A revolving door of appointments and an undying commitment to client satisfaction are keys to success for financial professionals, and the thought of adding community involvement to the mix can sometimes be daunting. But according to these three advisors, making the time to participate in a charitable cause is worth stepping away from your desk. Each demonstrates that getting involved can boost your productivity and visibility to prospective clients and — of chief importance — improve the environment and the quality of lives of those around you, including yourself.
Find a personal call to service
After completing his master’s degree in education from Harvard University, Brent R. Kimball devoted his time to setting up inner-city youth programs around the country, but the extensive hours he was working combined with the little money he was earning threatened his goal of getting married and having a house and family. In fact, Kimball, CFP, CLU, ChFC, founder of A1 Freedom Financial in Pembroke, N.H., and current President of the MDRT Foundation, entered the financial industry because of the opportunity it provided to help people while making a good living and maintaining his own schedule.
Kimball’s early community involvement was with the Boston Life Underwriters, dressing as Santa Claus at local children’s hospitals and a home for parents and families to stay while their children received medical treatment. When Kimball’s kids were little, he says, they’d make it a family affair by coming along dressed as elves. Later, Kimball learned that his good friend and client’s daughter, Alex, had leukemia. “Most of the new research in terms of treatment of leukemia for teenagers is not from new drugs being invented or from doctors.” he says. “It’s actually being done by nurses.” After seeing so many children hospitalized and watching his good friend lose his daughter just nine months after her diagnosis, Kimball founded Alex’s Team Foundation, which provides fellowships for medical students and support for nurses working in the pediatric oncology unit of Boston’s Children’s Hospital.
Advisors who decide to get involved in their community may be looking for a tax deduction, to boost their image in the eyes of their peers, or to take advantage of a valuable and cost-effective means to get to know prospective clients. They may also feel called to focus on a cause that’s close to the heart, or to relieve their own grief by helping strangers who are struggling with a similar hardship. Kimball always felt called to community service but has never focused on trying to boost his business by doing so. “I really can’t tell you of one client in my whole 31 years who has come from my charitable giving,” he says. As Kimball noted in his “Give a Little, Get a Lot” MDRT Annual Meeting 2012 presentation, there is “a connection between charity and strength, youth, happiness and better business. My intention, however, is not to offer these as reasons to engage in charitable activity. Why you ultimately give is no one’s business. Reasons and motivations are deeply personal.”
Plant a seed and watch it grow
The key to effecting change — large or small — is not the idea itself, according to Robelynn H. Abadie, but the action you take on your ideas. “A lot of people have ideas,” she says, “but they don’t take the risk to jump out there and possibly fail.” Abadie, CAP, RFC, LUTCF, CHRS, founder and CEO of Abadie Financial Services, LLC in Baton Rouge, La., finds that contributing to the community is similar to her work as a financial advisor. “I’m in a business where you often fail because you hear a lot of nos,” she adds, “but you also get a lot of yeses because you just get out there and do it.”
Abadie is particularly proud of a program she developed with the Women’s Council of Greater Baton Rouge, during her time as a member and president. The Council was experiencing a decline in membership when Abadie was inspired by a program being hosted by a Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in northern Louisiana — one that honored influential women in the area. After traveling to speak with the YWCA president and learning more about their program, Abadie founded a weeklong convention of activities in Baton Rouge.
Aptly titled Women’s Week, the annual event provides women from all industries and walks of life with a unique place to network, showcase their businesses and talents, and express themselves. “The real emphasis is to share what our city and our community has to offer, and what the women are doing,” Abadie says. “And it provides that showcase every year.” The first year the attendance was around 5,000; now it has grown to approximately 30,000 women each year.
Abadie is also involved in a project she stumbled upon while assisting the critical care and pediatric wards of the LSU field house operation for Hurricane Katrina refugees. Baton Rouge hosted numerous refugees after the levy broke in New Orleans the day after the hurricane hit, she notes. One of the largest FEMA trailer parks was in Baker, a suburb of Baton Rouge, and Abadie noticed that there was no playground or recreational opportunities for the children staying there. After much research, negotiation and fundraising, Abadie made sure there was a large playground built on the FEMA trailer bus route, where families could take their children.
Give back what was given to you
When it comes to choosing a cause to contribute your time and resources to, it helps to visit the lessons and mentors of your past, says Robert C. Savage, the youngest of nine children who sadly lost his mother due to complications during his birth. “My father had a little corner grocery story in an industrial neighborhood that was open 12 hours a day and a half day on Sunday,” Savage says. “When my mother died, his job was to make sure all of these nine kids got educated, and he did. He’s the sharpest man I’ve ever met.”
This emphasis on education and the mentoring he received from his father inspired Savage, CLU, ChFC, co-founder of Toledo, Ohio-based Savage & Associates, Inc., to get involved at the University of Toledo, where he served as a trustee for two years. Today, the College of Business is named after his practice. “I’ve always been involved with getting young people to think and to study,” Savage says. “Education is the only answer to true change.”
Savage noticed there was no children’s science museum in the area. When a large building on the river in downtown Toledo became vacant, he and two others in the community jumped on the opportunity to create an education mecca for children in their area. The museum they founded, a hands-on science center called the Imagination Station, hosts over 300 exhibits for children of all ages, and has become a top destination in town for families to take their children, Savage says.
The Imagination Station works very closely with the Toledo Community Foundation and school systems to put on the Adopt-A-School program, which enables different schools to visit the science center. The Science Society, a fundraising arm for the Imagination Station, pools money and votes on ideas for new and exciting exhibits. “If you can build a public forum like this that takes on the mantra of empowering math and science,” Savage says, “there’s a much better chance that kids who don’t get mentoring at home will find it through the people who volunteer or work at the Imagination Station.”
You reap what you sow
When you find a cause that’s meaningful to you, it’s important to do more than more than simply write a check, says Abadie. And with participation come unexpected rewards. When taking action, she says, you are naturally going to be working with like-minded people — people you can share your stories with. “If you have a real life event and you talk about that story,” she adds, “people can relate to that — and almost all real life stories transition into a need for our products, whether it be disability, life insurance or retirement services.”
Another pleasant side effect of community work is name recognition, says Abadie. And with that comes credibility, says Kimball. “People love to know that you’re not just working for profit,” he says.
Kimball has also noticed a correlation between his efforts in the community and those in his business. “For some reason, every time I give blood, my business picks up,” he says. “You can say it’s spiritual, or that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he adds, “but what I believe is that, after seeing families who have it a lot worse than I could ever imagine, I realize how blessed I am that my life is good, and that motivates me to do well.”
If you’re competent in one thing, says Savage, people will assume you’re competent in other things until you prove them wrong, so do everything you do in an extraordinary way. All advisors have a duty to get involved in their community, he adds, and if it attracts clients, all the better. “Once you make a living, you can’t make two livings, so you might as well see if you can use your time, talent and money to make other things work better for everybody. I’m a huge believer that we have an obligation to always try and be uplifting to people,” he adds. “I think that’s our job.”