Randy Fox Interviews Todd Fithian on Values

Randy Fox Interviews Todd Fithian on Values

Article posted in Values-Based on 18 February 2015| 2 comments
audience: National Publication, Two Hawks Consulting, LLC, Todd Fithian | last updated: 20 February 2015


Todd Fithian explores the "values" conversation in this recent interview. The realization that understanding the alignment between family values and family philanthropy is of major importance as we work with donor families.

Click here to listen to the audio version of this interview.
Right click and "Save as" to download this audio to listen to it on your smartphone.  

Randy:    Good Morning, this is Randy Fox.  I am back again with Todd Fithian of the Legacy Group in Boston.  Todd recently spoke with me about Above the Line Planning.  Today we’re going talk about something just as interesting, and that is human values; what they mean to each person and how advisors and planned giving officers can discover the values of their client’s families and use those values to help them in their planning. Todd, welcome.

Todd:    Thanks Randy.  Thanks for having me out again, looking forward to the time together. 

Randy:     Let’s get down to business here.  You want to talk about values, so dig in, and let’s see where the conversation goes. 

Todd:    Our background and the work that we do is all about helping advisors to families of wealth and success.  A lot of it boils down to how are we connecting with them, how are we engaging with them, how are we discovering the things that are most important to them. For us values has always been one of those types of conversations that we really want to embark on with those folks, because, it’s interesting that we, we find that oftentimes a lot of the things that comprise who people are, the things that are kind of in their core and in their makeup, ultimately, the things that really drive their decisions boil down to those core values.  We talk about it from a standpoint of getting clear on one’s vision, one’s values, one’s mission and one’s goals. Values is really a critical part of the conversation of understanding what drives them, what are the things that we need to honor in our engagements and in our time together.  We look at values very much as things that we need to honor as we guide them through the decisions that they’re trying to come to terms with.

Randy:    Todd, just to make this simple, can you point to what some values people might hold? That way we can get the language cleared up and everybody understands exactly what we’re talking about.

Todd:    Great point.  Then we’ll talk about how you really get at the values conversation.  When we look at values, the things that we’re looking at are simply things like integrity.  What drives people around integrity, why is that important to people?  Education, for families, that maybe from a philanthropic perspective it’s being an alumni of a great educational facility and how important that is in their planning and generationally to talk about education, the role that that plays in the success in their family.  I think about spirituality or faith, and what role that plays.  There’s really a list of core words that often times can define underlying feelings and emotions that people are connected with.  A lot of times, we find that they can’t connect those words with the experiences in their lives. 

Randy:    How do you help them connect them?

Todd:    We’re talking about things like integrity, reliability, relationships, family, spirituality, faith and education. There’s a long list of what these values are.  We’ve done some interesting things around how we actually help advisors that are in these discussions incorporate this.  For years in the psychology field, there have been values exercises. One of the things we did was piggyback on that and created a deck of values cards.  These are like playing cards. Instead of 52 cards, ours has 48 values listed with a simple definition underneath it, and we go through and we do a simple exercise.  This is the simplest version that we talk about getting into values with a couple or an individual or even a family. As we give them a deck of the values cards and we have them lay out the deck on the table and go through a process of refining it down, our goal is to ultimately get to their top five or six. These are the values that really drive and define them.  We have them first start by going through this deck and by process of elimination, whittling it down to a grouping of 15, and then from 15 we facilitate them getting it down to 10 and then from 10 we try to facilitate getting it down to their most important 5. The ones that can represent who they are and that best define them.  The important thing I talk about is what we need to honor.  One of the things that I found is that sometimes when you put a name on a card, people can get through these exercises somewhat fast.  It’s actually not an easy exercise it takes some time.  If I find that somebody gets through it too fast, these may not really be the underlying things; we need to probe a little bit further.  I’m sitting with someone with a young family who has four kids, a great wife at home who is supportive and it’s likely that family better show up in there. I’ve got all these kids, family’s got to show up for me, right? We can get overwhelmed by that.  We go through a process of verification then.  We might ask them to talk about why family is so important for them.  To tell me how that shows up in their lives.  How do you live that out?  I want to really boil that down to a statement that defines why family is one of your top five.  Talk about faith.  Why is it faith, why is it education?  Why is integrity so important to you?  We go through that process of verification for each of these.  We find that amazing.  We’ve seen people change their top five when questioned deeply. 

Randy:    Todd, let me just back you up a second. 

Todd:    Yeah.

Randy:    How does a new client feel about someone saying, here’s a deck of cards of values and I want you to go through these and tell me what’s most important to you.  That’s a very uncommon conversation.

For most advisors it’s usually what’s your balance sheet?

Todd:    There’s a level of intimacy to this, let’s face it. I can’t sit down with me and my wife Debbie, and having never met Debbie, now you’re in front of us and all of sudden here comes Randy whipping out his values deck of cards and says, “guys it’s time to open up and we’re going to get into this thing, we’re going to really understand what makes you tick.”  There’s an element of set up that absolutely needs to happen and as you can imagine from my last discussion with you, our set up for this is around our planning horizon. We talk about the separation, as I said last time, talking about strategies, tactics and tools and how we really want to understand all the things that you’ve got working on your behalf today from a strategy, tactics and tools standpoint.  But we also want to get above the line and really understand what are the things that are driving you from a vision, from a values, from a mission standpoint.  We spend a fair amount of time setting the stage for this type of conversation.  It’s not an out of the box thing.  In fact I don’t teach this as something that really should happen in a first meeting.  It’s something that when once you’ve kind of gotten to connect with a client at a level and they really understand your approach and process, it’s then a great time to bring it in. 

Every time I say that, I have an advisor that does it differently.  I have one advisor right now that makes this a part of his first discussion with every new client, and he’s having an amazing response.  It’s a personalized thing where you can fit it in and when. Regardless it needs to have context behind it, you need to be able to set it up, because people will want to understand who you are and what are we doing and why are we doing this – if not set up properly.  

Randy:    That helps a lot.  You just said somebody’s having success doing it right away, and if you look at the Philanthropic Initiative, US Trust study, when they survey wealthy donors, they want to have those conversations. They’re saying they want to talk about their values.  They don’t want tactics right away. They want their advisors to know them better.  It seems to me there’s a big change taking place. 

Todd:    Absolutely and it’s a great reference.  Those wealth holders, donors, those folks are saying, “I want somebody that wants to take the time to get to know me, my family, our situation.”   I think the fundraisers are in the best place to do this. I think that they have to be doing this type of conversation. I really do.  How do you distinguish yourself from other charities and organizations and causes?  I think that you have a lot of women that are in fundraising, and, not to be stereotypical but they get this conversation and they’re better at it than the men are.  If I’m a fundraiser representing an organization, a cause, a campaign, whatever it might be, my ability to really understand the donor that I’m with and what drives them and what they are passionate about, what are the things that I need to respect and honor along the way, as we try to align them with what our needs are and what our goals are.  If they’re able to match those two things, they’re going to create an experience that that donor has never ever had before.

Randy:    Well exactly.  If the donor’s values don’t line up with the charity’s purpose, they’re not going to give, or they’re not going to give much.  If they can show the alignment between what the core values of the donor are and what their organization is doing in the world, that’s a home run match to me.

Todd:   What you just said was very timely and brilliant because how many fundraisers are talking to donors that have, as you and I have talked about, pocket book philanthropy, just because it’s local community or they were an alumni but their values overall are really not connecting. They’re spending time because of the situation and the analysis that they’ve done, seeing that there’s a major gift potential down the road at some point, so they’re hanging on, but it’s never coming through the donor’s eyes.  I’m doing this to keep you happy, but there’s nothing bigger coming because there’s no alignment there.

Maybe the conversation gets alignment, though.

Some financial advisors are good at disengaging when they see it not going anywhere, and some are not.  They don’t want to see it.  It’s different on the fundraising side.  Understanding what drives these people and values is clearly a part of that conversation.  Nobody’s having this conversation with them in the fundraising community. 

Randy:    What do you think it is Todd? 

Todd:    Well, can I take a minute and just talk about a more expansive version of that discussion that we’ve developed?

Randy:    Sure.

Todd:    During one of our conversations I told you that Legacy acquired another business, actually a Canadian business and I have a partner now that is based in Canada running a Canadian office for us.  He had done a broad level of consulting over the years, a lot of it marketing based, but one of the things that he does is goes into organizations and has really thorough values conversations that he takes people through.  We’ve now incorporated this into Legacy and into one of the things that we teach.  This is an advanced level of facilitation around values, but I’ve never seen something as powerful as this. 

The concept is to take a timeline and from birth to current age and go through and plot out your high and your low points, over that period of time. You find the things that have been amazing and positive in your life and the things that have impacted you in more of a negative way.  What he’s done in this process is that you get into some conversations around some of the low points that people have had in life and it’s amazing that the stories that you hear and what comes out of it is what happened there, what was it that wasn’t being honored and what stance did that cause you to take.  It really allows you to create some defining statements about how to honor these people as you move forward with them.  You go through that journey with somebody talking about the high and the low points and hearing their story around each of these events and what happened to them and how they felt and how that defines how they make decisions today.  It’s amazing. I’m not doing it complete justice, but hopefully people can kind of see a different framework there than simply putting the deck of playing cards down for somebody.

Randy:    It sounds like it’s much more intimate and much more dialogue involved.  There is a whole school of psychology about post-traumatic growth.  People that have bad experiences, there’s a big learning that takes place.  A lot of our formation takes place from things that have been traumatic for us, either good or bad, and we can go a lot of directions from that but that’s where our values crystalize for us. It fits right into that avenue of psychological intellectual capital.

Todd:    This was one of the reasons that we incorporated the verification around values deck conversation.  We were ending it like most do with what are your top five values? It’s faith, it’s family, it’s education, it’s integrity and it’s honesty. Those are your five, great. That’s what we’re going to use in leverage.  Tying a story back to it, you can see it’s a component of that journey that you could actually go through with somebody. It adds another level of verification, too.  And it honors the person. If you’re sitting there with a donor, or you’re sitting there with a client and you’re asking them to tell you about what role faith plays in their life, tell me about it, help me in hearing your story.  We’re connecting at a completely different level.

It’s powerful.  I really hope that interviews like this and us spending time talking about this and the ways that people can do it, that people are going to gain from this and see you don’t have to be an expert facilitator in having these conversations with people.  You don’t have to just be loaded with a book full of questions.  Let them go through the exercise and let them just tell their story.  You will just be amazed with what it does to the overall relationship. They’ll feel completely different.

Randy:    Well, this is great material Todd.  And I sure hope everybody gets as much out of it as I have.  And we will continue our stories and conversations as we move along – because I know there’s more there.

Todd:    Thanks so much Randy.  And thanks for allowing us to continue to share some of our passion and I hope the readers get good ideas and insights out of this.  So thanks very much.

Randy:    Great, thanks, we’ll talk to you soon. 

Click here to listen to the audio version of this interview.

Add comment

Login or register to post comments


Re: Randy Fox Interviews Todd Fithian on Values

I'm a big fan of Todd's (and Scott's) work. I've been in planned giving for many years and highly recommend implementing a values-based discussion model with planned and major gift donors. Great value here. Thanks Randy.

Re: Randy Fox Interviews Todd Fithian on Values

Thanks, Brad. The Fithians have done pioneering work in our community for a long time.

Group details



This group offers an RSS feed.
7520 Rates: June 3.4% May 3.2% April 3.2%

Already a member?

Learn, Share, Gain Insight, Connect, Advance

Join Today For Free!

Join the PGDC community and…

  • Learn through thousands of pages of content, newsletters and forums
  • Share by commenting on and rating content, answering questions in the forums, and writing
  • Gain insight into other disciplines in the field
  • Connect – Interact – Grow
  • Opt-in to Include your profile in our searchable national directory. By default, your identity is protected

…Market yourself to a growing industry