Monthly Archives: February 2009

Is Obama’s Plan to Cut Charitable and Mortgage Deductions Really Stimulus?

The news is out. President Obama announced plans to cut the deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest incurred for Americans who earn more than $250,000 per year and raise the top tax bracket from 35% to 39.6%. I have some very sharp opinions about this proposal. For the sake of full disclosure, I voted for Obama but am a registered Republican. I vote issues and people, not along party lines. You might say I am socially liberal but fiscally conservative. That said, I have big problems with this proposal. Watch a CBS News Video about the plan here.

When I went to school to become a Certified Financial Planner Professional™, economics was one of the things they taught. Specifically, they discussed the role that taxes play within the government, how the Fed and IRS work, and how it is the job of the Executive Branch to drive an agenda through tax policy. Generally speaking, I believe Republicans perceive that adjusting taxes downward equals growth through increased investment, while Democrats view taxes as a way to redistribute wealth. While this is a simplistic way of looking at things, this is exactly the way I see the proposed tax changes that Obama introduced.

I believe that changes in tax policy direct our actions. For example, generally given the choice of withdrawing money from an IRA versus a taxable brokerage account, I would typically recommend that people first take from the taxable account because capital gains rates are typically lower than ones income tax rate that they would be subject to if withdrawing funds from the IRA account. The tax benefit drives the actions. Add a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal on top of an ordinary income tax rate, and the IRA quickly becomes the funding source of last resort. Taxes and penalties drive the behaviors of Americans. Good tax policy is meant to create healthy economies. That is exactly the opposite of what Obama’s proposal does.

Charities are struggling to keep their heads above water right now and the housing market has already gone under. The housing mess is the most pressing issue facing the economy in my view. While the government struggles to pay for all of the various “stimulus” packages, charities that provide essential services for the needy, the arts, and everything else are closing their doors in record numbers due to a combination of losses incurred from the stock market and lost donations from their donor base. In my opinion, the last thing the Obama administration should be doing is creating ANY disincentives away from charitable donations or from mortgage deductions. While some may say that this only impacts the wealthy, we all know how Wall Street has come to Main Street in the last year.

Mr. President, you should be INCREASING the mortgage and charitable deductions to INCENT people into these areas, not reducing them. Rich, poor, it doesn’t matter because while these initiatives may not take effect for some time, perception is reality when it comes to human assumptions. The dire economic situation that the nonprofit and real estate sectors face need all the help they can get in order to be put back on a more solid footing. I believe in the end, these moves do nothing but exacerbate an already bad situation in two of the areas that now require the most help.

Traditionally, charitable contributions have served as a great way to reduce taxes and everyone won. Charities provided services that the government wasn’t as good at providing, Americans got a tax deduction for funding them, and the government didnt’ have to do that job. Everyone won. By changing this balance now with charities struggling already, this will mean less donations, force charities to close due to ANOTHER financial setback caused by poor government policy, and put the onus of providing the services that these charities provided, squarely back on the government’s shoulders. This sounds like a very Democratic thing to do from a fiscal standpoint. As a fiscally conservative Republican, I fear the consequences this will have on the system at a time of such economic distress. There are lots of things I don’t agree with in the Republican party (like energy and environmental policies for one), but when it comes to this proposal, I would never side with the Democrats on this. It stinks.

Last year, I wrote a review of  a terrific book called  “Who Really Cares?”, about the giving habits of Americans, and specifically, Republicans versus Democrats. Since we are on the subject. It might be a good refresher for those thinking about cutting areas that impact giving. It was a great book that anyone interested in this subject should read.

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Expirements in Business Social Networking: What I learned on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter

This is Part 1 of, well…who knows how many. Just have to check back if you like it.

It’s funny where inspiration comes from sometimes. This time, it came from a stupid question. “Anyone in the Professional Speakers Group on LinkedIn Using Twitter?”, I asked. I was looking to make a few new friends since I had just started using Twitter at the time I posted it. When I joined Twitter three plus weeks ago, I had zero friends and zero followers. I was looking for friends and help (aren’t we all?). So I posted the that “anyone using” question in a few LinkedIn Groups I belong to, however the Professional Speakers group overwhelmingly started raving about about Twitter and my question soon became one of the featured questions in the group since so many people had responded to it. I laughed at one response, “Fine, you folks seem to be passionate about it. I’ll give it a try.”. I thought to myself, “There is no try. Do or do not” as Yoda would say. You can take one look at the Twitter profiles of folks “trying it out”, but not really making the investment of time to find out how to be successful with it. I couldn’t tell them apart when I started. Now it’s easy. I invested the time, now hopefully I can share what I’ve learned. Taking pity on the fellow, and just because my nature is to help folks, I decided to write a detailed response back to him and the group. That response became the inspiration behind this series “My Experiments in Business Social Networking”, a tutorial, or memoir or sorts, of what’s worked and what hasn’t. I thought using myself as a case study might be helpful to some people. I’m not an expert, just trying to find my way to business and happiness through sharing and meeting “good like minded folks who give a damn about people other than themselves”.

My Business Objective:
As a wealth manager who specializes in “Business Owners, Families, and Donors”, my objective with my networking was to connect with “successful folks who give a damn” as I say. I wanted to meet people who were successful and also interested in philanthropy. I have a very unique offering that’s very collaborative and hands on since it involves multiple levels of collaboration with a client’s accountant, attorney, and other members of their professional team. The bottom line is, I only want to work with the right kinds of clients, and they are hard to find. How do you find successful folks who give a damn? How do you find Social Entrepreneurs? I began experimenting, believing there was “some club of those folks out there somewhere”. Seems like everyone I talked to said my business ideas were so badly needed in that market space but the problem was identifying those people who could identify with what I had to say and what I was passionate about. I wanted to meet successful like minded people. Now that I think about it, I actually met my wife online so perhaps there is something to this networking for like minded people thing. We met in 2000, before it was “cool” to meet people. Perhaps going social for business is the right thing to do I thought..

A few years ago, my friend recommended my first social networking site, LinkedIn. For the first 6 months, I didn’t do much with it. After friends started sending me lots of invites, I decided to check it out further (like the poor soul who finally gave into Twitter I mentioned). I put up a real profile. I got the hang of LinkedIn after a while. I realized being successful on LinkedIn is about building a network based on quality and quantity. Having not been an “open networker” (LION= LinkedIn Open Networker), I was only focused on building quality connections. After asking a LION what that whole “LION” thing was about, they told me that having LIONS in your network greatly increases the size of your 3rd degree”. The closer someone is in your network I have found, the more like minded you tend to be, regardless who you are connected through, and generally the easier to get introduced. There are certainly exceptions, however this is my experience. In reality though, in three years, I have only asked for an introduction a handful of times. I meet quality people spending time in the LinkedIn Groups in the areas I am interested in. When you are both members of groups, you don’t need an introduction, you can just invite them to connect directly. I only INVITE quality people, while I will accept an invitation from anyone. I have sent out thousands of invitations and have only been declined twice to my knowledge. Here’s a little secret; people want to meet like minded people. Just say, “I saw your profile and it seems like we have a lot in common with our blah, blah interest. Please accept my invitation to connect”. If they are really interesting, set up a time to speak by phone to find out more about them. Don’t try and pitch them on you.

My Issues With LinkedIn (LinkedIn, why won’t you listen?)
Recently, I’ve become frustrated with LinkedIn’s inability to help me understand who is among my list of 1st degree connections. As someone who has over 4500 1st degree connections, I want my relationships to be of value to me. If it is difficult to communicate with my connections, which I have found it to be very difficult, the network becomes less valuable. This is where Twitter has become EXTREMELY helpful. More on that later. Before Twitter, I had a huge network of connections on LinkedIn, but was hesitant to email everyone. I hate spam so I didn’t want to send business related messages to people who absolutely had no interest in what I do other than the value of our connection on LinkedIn (which might not seem that valuable to you). These people ARE important, because even though a recruiter LION likely has little chance of utilizing my services, they might be connected to someone who does. Sending wealth management related messages to recruiters isn’t relevant to them directly and what a waste of time and effort it has been to try and contact them. All efforts to try an make better use of my exported list of contacts has been time consuming and a painful process. LinkedIn needs to resolve this issue or their best users like me will wind up spending money on services that provide this ability. Twitter seems to be starting to fill that void.

At the end of the day (I hate that expression), I have only two objectives. The first is meeting professional contacts for business, and the other is meeting potential clients. Some is working really well, some not. Tune in soon…

Check my blog for the rest of this story. Part two deals with how LinkedIn and Twitter have worked together. 🙂 For a sneak peak at how Twitter has helped, check out “5 Ways I’m Using Twitter to Meet the Right People” as well as “Wondering if you Should Use Twitter?”

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List of Philanthropy People Using Twitter (Via Chronicle of Philanthropy)

The Chronicle of Philanthropy had a great idea to compile a list of philanthropy related users on Twitter. I encourage you to check out the list since they are providing folks a great way to introduce themselves to one another. For those of us who have ADD, I’ve taken the time to summarize the list of users and promise to keep the list updated. You can also post an update in the comments here and I’ll add it to the list.

Here’s another idea. Since I also use LinkedIn, I’d invite anyone who who is interested in charity, social entrepreneurship, non-profit, fundraising, corporate social responsibility, foundations, or anything else related to “folks who give a damn”, to list their LinkedIn profile here in the comments section. I’ll put a separate list of those folks together.

ANNOUNCING…The new CHARITWEEPS group on LinkedIn. Click here to join. For any of you folks who are interested in this list and are also on LinkedIn. After you join, check out the Discussion Board to list your Twitter profile, a quick blurb about yourself, and what you can offer to other folks. Please continue to add to the list here so that all of the Twitter profiles are listed in one place. Ain’t technology great? 🙂


Names listed from Chronicle of Philanthropy as of 10am 2/24/09
@philanthropyCFP (That’s Me!)

I Follow: (Still working on this)

SPECIAL MENTIONS (Still working on this)

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5 Ways I’m Using Twitter to Meet the Right People

Ok, so I joined twitter about 3 weeks ago and while and I’m still finding my way around, I think I’ve picked up a few things that might help people. While it’s fun to use and completely different than any of the other social networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, ultimately I’m there to meet new contacts for my business. I wouldn’t think this would come as a surprise to anyone, but there do seem to be quite a number of people there for social reasons. Since I’m there for business purposes, here’s what I’ve done to get over 800 followers in 3 weeks. As with anything, Twitter is what you make of it so you have to invest some time to get results.

  1. If you are there for business, post things that will be interesting to the people you want to connect with. Sometimes I’m a bit of a ham, but I let that come through in some of my posts even when they are unrelated to business. That’s me, I’m a ham sometimes and I just can’t stand not sharing the fact that both of my identical twins projectile spit-up on me almost the same time. Frankly that’s what makes it fun. All work and no play makes Rich a dull boy. I’m a real person and I let my Twitter follower people know it.
  2. If someone you are following posts something interesting, RT it (Retweet it). That means that “Hey, I just liked what you posted, so I’m sharing that with my own followers. When you do that, it let’s people know you are not just interested in having a one way conversation saying “hey everyone, look how great I am”.
  3. Follow people with similar interests. Don’t worry, if you follow someone they won’t think you’re stalking them. That’s what this is all about.
  4. If you follow someone with similar interests, look to see who they follow and follow those people too. This is how you expand your network. The more people with similar interests you follow, the more likely you are to be found by people you want to meet.
  5. Use Google to help you find people you want to meet. Instead of doing a standard search in Google, use the “Advanced Search” feature, then select “Search within a website”. Choose and type the search terms you are interested in. Example:

In my case, I want to meet successful social entrepreneurs, Philanthropists, CEO’s/ Business Owners, and Non-Profits. I go into Google, hit “Advanced Search”, then type “BIO Social Entrepreneur”.

Most of the Google results that come up are Twitter profiles with Social Entrepreneur in their bios. Click through the Google results one by one and see who interests you. Follow the people who interest you. If you are talking about the same kinds of things, odds are they will follow you back.

Ultimately, I believe that there are people within my areas of interest who will be looking for someone to help them with their wealth management needs. You can’t come right out and say that and people just don’t like to talk about money (especially now). Developing contacts is about developing trust. Using Twitter allows you to develop relationships and stay in touch with the people who you are interested in meeting and who are interested in hearing from you. Whether that winds up driving people to explore my services is another story.

Chime in with suggestions or send me a DM @PhilathropyCFP (Direct Message for you non-Twitter folk).

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Filed under TECHNOLOGY

Believe In This Thing Called “The Universe”? Strange Things Happen In Chicago; Part 2

So the rational skeptical guy starts wondering about this thing called “The Universe”. People say (not me of course), that when you figure “it” out (whatever the hell “it” is), that “the universe” will start sending you signs that you are on the right track. Okey dokey people…Have you visited you astrologer for a palm reading lately, I thought…So how do you explain the bus and the United 93 thing within a week of each other? Blahhhh, mere coincidence, right? Come on folks, we went to college, let’s grow up. There is no Tooth Fairy and no Santa, sorry to rain on your parade. Jump forward a year or so.

Since I had the “Aha”, realizing clearly that I feel fulfilled and have a sense of purpose when I feel like I make a difference, I just started going out doing things that made me feel like I was making a difference. I started volunteering for boards, helping charities, and having a real interest in everything philanthropic. I felt for the first time that I was on the right track in life. Once in a while, these little “coincidences” would happen that made me realize I was doing what I was supposed to do.

Soon my business began to transition from just investment management, into one that was deeply focused on helping people figure out what’s really important to them, then helping them transition their finances toward their values. Before, it might have seemed touchy feeley, but having had these experiences, and also working with other folks who felt the same way I did, really gave me a fulfilled sense of purpose. Philanthropy became a much more important part of my practice and helping clients carry out significant gifts became extremely gratifying.

Chicago: Take Two
I discovered an organization called Advisors in Philanthropy which was made up of a diverse group of financial professionals who were committed to integrating philanthropy into their practices, just like me. I had become a member of the organization and signed up to attend their conference. The conference was to be held in Chicago. Great, I thought! I’ve been learning to love Chicago 🙂

As I got to Newark Airport early that morning, I decided I would treat myself to a shoe shine (something I don’t get to do much since I stopped commuting to NY daily). Jokingly, I said to the shoe shine guy, “Huh, I wonder what’s going to happen this time. Strange things always happen when I go to Chicago.” We laughed a little and I didn’t give it much more thought. After I tipped the guy, I went into the newsstand to get my gum and water for the flight. As I was paying, there was a book above the register that caught my attention, as it looked out of place and it also didn’t seem like they sold books here since it was such a small stand. I glanced at the title, “Beyond Success” it was called. Hmmm, sounds like something I might like to read I thought, I wonder who wrote it? I looked over at the author’s name and nearly fell out of my chair (or at least my place in line). Randall Ottinger! HOLY CRAP!!! HE”S SPEAKING AT THE CONFERENCE I”M GOING TO RIGHT NOW!!!” While that may not seem like a big coincidence, there were only about 200 or 300 people at this conference. What are the odds of that I thought! “Do you sell this book?”, I asked the woman at the register. “No, someone left it here”, she replied. HOLY DOUBLE CRAP!!! (sorry for the profanity but sometimes I just can’t help it). Now someone was playing with me, I thought. Must be that “universe” mumbo jumbo…”May I see the book?”, I asked. Now I will do away with the vulgarities since the rest of the story speaks for itself and you can fill in with your own if you like…

I took the book from the woman and opened it up. Inside the book was a page of hand written notes with a bunch of illegible things and some stock quotes. The only thing I was able to make out on the page said; “Chapter 21: Advisors in Philanthropy”. Now I could hardly contain myself. I told the woman my shock and disbelief and she just chuckled when I told her why I was so taken back. I handed her my business card and told her I was taking the book and if anyone came looking for it, she should give them my name and I would be happy to return it to them.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help think I was reading my life story. The book was about building a personal, financial, and philanthropic legacy and it dealt with the very same issues I began to adopt in my wealth management practice. It was amazing that I had been handed this book, on the way to this conference, dealing with the very same issues, higher purpose, blah, blah blah…I just couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t wait to tell Randy this story when I finally saw him in Chicago.

Telling Randy
As I tell Randy this unbelievable story, he just begins to shake his head. “That falls into one of those THINGS YOU CAN”T MAKE UP category”, we said to each other. Thinking we had just closed the chapter on a truly remarkable story, we went about our business and attended to the other conference matters.

The next day, Randy comes up to me and says, “Rich, you are NEVER going to believe this…I sit down at dinner last night and introduce myself to this guy and he looks at me and says OH, I BROUGHT A COPY OF YOUR BOOK FOR YOU TO SIGN, BUT I LOST IT AT THE AIRPORT…” Randy tells me he just looked at the guy and said “I know”. Kevin replies, “What do you mean YOU KNOW?” Randy says to Kevin, “Because that guy over there has your book”.

That’s how I met Kevin. This is a story I will never forget. I’m starting to think there might be something to this “Universe thing” after all. Oh, and by the way, Kevin and I are working with Randy in starting a new organization in NY called the Metro New York Philanthropic Advisor Network. You might just say “The Universe made me do it”. Check out my post: “The Good Apples: The Rise of the NY Philanthropic Advisor Network here.

Have to run now, I have an appointment with the tarot card reader…

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Believe In This Thing Called “The Universe”? Strange Things Happen In Chicago; Part 1

It seems that since “The Secret” was published by Rhnoda Byrne, there’s been much to do about “The Universe” being behind the things you can’t explain. Frankly, I was one of those skeptical, rational, “I’m from Missouri”, need to be shown folks. The universe, “please”, I thought. Spare me. What happens when you just can’t explain events in your life that seem absolutely remarkable? Let me tell you a little story about the universe.

A while back, I had this “Aha” and I’ve talked about it here before. A few years ago while I was going through some coaching and consulting for my business, I was asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. I was asked to write my own eulogy. Having never done anything like this before I had to consider what I wanted people to say about me when I died. After several minutes of thinking, I came up with the answer. “I suppose I would want people to say I made a difference”, I replied. What I didn’t know at the time, was that I had just identified my highest order life purpose; the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid if you will. Some call this being “self actualized”. It was quite a strange place. From that day on, strange things started happening to me and they always seemed to happen on the way to Chicago. Let me back up.

One Week Before Chicago
One day I was having lunch in NYC with a client. Having had such a positive result with reflective exercises with my coach, I started incorporating the values conversations with clients. I asked her if she was truly happy with her life and posed the question to her, “If you knew you only had 6 months to live, would you want to do anything different?”. “Nope”, she replied. “Are you sure? You know you could walk out the door and get hit by a bus.”, I said. “No, I’m sure”.

As we finished lunch, we began walking back toward Penn Station. Not ten minutes after we had this conversation, we both witnessed a man get hit by a bus right before our eyes. Shaken, we looked at each other and I asked “What does that mean?” How do you explain that?

Going To Chicago
With the thought of the bus incident still fresh in my head, I prepared to board the United flight to Chicago. I was a guest a the Napoleon Hill World Learning Center Open House. While I was very excited to attend, the trip almost didn’t happen because of prior obligations. I almost decided not to go, but because I felt passionate, (you might say “the universe” was pushing me to go) I figured out a way to make it happen. As I waited to enter the gate, I noticed a flag flying above the jetway where our plane was parked. I noticed it was the only one that had a flag so naturally I was curious and asked the United rep what it was for. “This is the gate where United 93 left from on 9/11”, she replied. Having just witnessed the bus thing the week before, I felt as if somebody was trying to tell me something. As I boarded the flight, I could feel myself walking the same steps the passengers walked that day. “Let’s Roll”, I thought. If one thing became clear to me that week, it was that you never know when your time is up and you had better live every day like you were going to get hit by a bus or board a flight that is about to crash. The universe was telling me to follow my passion, and I was listening.


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Filed under Financial Life Planning, RANDOM STUFF

Do Something’s CEO, Nancy Lublin Certainly Did: Dangers of A Rant in Fast Company Magazine

Wow, how I DO LOVE a good rant! We all need to vent once in a while and I think that the non-profit sector is as good a place to take a shot these days as as any. For those who relish a good rant, and I am certainly one of them, (see the rant I posted “You Call Yourself a Social Entrepreneur?” here I say “rant away”, with caution.

On January 13, 2009, Fast Company Magazine published an article by Nancy Lublin, founder of the non-profit  “Do Something”, and President of Dressed For Success, a group that helps women find work. The article “Nonprofits? Not a Recessionary Refuge for Job Seekers”, seems to have touched of a torrent of angry comments from readers because of the harsh tone she used to describe what seemed to be an endless stream of people coming to her looking for advice on how to make move from the greedy for-profit world into the caring non-profit world. Lublin states; “I take these meetings out of the goodness of my unnaturally large heart, which should be considered a handicap.” and Your Harvard MBA won’t make me drool. Twenty percent of my staff graduated from Ivies — and we’re not the smartest people on the team.” While I’m just reporting the news here, ok fine, i’ll give my opinion…I think she might have crossed the line based on the comments she received. The tone did have a somewhat hard feel to it.

I have a great amount of respect for anyone who has enough passion to start an organization to help other people. There are a number of things that non-profits must deal with that the for profit world does not. As Nancy points out, marketing for one is very difficult on a shoestring budget. While we who serve the donor community have demanded more accountability from non-profits in controlling and being responsible for things like administrative expenses and excessive executive compensation, many of us feel that non-profits have their hands tied when it comes to spending money to make money or to ultimately deliver results. We have become focused on the wrong metrics. We focus on expenses and administrative costs, instead of measuring outcomes. In our attempt to make non-profits be more accountable, we have in many respects, tied their hands and made it more difficult to accomplish their mission. I think that Nancy’s article in Fast Company was in many ways, a rant about being frustrated that they are forced to play by a different set of rules. That’s my take anyway. Nancy, I hear ya but it appears that a lot of people either took what you were saying the wrong way (as sometimes happens), or they just didn’t like hearing it in that tone of voice.

So where do I come off having an opinion on this?  I help successful folks figure out how to make the financial leap into doing more meaningful things in their life (what Nancy was talking about). Often this includes social entrepreneurship related activities, thinking about volunteer or opportunities to give money/time, starting a private foundation, or something else that is not about self, rather doing for others. Without further clarification from Nancy Lubin, I’m afraid she’s done a real injustice to herself and possibly alienated good people who wanted her help to move to a more meaningful career. My rant on social entrepreneurship a few weeks ago was designed to inspire people to “Do Something”, just as Nancy says, but unfortunately, after reading this, it seems many folks might not be interested in doing anything for “Do Something”. Perhaps it might help for her to clarify what she wrote, or perhaps that’s exactly how she feels. Stay tuned. I just love a good rant.

Here’s the article from Fast Company

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