The widespread market crash of 2008-2009 left many shell-shocked advisory firm staffers wondering whether their efforts still had any meaning. One advisor decided to send his discouraged staff out of the office once a week to make sandwiches at a homeless shelter. This unlikely commitment had an amazing effect on his team’s morale. Their feelings of anxiety and depression were transformed into satisfaction that they were making a difference to the needy, along with appreciation of their own good fortune in having a secure and stable life.
Financial advisors tend to be generous folks, willing to donate time, skills and money to benefit worthy organizations. Some do it because it’s part of their worldview, like Nathan Bachrach of Simply Money Advisors, who remembers his uncle’s encouragement to give back to the community. Others maintain that being a committed corporate citizen is simply a good business practice. Less often noted, however, is the positive effect that giving back can have on personal satisfaction, resilience and productivity — yours and your team members’.
The Rewards of Helping Others
“A few days after 9/11, I was on a train to New York City on a promised visit to my cousin, feeling scared and stressed to the max,” Olivia Mellan remembers. “When the train stopped in Philadelphia, I was astonished to see a huge influx of people boarding the train, full of energy and purpose. They were Campbell Soup employees bringing food to emergency responders working at the site of the Twin Towers disaster. As the trip progressed, the difference between their positive mood and that of the rest of us on that train really moved me.”
Research in the workplace shows time and again that the most important factor in job satisfaction, after people’s basic financial needs are met, is the knowledge that what they do will help make a difference.
Other studies report that giving one’s time, skills or money to make the world a better place is a characteristic of most people who consider themselves happy. By contrast (as therapists know), self-centeredness and self-absorption tend to lead to stress behaviors, isolation and unhappiness.
Wondering how you can integrate a meaningful community service program with your other priorities? Several advisors told us what they do, how they do it and what you might expect from a program of your own.
Do Good Even if Nobody Notices
“Doing good has its own rewards,” Nathan Bachrach told us. As CEO of Simply Money Advisors in Cincinnati, Bachrach leads a staff of 35, including 11 CFPs. He and partner Edward Finke believed in philanthropy and “random acts of kindness” from the very beginning.
“It speaks well of our profession when we’re involved in something beyond our profession,” Bachrach observed. “And when you do something for all the right reasons, it seems to pay bigger dividends.”
The programs that Simply Money supports through the Simply Money Foundation, created more than five years ago, allow people to “see a side of us that they might not otherwise see,” Bachrach said. “During the course of the day they might say, ‘I enjoyed seeing you on TV,’ but now more and more they are likely to say, ‘I’m impressed with the work you’re doing in philanthropy and volunteering.’”
The foundation started with a limited mission. “The first big thing we did was to raise money for public radio,” he recalled. “We believed in it, and we had a public radio program, so we wanted to help them out.”
As time went on, many other organizations asked for help, requiring Simply Money to establish a couple of ground rules. First, Bachrach said, is that because members of the firm contribute their own time, not just money, it’s important to see results. “We want to be able to look back and say, ‘They’re much better off since our involvement, and they can exist on their own now.’”
To use its resources most effectively, Simply Money also decided to concentrate on three target populations: veterans, kids and people affected by cancer. Some programs help more than one of these groups. For example, the foundation recently funded a program at the VA Hospital in Cincinnati for cancers of the head and neck. “The foundation allows other people — clients, or people who know us through our public work — to join with us and contribute,” Bachrach noted.
Simply Money has also created a strong media presence for community outreach: a daily radio show, a 10-times-a-week TV program and a column in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Bachrach said, “We used this public forum to get the word out about Cincinnati’s Cancer Support Community, which provides educational, emotional and psychological support free of charge to cancer victims and their families. Our involvement has made it possible to expand this network to include veterans.”
Soon after creating the foundation’s list of priority beneficiaries, he and Finke discovered Honor Flight, a national organization whose mission is to send veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts free of charge to Washington, D.C., to visit the monuments honoring their efforts. The group was struggling to raise money locally with bake sales and similar small-scale efforts. With Simply Money’s support, Honor Flight is now able to send charter flights from Cincinnati, instead of filling a few seats on flights out of Columbus. In fact, Bachrach pointed out, Honor Flight just sent a full planeload of female veterans from Cincinnati to D.C.
“We don’t take credit for that, but we’re pleased to have helped them come a long way since the early days,” he added. “My partner, Ed, has really led the work. [Finke now serves on the board of Honor Flight Tri-State.] If something happened to the Simply Money Foundation tomorrow, Honor Flight would be fine. I feel really good about that.”
Bachrach’s advice to others: Don’t start a charitable giving program just to earn public approval. “Any initiative should be done with the attitude that if nobody knows you did it, you’d still do it,” he said.
Let Your People Help Choose Where to Give
To Les Quick, founding partner of Massey Quick LLC in Morristown, New Jersey, it’s “a necessity of business” to figure out a way to give back to the community. “There are so many good causes, it’s difficult to choose, but it’s crucial to make these choices and get involved,” he said. “In smaller firms, usually these decisions come from the top. But in larger firms, other employees can get involved and make choices about where the time and money goes.”
At Massey Quick, four of its 30 staffers sit on a committee that decides which organizations will benefit from the firm’s giving each year. (Although Quick and his partner, Stewart Massey, aren’t on the committee, they do have final approval.) In October, the firm had its fifth golf outing to benefit a local charity. The outing usually raises $55,000 to $70,000 for beneficiaries that have included a food bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters, a local hospital, a social services agency and, this year, the Visiting Nurses Association.
“Back in 2004, when Stewart and I were deciding what kind of a firm we wanted to have, giving back was an important part of what we wanted to do at Massey Quick,” Quick said. “We made ‘being good citizens’ one of the tenets of the firm.”
Quick’s personal commitment to philanthropy goes back to 1975, when as a new college graduate he joined his father’s pioneering discount stock brokerage firm, Quick & Reilly. Five of his six younger siblings also came aboard and, he said, “We created an American success story.” When the firm eventually sold for $1.6 billion in 1998, his father encouraged the kids to give time and money back to worthwhile organizations. “That’s where it started in terms of our charitable endeavors,” Quick noted.
Like father, like son. “We encourage our people to get involved in local charities,” he said. “Some of them take that idea and run with it. For example, New Jersey doesn’t have mandatory pre-kindergarten programs, so they’ll join the board of Pre-School Advantage, which helps kids get into preschool that the parents couldn’t afford otherwise.
“We also have a day every year when the staff takes on a project together. One year it was Habitat for Humanity. This past summer, the whole staff ended up hosting underprivileged second to fifth graders during a field day sponsored by Cornerstone Family Programs. We ran games for them, played basketball with them and just hung out with them for a day,” he said. “Camaraderie built outside the office often translates to better working relationships back in the office.”
Fostering this kind of behavior doesn’t seem like a nicety to Quick. He sees it as a core responsibility of leadership. “As the head of a firm, you’re trying to teach your employees the importance of giving back,” he said. Allowing them to choose who will benefit is a great way to get them involved.
Americans are Giving People
Despite a lackadaisical economic recovery that limited their disposable income, Americans gave an estimated $358 billion to charity in 2014 — breaking a previous record set before the Great Recession, according to the Giving USA Foundation.
Individuals gave the most last year: 72% of the total. Foundations gave 15%, businesses about 5%, and 8% came from bequests. Here’s where the money went:
Invest Where Your Impact Will Be Greatest
At wealth management firm Yeske Buie, the motto is “Live Big,” according to Operations Administrator Cristin Etheredge, a registered paraplanner. “We believe it’s about the size of your life, not the size of your wallet,” she said. When it comes to community service, the byword is “Give Big.”
“The notion of giving big is a cultural value for us,” Etheredge said. “We give back directly in our communities, and on a national level we love the Foundation for Financial Planning, whose mission is providing pro bono financial planning to the underserved. It’s such a good cause, and we contribute to it in a variety of ways.”
Yeske Buie’s support for the Foundation includes participation in a fundraising program that aims to help other advisory firms as well. In this virtual event, Yeske Buie staffers share what they do in terms of day-to-day business processes, hiring and retention practices and elevating the client experience. Firms and individuals must donate to the Foundation in order to take part in the program.
“We’ve been doing charitable giving as far back as I can remember,” Etheredge said. Co-founders Elissa Buie and Dave Yeske, both CFPs, have been sharing their time, money, knowledge and professional expertise to promote financial planning since the 1990s. Additionally, the firm’s 13 full-time staff members and two interns (in two offices: San Francisco and Vienna, Virginia) participate in a hands-on volunteering opportunity each quarter.
Buie, the immediate past chairperson of the Foundation for Financial Planning’s board of trustees, noted that “Give Big” is more than just a slogan. “Dave and I have pledged money and volunteered time, and our associate financial planner [AFP] staff have all contributed,” she said. “Each of our AFPs sits on their local FPA Board and volunteers as a way of giving back to our profession. And our Give Big local focus helps our local communities while providing great team-building experiences.”
In fact, Etheredge told us that just the day before our interview, Yeske Buie’s entire East Coast team had unloaded a truck and bagged apples and dairy products at Food for Others, a local food bank serving 400 to 600 families a day. “Making sure no one goes hungry resonates with us at Yeske Buie,” she said. “We love going together as a group and bonding with each other, while we’re helping people accomplish things we care about deeply.”
Don’t Expect a Fast Financial Payoff
Rich Babjak, a ChFC and CLU and president and CEO of World Equity Group in Arlington Heights, Illinois, is an active volunteer who has made giving back part of his business culture, and encourages his firm’s 180 affiliated reps to do the same.
For Babjak, donating time and skills is as important as giving financially. When his church held a capital campaign, he helped them create and sell a hybrid bond that was partly tax-exempt. “I had enough knowledge to help them do it, so I did it free of charge,” he said. “There wasn’t any ulterior motive to get new business, but five A-plus clients came to me as a result.”
Babjak now sits on several finance committees for foundations he serves. He puts on fundraisers for a home for disabled residents in the Chicago area. His employees put together sustenance packages over Thanksgiving to be sent around the world. And he has a plan for 2016: “We’ll focus on the mentally handicapped; second on combating poverty; and our third area is charitable projects our employees are involved in. We’re going to set up accounts for them to make microloans for specific projects all around the world through Kiva, a nonprofit dedicated to alleviating poverty.”
Although professional opportunities have arisen from his philanthropic activities, Babjak said participating in the community isn’t a quick fix for advisors seeking new clients. “I can’t emphasize enough not entering this work with any desire for personal gain — that’s really important,” he told us. “Over the years I’ve been in Rotary, I’ve seen many financial advisors come in hoping to get new business and leaving within a year when it didn’t happen.”
He suggested looking at community involvement in a more long-term way. “Over time, good things happen. Some of the relationships I’ve developed from being involved in organizations are the strongest because we share a common passion. People can see you’re a good person.” Integrity and generosity speak volumes in communicating your firm’s values and commitment to make the world a better place.
5 Tips to Get Started
As the traditional giving season begins, you’re apt to be planning how to thank and reward the clients and staff who have enabled your business to thrive. But your community may be even more deserving of your appreciation and help.
You might focus your charitable giving program on benefiting the financial advisory profession as a whole, perhaps by using some of your resources to promote financial education. But even if (or maybe especially if) there’s no direct professional advantage from your program, helping others who are needy can simply make you and your staff members feel happier, more fulfilled and more capable of handling business and personal challenges.
With thanks to Nathan Bachrach, Les Quick, the Yeske Buie team and Rich Babjak (and Marie Swift’s Impact Communications behind the scenes), here’s a recap of five guidelines to start or refine a program of giving back:
1. Be sure of your motives. If your goal is to earn brownie points from prospective clients or influencers, you’re sure to end up frustrated. Do it to expand your capacity for giving and to run a more meaningful business.
2. Develop a plan. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, identify whom you want to help. Decide how you’ll determine whether your efforts are effective.
3. Involve your staff. Help them appreciate the value and the emotional rewards of doing good by making it easy to volunteer and giving them choices.
4. Commit to the long term. When you try to make your world a better place, it takes time.
5. Be a role model. Promote philanthropy among your family, friends and colleagues, and set an example by volunteering your own time and financial support. Be prepared to make giving back part of your life, so you’re the same admirable person even when nobody’s looking.
— Check out Sales Paradox: The Way to Get Is to Give on ThinkAdvisor.