Help clients see impact of charitable giving, as ice bucket challenge just did

News that donations attached to the icy deluges helped in discovering a gene linked to ALS exemplifies the importance of progress reports for philanthropic clients

Jul 28, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

By Liz Skinner

Reports that the Ice Bucket Challenge helped fund the discovery of a gene that could lead to a treatment for ALS serve as a reminder that when it comes to charitable giving, a little progress can go a long way.

Millions of people who allowed buckets of icy water to be dumped on their heads two summers ago no doubt felt satisfied this week when they learned that the $100 million-plus raised from the challenge actually made a difference in the Lou Gehrig's disease struggle.

For advisers, news that the challenge — which critics once decried as silly or hokey — actually led to meaningful results, offers a lesson on the value of encouraging clients to direct at least a portion of their charitable dollars to organizations that provide donors with regular updates on how their money is benefitting their mission. Advisers who do that will likely find that clients are more appreciative of their advice and guidance.

“Hearing about the impact that we make warms our hearts,” said Charlie Jordan, partner and financial adviser with Brightworth. “The more specifics you know about how those donated dollars are being used, the better you feel.”

(More: Don't let taxes drive charitable giving)

In fact, making a sustainable impact is the second biggest motivator of philanthropists, after giving to support a particular cause, according to a survey by Bank of the West Wealth Management, a unit of BNP Paribas. The poll from April included 457 philanthropists who have $5 million or more in investible assets.

It's easiest to help clients gain that good feeling by supporting a local or small organization, Mr. Jordan said.

When the charity is nearby, donors also can give their time helping, often providing an opportunity for clients to see their impact firsthand.

Smaller groups also are more likely to make their development officers available to talk with their financial backers, or even potential donors, about how dollars are being spent and who's benefiting.

As a member and now president of the Georgia Planned Giving Council, Mr. Jordan said he meets many of the development officials of regional charities, and often puts clients in touch with these connections when appropriate.

Josh Nelson, founder and chief executive of Keystone Financial Services, said his firm recently participated in building a Habitat for Humanity home, and at the event a mom with her children spoke about their excitement to move into one of the project's homes.

It created an amazing memory for the clients who participated, he said.

“It was powerful for clients to see what we did here really made an impact,” Mr. Nelson said.

(More: Wealthy want more than a tax break from charitable donations)

Mr. Nelson was one of the 17 million people who accepted the ALS ice bucket challenge two years ago, and he was thrilled to hear this week of the research advance funded by that campaign.

“It's so cool that you can tie something directly to a solution — actual good that came out of it,” he said. “A lot of times we donate to the United Way but don't see a direct impact.”

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