February 28, 2024

Changing the Conversation About Planned Giving 

Two wooden cutout people with conversation bubbles reading "Strategies" and "Goals & Values"

How wealth advisors communicate with clients about their planned giving needs to change. Coming from Phil Cubeta, that is more than just an opinion—it is a mission. Through his teaching, writing and public speaking, Phil focuses on how to reduce the disconnect between what clients need and how advisors have been trained to communicate with them.

As part of our ongoing commitment to elevating the conversation around philanthropy in our community, MCF invited Phil to facilitate a discussion about giving with local advisors and nonprofit leaders at our August event, “Philanthropic Planning: from Inspiration to Implementation.” Following this event, we had the opportunity to speak more with Phil about what drives him to do this work, how advisors can better engage with their clients around their giving, and his impressions of Madison’s advisor community.

The Client’s Dilemma

Phil’s work centers on addressing the dilemma many people face in seeking advice on their charitable giving – namely, who is best suited to advise them?

“Clients want to be understood, in order to align their giving with their deeply held values,” Phil observed, “but advisors are not trained on how to have personal, meaningful conversations.” He recalled a conversation he had many years ago with philanthropists Bill and Sallie Wallace, who shared a striking observation with him. “Bill said, ‘Our fundraisers can bring us to tears with their causes, but they know nothing about our money. Our advisors know all about our money but are cold as ice when it comes to our giving.’ Closing that gap is dear to my heart.”

The Advisor’s Role

To better connect with clients about their giving, Phil recommends that advisors create a space (psychological as well as physical) to discuss issues that are extremely personal and often difficult to discuss openly.

“Amazing things happen when people are willing to embrace that moment in which we're called into a conversation with a client as a kindred human spirit,” Phil said. “People will shock you with how different they are from what you assumed, and how much better they are, really! Good things happen when you create a space for you and your client to think things through together.”

While the emotional skills for this kind of vulnerable communication aren’t typically taught to advisors, Phil believes they can be learned by anyone who is ready to build a caring relationship. “I think the biggest predictor of long-term success is your willingness to bring your vulnerable human self to this work,” he explained. “Advisors need to learn to build a bridge between their client’s passion and their own professional expertise. With people of goodwill, it is possible to meld the two.”

Education Is Part of the Solution

Phil believes better education is part of the solution for bridging the gap between what clients need and how advisors have been trained. Thanks in large part to the generosity of Bill and Sallie Wallace, advisors can receive this education by enrolling in the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®) program at The American College of Financial Services.

This program, founded by Bill and Sallie, strives to provide fundraisers and advisors with a common body of knowledge enabling them to collaborate effectively at the planning table with their clients. Phil spent 13 years leading the CAP program at The American College and remains on its faculty as a Professor of Practice in Philanthropy.

In some cases, incorporating the client’s passion for giving into planning discussions is easier said than done, especially with an advisor’s existing clients. With existing clients, “There's a step at the beginning, where you have to ask permission to shift to this more personal line of questioning,” Phil observed. “If I blindside you with a profound question, I may surprise you into answering, but afterward, you may feel used.”

While these types of relationships with clients may take more time to build, they can be invaluable in determining how best to serve clients' personal and professional giving objectives. “Once you understand what the client is trying to accomplish, you are in a better position to assemble the appropriate people and make referrals that build the team.”

What Makes Madison’s Advisor Community Special

Phil, whose first time in Madison was to speak at our event, said two things surprised him: the beauty of the city and the enthusiasm of the attendees. Despite unseasonably warm weather, more than 80 local advisors and nonprofit leaders attended the event, which gave attendees from multiple backgrounds (working in law, finance, accounting, insurance, banking and nonprofits) the chance to share their perspectives on philanthropic giving in Madison.

“From the podium, I could see that this was something the people in the room really wanted,” he recalled. “They weren’t there just to check a box. They were hungry for this. The energy in the room was amazing, and the fact that registration quickly filled and overflowed to a waiting list indicates how eager Madison’s advisor community was for a forum for discussing planned giving.”

Why are discussions about philanthropy so effective in bringing advisors together? According to Phil, the answer is simple. “Philanthropy is something we do for love, and the biggest impact you have may in fact be your work advising individuals regarding their philanthropy.”

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