PANC 2020: Advisers Giving Back—Ideas for Getting Started

Advisers share how they started various types of philanthropic work.

Speaking on the Advisers Giving Back—Ideas for Getting Started panel at the 2020 PLANADVISER National Conference, which is being held virtually this year, Kelli Davis, vice president of retirement plan consulting, CSi Advisory Services, said her business partner had two main objectives in starting their charitable works: giving back to the community and involving the entire team. To select a cause, CSi Advisory Services asked employees to recommend community organizations that they strongly wanted to support. “Find organizations that mean something to your employees,” Davis recommended. “That keeps them engaged and excited about the work. It is far more meaningful if it is something your team has a buy in on.”

Once the practice decided to support a local food bank, management spent the next six months fundraising from employees to support that cause.

That was followed by working with a group called Investment Girls, Davis said. “The lack of financial knowledge is something we feel very strongly about,” she said. “Indiana does not require high school students to take financial courses in order to graduate, so we partnered with Investment Girls to provide financial education to high school girls in the community, teaching them about budgeting and investments, which has been really wonderful. This is the first time they are hearing any of this information, and it is rewarding to see the impact. Ultimately, we may never know how effectively we are impacting these students, but we hope we are giving them the foundation for making sound financial decisions.”

Since launching the program, Davis said, another female adviser in Cleveland reached out to CSi Advisory Services, and that practice is now in the process of launching a similar program there.

As to how he and his practice became involved in philanthropic work, Brad Arends, co-founder and chief executive officer of intellicents, said, “I was recruited. We had a community issue that was very sensitive. The Mayo Clinic had purchased  most of the hospitals in southern Minnesota and continued to own them in excess of 20 years. Suddenly they said they were going to remove all in-patient surgeries, hospital stays, birthing units and intensive care, over a two-year period of time. I was recruited to negotiate with Mayo to change their mind. Unfortunately, when they made their decision, there was no turning back.”

Arends used his skillset to help hire outside consultants to find another medical provider that could start a competitive clinic, Arends said. Working with a team of community volunteers, Arends helped to raise $180,000 from local businesses to pay the consultant. Next, the group hired another consultant to put together a request for proposal (RFP) and then an attorney to create a public charity to manage these efforts, Arends said.

The charity “became a real, live breathing entity that succeeded in raising in excess of $5 million from local businesses” to build a new hospital “in a 64,000-square-foot space at a local mall,” Arends said, noting that local businesses wanted to keep the traffic that a local hospital would afford them. In fact, 36 local businesses have made three-year pledges totaling $1.3 million, he noted. Arends’ also helped to solicit donations from wealth graduates of a local high school. Many in their 70s and 80s were very happy to contribute to this cause, he said.

The charity organization is now on schedule to break ground on the new hospital on January 1, he added.

“This project has been very rewarding,” Arends said. “All of our other volunteer projects were limited in terms of applications, whereas this hospital will serve every person in the tri-county area—more than 50,000 people a year.”

While Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group has been giving back to the community since its founding more than 30 years ago, six years ago it created a more formal process for this work by creating SentinelCares and hiring Michael Newhall as vice president, business and community development, to oversee it. Since then, Newhall said, he has worked to build “awareness among employees to become advocates for non-profits, to put their energy into supporting good work, and to make philanthropic dollars available to them.”

Last year, Newhall said, 92% of Sentinel’s staff participated in at least one volunteer day, dedicating 2,300 hours to 30 community improvement organizations in four states. In just the past two years, the firm has collected nearly 4,000 pounds of food and donated it to local food pantries around the Boston area.

“SentinelCares has become infectious,” Newhall said. “We invite nonprofits to come to the company at lunchtime to raise awareness about their causes. This is a way to get our people educated about various good causes.”

Kenneth Catanella, managing director—wealth management at UBS Financial Services Inc., says he came upon a worthwhile cause three years ago quite by chance. He had traveled to Sacramento, California, to visit his grandson and was at his little league game. He heard quite a bit of excitement from a neighboring game of baseball only to discover the children playing were disabled with such afflictions as Down Syndrome and autism.

Catanella was so taken by the children’s excitement to be playing baseball that he decided to take the idea home to Morristown, New Jersey, and launch a similar program called The Challenge of Baseball.

“We bought all of the best equipment to launch the program, which includes 20 to 30 kids, all of whom are likely to have never had a jersey or a baseball bat ever before in their lives,” Catanella said. “Everybody gets at least three bats during a game and is paired with adult partners who coach them. There are no strike-outs. There is a lot of yelling and joy from the parents.”

Catanella said it is definitely worth getting involved in charitable work, especially when one witnesses how much of a “positive effect it has on the lives of so many individuals and institutions. We hope we have inspired you to do the same in your own practice.”