The Great Divide Between Clients & Advisors: Part 3 of 3

The Meaningful Charitable Conversation

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”

~Written on George Bailey’s office wall in It’s a Wonderful Life

This time of year – like no other time – we hope a little bigger; we feel things more deeply; we remember holidays past; and we consider our contribution to the world. George Bailey learned that lesson well and we can all learn from his story.

If you’ve read the first two installments of this series, you’ve learned that those who we advise want more than just accumulation of wealth for it’s own sake. They aren’t like that mean old Mr. Potter or Ebenezer Scrooge.

They want their wealth to have meaning.
They want to be remembered for something
They want to pass on their values, not just their valuables.

As advisors, it is our responsibility and our privilege to help clients and donors to give meaning to their wealth. The big question is “how do we do that”? The first step is to have a meaningful charitable conversation.

Our clients/donors must understand that we want to help them achieve their goals. That can only happen through goal development. This takes more than one or two meetings. It requires time to get to know these people on a human level. What motivates them? What makes them tick? What are they passionate about? Answers to these questions are most often rooted in early life experiences, so that’s where you will begin.

My favorite way to start the conversation is with this one question.

“What is your earliest memory of giving?”

Every time I ask this question I hear the most fascinating stories. I also get a glimpse of the person’s true self. That glimpse is a doorway to a meaningful conversation. Try it at your next meeting and just see what happens.

My earliest memory of giving takes place in church – not an uncommon setting for these memories. I was about 6 or 7 years old and I’d just received my first allowance of $20. That was BIG money. I was sitting in church holding my tiny, white, little-girl purse thinking more about what I was going to buy with my $20 and not paying any attention to the readings or the sermon. When the time came for the collection basket, I thought of the poor kids at school and in other countries – the ones for which we collected pop tops and spare change in milk cartons. I knew they needed my $20 far more than I did. So, when the basket got to me I opened my little purse, pulled out that $20 bill and gave it away. I’ll admit it hurt a little bit to let it go, but as I watched that basket float to the pews behind me I felt really proud, grown-up, and part of something bigger than myself. I remember that exact feeling to this day and I always will.

We cannot have a meaningful charitable conversation that involves numbers and calculations. The meaning lies in the lives changed, the possibilities created, and the joy felt. Once these joyful goals are articulated, (the why) you can start talking about the when and how of the gift.

Be prepared for emotions. These conversations will take people back to both their fondest memories and times that shaped who they are today. Those times are sometimes happy and somethings not. We must be prepared to go down that road and hear these stories. You care about the people you meet with. I know you do. When you listen to them share their stories and dreams, they will also know it.

The most important word is “listen”. This isn’t a conversation where we provide answers or solutions. It’s one where we draw out goals that our clients/donors may have never said out loud. They may not even consciously even know they have these goals. Our job is to just listen and encourage them to pursue these goals and let them know we will help them along the way.

Trust is not given. It is earned. Nothing earns it faster than listening and understanding.


More conversation “kindling” for your meetings and your holiday table.

“Is there someone you admire that helped shape who you are today? If so, how?”
“Do you and your spouse/significant other give to the same causes?”
“Do you ever wish you could do more for the causes closest to your heart?”
“Who is the most generous person you know and why do you feel that way?”
“What sort of changes would you most like to see in the world?”
“How did your parents/grandparents practice generosity? Did/does that affect the way you give?”


  1. Kevin Feldman on December 6, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Another question that I will ask is, “if you could do anything else for the nonprofits or causes you support, other than give them your money, what would it be?”

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