“Incite and Enhance” Philanthropy

Joel DavisJoel Davis likes to encourage his colleagues in the financial advisor field to talk about philanthropy with their clients. A popular speaker on a variety of estate planning topics, Davis presents a strong case for the important role a financial advisor may play in bringing out the philanthropic passion in his or her clients. Speaking with Jennifer Southard, MaineCF’s director of philanthropic services, Davis expressed his desire to "incite and enhance" philanthropy.

MaineCF: What do you see as your role as a financial advisor in talking about philanthropy with your clients?

Davis: When I look at the discussion that a wide range of advisors have with clients about philanthropy, perhaps the most critical linkage is the financial advisor. I have had this discussion with many estate planning attorneys, and I ask them, “Why don’t you talk with clients about charity, about philanthropy?” And oftentimes they say, “It’s not my place.” The accountants may say the same thing. Then I may remind them, “Isn’t an attorney a counselor? Aren’t you supposed to offer counsel?” Usually they say, “Only when my clients ask.”

I think clients want to be asked. I think they have a passion. It’s that intersection between their passion and their pocketbook that creates a legacy solution, particularly around family values—not my values, not your values, but what their passion is all about. And it doesn’t take much to ignite that passion. It’s a simple discussion about children, about family, about father and mother and aunt and uncle.

I think it’s a crucial conversation. You can discern very quickly in that conversation about where their passion is. I know their financial situation. I know whether they have capacity; sometimes they want to create capacity through vehicles such as charitable trusts.

The tools and techniques are part of the conversation, but they are not everything. Advisors should include in that conversation the names of organizations with community value.

MaineCF: Do you have any favorite questions you ask a client?

Davis: I might start with a simple question, “Have you ever given money to an organization?” I try to look at the family histories for patterns, things that have affected them. The more you understand the stories, the better you can advise the client. For a person who values education, for example, why not consider setting up a scholarship program? It is what the client values that counts. They like the idea of leaving a legacy, not only for themselves, but also for their family. You have to make sure that you give your clients clear, unbiased advice.

MaineCF: Do you have a favorite story?

Davis: All the stories are my favorites. Each time you make a change in the nature of someone’s thinking, you may be able to cascade that change through the generations. I think that more advisors like myself can make a substantial difference in the community by starting these conversations about passion and legacy. You can incite and enhance philanthropy.

It’s about the value proposition that the individual brings to the table.

Joel Davis is a Senior Financial Advisor for Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Augusta, Maine. He specializes in comprehensive financial, estate, and charitable planning for personal and business clients. Davis is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and received a Master’s Degree with Honors in Resource Economics from the University of Maine at Orono, as well as a Master of Science degree in Financial Services from the College of Financial Planning. Davis is a member of the National Association of Philanthropic Planners and the Maine Planned Giving Council, and he serves on the advisory board of the Maine Women’s Fund and Maine Initiatives.