John Bussel, Hewins Financial Principal and family-based foundation specialist, will be presenting this week an advisor’s take on high-impact giving and other issues discussed in the new book by renowned philanthropy expert Joel Fleishman, Give Smart.
Q: Today’s wealthy individuals and families face significant social pressure to be experts on complex issues. They’re expected not just to fund solutions but also to find them. How do you as an advisor enable a giving culture for clients that you might work with?
First of all, we’re dealing in a very complicated, difficult, and messy world. There are numerous problems and issues, and areas of suffering. There’s tons of need that relates to the very basics of living for different populations both locally in communities across the United States and around the world. This ranges from the very basics of feeding, clothing and housing people to the more complex issues of helping them get educated, empowering them to learn how to make a living, and helping them take care of themselves and their families. Ultimately the goal in addressing such needs is to encourage and foster cooperation, civil society, and functioning civilization.
The people who have been able to create wealth and have an inherent desire to be generous with that wealth face a lot of challenges in how to do so effectively and intelligently. It’s not something that people can take lightly. When you think about how long, how challenging, and how much work it takes typically for an individual, family or company to be successful, it similarly takes a lot of work to maintain, preserve and grow that wealth effectively—which is the core of what we strive to do as advisors at Hewins Financial.
What many don’t quite realize is that your generosity with that success also takes a lot of commitment, thought, care, and rigor.
Joel Fleishman’s Give Smart describes very well how it’s not hard to write checks and support a lot of organizations. The real challenge is to help donors feel encouraged that the dollars they’re giving are bringing back results -and to help them feel a real connection to those results—which is really the magic of philanthropy to me. The real exhilaration, impact, and sense of satisfaction is not from the amount on the check but rather that the funding that you provided helped to support an idea, a program, or an institution and really worked.
Looking back it’s not, “I gave x amount of dollars,” it’s, “these are the number of children that were impacted by the work that we did” or “these were the number of lives saved by the work we did” or “these were the new techniques or inventions that were developed or discovered thanks to the philanthropy that my foundation has given.” The point as an advisor is to get donors to think in a very disciplined and thoughtful way- they should apply the same mindset they use to create the wealth to giving the money away.
Q: There’s a quote in the book: “The level of need at home and throughout the world is enormous, even overwhelming . . . The temptation to do everything and satisfy everyone may generate accolades, but rarely generates results.” The authors argue that the natural condition of philanthropy is chronic underperformance. Do you agree with that and what are your thoughts on that notion?
It doesn’t seem like it should take as much work as it usually does to give money away to charity. Intuitively it seems like it should be a simple thing. People generally take a very straightforward and simple approach to it and don’t think enough about where the dollars are going and how they are impacting society.
Once you dig in a bit, you start to realize, wow—there’s a lot here. For example, if you have a great idea of what can make a successful business, think about all the work it takes to make that idea successful, to create demand, to generate sales, to expand the business, and to factor in hiring and how you’re going to fund it all; you have to think about these same factors in giving the money away.
It’s no fault to individuals themselves, but I believe that as a society we haven’t put enough emphasis on how demanding the work is for philanthropy to be effective. But the reward for successful philanthropy can really drive you—it’s highly motivating. What Tierney and Fleishman have done is put together a primer for people who want to think beyond the simple task of check writing and toward what’s needed in society to make it a better place. The more that people think about how they want to give their money away, where it goes, and properly track the effectiveness, the better it could be for everyone. Society could well reap the benefits.