The Great Divide Between Clients and Advisors: Part 1

According to a study by U.S. Trust most high net worth clients say their advisors aren’t good at philanthropic planning. Wow! That’s quite a statement.

The study further revealed that clients and advisors have vastly different expectations about how the charitable conversation should go. Most advisors believe they should avoid the conversation until after they full understand the client’s goals and concerns. Conversely, 90% of clients believe it is important to discuss in the beginning of the relationship. Why is this???

Many advisors believe charitable planning is a very personal matter that is best discussed only after testing the waters with clients. They fear that merely bringing up the subject will somehow pass judgment upon their clients by implying that they should have charitable desires. Clients do not feel this way. They believe charitable planning is a vital part of the planning process and should be incorporated to the conversation early. Additionally, more than 90% of HNW households give to charity.**

Charitable planning can be a scary topic for advisors. They aren’t always confident in their knowledge and abilities to apply the right charitable technique at the right time. Let’s face it, we’re all afraid of what we don’t understand and we certainly don’t want to look foolish in front of our clients.

Charitable planning is just like any other skill – it can be developed. With the right practice and instruction, it can be successfully incorporated into any practice. By the same token, if it’s not used regularly – that skill will dry up.

The first place to begin is getting comfortable with starting the conversation. Here are some of my favorite conversation starters.

“What causes are important to you and your family?”

“How would you like to share your wealth with family and charity?”

“What kind of changes would you like to make in the world?”

“What organizations will miss you when you’re gone?”

In my practice with professional advisors, those who have embraced charitable planning have experienced great success and growth in their practices. The same U.S. Trust study uncovered these benefits for advisors:

Deeper client relationships: “Most advisors say discussing philanthropy with their clients is good for their business development. The direct benefits include contributing to a more comprehensive, holistic advising approach and helping with new client acquisition. Both advisors and clients agree that these discussions deepen relationships and enhance the credibility of the advisor.

More referrals: “HNW consumers say knowing that an advisor has personal philanthropic experience and knowledge would factor into advisor selection and would enhance the credibility of philanthropic advice provided.”

A link with the next generation: “In addition, advising clients on philanthropy can help expand relationships to extended family, a benefit that isn’t fully leveraged by advisors. Just a fraction of HNW consumers say that their advisor has suggested including future generations in giving, even though consumers say that encouraging future generations to be philanthropic is one of the most important reasons they give.”

My advice is focus less on the tax savings and the fancy strategies.  The more important conversation is around what is important to the client – what causes are important to them – how they want to pass along their values, and what sorts of difference do they want to make. That’s where the real magic happens.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this series, in which you’ll learn more about:

Part 2: Giving Motivations of High Net Worth Clients

Part 3: How to Have a Meaningful Charitable Conversation


** 2016 US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy


  1. margit on October 3, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Great article!

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