Three Pillars of Personalized Philanthropy - Part Seven

What advisors frequently overlook

By Steven Meyers

Key Takeaways:

  • What are the lessons that donors can teach us about personalized philanthropy?
  • What questions can we consider when approaching our gift?
  • How does the Passover story of the Four Children relate to philanthropy?
  • What can John Lennon and Mike Tyson teach us about philanthropic planning?

Part Six of this article series focused on the cross-fertilization of finance and philanthropy. We also explored ways in which savvy advisors and gift officers can help charitably inclined clients finance scholarships or other projects with annual gifts and balloon payments. Here we’ll try to tie together all the lessons and parables we’ve shared with Elite Advisor Report readers over the past several months.

Hopefully, this article series about the four donors will raise as many questions as it answers. To provide some insight into my own thinking and the questions I’ve asked, here are three lessons that I have learned from the donors referenced. I think you will find that these lessons permeate all the examples we’ve discussed and help illustrate the shaping and design of each of the gift plans, which are matched to the interests of the individual donors and to the compelling needs of the organizations they care about. To me these questions and insights point to better ways to engage in Effective Philanthropy, powered by Personalized Gift Design.

Message in a bottle: Three keys to effective personalized philanthropy

(For any soulful season of giving)

I like to think about the three keys as if they were part of a forgotten fragment—a message in a bottle— written by a philanthropist long ago. Imagine it was sent (floated) by the author in the hope that it would be found by the People Who Want to Make a Plan. But too often it comes up against the crush of reality: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” (John Lennon) and “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face” (Mike Tyson).

Whether you are a philanthropist or a fundraiser, this message resonates for people seeking to understand and act on their charitable impulses. This message in a bottle seems relevant all year long, at any soulful season of giving.

Imagine that you found the bottle and read this message inside.

1. Give with a warm hand — My friend said it was better to give with a warm hand than a cold one. She meant it, and did it. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase from Warren Buffett, “giving while living.” Giving with a warm hand is the big idea behind that. It also shapes the Giving Pledge, which has encouraged so many philanthropists to designate at least half of their estates to helping others. So, if you feel charitable, it’s up to you to decide what you want to happen with your gift. Go ahead and make your statement. You do not have to defer or leave this important life-defining decision to someone else.

2. Give with a warm heart — Besides giving while living, you can give as you live, with passion and a warm heart. Share that. With something meaningful to you. Start now. Aim high. Scale up and go long. Make a habit of giving. You can achieve much more by combining current gifts with future gifts for something that’s important to you. Most charities will allow you to target or restrict your gift. The really enlightened ones encourage it. You can start with something doable now and yet grow the impact of your support with each additional gift.

3. Give with a cool head — Give smart. Not just from your heart. Employ the powerful tools of personalized philanthropy; smart advisors can show you how. It’s possible and even OK to benefit your loved ones and yourself with your giving. Bequests, charitable trusts, gift annuities, charitable insurance and retirement plans. Especially bequests. Find out about virtual endowments and how to build equity in your endowment. This way, you can create a lasting legacy, and it can begin now.

They say this is how philanthropy used to be done. This is how it will be done in the future.

A few thought-provoking questions for clients

1. Would you give with a “warm hand” if you could? If you consider giving with a warm hand to mean not only giving while alive, but also directing and designating the use of your future gifts, then does that way of thinking open up the possibilities for you to give more or to give differently? Do you believe that your legacy should be decided by someone else? If not you, who?

2. When one thinks of meeting a donor “where they are,” where would you think of yourself on the spectrum? On the continuum ranging from wise (astute), wicked (questioning), simple (curious) to doesn’t know how to ask (searching), where are you? Are you always in the same place, or does it vary from time to time? If you are giving away your treasure, what should you expect to gain from your gifts?

3. Do you expect a financial return from your gift? A spiritual redemption or other sense of ROI of “impact” and change? If you could, would you like to have a more personal and interactive relationship with representatives of the organization or cause whose programs and projects will ultimately benefit from your support and generosity? Would you like to gain access to special people?

4. Do these personalized giving techniques help you see new ways to give? Endowment is a very specific investment and management concept to nonprofit administrators. But to you as a donor, it may mean simply ensuring that a goal will continue to be met long into the future. Which is more important to you, the investment of the endowment or the use of the funds to achieve a goal? How do you set the balance?

5. Does it seem reasonable and possible to borrow familiar concepts from the rest of your life (say, the idea of a mortgage) and import those concepts into philanthropy? Have you encountered charitable organizations that allow you to “build equity” in your endowment while also have it work at full capacity, as in these examples? If not, are you willing and able to lead the way and show them how? Sometimes donors go from “one who does not know how to ask” to one who leads.

6. Can you see how some of the basic building blocks of philanthropy—the seemingly modest outright gifts you make every year, for example—could become the basis of a much more powerful gift later on? Have you thought about making a commitment over multiple years, instead of one year at a time, and what that could mean to an institution you care about?

7. If you decided to lead with your annual gifts (and turn a traditional endowment on its head), how could your ultimate gift have even greater impact than if you used those modest gifts to grow an endowment? Using personalized philanthropy, how might you reconfigure your own approaches to giving to achieve greater impact and recognition, starting now?

The Passover Haggadah and Philanthropy

By Rabbi Steven Steinberg

Let me set some context for this unusual little volume, since “The Four Donors” takes off from the Passover story of the Four Children.

The Passover Haggadah is a small booklet used to structure the setting for a meal. The booklet combines elements of biblical literature, rabbinic literature, medieval stories, songs (ancient and recent), and modern literature.

The structure of the Haggadah is open and allows for the addition of materials. The themes of the manual are the movement from slavery to freedom, both physical and psychological, and the concomitant feeling of moving from shame to glory.

While Passover celebrates a Jewish holiday, these are universal themes. Many cultures and various religious groups have adopted and adapted the meal and the manual to their unique circumstances.

The meal takes elements of two ancient Middle Eastern celebrations—a springtime harvest festival and the birth of lambs—places them in a Hebrew biblical context, adds on Jewish rabbinical themes, and superimposes those themes on a typical Greco-Roman symposium or meal, reinterpreting the Greco-Roman rituals to fit Jewish religious themes.

Imagine a McDonald’s Happy Meal reinterpreted in a religious context.

Then, over the next two thousand years, songs, artwork and contemporary pieces of literature are added (or older ones omitted) to more closely align the Haggadah with a particular local culture.

The entire document is structured as if answering questions of the uninitiated. Thus, the rituals leading to the actual meal are treated as teaching tools.

The number “four” is used as a key element in the Haggadah. Thus there are four sons/children who ask four questions. There are four cups of wine to be imbibed.

Certainly there are obvious analogies between the ideals of the Haggadah and the ideals of philanthropy. Since the four sons are an all-inclusive trope—I’m in, I’m out, I haven’t thought about that question, and I didn’t know one could ask questions—here is a ready comparison that can be made to four types of donors who are seeking an education about why to engage in philanthropy.

The Four Sons are an all-inclusive trope: I’m in, I’m out, I haven’t thought about that question, and I didn’t know one could ask questions.

The Haggadah as well as philanthropy stress the communal responsibility of all participants. Both remind us of the hazards of the world that require attention.

Both hope to take us from need to success and our right to celebrate that success.

Both remind us that the task is unending. I hope you and your clients enjoyed this article series. My contact information is below if you have any questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you.

About the Author

Steven L. Meyers, Ph.D., is Vice President of the Center for Personalized Philanthropy at the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science. Steve is a primary developer of personalized philanthropy, based on his mantra of “the right gift, for the right purpose, for the right donor.” Steve’s innovative donor-focused gift designs, especially a series of arrangements he calls “killer apps,” combine the full spectrum of current and future gifts so that donors can create a lasting legacy where impact and recognition are able to start up right away.