Creating a Culture of Philanthropy

Creating a Culture of Philanthropy

New to the Walkner Condon team, I come from 10 years of fundraising for non-profit organizations. Whether it was promoting wildlife conservation or helping to eradicate preventable diseases (which feels especially poignant these days), my career in charitable giving has cemented my understanding of the importance of philanthropy.

I have had the privilege of working for some highly reputable organizations, but I have also had the privilege of working with a highly diverse swath of donors and volunteers – ages, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Taking some time now to reflect on my tenure in charitable giving, I have noticed a common thread among those generous donors and volunteers. No matter the size or shape of their gifts, they subscribe to a culture of philanthropy. Somewhere along the way, the importance of giving back was impressed upon them. Perhaps their families have supported the same causes for years, or perhaps they themselves were beneficiaries of gifts that changed their lives. Regardless, experiencing a culture of philanthropy instilled the importance of exploring the many ways in which we can all make the world a better place.

But where to start? Depending on the charity, gifts can be made in several different ways – for example, outright cash, monthly sustaining gifts, gifts of appreciated assets such as stocks, IRA qualified charitable distributions (QCDs), as well as giving posthumously from your estate. But beyond that, giving can also take the form of volunteering and advocacy for your favorite organization(s). Is there a cause that you find important or an organization that intrigues you? Research it! Visit that charity’s website, send an inquiry to their volunteer office, or do the really fun task of reading their annual reports. 

Some families have established family foundations that allow and ensure their culture of philanthropy transcends generations. But for the majority, it can be as simple as taking the small step of making room in our monthly or annual budget for this purpose. Perhaps it’s a monthly contribution to your favorite cause. Or perhaps you choose 2-3 charities to give to each December. And even beyond financial support, consider the other resources you have to offer (time, talent, etc.).

Deciding where and what to give can be a solo decision – or one that you make together as a family. We know our kids are watching and learning from us as we talk about money, so why not include them in the discussion? Instilling this culture of giving back at an early age can be critical and lead to a legacy of giving.

If you ever think a gift is too small to make a difference, I would challenge you to reconsider. Think about that “small” gift combined with hundreds of other families doing the same thing. That “small” gift now becomes something substantial. And not to mention, that act of giving can turn into a habit or inspire others to join you, especially those in your own circles of influence.

We all know how it feels when asked to contribute to a friend or family member’s fundraiser for this or that. All are important and worthy to support, but might be difficult to prioritize. So maybe create some space in your budget for those individual fundraisers that pop up. It may even give you a sense of security knowing you can be there for those who need you when they need you. Plus, you are demonstrating to your children (or other impressionable connections) that you can care passionately about something and actually do something about it.

In the world we live today, there is no shortage of worthy causes. Just remember to do your research and ensure you understand where your money is going. Charity Watch and Charity Navigator are two great places to start.

This is one of the things I’m most excited about in joining the Walkner Condon team: learning the money management side of this equation. After all, thanks to smart financial planning, your family can create space for giving back and making your own brand of difference in the world.

While I leave behind a career of soliciting, processing, and stewarding donations, I look forward to helping our clients achieve their goals, whether that includes charitable giving or not.

But if you think about it, the simple act of giving once and talking about it with your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews, could be the inspiration and catalyst for creating your family’s culture of philanthropy.

Polly Price

The Legacy of Yale University’s David Swensen and a Critical Investing Insight

The Legacy of Yale University’s David Swensen and a Critical Investing Insight

As many of our clients know, I took a slightly different path to financial advising than most, starting as I did in the groves of academia. I found the path to Wall Street that many of my University of Chicago friends and classmates took off-putting (I viewed American Psycho to be a cautionary tale, not something to be emulated). But perhaps because I was raised by two accountants (I’ve often told how I remember talking about the 1987 Market Crash in detail at the dinner table), I always kept an interest in finance and Wall Street. Ultimately, as I transitioned into financial management, one of the models I took for someone who could keep a good ethical center and still work efficiently for the people they serve was David Swensen, who died on May 8.

Swensen managed Yale’s endowment from 1986 until his death (actually taking a pay cut to begin running it and also – while well-compensated by academic standards – could’ve made much more running his own hedge fund, for example). A Wisconsin native, Swensen revolutionized the staid world of endowment investing. His book Pioneering Portfolio Management laid out the math and theory of his evolution of endowment management. In simpler terms, he discovered he could take advantage of the unique characteristics of endowment investing (its nearly unlimited time horizon and its unconstrained nature) to expand Yale’s investments into different markets. (Yale owns Timberland, for instance).

Over the years, various high-cost products have popped up as “Endowment” Funds – trying to indirectly trade on the cachet of the model and promise “Yale-like returns.” Swensen addressed whether individuals could follow the “Yale model” with the publication of his 2005 personal investing book Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment. Swensen made clear that this “endowment for the individual” approach was impossible. With the forthrightness that made him a controversial figure, he said that he sat down to write a book so that personal investors could do what he did at Yale, but for a variety of reasons – a factor of not having his resources, time and power, along with Wall Street greed – such an approach wasn’t feasible for individuals. Instead, he laid out a smart, low-cost, well-diversified approach to money management that aimed to help investors take advantage of their personal situation to manage their wealth. 

More than any particular investment model or asset class, this is the lesson I’ve taken from David Swensen and one I hope we share with our clients: all of us have investing advantages in one way or another – we just need to find a plan to fit those advantages to our lives.

Keith Poniewaz, Ph.D