Building Relationships with Professional Advisors

Professional advisors continue to play a growing role in philanthropy today.

Written originally in 2011, I refresh this article with new information as the topic develops. Major gifts and planned or “legacy” gifts are essential components of nonprofit fundraising, and this is an arena where professional advisors play an increasingly important role.

Update April, 2016:

“Advisors are necessary to achieve sustainable growth. A majority of philanthropists (61%) believe that advisors are necessary to achieve sustainable results, compared to just 16 percent who say they are not.”

– PR Newswire, United States Tops Philanthropic Giving According to the 2016 BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index

A trend discussed in, Baby Boomers and Seniors is that older generations – the age groups normally interested and involved in making significant charitable donations and making Wills and developing estate plans – are sectors of the population that are swelling in numbers, growing in influence, and soon, they hold the majority of disposable income. These age groups are charitably-inclined and increasingly active online.

With this in mind, planned giving should be a more significant focus for forward-looking nonprofit organizations. In terms of both major and planned gifts, however, nonprofit organizations should also educate and cultivate professional advisors.


Erich Hamm of Bank of America suggested a few years ago that regardless of where your organization stands in terms of fundraising, it is an excellent idea to build relationships with professional advisors like bankers, trust officers, attorneys, insurance professionals, accountants, and the like. An ever-growing number of donors prefer consulting professional advisors before making significant charitable commitments during their lifetime, and later via estate plans.

While Erich’s article is no longer available online, you might enjoy Planned Giving Design Center’s, “Professional Advisors and Non-profits: A Collaboration to Shape our Philanthropic Future.”

“Times have changed! The non-profit sector has fully realized that relationships with professional advisors are not only important—they also are imperative. At the same time, advisors have become even more interested and comfortable discussing their clients’ possible interest in leaving a philanthropic legacy. Advisors have become aware of the opportunity they have to help their clients make a significant philanthropic impact. The non-profit sector is also aware of this potential—and the resulting opportunity for philanthropy is huge.”

One long understood role of professional advisors has been to work out an orderly and desirable arrangement for the disposition of a donor’s estate. The ultimate result is a plan that fulfills the donor’s wishes regarding the security of their family, and others they wish to benefit (which could include your charity). Although tax consequences are secondary, they are an important part of estate planning and are often directly related to the accomplishment of the donor’s primary goals.

In addition, professional advisors are sometimes asked to conduct research regarding the financial health of nonprofit organizations, in preparation for the awarding of major gifts by their clients. They are also charged to follow-up as a funded project progresses, to ensure the original intent of a donor’s gift is met.

In my work, I have found many of these trusted professionals use such services as GuideStar. To read a case study of one of my personal experiences with GuideStar, follow this link.

Nonprofits should develop strategies to educate professional advisors as well as donors.

Nonprofits should develop strategies to educate professional advisors as well as donors.

In The Guardian, Juliet Cockram writes in, “How Your Charity Can Attract Philanthropists” (January 22, 2016):

“Philanthropy is on the rise and so are the number of banks, wealth managers, lawyers and advisers (also known as intermediaries) that are now providing philanthropic support to high net-worth individuals. Fundraisers are learning to take advantage, offering up donation opportunities for philanthropy advisers to present to their clients. But it’s a competitive and often closed space, so fundraisers need to be savvy.”

The success of the donor-advised fund market was noted by Marketplace back in 2014 in, “Donor-advised Funds: A Controversial Form of Charity.”

“Each year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy releases a list of the American charities that have raised the most money from private donors. United Way topped the most recent list; the Salvation Army took the third spot. At number two was Fidelity Charitable, named for the giant financial services corporation which sponsored the creation of the charity and still provides investment and technology services.”

Many decry the increased expansion of donor-advised funds. But the fact is, they are proliferating. Holly Hall wrote for The Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2015:

“Contributions to new or existing funds with Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest donor-advised fund, grew by 22 percent last year, to $4.4-billion, while grants grew by 24 percent, to $2.6-billion, according to a report from the company.

And Schwab Charitable reported that donors put $1.9-billion into the company’s donor-advised funds in 2014, an increase of 10 percent, and grants increased by 25 percent, to $928-million.”

Some nonprofit organizations balk at donor advised funds. See for instance Rebecca Koenig’s article for Philanthropy, “Backers and Critics of Donor-Advised Funds Debate Their Merits” (June 17, 2015). But whether or not nonprofits approve of these trends, it is an excellent idea to include professional advisors, including those working with donor advised funds, in their education and cultivation plans.

The more professional advisors and those managing donor-advised funds know about your good work, the more likely they will view your organization favorably when the time comes to advise their clients about making significant donations and preparing planned gifts. Keep them informed.

Additional Resources

  • Pew Research Center: The Data Bank provides statistics on Retiring Americans. The report notes, “for every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. The aging of this huge cohort of Americans (26% of the total U.S. population are Baby Boomers) will dramatically change the composition of the country.”
  • Fidelity Charitable manages one of the most successful donor advised funds in the world. You might enjoy this downloadable publication designed for professional advisors, “Charitable Planning Guide.”

For a few more ideas and links regarding this noteworthy subject please see my tandem page, “Building Relationships | Additional Ideas and Links.”

3 thoughts on “Building Relationships with Professional Advisors

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s