Philanthropist by Design

Philanthropist by Design

Randy Fox interviews Rod Zeeb
Article posted in Values-Based on 21 April 2015| comments
audience: National Publication, Two Hawks Consulting, LLC, Rodney C. Zeeb, JD | last updated: 21 April 2015


Rod Zeeb previews his Advisors in Philanthropy talk on how to "create" philanthropists within the family by offering a new and different conversation about giving.

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Randy:    This is Randy Fox and I am pleased to be with an old friend and colleague today, Rod Zeeb.  Rod heads an organization called the Heritage Institute.  They interact with advisors and planners around the country, helping them improve their communication skills with families and helping families improve their communication skills with each other.

Rod:    What we focus on is helping advisors do a lot better with communication and building relationships with the clients and then helping the clients prepare their kids for what they’re going to get which helps keep the family together.  That doesn’t happen without good communication, so that’s a key point for all of it.

Randy:    Rod is located out in the greater Portland, Oregon area and I’m jealous because that’s a really great part of the country to be in.  People come from all over the country and Rod speaks all over the country as well, so everybody has access to this incredible training.

What we’re going to talk about is a subject that Rod brought to my attention and that is the idea of “a philanthropist by design.” How would you define that term?

Rod:    A philanthropist by design is where you focus on not the needs of organizations, which is the normal thing for non-profits, but you start with the focus on what are the passions of the donor.  What gets them excited?  Then you provide opportunities for them to fulfill those passions.  Normally you start with generation one and if we can get that going, then we employ that same model with the kids and grandkids so that you’re growing “philanthropists by design,” understanding that the kids and grandkids aren’t necessarily going to have the same values and passions that the parents do.  They may not be the same charities. 

Jerry Nuerge introduced me to one of his friends and clients and I explained this concept to him.  This guy is on a bunch of boards and gives a lot of money to charity.  His comment was, “When the charities start focusing on my need to give rather than their need to get, they’re going to get a lot more from me.”  That’s really what it is.  It’s focusing on the donor’s need to give and their passion.

Randy:    That’s really interesting.  How do you, as a mentor of advisors, teach advisors to open this conversation?  Because it seems like it doesn’t come naturally.

Rod:    It doesn’t.  There are two ways of doing it.  For the advisors, it’s really an open conversation.  You put all the tools aside and you start with the client.  You’re asking in some way or form, “What is it that they want for themselves and their family in the future and where do they want to make a difference in the world?”  You usually have to ask that question several different ways, but when you’re asking it, you have to have the open mind and just be listening and not be looking for a solution or anything else at this point.  You’re just getting them to talk and really focus in. 

If they’ve been involved in philanthropy – this is how we teach the non-profits to start the conversation – you can start with, “How did you first get involved with whatever organization that they’re working with?”  The reason for that is that first engagement probably had an emotional link to it.  When they first get started, there’s something that kick-started them and there was an emotional link.  Then later on, they feel like an ATM.  Every time the non-profit calls, they’re looking for money.  We need to get them back to that.  It’s just starting with no agenda, just a real open, what is it that you want to make a difference in the world and what things really either concern you or excite you.  Let them go.  Let them tell you the stories.  Let them get it out.

Then you start looking for what does it take to get there and providing them opportunities to get there.

Randy:     Could you be more specific about that second aspect?

Rod:    For advisors this is easier than it is for non-profits because for non-profits sometimes the way to get there is not in your organization.  A non-profit has to be willing to help a donor find the opportunities to get there even if it’s in some other organization, which is a challenge sometimes for them.  For advisors, at that point, this is where you can bring in your network – and if you don’t have them, people like the Advisors in Philanthropy – to say, “This is where the passion is; what opportunities are out there to fill this passion?”  What it does is it ends up building a network.  You’ll find different organizations that do that. 

In most cities or communities, there are things like either United Way or community foundations that touch on a lot of different areas.  Those kinds of organizations can do a lot.  In fact, I was just talking to a client who is on the board of one non-profit but he also works with the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese, in his area.  He said, “When I looked at this, I realized that for the Archdiocese, this is great because if you want healthcare, we do healthcare; if you want education, we do education.”  Those kinds of charities – like community foundations are great for that – can provide opportunities in pretty much anything that is in their community.  If they have a worldwide view, you’re going to have to go do some research and find out what’s out there in the world.

Randy:    There are philanthropic consultants that work on that side of the equation that help identify the best outlet and the best resource and those professionals are available as well.

Rod:    In terms of the advisors, there aren’t very many advisors that are out there asking their clients, “Where do you want to make a difference in the world?” and helping them get there because it’s not the niche that they have the advisor in.  They’ve got the advisor in a certain box and helping them with this is not one of the pieces in that box.  So it changes the relationship with the client because now you’re talking about what his or her biggest passions are.

Randy:    There are a couple of clichés.  When the donor says, “Charity begins at home,” or “Blood is thicker than water; I want to take care of my kids,” how do you overcome those?  What is the method by which you take a donor or a potential donor from “charity begins at home” to “what’s your biggest passion in the world beside your family”?

Rod:    Even if the biggest passion is the family, charity can be the world’s best opportunity to teach the kids something about money.  It’s a different model when the kids are working with money that they don’t get to spend on themselves.  Using philanthropy as a training tool for kids is great.  A lot of times, how I end up making that transition is, “What do you want for your kids?”  If you want them to be responsible, if you want them to look beyond just themselves, if you want them to be involved in the world, now you’re back to philanthropy and now we may be letting the kids decide what those passions are and get involved.

Randy:    It’s great to hear someone else who believes the same things I believe and articulates it better than me.  Let’s talk about the next generation a little bit and how to get the kids involved. Where do you start and at what ages, and then how do you step up as they get older?

Rod:    Children can be really, really young.  It doesn’t have to be formalized philanthropy.  For instance, my son, Ryan, when his son, JD, was five or six, he was playing T-ball and Ryan was trying to get him to understand the concept of philanthropy and helping other people.  He was talking to JD and said, “I want you to think about what we can do to help someone else,” and JD had a kid on his T-ball team that didn’t have a mitt so he was borrowing a glove from everybody else.  They went down and bought a glove and gave it to the kid.  Starting young just with that concept of helping someone else and getting the adrenaline rush of seeing the difference you’re making in somebody’s life can start really early. 

Next, giving them a small amount of money and letting them decide.  I had one that started when the kids were, I think, six and eight and they each got $500 to give away and they had to do research and they had to bring it to the grant committee which was Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa.  They talked about it the day after Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving afternoon.   

Children have things that they’re concerned about.  One of my clients whose son was 15 started talking about this concept. He came up with the concern that he had kids at his school – he was in a private school – who couldn’t hear well and so they weren’t doing well in school.  He actually created a non-profit and went to the audiologist in town and got them to volunteer to give the exams and then they got him in touch with the people who sell hearing aids, that I now know are called hearing instruments, for these kids.  You don’t have to wait until they’re 15, 18, 20 years old.  You can start early and the earlier you start, the more they’ll start identifying things that are important to them.  By the time they’re in their teens, they can be pretty serious about it.

Randy:    What happens when you get a family when Gen. 2 is already in their 20s or maybe even their 30s?

Rod:    If they’re in their 20s and 30s, those are kind of interesting years because normally, they’re just getting started; they’re having their own budgeting issues.  They have to pay rent and things like that that they didn’t have to do before.  It’s almost like you’re starting over like you were back when they were little in giving them small opportunities to make a difference, but it makes it easier in terms of the family situation because there are limited resources and so together, they can make a bigger impact than they can separately.  So if as a group they can decide if there are two or three siblings, they can decide together with a couple of things that they really want to make a difference on, then by pooling their money, they can do something that will really make a difference rather than just give a little bit to different charities.  In many ways, those 20s to 30s are almost the same process that you’re using with the teens.

Randy:    That’s interesting.  I hadn’t thought of it that way and that makes perfect sense.  These sound like families that all get along fairly well.  What about families that are in disharmony?

Rod:    A lot of times, if the family is in disharmony, there is usually a more homogenous part of the family and one or two that are off to the side.  In those situations, if we can find something that is a passion for the ones that are kind of out of the center, or at least feel like they’re out of the center, if we can find something that’s a passion for them and even just okay for everyone else and use that as our target, it brings the family together because now the child that feels like they’re on the outside suddenly is on the inside and it’s helping everybody.  What we can’t do, if you just make it, we’re going to take a vote and majority rules, the person that is on the outside or the couple of little kids that are on the outside will feel even more disenfranchised.  But if somehow we can focus on something that they’re really interested in, you can bring harmony back into the family.

Randy:    I think it’s a really important point that if a family centers around philanthropy – two things.  One is that philanthropy in and of itself can help the family communicate and heal some of the old stuff that they haven’t been able to heal before.  Secondly, it’s okay if a family has a main philanthropic mission that not everybody agrees with and that if you allow the next generation the freedom to select things that they’re interested in themselves, that you’re empowering them and you’re letting them know that you believe in their ability to make a good decision.  It’s a very effective way of helping young adults mature.

Rod:    Sometimes as you get more into the “for what purpose” questions – why is it that you’re really into this – you’ll find that they have some of the same basic targets even though they’re doing it a different way.  Do you remember the young woman that came and spoke to AIP probably three or four years ago and whose great-grandfather had the patent on barbed wire?  Anyway, they had a large foundation and each generation got a certain amount of money to give away so the kids were all giving a lot of money to a very liberal think tank organization and Grandma was giving a lot of money to a very conservative think tank organization and it was causing friction because Grandma was just negating them out.  But as they started talking about it, they realized that both generations wanted their ideas out, talked about and debated so now the foundation sponsors a debate between the two organizations.  Sometimes if you get deeper into what is behind the passion, there may be some synergy that we didn’t realize existed.

Randy:    A lot of times we don’t take the time to really understand the other person’s reason and when we understand their reason, we find it’s a similar reason that we have except the way they’re approaching the problem is different than us. 

Rod:    Right.

Randy:    That’s really interesting Rod.  Anything you want to say in wrapping up the philanthropist by design idea?

Rod:    I think from both standpoints – the advisor or the non-profit – if you’re going to get into this, you have to put your own biases and things aside.  It really is all about where the client wants to go and then finding that.  If you have your own biases, they tend to filter and now no longer are you getting the passions of the client, you’re getting their passions that are close enough to yours.

Randy:    You have either biases or solutions.  Advisors, I think even the non-profits, they have and we all have hidden agendas.  We just want to get them out there and say, “Just do this,” and the second we do that, we corrupt the process a little bit.

Rod:    Yes.  Doug Carter has a great saying about revelation stops when presentation starts.  If we jump in too soon, we miss some of the greatest opportunities because we cut off their revelation.

Randy:    That’s why there’s whole courses on listening now, just learning how to listen.  You would think we know how to do it and it’s still something that’s a challenge for many of us.  Rod, thanks so much for this.  This is really great stuff and I look forward to our next one as well.

Rod:    Thank you very much.

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