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Building relationships with professional advisors

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Erich Hamm

Erich Hamm

Erich Hamm

Regardless of what stage you are at in your fundraising efforts, it’s always a good idea to consider (or reconsider) building relationships with a network of “professional advisors.”

Professional advisors generally are attorneys, accountants and financial or wealth advisors whose primary responsibilities are to provide individuals and families with financial or wealth-planning advice and related services.

They continually seek opportunities to enhance these client relationships, obtain new client relationships and improve their skill sets.

So why should an organization develop relationships with professional advisors?

Consider that, according to the 2008 and 2010 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, conducted in partnership with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, high-net-worth donors consult with legal and financial advisors 40 percent to 67 percent of the time when making a charitable gift decision.

Additionally, the study showed a significant increase in consultation with accountants when making charitable decisions (from 44 to 67 percent between 2008 and 2010).

If you’re interested in building relationships with a network of professional advisors, here are some suggestions for where to begin:

  • Attend professional advisory meetings or events and consider sponsoring one. (Estate Planning Council, Society of Financial Services Professionals, Trust Advisors Forum, etc.)
  • Hold an event where technical training on planned giving is provided and consider applying for continuing-education credits for common professional advisor credentials (CPA, CLE, CFP, etc.).
  • At events mentioned above, give advisors the opportunity to learn more about your institution, its purpose and programs. Much like donor cultivation, reciprocation helps you focus your efforts.
  • Consider starting a “Professional Advisory Council” where you ask advisors to join you on a regular basis to learn more about your institution as well as provide advice and input on fundraising efforts. Follow-through and content are key to the success of these councils.

Once you’ve established a relationship with one or more professional advisors, here are some additional ways to make the most of the relationship:

  • Consider having a professional advisor you are building a relationship with provide a presentation on a relevant topic to your staff and board of directors. It’s a great way to get everyone together in a more casual setting, while at the same time, get some training on how to improve fundraising efforts. A word of caution. Always advise the presenter that the presentation should be on a topic related to fundraising and planned giving, not a product or service “pitch.”
  • Consider having a professional advisor you are building a relationship with provide a presentation to a group of donors at a donor-appreciation event or special donor-cultivation event. These events are usually a win-win for everyone. Most importantly, if done correctly, your donor walks away feeling you provided them with something relevant that helped provide insight into their financial planning matters. As before, advise the presenter that the presentation should be on a relevant topic approved by you, not a product or service “pitch.” Additionally, you should ask the advisor not to contact your donors directly unless he has been asked by the donor to do so.
  • As you develop a relationship with advisors and educate them about specific programs and efforts at your institution, ask if they have any clients with similar interests that would be interested in receiving information about your nonprofit. Offer that if the client was interested in learning more about, you could arrange a lunch where both of them could join you to discuss. This is a powerful way to reassure a potential donor you already have a trusted relationship with their advisor, and it shows the client the advisor is thinking outside the box on how to help their client accomplish their philanthropic goals.
  • Believe it or not, sometimes you are cultivating a potential donor, not just a professional advisor relationship. Most of the advisors who continue to support you in your donor development efforts are those who have a personal interest in your institution’s purpose and programs. Who knows, they could be you next volunteer, board member or even employee.

Individuals and families increasingly are turning to financial, tax, and legal advisors to help them integrate philanthropy in their overall wealth management and legacy planning strategies. Maybe you should too?


Erich Hamm is a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor and serves as a senior Philanthropic Relationship Manager for Bank of America. He also serves on the board of directors for both the North Carolina Planned Giving Council and the Greensboro Estate Planning Council.

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