From talking with professional tax and legal advisors, there seems to be a plethora of well- informed and knowledgeable advisors who advocate “cart before the horse” philanthropy to their clients.

Such philanthropic advice comes in several varieties, and most often begins with “How.” Perhaps the advisor asks, “How much do you want to save in taxes?” or “How would you like to avoid capital gains on your sale of appreciated securities?” or “How much do you want to leave to your favorite charity?”

Yes, in the right context, these questions are certainly valid, but when asked in regard to philanthropic matters, they tend to place the “cart before the horse.” For an advisor to engage a client in meaningful dialogue about their philanthropic intent and aspirations, one needs first to find out “why” and “what” the client’s reasons are for supporting issues or causes that have touched their life. Asking the “why” and “what” questions requires an advisor to actively listen to the client’s story and to resist presenting a solution until hearing the entire story.
“Horse in front of the cart” philanthropy requires the advisor to honor and respect the client’s values, dreams and concerns for family and community. And it also requires significantly more time on the part of both the client and the advisor to have a true understanding of the feeling and the facts embedded in client’s story. But the results from such an investment of time can be transformational for the client, the advisor, and the community. The client has a comprehensive life plan aligned with personal values and vision (the “why”), the community is a better place for all (the “what”), and the advisor becomes a trusted partner in the implementation of the plan (the “how”).
Giddy up philanthropy!!
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