Many of us turn to our place of worship during our most challenging times to seek solace, guidance and community. The challenges we all faced this past year have limited our ability to gather and connect in these sacred spaces. And yet, the messages and values shared among followers have flourished even as parish and temple doors remain shuttered. At kitchen tables, in living rooms and over video calls families are having conversations about what matters most to them and how they can help their hurting communities.
In addition to being complex and sensitive, these conversations around giving in troubled times are also confusing. This year has presented new challenges to families looking to make impacts with their money. Priorities are both urgent and competing, as 2020 has laid bare the realities of socioeconomic inequality in America. It is easy for families to feel conflicted about where they should be allocating their money in order to create the biggest impact.
For those of faith, applying a lens of religious values atop philanthropic decisions provides a sense of clarity and direction. It is one of the most important drivers of philanthropy for many clients, and it’s likely that your clients for whom faith is important would benefit from a conversation around this now.
Helping clients align their philanthropic giving with their faith is an opportunity to build trust and deepen your client relationships, while providing them with a philanthropic road map they can be confident in and proud of.
No matter what the clients’ faith, here are three strategies financial advisors can use to coach clients through these decisions, providing families with an opportunity to mesh philanthropic decisions with spirituality.
Suggest a virtual family gathering focused on faith and philanthropy. The first step to aligning philanthropy with faith is to discover the faith-based values and philanthropic causes that are most important to each family member, including younger generations. This can be challenging in a virtual environment. Families of faith have been unable to gather this year as they normally would, whether with extended family in their homes, or at centers of worship, as many remain closed or limited. For example, Jewish families were unable to come together in person for the recently passed New Year, and the near future remains uncertain for the December holiday season.
However, technology makes it possible for families to come together at an important time of year and initiate meaningful conversations about faith, values and giving back to the community. These discussions are an opportunity to not only reflect upon and articulate the family’s beliefs but also activate fiduciary responsibility to a legacy or foundation. As the financial advisor, you can offer to help families structure this conversation, or even attend to help guide it.
To help a family prepare, tell them to come ready for conversations about faith and legacy. Writing a script might seem unnatural, but jotting down a few bullet points will help them mentally and emotionally prepare to speak on these subjects. Themes to drive the conversation can include life cycle events (marriage, emigration, birth of a child), religious milestones and family history (life lessons, where the family leaders grew up, religious traditions). Prepare questions to help the family discuss: Does social justice play a role in your faith? What priority do you place on subjects like education or community-building?
Coach your clients to listen actively, prepare questions and remember that the outputs of this discussion can inform the direction of their giving. Setting a goal, such as writing a philanthropic mission statement or defining a lasting legacy can make the outputs more tangible. These decisions are more than an exercise; especially when a foundation is involved, there is a fiduciary responsibility to make informed decisions together.
Encourage your clients to participate in grant-making as a family. Giving through a spiritual lens enables donors to guide their families and lead organizations while reinforcing the positive change they’d like to impart on their communities. Grant-making is a natural area of philanthropy where families can easily integrate their mission statement into the process. That’s why at Morgan Stanley we’ve focused on helping clients make grants through Morgan Stanley Global Impact Funding Trust (MS GIFT), our donor-advised fund platform.
Religious texts have provided guidance for centuries and can be a good place to start. Spiritual leaders, such as a pastor, rabbi or imam, can also help a family to articulate these values. Some religions have governing bodies that periodically issue faith-based investing and philanthropic guidelines. For Catholics, an example of this is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Investment Guidelines. There are many books written on how to align investing and philanthropy with Muslim values, as well as for other denominations of Christianity and Judaism.
For clients who practice Judaism, a suite of resources to facilitate deeper client discussions around values-aligned giving and investing can be found through the Jewish Values Giving microsite. These tools can facilitate family discussions, guide family grant-making, and analyze investment decisions aligned with Jewish values and supporting Israel. For example, a family may construct a giving portfolio that includes investments in Israeli universities and research institutions working on COVID-19 treatments. Families with MS GIFT accounts may also consider participating in the Jewish Future Pledge, a new collaborative part of MS GIFT’s ongoing commitment to faith-based giving and investing, by committing 50% or more of their charitable assets to support the Jewish people and/or the State of Israel.
Evaluate the ways your values are reflected in your past and current grants. As you allocate additional funding toward new grantees or expand for existing ones, determine the use of capital that supports and drives your mission. Connect with your stakeholders; donors, peer organizations, and external networks. As you monitor your portfolio’s performance, identify opportunities to activate capital and increase your impact.
When evaluating grantees, determine the categories that most closely align with your faith-related focus: religious life (day camps, schools, scholarships, educational programs), access (supporting members of your religious community who may struggle to pay dues), or even entrepreneurship (health research, tech startups).
Brainstorm ideas for local philanthropic engagement. Nothing is more invigorating than seeing the impact of philanthropic work firsthand, especially when it impacts a client’s local community. Because of the pandemic, families missed out on their summer planning retreats, where often the extended family comes together to discuss philanthropic mission and goals for the year ahead. Local philanthropic engagement kills two birds with one stone: It is an excellent way to manifest faith-based values in philanthropy, and it provides a boost of engagement for family members who missed the reinvigorating annual retreat.
Encourage clients to identify immediate needs in their own communities. This could be part of the virtual philanthropy event you help them plan, or this prep work can be done as “homework” ahead of time. Meeting to discuss these projects and then “sending off” the different branches of the family to engage with their communities and report back can be an effective and fun way to pull through religious values into philanthropic work, even in the remote environment.
There are many needs that exist in communities across America that align with the values of many faiths: housing and hunger are important themes in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Both of these issues have become even more urgent during the pandemic. A global view of philanthropy is important when thinking about long-term impact and a family’s legacy, but oftentimes the most impact can be delivered right in a client’s backyard — for both beneficiary and philanthropist.
The pandemic has changed nearly everything about our daily lives, including how we practice religion and manifest spirituality through philanthropy. By guiding your clients to continue prioritizing these values and bring the family together virtually; engage in grant-making together; and work on projects in their local communities, families of faith can continue to stay true to their beliefs and philanthropy, even in the most challenging times.