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Drawing Out Donors' Dreams

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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.

Gary also says it’s important for advisors and all staff to have their own giving plans. “This represents a deep dive into your values.” Additionally, she says advisors should not be shy about asking clients to refer them to other families that are philanthropically inclined. “It’s very easy to do that kind of referral,” she notes.

Randy Fox, a founding principal of InKnowVision, which designs estate plans for families with $10 million in net worth and up, has partnered with Gary’s Inspired Legacies for the past year to produce Inspired InKnowVision, an outreach program for advisors who serve the ultra-affluent. The collaboration far exceeded Fox’s expectations.

“Tracy has a passion and depth of experience, having worked with charities and having been a donor. She understands the charitable mind,” says Fox. On a practical level, he adds, Gary’s training tips have filled a void. “Our advisors are dying for that kind of stuff. It’s just breaking down barriers more than anything else — getting the professions that should be talking to each other talking to each other.”

Gary grew up in a family of privilege. Her mother, a hugely successful Wall Street stockbroker, was a Pillsbury heiress. Her adoptive father’s family held the patent to the dial telephone. Together, through business ventures, they made tens of millions of dollars — all the while teaching their daughter to be a servant leader. Gary began volunteering at six and by 18 she had founded two non-profits. Her life’s work has been framed by her parents’ message to her as a child: “You are part of a community; you contribute to that community. This is how you will best grow yourself — by being connected to people.”

It is a mission that has allowed Gary to live “euphorically,” as she phrases it.

“Do you want to be part of those who are co-creating the future — the family we want, the world we want? How can you be a leader? We’re here to draw out donors and their dreams,” she says. “It’s not just thinking about the clock ticking — but being of service to a higher goal.”

PHOTO BY Jill Hunter/Wonderful Machine.
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