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Charitable Giving as Seen Through the Eyes of an Investment Advisor

September 3, 2020

BY JOE FOLEY, CFA

Investment advisors are charged with the task of integrating an understanding of the universe of investment choices with each client’s numerous objectives. Well understood “missions” include growth of the client’s capital base, generation of current income, protection from risks, preparing for the ongoing care and education of the next generation, wise and proper tax and estate planning, and so forth.

But over the years, I have had the joy of working with dozens of clients and colleagues who carried another objective that is deeply personal. Sometimes it is relayed to me and other times not spoken of along the way. Sometimes it is explicitly stated as the highest priority. For me, it came in the form of a life changing insight I was treated to by the clients who encouraged me to “make a lot of money so we can give it away.” That expression of the clients’ commitment to giving has remained in my conscience as a source of personal and professional inspiration.

On another occasion, early in my career, I was directed to transfer shares to a client’s church. I knew the client well, quickly calculated in my head the number of shares to be donated, and promptly relayed the instructions to my administrative assistant. The gift was completed and a few days later, I discovered that I had erroneously transferred shares with a value that was ten times the value that the client had directed. I promptly confessed my error to the client who assured me that, “it’s OK, they’ll need it sooner or later.” Despite my careless action, I was forgiven by a beloved client whose generosity knew no bounds, and to my great joy, our relationship endured for the remainder of her lifetime.

Recipients of these gifts range across our entire community. Education, civic and cultural programs, health care, support for religious institutions, even direct financial support to others in need all come quickly to mind. Many more could certainly be added to this list. Regardless of the beneficiary, each gift serves to make the world a better place.

The urge to share their blessings springs from a variety of personal instincts and philosophies. The charitable inclination seems to be inextinguishable, persisting without regard to the growth, or lack thereof, in their portfolio from year to year.

Our industry’s calculations of returns and measures of investment performance are quantifiable, and are frequently used to define investment success. Financial markets have a way of making participants think that the events of any given day are critically important, and that some portfolio action is called for immediately. While this may occasionally be the case, the folks described here are operating from a different perspective and see the vagaries of the markets in a different light.

For me, these clients’ steadfastness and sustained generosity have been wonderful reminders that some of the most important investment objectives cannot be quantified.

 

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