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#335- The Challenge of Professional Collaborations in the Philanthropy World: A Contemporaneous Example

March 1st, 2019

Richard Marker

Next week, I will be privileged to co-present a webinar for The Chronicle of Philanthropy on the topic “How to Craft Gift Agreements.}

The webinar was organized by the Chronicle and will include a senior development officer representing the view of non-profits, and me – representing the view of funders. In preparation, we have considered many areas that our respective positions and perspectives bring to the table.

The underlying assumption of the webinar is what happens after a funder decides to give – not where the money comes from, not [necessarily] what led to the decision, but what happens now. how does that agreement get articulated, who has what responsibilities, and what will happen in the future?

Underlying my part of the presentation is the concept of “exit strategies” – when funders decide to give a grant or gift to any organization, part of their decision making should include what will make them feel that this was a successful grant, and the grant/gift agreement should reflect those conditions. Clearly, there must be mutual consensus that these expectations are do-able, and consistent with the scope of funding and organizational capacity. [Tune in for more details.]

My co-presenter, Felicia Murphy-Phillips, is a very seasoned and senior development expert who has tremendous experience in this area – with a scope of knowledge that should prove very helpful to her fellow development professionals who may fall into the trap that getting the funds is the end of the process. My part will share insights into the thought processes of funders, and, for funders who may be attending, how to fine-tune their own thinking.

I write this now, not as a publicity for the webinar since, without question, the reach of The Chronicle is far beyond my own, but to comment on an unanticipated on-line conversation related to this webinar.
Some wealth managers, looking only at the title, viewed this webinar from a very different vantage point. From their perspective, they presume that it is to be about the funding vehicles that accompany or enable a “gift”, such as different kinds of trusts, or the tax savings that may accrue. In other words, their professional perspective on philanthropy is not related to the perspective either of us presenters will bring to the table.

Now, admittedly, where the money comes from and how the financial component is structured matters, especially to the recipient organization. [and it will be alluded to in passing by Ms. Murphy-Phillips]. Rarely, though, is that an issue for a funder related to the topic I have been asked to address. Once a funder has decided to give for any charitable purpose, his or her primary concern is what will happen to that money once it is given. That is when the expectations and exit strategy concerns come into play. The financial vehicles, at this stage of the conversation, are, at most, incidental.

These comments are in no way intended to suggest that the wealth managers are not doing something important to advance philanthropy – only that it is not directly related to philanthropic decision making,, only its financial enabling. The title of the webinar, I now see, suggests very different content depending on what hat one is wearing.

As one who has attended and spoken at many wealth conferences, this disconnect does not surprise me at all. Indeed, many long-time readers will recognize that this is not a new issue at all. It is worth reiterating that, when T & E attorneys and wealth advisors talk about the value of professional collaborations, they rarely if ever, include a philanthropy professional on their list of colleagues with whom they aspire to collaborate. Is it because their view of philanthropy is limited by their own professional perspectives or that they simply don’t know that there are folks like us who bring a very different level of expertise about philanthropy to the table?

So, by all means, it will be great to have colleagues from those disciplines as participants in next week’s webinar. But please don’t be surprised when the content has everything to do with the respective and interlocking interests of the non-profit and the funder, and not about the financial vehicles that got them there.

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