How To Choose The Right Philanthropic Advisor


aaeaaqaaaaaaaa2gaaaajgnkmtiyzduwltg3nmetngexoc04mzvjlwi2otzkyjuwndy1mgThere are many people in the world who offer advice and guidance to people with means, especially when it comes to how one can best make more money. A wide range of specialized experts and advisors will gladly share their insights to make your decision-making process easier. Business consultants may help you set up a family office or expand your personal empire. Wealth advisors and financial planners help you enhance your earnings. Tax advisors help you protect your assets.

These people can all be valuable resources and allies for growing your wealth, but what happens when you’re ready to give money away? Distributing wealth is a very different practice from earning it. The core practices and the nuances of philanthropic investments are often a departure from those used for market investments. That’s where a philanthropic advisor can come in handy.

A philanthropic advisor with the right characteristics can make giving away wealth just as effective as investing it. They work with you to identify your philanthropic goals, strategies for meeting them, processes and structures for achieving them and measures for success. And just as with any other professional advisor, you’ll want to make sure you’ve found the right fit. Here are six characteristics to consider in your search:

1. Trust. Every successful philanthropic advising relationship is based on trust . You and your advisor will talk about much more than money. You’ll talk about issues you care about deeply, your personal motivations and even your personal relationships with other family members. You’ll want someone you can trust completely to keep your secrets safe and your best interests at heart.

2. Inspiration. Good philanthropic advisors quickly understand what inspires their clients and find ways to build on that passion. Conversations with your advisor should leave you feeling hopeful, excited and always ready to move forward. If you find yourself feeling deflated or bored after a discussion, it may be time to seek consultation elsewhere.

3. Challenge. As with any kind of advice, a yes-man doesn’t cut it. Strong philanthropic advisors help you clarify your goals and bring forward bold new ideas to help you move toward them. As with financial advisors, they take the time to understand your tolerance for risk, but they also encourage you to challenge your beliefs and assumptions as you consider your philanthropic investment strategy. At the end of the day, you should find yourself thinking more deeply and making new connections that you may not have made on your own.

4. Adaptability. If a philanthropic advisor attempts to wow you with her proven five-step method of successful philanthropy, head for the nearest exit. Philanthropy is a highly personalized undertaking, and while an advisor may have a general guiding process, she must first and foremost be willing to adapt that process to your needs. Prepackaged approaches may be great for fast food, but they have no place in philanthropic advising.

5. Experience. When considering an advisor’s experience, the key is to look for breadth rather than depth. In other words, the more different forms of philanthropy (foundations, donor-advised funds, individual giving, triple bottom-line corporate giving, etc.) in which an advisor has worked, the better. An advisor with 20 years of experience at one foundation in one community will know a lot about that one foundation and that one geography. But no two philanthropies (and no two communities) are alike. Look for an advisor who has worked in many different places and with many different kinds of philanthropy.

6. Collegiality. Your philanthropy will be most effective when your philanthropic advisor is in regular contact with your other advisors. For example, when your philanthropic advisor knows in advance that you’re planning to take a distribution from a family business or that a large gift will be needed in the current year to offset an impending tax liability, she can help you plan your philanthropic investments accordingly. She also can work with your business or investment advisors to ensure that your philanthropic investments work hand-in-hand with your business or market rate ones, so that returns align with your overall vision. Look for a true team player who’s willing to understand and work within the bigger picture.

Evaluate potential philanthropic advisors with these criteria, and I guarantee you’ll quickly narrow the field of candidates. Then I encourage you to trust your instincts. In addition to being a financial venture with risks, rewards and metrics, philanthropy is an investment of the heart and soul. You’ll want an advisor who truly understands that — and you.

This article was originally written for and published by

© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.” For more ways to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group.


Trusted Philanthropic Advisor

Kris Putnam-Walkerly serves as a trusted advisor to foundation leaders and high-wealth donors across the globe. As an advisor, Kris transfers learning to leaders and their teams so they have the ability to build their own internal capacity to be successful in their work. Kris’s clients report immediate and dramatic improvement in both personal performance and philanthropic impact.

Whether you are the CEO of a larger foundation, the sole staff member charged with decision-making, or a high-net worth donor, the questions Kris can address cover a broad spectrum of professional and personal issues. As an advising client, you’ll have unlimited access to Kris during regular business hours by phone, Skype, email and, when desired, face to face. With over 18 years of experience working with top global philanthropies, Kris understands how to build an impactful organization that integrates your philanthropic passions and the challenges that must be overcome to get there.

Learn more about this and other services offered or contact Kris today to begin a trusted advisor relationship.

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September 27, 2017 – Philanthropy West Virginia Annual Conference

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October 16, 2017 – CONNECT Conference, Exponent Philanthropy, Denver

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October 19, 2017 – National Forum on Family Philanthropy

Achieving Equity…How Exactly? 

October 19, 2017 – National Forum on Family Philanthropy

Does Your Foundation Have a Poverty or Abundance Mentality?

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Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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