You Can't Say Yes to Everything

The heart-wrenching pleas just keep coming:

One group needs money to provide free medical flights to the critically ill. Another plea asks for funding to provide music lessons to underprivileged students. A third wants resources to build special housing for injured veterans.

Americans gave $358 billion to charitable groups in 2014, the most recent year with available data, according to Giving USA, an annual report on philanthropy. This includes money for cultural and educational institutions and organizations battling disease, hunger and homelessness.

With more than 1.5 million charitable groups in the U.S., there’s a good chance you or someone else in your office has been asked to made a donation of money, time or both.

How advisors approach giving back to their communities varies from firm to firm. Some firms rely on a detailed process; the approach of others is more ad hoc. Yet most agree that a business must set limits.

“I can’t say yes to everything,” says Don Patrick, founder and managing director of Integrated Financial Group, which is based in Atlanta.


Many of the firm’s 70 advisors pursue their own philanthropic interests. One advisor serves on the board of a charity that aids abused women and hosts an annual run to raise money. “I put money toward things like that,” Patrick says.

However, most of the firm’s charitable efforts go to Senior Connections, a local service organization that one of the firm’s advisors helped create; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is focused on childhood diseases; and Angel Flight, which provides free medical transport.

“Angel Flight is my biggest passion,” says Patrick, who has been flying planes since he was 16. Besides giving money to the organization, he donates the use of a plane and his time as a pilot.

The firm encourages employees to volunteer. One day each quarter, employees can skip work and donate their time to a charity or community activity. Patrick budgets 10% of revenue for charity.


Although Integrated’s advisors sit on charity boards and the firm has seen some business as a result, Patrick says the reciprocation is not the motivation.

Sometimes advisors are put on the spot when clients ask for charitable donations or other support.

When that does happen, “my inclination is to support it at a reasonable level,” says Rick Miller, founder of Sensible Financial in Waltham, Mass. Even so, he says, helping the charities of all clients would ultimately be problematic, “because our resources aren’t unlimited.”

Recently, Sensible Financial supported an hour of live streaming of the Community Music Center of Boston’s 26th annual Performathon, an all-day marathon of mini-recitals involving about 400 students.

Before agreeing to sponsor the event, Miller cleared his plans with his compliance attorney, because the center has been a long-term client. Although Sensible Financial was mentioned as one of the event’s sponsors, “I’m not really expecting that we’re going to get business from this,” says Miller. “We’re not asking how many people are going to hear our commercial.”

Roger Pine, a partner at Briaud Financial Advisors in College Station, Texas, handles charitable giving by dividing the budget for it into three separate accounts, one for each partner. Because they live and work in a relatively small town, Pine says, “We’ve been able to see directly the impact of some of

these gifts.”

Pine is on the board of a local theater group and works with Junior Achievement.

“My whole budget is blown on those two things,” he says. Among other charities, his partners give to the American Heart Association and the local symphony.


“It takes time to find the thing that you really care about a lot,” says Pine, who first joined the local theater group as an amateur performer. Pine is also a runner, and the firm helped to sponsor the local marathon for a few years.

But the marathon was an annual event, had numerous sponsors and drew many people from outside of the town. The theater audience, however, was made up of mostly local residents. Choosing the latter, Pine says, “It just felt like we were getting more bang for our buck.”

The firm also sponsors an NPR newscast on KAMU-FM. Although no client has said he or she came to the firm because of the NPR connection, Pine says, “We’ve had people thank us.” The funds, however, don’t come out of Briaud’s charity budget, which is about 1% of revenue. “It is technically charity, but it’s so clearly advertising that we call it advertising in our budget,” he says.

A fourth charity budget allocation is used company-wide to meet specific requests from clients, such as a school fundraiser for a grandchild. Pine estimates the firm gets a dozen such requests a year from its 200 or so clients.


Some firms embrace their clients’ charitable plans. “We do support fundraisers that our clients put on,” says Deb Wetherby, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Wetherby Asset Management.

For one, the firm supports one of its clients, The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, by sponsoring a golf tournament.

Wetherby’s firm specializes in impact investing and uses a self-managed corporate donor-advised fund to handle charitable distributions. The amount added to the fund varies year to year. The firm also matches employee charitable contributions of up to $1,000 annually. Those grants are budgeted under employee benefits.

Wetherby encourages its 60-person staff to get involved through a volunteer day. Last year, for example, employees packaged 9,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger-relief organization.

Every year the firm also makes gifts in honor of its clients to up to three charities. If a tsunami or other major natural disaster occurs, an organization that addresses that emergency need is included.


“We ask a group of employees for suggestions of organizations they think will resonate with clients,” Wetherby says.

Any of the firm’s owners can ask that the firm make a donation to an organization that is important to them.

Because the gift is coming from the firm, “it has to make some sense in terms of the business case,” Wetherby says.

A recipient organization “has to be important to employees, or important to clients, or important to our business or important to one of the owners personally,” she adds.

Giving to charities is a significant way for advisor firms to become an active and valued part of their own communities. Such donations also help employees and clients to bond and become conscious of a firm’s ultimate support.

Joseph Lisanti, a Financial Planning contributing writer in New York, is a former editor-in-chief of Standard & Poor’s weekly investment advisory newsletter, The Outlook.

This article was originally published at

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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