having enough money left for themselves or their children to think about being more charitable. Strategies that advis­ers have found successful in addressing the disconnect between a client’s perception and the actual magnitude of the client’s wealth include showing clients actual assets needed to meet future lifestyle requirements, engaging clients in goals-focused conversations that map the impact they would like to have, and talking candidly about the kind of legacy they wish to leave.


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