Want to have deeper conversations with your clients? Start talking about philanthropy, says one expert.

Repeated studies have shown that the top reason people give to charity is not for the tax break, but rather to express deeply held values and to contribute to their community, according to Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust in Jenkintown, Pa., which manages donor-advised funds.

As a result, “talking about philanthropy enables you to get into more meaningful conversations with your clients,” says Heisman, who spends much of her time coaching advisors about how to discuss philanthropic goals with their clients. “You get to ask people what’s really important to them.”

To do this well, however, requires a certain amount of study, she says. “You have to really prepare yourself for the conversation,” Heisman says. “You have to decide how educated you want to be.”

Often an advisor will initiate this talk with a client only to cut it short after it veers onto unexpectedly complex terrain. “The last thing you want to do,” she says, “is introduce a topic and not be able to follow through.”


Instead, Heisman urges planners to prepare by taking seminars offered in their area about philanthropic giving and reading up on the subject through a variety of channels (see below). Or, she says, advisors can bring a philanthropy expert onto a client call to discuss the use of donor-advised funds, charitable remainder trusts and other giving vehicles.

“Find somebody in your community who really knows about philanthropy who you can patch into a call,” she says.

Heisman, who runs the largest private-label provider of donor-advised funds, says she does this often for advisors and their clients. The National Philanthropic Trust runs private-label donor-advised funds for large financial institutions including J.P. Morgan Private Bank, Harris myCFO and UBS.

Among the sources she recommended for information on philanthropic giving:

Many organizations also send out informative emails that keep their followers abreast of changes in the field. Among them, Philanthropy.com offers an excellent free email newsletter that advisors can subscribe to, Heisman says. 

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