Just back from the annual Conference on Philanthropy in Chicago and though the attendance was up to around 190 this year, I came away with that same feeling that I have every year; that many advisors are simply missing out on an important, fulfilling and profitable practice area. And, by doing so they are also failing their clients and, perhaps, relegating their practices to ordinariness.
The conference, held every April, is put on by The International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy whose members are mostly financial professionals who dedicate a good segment of their practices to educating and engaging their clients on all issues philanthropic. This year's conference was especially rich with speakers who specialize in helping advisors engage their clients in deeper, more meaningful conversations about their legacies and the creative uses of their wealth beyond their heirs. Speaker after speaker challenged the participants to change the paradigm of the traditional "assets under management" financial advisors or the typical life insurance salesperson.
The conference always gets me wondering why more advisors don't embrace the powerful planning tools of the philanthropic portfolio. After thinking about it and discussing it with many colleagues, I think there are several major reasons. First, most advisors lack the training and education to discuss philanthropic tools comfortably with their clients. Charitable planning is a complex topic and there few places to learn how it works. That's changed recently with the American College offering the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP) training. Similar in format to the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation, the CAP program will give the advisor a broad base of knowledge in all things charitable. After that, practical experience and specialized trainings will flatten the otherwise steep learning curve. No more excuses advisors. Advisors should be life long learners anyway.
Second, many advisors say that they don't have wealthy enough clients to justify practicing in this area. The truth is that almost every family in this country gives to charity regularly at some level. With tools available like Donor Advised Funds, it is easy to begin a more thoughtful giving plan for almost any level client. The discussion about the "why" of giving and to whom and how they give to can be a life changing experience for both the client and the advisor. Surveys abound that indicate that high net worth clients are discussing philanthropy with their advisors, not charities. Doesn't it make sense to get into the mix? Want some high net worth clients? Get good at the philanthropic discussion and word will spread. You'll have little competition.
Next, many advisors don't feel equipped to have deep conversations about legacy and the multi-generational impact of wealth and philanthropy. Once again, there are many ways to solve this educational gap. Plan Your Legacy offers a simple online questionnaire that advisors can use to allow their clients to begin the process of self discovery. SunBridge Legacy Builder Network provides training and coaching that allows advisors to truly engage their clients at a deeper and more meaningful level that truly enhances the client experience and the client advisor relationship. And for those that really want to take the plunge, The Heritage Institute will change your approach to clients completely. These are just a few of the opportunities available for the willing advisor.
And for those advisors that don't understand the economic potential of philanthropic planning, it's pretty simple. There are assets to be managed and often life insurance to place. Done properly, the managed assets stay around a long time, sometimes several generations. While this may seem mercenary, it's truly OK to make a profit while working in the charitable sector. Philanthropic planning is often described as "doing well by doing good." However, there is generally a long and often frustrating lead time necessary to complete a charitable gift of any type. Many advisors give up on philanthropy because of this. But many rewarding experiences aren't easy.
A practice that enters into philanthropic planning can provide differentiation from your competitors, financial rewards and personal enrichment. Isn't that why you're an advisor?