ELITE ADVISOR BEST PRACTICES

Unlocking Family Values - Part Two

Crucial conversations for planning success

Randy Fox interviews Todd Fithian

Key Takeaways:

  • If the donor’s values don’t line up with the charity’s purpose, the donor is not going to give--or will not give much.
  • If advisors can show alignment between the core values of the donor and what the intended organization is doing in the world, that’s a home-run match.
  • Advisors don’t have to be expert facilitators to have deep conversations with clients. Just let clients tell their stories using values-based conversations. You’ll be amazed at the improvement in your overall relationship.


In Part One of this interview, Fithian explained how he uses a special deck of cards to help clients narrow down their list of core values in order to really understand their beliefs, both financial and in life. Here he explains how to show alignment between the core values of the donor and what the intended organization is doing in the world.

Fox: As we discussed in Part One, the U.S. Trust Study of the Philanthropic Conversation showed that advisors aren’t getting to know their clients as well as they should, at least when it comes to their charitable intentions.

Fithian: I think the fundraisers are in the best place to do this. They have to be having this type of conversation. I really think they do. How do you distinguish yourself from other charities, organizations and causes? You have a lot of women in fundraising, and not to be stereotypical, but they get this kind of conversation. They’re better at it than men are. If I’m a fundraiser representing an organization, a cause, a campaign, whatever it might be, my ability to really understand the donors and what drives them and what they are passionate about, those are the things that I need to respect and honor along the way, as we try to align them with what our needs are and what our goals are. If I’m able to match those two things, I’m going to create an experience that that donor has never ever had before.

Fox: Well exactly. If the donors’ values don’t line up with the charity’s purpose, they’re not going to give, or they’re not going to give much. If you can show the alignment between what the core values of the donor are and what your organization is doing in the world, that’s a home-run match to me.

Fithian: What you just said was very timely and brilliant, because how many fundraisers are talking to donors who have, as you and I have talked about, pocketbook philanthropy? It’s for their local community or their alma mater, but their values overall are really not connecting. The fundraisers are spending time because of the situation and the analysis that they’ve done, seeing that there’s a major gift potential down the road at some point. So the donors are hanging on, but it’s never coming through the donors’ eyes. Their attitude seems to be, “I’m doing this to keep you happy, but there’s nothing bigger coming because there’s no alignment there.”

Maybe the conversation gets alignment, though.

Some financial advisors are good at disengaging when the conversations are not going anywhere, and some are not. They don’t want to see it. It’s different on the fundraising side. It’s about understanding what drives these people, and values are clearly a part of that conversation. Nobody’s having this conversation with them in the fundraising community.

Fox: What do you think that is, Todd?

Fithian: First, can I take a minute and just talk about a more expansive version of the discussion that we’ve developed?

Fox: Sure.

Fithian: During one of our conversations, I told you that our firm acquired another business--actually a Canadian business--and I have a partner now who is based in Canada, running a Canadian office for us. He had done a broad level of consulting over the years, a lot of it marketing-based. But one of the things that he does is goes into organizations and has really thorough conversations about values with the people at those organizations. We’ve now incorporated this into our firm and into one of the things that we teach. This is an advanced level of facilitation around values, but I’ve never seen something as powerful as this.

Fox: Can you tell us more about this concept?

Fithian: The concept is to take a timeline of one’s life, and from birth until current age go through and plot out the high and low points of one’s lifetime. You find the things that have been amazing and positive in your life and the things that have impacted you in more of a negative way. What our new partner has done in this process is get people into some conversations around some of the low points that they have had in life. It’s amazing to hear the stories and what was not being honored and what stance that caused someone to take. It really allows you to create some defining statements about how to honor people as you move forward with them. You go through that journey with somebody talking about the high and low points of life and hearing their stories around each of these events and what happened to them, how they felt and how that defines how they make decisions today. Hopefully people can kind of see a different framework there than simply putting the deck of values cards down for somebody.

Fox: It sounds like it’s much more intimate and there’s much more of a dialogue involved. There is a whole school of psychology about post-traumatic growth. For people who have had bad experiences, there’s a big learning [curve] that takes place. A lot of our formation takes place as a result of things that have been traumatic for us and we can go a lot of directions from that. But that’s where our values crystalize for us. It fits right into that avenue of psychological intellectual capital.

Fithian: This was one of the reasons that we incorporated the “verification around values deck” conversation. We were ending it like most do, by asking “What are your top five values?” It’s faith, it’s family, it’s education, it’s integrity, it’s honesty. Those are your five, great. That’s what we’re going to use in leverage. Tying a story back to it, you can see it’s a component of that journey that you could actually go through with somebody. It adds another level of verification. And it honors the person. If you’re sitting there with a donor, or if you’re sitting there with a client and you’re asking them to tell you about the role that faith plays in their life, you’re connecting at a completely different level.

It’s powerful. I really hope that advisors will understand that you don’t have to be an expert facilitator when having these conversations with people. You don’t have to be loaded with a book full of questions. Let them go through the exercise and just let them tell their stories. You will just be amazed by what it does to the overall relationship. Clients will feel completely different.

Fox: Well, this is great material, Todd. And I sure hope everybody gets as much out of it as I have. And we will continue our stories and conversations as we move along--because I know there’s more there.

Fithian: Thanks so much, Randy. And you know, thanks for allowing us to continue sharing some of our passion. I hope the readers get good ideas and insights out of this. So thanks very much.

Fox: Great. Thanks, we’ll talk to you soon.


About the interviewer and interviewee

Randy Fox is Editor in Chief of Planned Giving Design Center and is the regional representative of Charitable Giving Resource Center.

Todd Fithian is a 20 year veteran, and third generation producer in the financial services industry. Todd formed his own wealth advisory firm in Boston soon after graduating from The University of Massachusetts, then later joined forces with his late brother, Scott, in 1996 to form The Legacy Companies which helps financial advisors and institutions worldwide enhance critical conversations with wealth holders.