As Dave Ness, chief trust officer of Raymond James Trust, notes: “When I talk to a lot of financial advisors, they’re not completely comfortable with the subject. Some think it’s none of their business. There’s also this perception that beyond writing a check, it’s really hard: ‘If I don’t know what the right answers are, I’m not going there.’ But the fact is, there are an awful lot of things you can do with people. Clients aren’t necessarily looking for advice from advisors as to who to give to, but answers as to how.”
It helps, too, when the advisor is philanthropically inclined.
“I really think that to talk philanthropy you have to be philanthropic. This isn’t a product, this is a personal part of your soul. It’s part of who you are, it’s part of what you do,” adds Ness. “I’ve seen plenty of advisors who could sell ice cubes to Inuits who couldn’t sell a charitable remainder trust to Andrew Carnegie because they were trying to sell the tax benefits or the income — not the gift.”
Southern California advisor Mitchell Kauffman, managing director of Kauffman Wealth Services, preaches what he practices. He is hugely involved in philanthropy and he encourages his clients, most of them high-net-worth, to do the same. Yet he says it’s an “inaccurate but universal perception” that the wealthy instantly “get” philanthropy.
“They have many gaps, there are things missing. They’re the same as anybody else,” says Kauffman, who has offices associated with Raymond James Financial Services in Santa Barbara and Pasadena. “Most of the time it’s a struggle for people to do significant philanthropy. The idea of letting go of even the most highly appreciated assets can be a real struggle for even the most philanthropically motivated people. Our job as advisors is to help people clarify their goals and priorities and help them find the most advantageous ways personally to make those visions a reality. There’s opportunity here; there is value to be added.”
Here are 10 methods to consider as you help your clients think about charitable giving in fresh, new ways:
1. Rethinking the Private Foundation
Small private foundations, hammered by overhead costs and investment management fees, could operate as healthier entities when crafted as donor advised funds, according to Baruch Littman, vice president of development for The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. DAFs, he says, are leaner (no board, for example) and the donor gets the tax deduction the minute he throws cash or marketable securities into it. A DAF is also more flexible when it comes to donations of real estate and closely held stock.
In a trend that is gaining traction nationwide, Littman’s organization — which supports over 800 DAFs — became more advisor-friendly recently when it began offering separately managed accounts so that assets may remain under the management of the family’s financial advisor rather than migrating elsewhere.
2. Recognizing DAF Differences
A lot of clients open DAFs with Fidelity or Vanguard because they are huge companies and they advertise. As Randy Fox, founding principal of InKnow Vision in Naperville, Ill., and a past president of the International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy, puts it: “What a lot of people don’t know is there are donor advised funds that advisors can use where they can still help the client manage their money as opposed to going to Fidelity or Vanguard and ceding control of their assets.”
The upshot: The advisor continues to select the investments he or she thinks will best further the client’s goals. Fox adds that advisor-friendly funds like Renaissance Charitable Gift Fund and funds sponsored by the independent American Endowment Foundation also tend to be more flexible when it comes to gifts of more difficult assets such as a partnership interest. Also in play today: DAFs that represent socially responsible investing.
(Editor’s Note: To clarify, Fidelity does permit donors to nominate an independent advisor to manage their assets as long as their donor advised fund has $250,000 or more in it. Typically, an independent DAF permits a family’s personal advisor to manage the assets no matter the amount. Also, Fidelity does have a 20-year tradition of handling complex assets but they must be disposed of within three years. In fact, Fidelity Charitable saw donations of complex assets more than triple in the first half of this year to $43 million. In contrast, the typical independent DAF has no restrictions regarding time-frame.)
3. The Insurance Card
There’s a bit of a learning curve but the gifting of a life insurance policy to a favorite charity goes a long way, both for the donor and the recipient. “It’s a great tool that’s not used enough,” notes Kalita Blessing, principal of Quest Capital Management in Dallas, an RIA with Raymond James Financial Services. “It takes some education. There’s a little bit more energy involved than writing a check.”
Here’s how it works: In an ideal situation, the donor pays the policy off before gifting it. If there are continuing premiums, they are tax deductible to the donor. When the donor dies, the charity receives the proceeds. “This is finally getting some positive press after some negativity” when a few high-profile insurance gift cases went bad, Blessing adds. “The fact is it makes a nice gift. It’s an idea worth thinking about.”