How to Provide Philanthropic Planning in Seven Easy Steps

6 min read
May 26, 2016

When is the last time you talked philanthropy with your clients? Was the discussion initiated by you or the client? If it was initiated by you, was it because you already knew the client is philanthropic or did you look at their tax return to see that they gave money the year before?

A 2013 study by U.S. Trust cites that a third of advisors believe they initiate the conversation around philanthropy while clients think that advisors only initiate the conversation 20% of the time.

But 88% of advisors think it is an important discussion to have with clients. We have a huge disconnect here! How can so many advisors see value in philanthropic discussions, but yet so few actually have the conversation?

Do You Provide Philanthropic Planning in Your Practice?

That is exactly where we were just a few years ago. We are a mature, established firm of skilled advisors. We claim to offer comprehensive financial planning and we think we do a great job.

But it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that our list of services started to specifically include philanthropic planning.

Don’t get me wrong. We would talk charitable giving with clients and even have a few clients who have established CRTs and used other charitable tools, but those discussions were spurred by the uncovering of intent in our fact-finding process.

The thought process went something like this: John and Jane Doe are selling their business this year. How can we lower the tax? Oh, wait, they like to give too. Perfect! Let’s talk charitable giving.

The U.S. Trust study results lead me to believe that we are not the only financial advisors who have had this misguided belief that this is a philanthropic conversation. I argue that it is not. It is certainly a valuable conversation for John and Jane, but it is essentially a tax conversation that has lead to a result that is philanthropic.

There’s a difference between having a philanthropic conversation and using a charitable tool to solve a problem. Donors get this, but unfortunately, it is taking advisors longer to catch on.

How We Can Change the Conversation

A small change in how we address the philanthropic conversation can strengthen our relationship with clients, set us apart from the rest of the industry, and create more gratifying and fulfilling work. There are two key components to a successful change in the philanthropic discussion.

First, you have to make the conversation important enough to have with every client. That doesn’t mean you have to push it on every client. Just ask the question.

Ask the client if it would be a valuable service to walk through a process to help identify ways to align their values with any charitable goals to give of their time, talents and treasures. If they aren’t interested, no problem, you at least know. If they are interested, you’ve just opened a door to another way you can offer value.

Secondly, always start with the “Why?” As advisors, we have taken on the role of a problem solver. That is how most of us function. We see a nail and we find a hammer.

But the most successful philanthropic conversations start with no intent of solving a problem. They start with the intent of finding meaning.

Why does this even matter to the client? What has happened in the client’s life to create a desire to be philanthropic? Once we know the why, we are better prepared to address the how.

These conversations can be difficult to start and put us outside of our comfort zone. The following seven step process will help you and the client uncover the why and turn it into actionable goals so you can provide philanthropic planning as part of your service offering.

Step 1: Identify Core Values.

We all have values that are core to who we are. These are often the values we find most attractive in other individuals.

Encourage your client to identify 3-5 core values with which he/she most identifies. You can simplify this process by creating a list of values from which clients can choose.

There are a number of free resources and value cards that can be purchased online to help with this discussion. Here are examples of core values:












































Step 2: Discover Passions

What is the client passionate about? What inspires action? For some clients, they will know this without having to give it much thought, but others will need some guidance.

Help clients target the most important 1-3 passions. Some passions may include:



Children & Youth

Community Development

Domestic Violence

Drug & Alcohol Abuse




Homeless & Housing

Human Rights


Land Preservation



Public Policy/Advocacy


Science & Technology

Sports & Recreation



Step 3: Find the “Sweet Spot”

Your client’s sweet spot will be the intersection between what is important and where a difference is needed. In Step 3, you help the client link values and passions by asking the following types of questions:

  • Who? Is there a certain demographic that the client wants to target
  • Where? Will the impact be local, national, global?
  • What? Where is there an opportunity?
  • Why? What is the motivation? Are there experiences that have shaped the client and would naturally lead the client toward an area of interest
  • How? Will the client give time, serve on a board, volunteer, or use some other means to make an impact?

At the end of step 3, the client can develop a giving purpose statement. This is a mission statement for their giving.

One example may be, “I value innovation and community, and I have a passion for ensuring that everyone can receive the best health care; therefore, I will focus my giving of time, talents and treasures around advancing the medical field.”

Step 4: Research

You can offer to give resources or help the client research nonprofits in their area to determine the best way to apply their mission statement. Which nonprofits focus on the client’s area of interest? Is that nonprofit in good standing?

Some examples of research tools may include: the local Community Foundation, local Chamber of Commerce, United Way,,,, and so on.

Step 5: Set Goals

Combine steps 1-4 to help the client set goals around their giving. Remember SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

Encourage the client to think about the end goal, the time horizon for achieving the goal and the boundaries around resources. For instance, a doctor may set the goal to give 10% of his time at the free medical clinic over the next year.

Step 6: Action Plan

You may have heard “goals not written are just wishes.” So write everything down! There’s power to putting thoughts on paper. There is a certain accountability that goes with writing out an action plan.

Encourage your client to embrace the accountability. Here’s an example of what the layout may look like:

                                             Action Plan for ______ (YEAR)
Step 1: Core Values                                                   Step 2: Passions

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

Step 3: Giving Purpose ____________________________________________________________________________________



Step 4 & 5: 12 Month Goals

Goal #1


Time Horizon:__________________________________________________________

Budget/Talent/Time Commitment: _____________________________________
Goal #2


Time Horizon:__________________________________________________________

Budget/Talent/Time Commitment: _____________________________________
Goal #3


Time Horizon:__________________________________________________________

Budget/Talent/Time Commitment: _____________________________________

Step 7: Reflection

Reflection is a crucial, yet often overlooked step in any plan. Help your client monitor his/her progress by checking in for a review at least once a year. Evaluate what happened and what did not happen.

This is also a great opportunity to reset the plan for next year. Going through the reflection process allows the client to identify the successes and the challenges and adjust for the future.

Starting a conversation around philanthropic planning with clients is a great way to add value to your services. It doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable or difficult discussion. It is possible to simplify the process so that clients can implement a plan regardless of where they are on their journey and how they want to give.

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About the Author

Jessica Hovis Smith is a Certified Financial Planner™ and Director of Financial Planning at Longview Financial Advisors. Outside of the office, Jessica is an avid runner and enjoys spending time outdoors with family and close friends. You can reach her on Twitter @jhovissmith or connect with her on LinkedIn

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