Leveraging Relationships to Add Value to Members’ Philanthropic Goals

By Adam Strominger • December 10, 2015

Adam Strominger
Adam Strominger, Food for the Poor

As Boomers reach retirement age, an estimated $15 trillion in wealth will be transferred over the next two decades, according to studies by U.S. Trust and other researchers. More and more of that wealth is going to philanthropic causes, not necessarily to family members and other heirs. Meanwhile, the next generation of adults appears more socially-conscious than previous generations, as evidenced by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that he and his wife Priscilla Chan will give away 99 percent of their company shares to good causes.

Most professional associations have needs beyond those supported by membership dues. Many associations form foundations and related charitable organizations to support education and research efforts. Some have close affiliations with charitable causes. Likewise, many cause-related organizations reach out to associations in similar industries to partner on charitable activities. Let me share a story with you from my work as a planned-giving officer at Food for the Poor.




The law of reciprocity says the more you help others, the more likely you will receive help in return. RealLilTweetables

Many of your long-time members will be transferring substantial wealth to socially-conscious millennial heirs in the coming years. RealLilTweetables

How well are next-gen heirs (younger members) prepared to use the forthcoming windfall responsibly? RealLilTweetables

Real-world example

A donor of mine was looking to fund his hospital project in Africa — a part of the world our charity doesn’t serve. However, the mission was one which would resonate with several people I knew. It made sense to put the donor in touch with my contacts, all of whom had the means to provide funding. Subsequently, an influential person in this network agreed to go with my donor to see his work firsthand. They’ve since become good friends and it’s very likely this project will get funded.

As a result of this reciprocity, would it be hard to get this donor to engage five to 10 friends and associates at an intimate event and talk about the wonderful work my organization does in the countries we serve? I don’t think so.

Kyle Walters
Kyle Walters, Atlas Wealth Advisors

One of the donors I work with is Kyle Walters, founder of Dallas, Texas-based Atlas Wealth Advisors. Walters is representative of a new breed of young professionals who are taking an active role in philanthropy at a relatively early age. Walters and his firm have sponsored a crowdsourced fundraising website to garner funds for a water project in Honduras. He also has a list of recommended philanthropic resources on his firm’s website.

Walters told me he’s seeing more and more affluent clients shift assets to philanthropic causes, and not transfer their wealth entirely to heirs. “I tell my clients to borrow a page from investing legend Warren Buffet: Leave your kids enough money to do anything, but not so much that they do end up doing nothing,” Walters said.

As many association professionals know, the term ‘donor centric’ gets batted around quite a bit. What I’ve learned after years as a planned-giving officer at Food for the Poor and other charitable organizations is that donor centric really means, “What can I, the fundraiser, do to get the donor to feel special and potentially give more to the charity I represent?”

If you visit as many people as I do, you know that donors generally support anywhere from two to 15 charities.

Sharing philanthropic vision among donors
The one gift normally granted by the usual ‘ask’ could be multiplied over time by truly listening to donors’ overall philanthropic visions.

Here’s a slightly radical concept: Suppose you could get donors to share their overall philanthropic vision with you — a vision that includes other charities they support and why they support them. Would this take money away from your charity? Perhaps a small fraction in the short run, but it would help you create new and deeper levels of interaction with your clients and the next generation in their families — the socially-conscious millennials.

Would this dynamic change the relationship with the donors? Absolutely! Donors would have a new level of trust in you because you are addressing their life and legacy goals. They’ll see that you represent their best interests, and that a planned-giving specialist or fundraising professional is not a product salesperson for a needy charitable organization. Instead, they may think of him or her as a philanthropic ambassador.

The one gift normally granted by the usual ‘ask’ could be multiplied in time by truly listening and unselfishly supporting the donor’s total vision.

Take it a step further: Suppose your client is creating a foundation that helps out other organizations. Would you be willing to introduce this person to another organization or potential funding source who isn’t tied to the organization you currently work with, if you think they do great work?

The law of reciprocity shows that the more you help others, the more likely you are to receive help back from those people.

Just as satisfied clients make referrals on your behalf, so will charities that understand you’re not just another financial advisor trying to hold onto assets under management. This could have a domino effect on both philanthropy and your practice.

The $100,000 question

As planned-giving and major-gift professionals start to adopt a true donor-centric approach, you’ll see that it parallels how financial professionals view the whole picture of their client’s wishes, desires and legacies. It’s all about providing sound planning decisions as a result of fact-finding and research.

Experienced planned-giving professionals know it’s their job to help donors realize their charitable potential and to assist donors with their giving and legacy plans. If properly trained, we follow a workflow process that’s similar to the holistic approach honed by elite financial advisors with an emphasis on the heart of the donor. While charities focus primarily on getting cash gifts from donors, good planned-giving professionals know the majority of a HNW individual’s wealth is often tied up in their businesses, real estate holdings, securities, etc.

As the ASAE Decision to Give annual study noted, “Association members, like all donors, will support the institutions that help them connect causes they care about to their professional world. And, just as it is with dues, a new gift costs more to raise than a renewed gift. Association executives who help their members realize their most important philanthropic interests — to give back to their profession, support those with greater needs and fewer advantages, and build knowledge — also succeed at member retention.”


At the end of the day, I am comfortable in my role as a facilitator of gifts, but I don’t need binoculars to see the new horizon. The vast majority of your members support religious and civic causes, but research shows they’re not asked to give back to their profession in ways other than dues and volunteer time. It doesn’t cost anything to ask, and the worst that can happen is they say “no.”

Contact me anytime if you have a giving question on behalf of a member (or yourself). For more information about Food for the Poor, please see our annual report.


Adam Strominger is a planned giving officer at Food for the Poor, one of the largest international relief charitable organizations in the United States. Formerly, he served as business development director for the Planned Giving Design Center, a major content provider of charitable gift planning. Over the years Adam has collaborated with many of the industry’s thought leaders, leading associations, financial service companies and advisory firms.