How Hosting a Charitable Event Can Strengthen Bonds with Clients

I got a lot of positive feedback from advisors on Dan Richard’s column, A Thanksgiving “Thank You” that Stands Out, that ran a few weeks ago. It makes sense for advisors to show their appreciation for clients and to remind them (in a non-salesy way) that you are there for them throughout the year. While some do it with cards on birthdays or over the holidays, many advisors are looking to do events or activities with their clients (and a few prospects) to strengthen their relationship. One way might be hosting a charitable event.

Sharing of yourself

One of the most memorable things my family did this year was to participate with a group of volunteers at a shelter. This particular facility serves the needs of people struggling with homelessness, addiction and poverty. While they serve 3 meals a day year-round, on Saturday nights, they do something different – they create a “café,” treating the guests as if they were at a restaurant. They create delicious food choices, served with dignity at tables set with linens and flowers.

My boys (ages 10 and 12) bussed the tables and ran out the appetizer courses. My wife (no age given or asked, but much younger than I) was a server. I participated as a line cook, serving a wonderful potato puree and a pan-seared risotto cake with balsamic tomato reduction.

Charitable event

The night at the shelter was sponsored by my kids’ school, but as I was taking instructions from one of the residents on the best method of placing cheese, fresh herbs (and yes, bacon) in the puree, I couldn’t help thinking that this could also be a great event for an advisor to share with his/her clients. The evening taught my kids about giving in a way writing a check could never do and bonded me closer to the school as the provider of the experience.

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The takeaways

Advisors who want to get deeper with their clients, going beyond discussions of asset allocation, performance and goal-setting, could look at an evening like this as a real conversation starter. Our evening’s conversations were about bigger things and helped my wife and I provide a valuable lesson about the world to our boys.

Now, a charitable event like this may not work for you or your firm – it may not be your culture or fit with your target client demographic, but it may be worth trying. Just because it is something you haven’t done before, it doesn’t mean you can’t try something new. Some ideas for you to get started:

  • Do your research. If you are philanthropically inclined, look to your favorites for projects at your favorite charities or ask around the community for an event, project or need that can be filled.
  • Poll your clients. Think about including a mention in your newsletter, survey or in a client meeting. Test the idea with some of your clients. Ask if they would be interested, would they attend or do they know of a specific nonprofit that could use some help.
  • Test it internally. Years ago, I spent a “service day” with an advisory firm in the Midwest, cleaning and clearing brush at a summer camp ranch for at-risk youth. They started the service day with just their staff, added some key stakeholders the second year and then added clients in the third and beyond. This builds momentum and sets an expectation for the staff and stakeholders who can participate in the future.
  • Start small. Don’t open the event to all of your clients. Hand pick a few who would willingly participate to get some experience and “work out the bugs.”
  • Invite the families. Not to sound crass, but what a better way to meet the next generation of your clients than by inviting them along? They realize you are not just about money and their parents’ wealth, but a member of the community who gives back. Parents are always looking for way to teach the kids about wealth and service, so it is a big win for everyone (including the charity).
  • Don’t go overboard. One of my friends just installed a floor for a non-profit; another is helping build houses. I can’t do any of that. Pick a project that can include all ages and skill levels. This should be more about team-building than an episode of Survivor.
  • Do a de-brief. Our de-brief with the executive director allowed everyone to share and “take some pride” in what we accomplished (125 meals, in our case). At the same time, we formed a better bond with the people who invited us.
  • Make it social. Even if you start with just your office – put it out on social media or your website. Take pictures and share. I think you’ll be surprised by the conversations that it will start with your clients and the offers to participate the next time.
  • Put in on the calendar. I realize that it is probably too late this year to lock down this type of client event. Put a date in the calendar right now for next year. Assign someone to do the research and own the project. Discuss it with your staff (and family?) – don’t wait until this time next year and say, “We should have done something.”

The night our family served was my birthday – and it was one of my best birthdays ever. Although I still like traditional events, think about the impact you can make on the community and in your clients’ lives when you do something less traditional.

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John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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