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Get Money Moving - Foundation Magazine


Recently at a philanthropy conference in New York, I talked with dozens of people who have big visions for change. They are making bold gifts to empower and fuel the work of frontline leaders in human rights, climate change, journalism, and democracy. The stakes are high and they want to be strategic so their giving makes the greatest possible difference.

The reality is, though, that many of them are making gifts without access to real-time data to show how those commitments impact their long-term strategy.

Sophisticated software exists for people who want to accumulate wealth, plan their retirement, or compare investment strategies. Until now, there has been no software with this capacity to support planning in philanthropy.

I learned this for myself when I started my foundation three years ago. I searched unsuccessfully for software that would help me align my giving strategy with my values and resources. Even among professors who study the nonprofit sector at Harvard, where I am pursuing a degree, I couldn’t find anyone who knew of such a tool.

In need of a solution for my foundation, and wanting to be part of the solution for others, I spent a year interviewing people about their giving, and I researched the most pressing questions in philanthropy today.

As the founder of a wealth management practice, I’ve always been obsessed with understanding clients’ perspectives. Now, I am also obsessed with the perspectives of people who fund the social sector, and with helping them and their advisors to get charitable money moving.

After a year of deep listening, I launched PhilanthPro, a suite of tools and resources that bring the power of financial planning to philanthropy. Now, people who hold charitable accounts are equipped with software that supports bold and strategic giving.

Hundreds of billions of dollars sit in Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) and foundations that could be mobilized by frontline organizations that are driving positive change now. PhilanthPro is one actor within the movement of people and organizations that want to get these philanthropic dollars moving faster and more effectively.

While launching PhilanthPro, I met powerful advocates and innovators, and now I want to introduce you to some of these thinkers. In the following months, we will bring you a series of Q&A with established advocates in the philanthropy field.

The next issue will feature an article with Jennifer Risher, author of We Need to Talk: A Memoir about Wealth. Jen is also the co-founder of #HalfMyDAF, a matching program through which she has incentivized $50 million in giving from DAFs.

In the Q&As that follow in this series, I will speak with banking and wealth management leaders about their clients’ growing demand for philanthropy planning, with experts on the historic wealth transfer, and with frontline CEOs. Please join me as we learn together.

Philanthropy is deeply personal, and the stakes are high. Many of us struggle with whether or not to: spend down our DAFs and foundations, make large or unplanned transformational gifts, or involve younger inheritors. I’m on this journey as well, and I’m glad to be in the company of people who think hard about the good they want to do in the world.

Sharing stories helps us to clarify our values, gain strategic insights, and form a community. In this spirit, I’ll share a bit of my story as we kick off this series.

I began working at a bank before I finished high school. Helping people manage their money always gave me a sense of well-being, especially early in my adult life when I came out as a gay man and was carving my own path forward. Behind the teller counter, I studied between customers and soon became the youngest Certified Financial Planner in Canada at the age of 21.

Only a year later, I lost my father to suicide. I was young, and without knowing any other way to grieve, I threw myself into building a practice where I was able to help people plan their futures. I built a community of clients, colleagues and peers and grew to be a top advisor. But over time, I began to ask myself if I had something more to offer. It was time to start giving back in a bigger way.

I didn’t have a lot of experience in philanthropy, but I had an anchor. I wanted to help people who suffer from mental health challenges, like my father, and I wanted to put my money to work in some of the places where mental health support is least accessible.

I decided to return to Malawi, in East Africa, where I had volunteered as a teenager. Meetings with young people, psychology students and graduates, and nonprofit leaders, convinced me that I was on the right path.

I know I have a lot to learn, so I built a flexible giving plan that allows me to respond to new requests. I made initial gifts to support research and mental health programs in Malawi and in Canada, and I’m helping the leading mental health support organization in East Africa to expand its program to Malawi. As I grow the work and learn about the nonprofits with whom I align, I plan to do more long-term, planned giving that puts more control in the hands of my nonprofit partners.

One of the things I learned from old and new friends at the summit in New York is how much we have to learn from one another. I look forward to sharing more with you through the upcoming Q&A series, and I hope to hear from you.

Nicholas Palahnuk is Founder of PhilanthPro and can be reached at nicholas.palahnuk@philanthpro.com