(This is a guest post from Jacob Harold, Program Officer at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)
By Jacob Harold
This morning I spoke on a panel with the unwieldy but accurate title of “Nurturing the Philanthropic Impulse – Donor Advisors and Philanthropic Strategy.” It was hosted by Eric Kessler of Arabella Advisors and moderated by the psychologist and philanthropic researcher Tom Backer. The panel addressed the complex, growing role in philanthropy of professional advisors—financial advisors, estate attorneys, wealth managers, and accountants. These advisors are often there at the moments when wealthy individuals and families are making philanthropic decisions. They’re uniquely placed to connect donors with good information and resources, but many advisors don’t feel equipped to help their clients get as much philanthropic bang for the buck as possible. (I’ve been trying to speak more plainly, so I won’t say “maximize marginal social impact per dollar” like I kinda want to.)
I’d like to see more advisors not only playing the role of trusted confidant and supporter, but also of philanthropic “concierge”—linking donors to resources that are available in the nonprofit sector that could help them make good decisions: Guidestar and DonorEdge provide data about nonprofits; magazines like Stanford Social Innovation Review share new research and serve as a platform for debate; Social Venture Partners provides peer-based learning; and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors offers high-level strategic advisory services. Dozens of other organizations like these provide useful services to donors. But how is a professional advisor to make sense of these scattered, evolving resources? As a sector, we need to take these cottage industries and turn them into a coherent system of data and knowledge that advisors can easily tap into. A good concierge doesn’t need to be a cook, sommelier, or tour guide—but they do need to know where the great restaurants and museums are.