When she was 14, Tracy Gary was told she would be a millionaire. At 21, she inherited $1.2 million. By the time she turned 35, just as planned, she had given it all away.
Over the last 35 years, Gary has taken philanthropy to new heights. She has founded 18 non-profits and worked with over 6,000 “wealth holders” and their families. She’s given away another $1 million — this money that she earned. And now, through her newest startup, Houston-based Inspired Legacies, the donor activist is connecting, as she puts it, “dreamers and dream-makers” — wealthy donors and the advisors and non-profits that can help them achieve their “inspired” outcome.
As Gary, 58, views it, the stakes have never been higher.
“We are growing a network of people who want to give boldly and strategically and who are committed to being transformational leaders during this transformational time,” she says. “There’s plenty to give and plenty to do. This is not a spectator sport. At this point in our history, we are going to break through or break down. I’m on the breakthrough side.”
Through Inspired Legacies, Gary coaches financial advisors — both individually and at training workshops — on how to work better with wealthy clients on philanthropy. At the moment, she adds, there’s a fundamental gap — clients who often resist the legacy piece and advisors who aren’t equipped to guide them through the planning process.
One statistic that propels Gary forward: Only 17 percent of the wealthiest Americans, those with a net worth of $6 million and up, mention any charities in their wills. “To me that’s completely shocking,” she says. “There’s a disconnect.”
To make matters worse, Gary says very few advisors in their client intake questionnaire include philanthropy. If there is one, it is typically swept into this broad question: What percentage of your current assets do you wish to leave to the community, friends, family, Uncle Sam? “That’s it? Not: What do you give to? What are your passions and interests? Do you have a special relationship in the non-profit community? What is it you would like to change or preserve in your lifetime for yourself, your family, your community? These are key,” Gary says. “These are the questions that move people along.”
Gary, author of the widely read Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy, says donors tend to respond positively to advisors who approach them with a “deep spirit of respect and listening.” Yet very few advisors reveal the importance of philanthropy and volunteerism in their own lives — a mistake, according to Gary.
Among the advisors Gary works with today who are getting it right: a young estate planning attorney who reduces her fee by as much as one-third when a new client volunteers within 90 days of their engagement, and a CPA who awards a matching gift of up to $250 when a client makes his or her first charitable gift of the year.