Is pro bono work in your future?

Opportunities to contribute are all around us, ranging from big initiatives sponsored by industry organizations to local efforts

Jan 2, 2019 @ 12:02 pm

By Joni Youngwirth

Doesn't everyone want to make a positive difference in the world? Of course, financial planners do that every day through their work with clients. But going above and beyond the daily services for which we charge clients takes "giving back" to a different level.

We are fortunate to have advisers in our industry who are role models for making a difference within and without our arena. Think of the individuals or firms that are recognized by industry organizations. One such entity is Invest in Others, a nonprofit group that describes itself as dedicated to "supporting and empowering financial advisers who invest in others by giving back to their communities with overwhelming generosity."

(More: Advisers, firms win for leadership at the 12th annual Invest in Others Awards)

In the daily hustle of life, weeks and months pass without notice. Years later, we find that volunteerism and pro bono work have become afterthoughts — activities we intended to engage in but never got around to doing.

Well, it's never too late. If you are a busy adviser whose good intentions have yet to materialize into action, there are plenty of ways to get started.

Foundation for Financial Planning

The Foundation for Financial Planning, whose volunteer advisers help people in need get their financial lives in order, is one option. Along with partners like the Financial Planning Association and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the FPP helps engage and train volunteers to participate in programs that serve the financially vulnerable members of our society: wounded veterans, domestic-violence survivors, struggling single parents and others.

For example, counseling for cancer victims through FFP is a charitable, professionally oriented pro bono opportunity for CFPs, that can be done virtually. Interested CFPs can go to the Financial Planning for Cancer program section of the FFP website to get information on how to participate.

FPA Chapters

For advisers who wish to engage locally, many FPA chapters have volunteer pro bono directors and collaborate with FFP grantees and other nonprofits to help underserved residents in their local areas.

Pro Bono Relationships with Existing Clients

In working with advisers over a couple of decades, I've found that some financial professionals don't know specifically where their revenue comes from. To find out, they may go through a scale-and-capacity process to determine the revenue that each household contributes to their top line. After arriving at the answer, they inevitably arrive at an unanticipated moment of truth: They learn which clients they lose money on.

What should they do? Eliminate these clients from their practice? Grin and bear the situation?

Surprisingly, many advisers have a hard time discontinuing their relationships with clients on whom they lose money. But in terms of volunteerism, they may not necessarily want to. This segment of an adviser's business can offer opportunities to adopt some of these clients formally as pro bono, particularly when no remuneration — not even one cent — exists for the services rendered. Once such relationships are established, it could be easier for the advisers to recognize others in their community who could benefit from their expertise on a pro bono basis.

(More: Working to spark a global movement for pro bono financial planning)

Opportunities Abound

When we open our eyes to them, opportunities to contribute are all around us. Some are big and sponsored by organizations within the profession. Some are local and community-oriented. Others are private, individual initiatives.

I recently attended a luncheon at my own company to thank individuals who spearheaded grassroots charitable events in 2018. Who would have thought that a beard-growing contest, a used-shoe drive, a program to knit chemo caps for children or walking for a favorite charity could be so inspirational and so much fun at the same time?

The volunteers who spoke passionately about their efforts all wanted to make a difference in the world well beyond doing good work in their professional lives. Don't we all? It's just that only some people actually get around to it. No surprise, these initiators are often among the busiest people we know.

There is no better way to make a difference than being charitable and giving to those who are most in need. There is no time like now. Are pro bono work and charitable efforts in your future in 2019?

(More: The future of new-adviser training is now)

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network.


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