The Foundation for Financial Planning has been a bucket brigade that gets planners in touch with those in need-not just of money, but advice.
People who are the most in need of financial planning assistance may be the least likely to know where to turn for that help or to even know what a financial planner is. At the same time, as the financial planning profession matures, its members have a growing desire to reach out to help the community and people in need.
The Foundation for Financial Planning was created to bring those two groups of people together. An organization that may be one of the best kept secrets of the financial planning profession, the foundation acts as a middleman to help advisors who want to use their skills philanthropically to connect with people in need of their expertise.
"Financial planners, as a group, are people who have a keen interest in others and in their community," says Bill E. Carter, CFP, the president of Carter Financial Management in Dallas and a member of the foundation's board of trustees and a past chairman. "A lot of them donate time or money individually. The foundation allows them to do things as a profession on a pro bono basis to utilize their skills."
Among the more well known of the groups assisted by the foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, have been the families of victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina victims and disabled veterans returning from Iraq. But the foundation also supports a wide range of other types of activities across the United States, such as financial literacy programs for members of American Indian tribes in New Mexico, financial education for inner city high school and college students in Minnesota and work with homeless shelter residents or domestic violence victims.
The foundation is not the only grants and philanthropic program aimed at helping people plan their financial future, but it is the only one that requires financial planners to be involved on a pro bono basis. More than 10,000 individual planners have given to the foundation and the number of volunteers and donations is growing, including larger donations from several major corporations.
Since awarding its first grant in 1998, the foundation has given 38 grants totaling more than $2 million to a variety of not-for-profit organizations. The second big fund-raising campaign is under way under the direction of Alexandra Armstrong, CFP, the president of Armstrong, Fleming & Moore Inc. in Washington, D.C., and its goal is to establish an endowment large enough that the foundation can give a total of $1 million to $1.5 million in grants each year.
At present, the foundation has $13 million in assets and the drive's goal is to increase that about 50% to the $20 million area. "We know the need for financial planning is great and we have to turn away 14 or 16 grant applicants every year," says James A. Peniston, executive director. "The education system in the United States focuses on a lot of things, but not on money. When a person is surviving hand to mouth, financial planning is extremely important. Last year, savings in the United States dropped below zero. Forty percent of people are not saving for retirement, either because they do not know how or do not know where to put the money. We tend to forget all of these things."
Then there are the people who are dealing with new financial circumstances at a traumatic time in their lives, when they are least likely to be able to think logically and be able to make long-term decisions. Some of these people include disabled veterans coming back from a war zone with a financial settlement from the government and medical issues to consider that will last a lifetime. Another example is the families of support staff killed in the World Trade Center. Some have never had large sums of money to deal with, and now have $1 million or more to handle.
"In those situations there is a person or family who has never dealt with those types of assets before and may never have been given the tools or knowledge to make those assets last or grow, plus they are still dealing with the loss of a loved one at the same time. Also, we tend to forget the emergency workers who worked at Ground Zero and who are now facing serious medical issues. We've helped financial advisors assist emergency personnel who are faced with planning for their families' futures after they are gone," Peniston says, citing some of the more heart-wrenching cases the foundation has come up against.
The foundation has grown into its present form from a more informal start. While Bill Carter was chairman, he undertook the task of defining the foundation's mission and advancing it to the next stage. He counts as one of his victories at the foundation the fact that Peniston was hired as the first full-time director and still is its only full-time employee. Peniston has a long history in fund raising and work with charitable foundations.
"We had a lot of people who thought it was time our profession started to give something back, not as individuals, but as a profession, to improve the quality of life," Carter says. "I for one firmly believe we are making a difference in the lives of a lot of people and that is what we envisioned for the foundation."
The foundation works with established organizations that already have contact with the population underserved by the financial profession. Many of those people do not know what a financial planner does, let alone know how to reach out for the assistance they need.
"But the need is all the same. The knowledge to help them is the same as the knowledge needed to help the wealthy. Wealth is relative; it is just the number of zeros that are behind the dollar sign," says Peniston. "If you help lower-income people, you help the community and that helps the world."
The foundation, headquartered in Atlanta, began during the 1980s, but in its original form was more informal than it is now, working with the International Association for Financial Planning. It was reactivated in 1995 in its current form and works with the IAFP's successor, the Financial Planning Association, receiving referrals for grant applications and channeling the volunteer efforts of planners who want to help. Carlos Viera, vice president of Ameriprise Financial in Vienna, Va., one of the larger corporate benefactors for the foundation, is now chairman of the board of trustees. Among those who have helped shape the foundation are Alexandra Armstrong and John H. Cammack, a CFP licensee, vice president of T. Rowe Price Investment Services in Baltimore.
Cammack describes himself as a corporate manager with a financial background, but he also sees himself as having been richly rewarded by his chosen profession. "When you think of Doctors Without Borders or the pro bono work of the legal profession, you are matching expertise with people who need but can't afford it. That is what the foundation is doing for the financial profession. We are helping people who are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time-people with emotional and financial needs," Cammack says.
"I am 55 and others around me are as old or older. We are looking at the first generation of financial planners who are thinking of their legacy, and we want to go beyond what we have done for our clients," he explains. "Financial advisors are good counselors, so we are helping people who need counseling. People in these situations cannot afford to make a bad decision on life insurance or if they are facing bankruptcy or have been caught in a natural disaster and need to get their lives back on track."
So far, nearly half of the 100 chapters of the FPA have pro bono programs. Clare M. Stenstrom, a principal of Bourne Stenstrom Capital Management in New York City and a former president of the Financial Planning Association of New York, has helped organize the efforts to assist 9/11 victims. "We're New Yorkers and someone had attacked our city," says Stenstrom.
At first planners worked through the American Red Cross and later continued on their own, but it was funding from the foundation that made the work, which is continuing, possible. "In times of crisis, people forget about financial planning, and it can cause problems for the rest of their lives. The foundation gave us the money to advertise our services, and we have 400 planners still reaching out to people in need. We also work with domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters. Without the foundation, we could not do this."
Armstrong says the foundation's support is crucial and its work is just beginning. "The three biggest efforts have been directed at 9/11 victims, Katrina victims and the military, but there are a lot of other examples, such as programs to teach Head Start mothers to budget. The whole pro bono effort is just getting started, and it is snowballing," she says.
Vicki Van Horn, CFP, is the executive director of the New Mexico Project for Financial Literacy, one of the foundation's grant recipients for the past two years. The funding has enabled the not-for-profit project to hire 26 financial planners who give advice without trying to sell any products. Low-income people can qualify for federal assistance for a number of things, including purchasing a home or starting a small business, after taking the project's financial literacy course.
"These programs bring financial planners into contact with people who never met a financial planner before, so you are bringing resources to bear where they are needed. It also helps integrate the community by helping neighbors meet so they can help each other. We all do better when we all do better," Van Horn says.
BestPrep, a 30-year-old organization in Minnesota with a mission of providing supplemental educational services in business and related areas, is another foundation grant recipient, one that also works with the Minnesota Financial Planning Association. "We have found financial planners are eager to share their time and expertise. We did not have a user-friendly computer program to take into the classroom to teach budgeting and credit," says Bob Kaitz, president of BestPrep. "With the help of financial planners to create and test programs, we have developed Money Matters and we are working on Credit Matters."
BestPrep is also working, through the FPA, on a computer presentation on financial literacy and the financial planning profession for high schools known as E-Mentors for Financial Literacy. This presentation is geared to teach financial literacy and also to encourage students to consider financial planning as a career. "Without the foundation, these programs would not have been possible," Kaitz says.
Donations can be made to the foundation through the Web site http://www.foundation-finplan.org.