JOHN A: Good day everyone. I’m John A. Warnick, the founder of the Purposeful Planning Institute, and it’s an exciting opportunity for us to engage with Emma Beeston who was recommended to us by our two Deans of Philanthropy within the Purposeful Planning Institute. Emma’s recently completed a book which I think is packed with some valuable information. It’s called Advising Philanthropists: Principles and Practice, and she has a co-author, Dr. Beth Breeze, but Emma, we love to start our podcast by asking our guests if they would share what we call their Purposeful Odyssey. That’s the story of your professional meanderings that lead you to where you are today. If you could share that with us in a few minutes, then we’ll dive into all the wonderful conversation points that you and I have discussed for this podcast.
EMMA: Thank you so much, John. It’s lovely to be here. And meandering is definitely the right word. I never set out to be a philanthropy advisor — I don’t think many people do — so it’s certainly something that I’ve ended up doing by accident and enjoy. But I’m based in the UK. So I work now as an independent philanthropy advisor. But my background to get to this point was originally logistical things. By the way, I think I use that every day for people or animals, but that’s not always how other people see that. I ended up working in charities in the UK. So working in sort of delivery, in advice in mental health, and in youth work — youth worker was one of my earlier jobs — and then became involved in grant making. So I ended up working, managing programs, giving grants to individuals, and then managing the programs of quite large institutional funders here in the UK. And it was comfortable. It’s a lovely role working in foundations and working with funders but it got to a point where I needed a bit of a stretch and a bit of a challenge. And that’s when I took the leap to become a consultant. And looking at the skills that I had. I decided that a philanthropy advisor was the thing that I was going to be even though it’s very little known here and not many people are doing it. So alongside my practice (so I work in my practice), I work with a range of different clients. But often people on the start of their journey, they’re looking to do something in philanthropy. They’re looking to give but they don’t really know where to start. So that’s often where I get involved. But alongside my practice, I teach. So I teach in a master’s program with Beth Breeze who’s the co-author of the book. And the module that we co-created as part of this master’s was on advising philanthropists. And when we looked to set this up (which was many years back now) we found that there just wasn’t any information. There wasn’t any research on advisors. So although there’s lots of books on philanthropy, there’s loads of opinions on what a philanthropist should do and what they shouldn’t do. But quite rightly, lots of profiles on philanthropists and donors themselves but there wasn’t much attention on who’s advising them. And clearly, people are advising them and have been for many, many years. So that’s why eventually we came from teaching the course. And all the learning we’ve done over the few years to then deciding to write a book, really just to introduce the profession to people I know it’s better known in the States than it is here. But it’s very much a new emerging profession that people might be curious about, but really they don’t know very much about at all. So the book is an introduction, and it’s about raising awareness of who these philanthropy advisors are, what they are doing, and we had the privilege of interviewing (I think it was) 40 different philanthropy advisors across 15 countries around the world. So the book is packed full of their insights as well as everything we’ve been able to gather over the years.
JOHN A: I think what a marvelous project and you’re right that there is a growing number of philanthropic advisors and consultants. In the US, it’s about 10% of the PPI membership. So approximately 50 individuals identify within PPI as philanthropic advisors or consultants. And there is a group — I served on the board for almost four years — of the International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy, otherwise known as AIP. And I think it’s a bit pretentious, but they did have a goal of trying to be an international association of philanthropic advisors. And since I left active service within AIP, I don’t know how well they’re doing with their international spread. But coming back to this marvelous project, seeking out and interviewing 40 philanthropic advisors across 15 different nations, I just be curious what that all sums up for you in terms of how you answer the question: why should all advisors, not just philanthropic advisors, be talking about philanthropy?
EMMA: Thanks, John. Certainly those 40 that we did interview are all specialist philanthropy advisors. So they work in different settings, different approaches, and different styles. So it was fascinating to get to hear all of their stories, but also what they have in common is that desire, and that the skills to unlock giving. And I guess, the philanthropy advisors are there for this specialist group. But the fact is that wealthy people are being advised by all sorts of other advisors. And in order to unlock that giving — which is, as we know, is hugely needed. I mean, philanthropy can’t fix everything, but it can certainly help address the environmental and social issues that we face in this world — and so I don’t think it’s enough to leave it to the relatively small number of philanthropy advisors to kind of add up giving and supporting their clients. Actually, wealth managers, financial planners, tax advisers, and others — a part of that if they can raise the conversation — if they can talk about philanthropy with wealthy people as if it’s a norm. It’s something you can do. It’s something you can learn about. It’s something you can get help with. Then that really helps all of us to increase the amount of giving there is going to be going on by wealthy people. And obviously, when it’s not your prime job, it’s difficult to take out philanthropy advice, as well as everything else that you’re doing. But it would be lovely to see that everybody had the confidence to start that conversation and to raise the topic. And certainly their clients want to talk about their purpose, want to talk about legacy, want to talk about things that matter to them. So if other advisors were able to do that, and then make appropriate referrals to a philanthropy advisor, then I think we would all benefit from that. And I always think of it as a bit of a mutual exchange. So if I’m working with a client who is seeking and who is looking to set up a giving vehicle, and they’re going to need some specialist advice around some of the tax implications, or the timing of when they’re going to draw down investments (areas that I do not advise on), I will happily advise them to contact investment managers and tax advisers, and I kind of want the favor returned. So when clients are talking about philanthropy, I would love that other advisors have that conversation and then go, “Actually, we can link you with some specialists, some peers, some learnings that support some advisors.”
JOHN A: That reciprocity should be the rule rather than the exception. And I think Emma, as I listened to you, any client advisor who feels or sees the opportunity to engage in conversation with clients around philanthropy, if that advisor consultant is philanthropic in their own journey, in their own life, I think they’re going to be so much more impactful in those conversations in it. They’re just suggesting, “Oh. You might want to give some money away and do some good. What about us as advisors doing good, too.” We’ll come back to that a little bit later.
EMMA: I think it’s important if we can touch on it now because I think there’s a business imperative of talking to your clients about philanthropy. I think the research says it deepens those comments sanctions. It helps with building relationships. But that’s apart, as you say, from philanthropic motivation. So I think if advisors themselves are giving and understanding that often it is not as easy as it looks, then I think that’s incredibly helpful in initiating those conversations.
JOHN A: I would agree completely. I love the thought that you’ve made me aware of that there’s so much more to philanthropic advice than just the technical aspects. TThat there’s kind of this psychological, emotional side. And when you talk about unlocking philanthropic energy, I have to believe that this emotional, psychological side of working with the potential donors is extremely important.
EMMA: Yes, and I think there’s often a lot of focus on the technical or maybe some of the data or the metrics around impact. But the reality is that philanthropy is a voluntary act. So it’s always going to be about personal motivation. It’s also an expression of values. So it goes deep. And often it can be emotional for other reasons. So perhaps, a client has come into wealth through loss — that’s not uncommon — or they’re thinking about legacy, or they’re thinking about succession. These are deep, important issues. On a more day-to-day basis, when you’re working with a family, there just might be some family dynamics involved, which we all know will happen in the family. So it’s not just, “Here is the most logical thing you should be doing. And X, Y, and Z. That’s how you do it.” It just doesn’t work like that because you’re talking about passion and motivation and aspiration. And you’re touching on some quite difficult topics around attitudes of money, attitude to wealth, the power of wealth. How you’re looking at the succession issue. So all these things are about people. So philanthropy advisors, yes, they’re bringing knowledge and expertise in philanthropy in different approaches but they also have to be very skilled in listening and facilitation of a deeply personal and emotional process.
JOHN A: Well said, Emma. I’m just curious. I don’t want anyone to freak out that it’s terribly complicated. But I have to believe that there isn’t just a single orthodoxy, not just a single path or right way to go about this work of philanthropic advice. What can you share with us about that?
EMMA: So I think people have one view of what a philanthropist is. Let’s say a white male tech billionaire who’s got a plan. He’s got a vision that is going to fix something. And that’s certainly part of the options in philanthropy. But people look at that and go, “Well. That’s not me. I don’t have that level of money or that level of ambition, or I don’t want to be high profile.” And that can actually just put people off because they’re not seeing themselves reflected. And actually, there are lots and lots of wonderful donors and philanthropists who are quietly giving in all sorts of different ways. And I think as an advisor, you are bringing those options to show people that, “Actually, for example, you can give collectively or you can join a funder collaborative. You don’t have to have your own initiative. You can join with others and give with them and that helps you maybe not be under so much pressure so that you can learn alongside peers as well.” So there are just different ways of doing it. And I think people get put off by not seeing that reflected. And they also get quite scared that they’re going to get it wrong. And I think that fear can put people off. So I think we have a role in boosting people’s confidence again and saying, “Look. There’s all these different ways and there’ll be a way that works for you. It’s about learning. It’s about exploring.” And then also, I don’t wish to complicate it, either. But it can be overwhelming when you’re starting out. Because there’s so many options and so many choices, that actually you can get a bit paralyzed by doing it. So I think that’s where an advisor who is helping you is navigating you through all those different choices, but showing you what can be possible. It’s doing both things but there is no one right way. Every single client will be different in what they’re interested in and how they matter and how they want to go forward.
JOHN A: I call that as ‘taking the blinders off.’ If you think about what used to happen with all the cabbies that were horse drawn, the blinders that they would put on the horses to keep them focused going forward and you miss so much when you got blinders on. But I love this thought that one of the key roles of a philanthropic advisor is to help take the blinders off and help clients understand all the possibilities. They don’t have to do it just on their own. They can join with others. I’m gonna ask you, Emma, take us into the force for good that you see in those philanthropic advisors and advisors who are encouraging and motivating their clients to be philanthropists or engage in some form of philanthropy. How do you see this world the good that can be done? And what do you see as the path forward for anyone who feels called to try to do more to help improve the world and the planet that we’re on?
EMMA: So one of the things we do talk about in the book, and we rightly go into some of the criticisms — so as we know philanthropy can be criticized and it’s under scrutiny and philanthropy advisors themselves are not immune from that criticism — so there’s someone that will argue that advisors are just supporting wealthy people to do whatever they want. So we’re the servants that are doing that or that we’re kind of creating a layer of bureaucracy between donors and fundraisers, and we’re kind of getting in the way, or that we are just a wealthy elite that’s making money out of nonprofits getting in the battery. So we don’t hide from those criticisms. Yes, it is a very privileged position to be able to support people. Yes, there are some problems with philanthropy. It’s not perfect. But we also come down, not surprisingly — obviously, I’m very biased as a financial adviser — but I do think we make a very good case for actually the added value that philanthropy advisors are bringing. So in that sense, the relationships with the donors they’re able to challenge, it’s not just the passive role. They’re bringing knowledge of the nonprofit sector to maybe people that don’t understand how nonprofits work and how they operate. So we can explain how that world works, what reasonable expectations might be or might not be. We can promote good practice and how you fund so whether that’s about multi year giving, operating costs, or just the way that you listen to nonprofits and learn from them. And it can be conversations about giving more, encouraging more giving. So we’re positive in that way, as well as convenient, we’re intermediate. So we’re often convening those conversations with nonprofits and helping a fundraiser with a donor as much as the other way round. So I think we have to question ourselves and make sure we’re adding value and make sure we’re making a difference and look at our own values in this work and our own biases. And make sure we’re operating in a very ethical way and thinking about who we’re working with and how much are we serving, how much are we challenging, what are we trying to influence, and what’s the overall point of what we’re doing? And I would say, ultimately, what we’re looking to do is be encouraging more and better giving. And I think if that’s our role, then I think philanthropy advisors definitely are valuable in this space, where we’re back to this idea of them unlocking philanthropic good to go into the world to do more good out there in those the hands of those that are delivering on the frontline and trying to make a difference to the planet and to the people upon it.
JOHN A: I just want to say immensely (underlined and with exclamation points) I think immensely valuable. And you made a compelling case for that. So I’m going to surprise you with a question about the surprise of these 40 (or so) advisors that you talk with across the world. Was there a big surprise, something that you really weren’t anticipating having seen or learned that it’s stuck with you, and you think it might be valuable to close today with?
EMMA: Possibly not a surprise, but still very lovely to hear and definitely struck me was just how incredibly thoughtful they were. And considering this is a field where we don’t yet have a huge amount of professional development, curricula, or books to draw on, or resources to draw upon. Everyone has, therefore, approached their work in a very thoughtful way. They think about it, they think about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and how they’re doing it. And that definitely came across strongly. And the variety was huge. So you’re talking about a person working maybe with one family for years versus someone who might be supporting a donor advised fund who’s got 50-, 60-, to 70 plus clients. So they’re hugely diverse in just the practicalities of what they’re doing. Let alone operating in different cultures with different clients. But they all definitely shared that common common motivation. That they are helping the philanthropist to find out how best they can contribute to what the world needs from them. So it is very much driven by the world needs you to be doing this. Not so much with, “Oh. What does my client want?” It was really interesting to hear the different perspectives. But that was definitely the common purpose was that desire to help more people.
JOHN A: Well, I love that answer. And it wasn’t a surprise. It doesn’t sound like but it was kind of a joyous affirmation of the potential and the good that are being accomplished by these philanthropic advisors versus their situations. I’m just going to close by asking: are you familiar with the concept of persona de affairs versus persona de confianza?
JOHN A: This is a J. Hughes concept. I’ll send you a paper that I’m going to be talking about at the Heritage Institute this Wednesday. J described and this is kind of a European aristocracy, or from the royalty, the persona de affair was he or she, who was charged with daily responsibilities around the palace, but the persona de confianza was the person that literally would be served the soup before it was served to the king or queen. And they were trusted to take one for the team (so to speak) if somebody was trying to poison the royalty, and persona de confianza… I’ve kind of been inspired by that. And as you were describing these 40 individuals that you learn from, and the curiosity that fueled your interviews with them, it struck me that you were dealing largely, if not exclusively, with a community of persons that they call confianza. They are much more than just the job or the daily tasks. They care so deeply about those that they’re serving. Their empathy is so strong. And I think we can all no matter how much energy and time we focus on in the world of philanthropy, we can all learn from this. And this has been a delightful conversation. I’m so grateful that you were willing to join us. It’s much later in your day than it is ours. And we thank you for joining us and for your incredible accent and enthusiasm.
EMMA: Thank you, John. Thank you for introducing me to that concept that’s really testing a trusted advisor relationship, isn’t it? Maybe that should be the test, whether philanthropy advisors drink and test the poison soup [laughs].
JOHN A: Yes [laughs].
EMMA: It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk with you today. Thank you so much for inviting me on.
JOHN A: Our pleasure. Our pleasure.