“Our work is very individualized for each client, but many people want to be more strategic, more proactive. We serve as a sounding board, as well as provide information … The coaching role comes into play more when someone wants to go down a distinctive path, developing a strategy with measurable impact.”
Sound like solid and standard advice from a wealth manager? Turns out, Philp is not talking about buying stocks or investing in a start-up. She is talking about philanthropy.
As the global head of philanthropic services at JP Morgan Private Bank, she acts as “philanthropy coach” to wealthy individuals and family foundations, all “hoping to achieve as much as possible through wise giving.” The above quotations come from a short interview in the NY Times late last week. Her 10-person team coaches giving-minded folks through everything from navigating tax law to handling an influx of board invitations to identifying organizations that best complement their interests.
I would say that this particular role is new, but not super-new. The article caught my attention less because of its subject matter and more because of its language. To me, “coach” says sports and “investment” says banking — and “strategy” says both of them. So why are these words becoming more prominent in philanthropy?
Frankly, I like the sports connection. Not because philanthropy is a play-to-win game, but because thoughtful and involved giving is, well, fun. Philanthropy can provide a sense of empowerment and connection with our local community — our home team. And investing in a high-impact non-profit, particularly one that is growing and developing, is exciting and stimulating.
I find the stock market language even more intriguing. In the article, Philp declares that “it’s very rewarding to us to help folks learn from each other and enhance their investments.” According to BusinessDictionary.com, an “investment” is “the trade-off between risk and reward while aiming for incremental growth and preservation of the invested amount (principal).”
I see “investment” used more and more in the non-profit world now, which makes me wonder, does it really have a place there? The whole point of investing, in the traditional sense, is to make back what you put in and then some. Does or should that happen for donors just as it does, say, for investment bankers? Not really. How about for venture capitalists? Maybe. Or is the idea the same and only the currency is different?
The parallels seem to work. Donating to a young organization feels like a rewarding risk — one taken with the expectation of growth and one whose returns (hopefully!) surpass the principal. However, the currency of return does not match the currency of investment. In philanthropy, quantifiable donations typically yield qualitative results. Which would suggest that the act of non-profit investment is by nature personal as well as financial. For both donors and small non-profits, a gift is often both a financial catalyst and a broader gesture of faith and profound trust in the organization and what it can do. Which is invaluable.
(Some questions to toss around: can traditional investment, in either a stock or in a for-profit, be personal as well as financial? You bet. But does it carry an expectation of that duality in quite the same way? I’m not sure. When does strategy overcome attachment? Moreover, does sharing this “investment language” between philanthropy and traditional strategic investment limit the discussion of one or both of them?)
I love the idea that philanthropy is fun. It is for me and it should be for anyone who does it. This isn’t to say that it’s not serious business (sorry for that double negative): we give to organizations that we care about and that we think are doing meaningful, important work. But it also brings us pleasure. It makes us feel good. And there’s something about making a discovery, coming across a special gem, and then making a gift that really moves the ball down the field (sports metaphor!) that gives one joy.
With respect to the idea that “the currency of return does not match the currency of investment” when it comes to nonprofits– this is an intriguing point. We don’t invest in nonprofits for … profit, at least not THAT KIND of profit. We give because what we put in comes out in another form — in better lives, better communities, richer experiences. So to my mind this means that “investing” works better as a word if what we mean is “pouring ourselves into” — as in, “I was really invested in that project” or “investing time in my children is really meaningful to me.” A different kind of investing.