New Zealand Law Society - Having the philanthropic conversation: Is it good for business?

Having the philanthropic conversation: Is it good for business?

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While many people don’t think of themselves as philanthropists – after all, it’s a word that many align with the rich and famous – we find that most people do want to make a difference in the world.

And in our line of work we find that philanthropy, or good old-fashioned Kiwi generosity, gives people great fulfillment in their estate planning.

Conversations that go much further than discussing technical aspects of law and strike right at the heart of a client’s core – their philanthropic aspirations – can lead to fulfilled and loyal clients.

Bill Holland, long-time partner with Holland Beckett Law, says: “My experience has been that clients appreciate being advised of their options and a philanthropic conversation with the right clients leads to an improved relationship – and can easily lead to business growth.”

Steven Colligan, registered psychotherapist and business consultant, has spent many years in his professional life considering human behaviour and how we connect. He says that while clients want their professional advisers to ‘know their craft’ it’s the soft skills, like those that you would employ in a conversation around a client’s giving aspirations, that are important and that will really differentiate your business.

“We are all people first, and we prefer meaningful conversations that go beyond the technical. These ‘soft skills’ are quite different from the technical skills which are learned through formal education,” says Mr Colligan.

“If through your work you can listen, you can connect, you can provide a feeling of the client feeling valued and understood, it creates loyalty. And loyalty is certainly good for business.”

Mr Colligan uses the words “listen” and “trust” a lot when referring to business relationships. He says that professional advisers would do well to start early by connecting with their clients, and feeling confident in doing so.

Professional advisers we work with across New Zealand often say the following about having the philanthropic conversation:

  • It offers a significant point of difference in their advisory role,
  • It offers a more holistic financial planning approach,
  • It gives professional advisers the opportunity to connect with a client’s core aspirations and values, something which they say really strengthens the relationship,
  • It creates loyalty.

The research

A Harvard Business Review study from 2015 concluded that emotionally connected clients are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied clients, as they buy more, are less price sensitive and are more likely to recommend you.

Research also indicates that clients actually want to have the philanthropic conversation early on with their professional advisers. American research (2013 US Trust and Philanthropic Initiative) found that high net worth individuals prefer to have the philanthropic conversation in the early stages of the adviser relationship and that they actually prefer to discuss their values and passions regarding giving, rather than the technical aspects and tax advantages.

And studies from the UK (2016 Legacy Giving and Behavioural Insights Report) found that a professional adviser’s role is key: twice as many people are likely to leave a bequest or philanthropic gift in their will if it is suggested to them as an option and almost three times as many people will leave a bequest if their professional advisor suggests that it’s something other people do, so normalizes the conversation.

And, with the biggest intergenerational wealth transfer the world has ever seen from the baby boomer generation to the next starting to take place, now is the time for professional advisors to be brushing up on those ‘soft skills’ and starting these meaningful conversations with their clients about their philanthropic dreams and aspirations.

It’ll be good for business after all.

September is Wills Month and community foundations all around NZ provide free resources and philanthropic expertise to lawyers and professional advisors around having that crucial philanthropic conversation. See more at

Eleanor Cater heads Community Foundations of New Zealand where she works with foundations across New Zealand building community funds and encouraging generous people to be a part of shaping their own community’s future.

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