Charitable giving starts with routine tax strategizing and estate planning, but it doesn't end there. Once you have worked with your clients to determine their estate-planning and tax objectives, it's time to explore the real issues of giving, or what I call values-based giving.
A six-step values-based giving process enables clients, personally or as a business, to develop a giving plan by defining what's important and combining those concerns and interests with their values, their money and their time. It works like this:
Step 1. Clarify values: What's important? Our values are characteristics we hold in high esteem, things to which we attach worth. Whether we're conscious of them or not, our values influence our behavior as givers, including what we fund, how we evaluate projects and how we relate to those we support.
It's very important that individuals, their families and businesses identify and define their values with regard to their resources and giving. We may value qualities of being, such as integrity or justice. We may value particular kinds of endeavors, such as working for the oppressed, feeding those who are hungry or elevating the status of women.
In discussions about values, it's critical that each person be heard. What has been important and meaningful to one may not be to another. Each individual should have a chance to define what kind of legacy he or she would like to leave. I tell my clients not to forget to use this opportunity to find a way to communicate and share their values with their children.
Step 2. Determine goals: What do we want to accomplish? Here we say, "What do we want our dollars to do, in a general sense?" What impact do we want to have? What are our intentions? How much do we want to give? Over what time period do we want to give it? What general areas will support the values we've identified in Step 1?
People give for all kinds of reasons, from a sense of obligation and family tradition to a desire to act on firmly held beliefs. Asking your clients questions-and more questions-will lead to clarity of their goals and purpose.
Step 3. Define expectations: What do we want? In Step 3, clients are getting more detailed, more specific. They're working their way through this process by asking other kinds of questions.
Do they want to provide a few large gifts or many smaller gifts? Do they want to volunteer their time or provide funding, or both? Do they want to provide funds for specific projects or capital improvements? Do they want to support infrastructure or operations? Do they want to become increasingly strategic and focus on issues and results rather than effects?
I have found that, particularly in families, we expect others to agree and share our expectations and wishes. Which, of course, doesn't usually happen. And that expectation creates a problem, an impasse.