Secrets to working with advisers

Mary Teresa Bitti

Lethbridge College in Alberta, Canada, is in the process of revisiting its planned-giving program, and it’s tapping into a particular resource for suggestions on how to streamline its processes.

“We are going out to a number of key advisers in our community and asking them what their experiences have been like with us or with other nonprofits,” says Steven Dyck, executive director of advancement at Lethbridge.  “We want to ensure giving is as seamless and painless as it possibly can be for their clients.”

Dyck previously spent many years at the Alberta Business Family Institute, helping families create strategic philanthropic plans.

“I would always ask them to bring their advisers to the table because their financial advisers often know more about their finances than the donors themselves,” he says.

Perhaps more importantly, inviting these trusted accountants, lawyers, insurance specialists and investment advisers eliminated lost-in-translation scenarios.

Having them at the table also increased the chances they would support the idea and understand the value of a planned gift both for the institution and for the donor.

“Advisers are really an extension of a family’s wealth management strategy and can give you advice about where the family’s value system and interests lie,” says Dyck.

This is particularly important, Dyck says, because so few strategic philanthropists today give unrestricted funds. They want to attach it to something that has a personal value to them.

“Rather than shooting in the dark, you are far better spending some time understanding the direction they are going in so you can better target the kind of ask and project,” he says. “Otherwise, you may be leaving money on the table.  Advisers can easily tell you what’s either well above or below their clients’ capacity to give.”

It is a mistake to disregard the often decades-long relationship advisers have cultivated with your potential donors, says Dyck.

“To not have those critical influencers on board, and to not educate them is a fatal error,” he warns.

Dyck says part of a fund developer’s job is to educate advisers about the mechanics and strategies around planned giving.

“It’s our job to explain planned giving in a way they won’t find offensive while making sure they understand what your objectives are so they don’t see you as a threat,” he says. “There is a lot of turf protection in the advisor world.”

One way to provide that education and build relationships, suggests Dyck, is to host a seminar or workshop inviting a number of key advisers in your community to learn about your organization and your planned giving program.  “Add an educational component that they may not have as part of their professional practice, that’s always valuable,” he says.

“Life is all about relationships and if you choose to try and bypass advisers rather than working with them, they will act as gatekeepers and your job will be that much harder,” says Dyck.  “An adviser is often the conduit to a donation.”

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