Should Philanthropy Advisors Be Accredited?

CAP Lunch July 2014JPG

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to convene the Bay Area Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP) designees. CAP designees are quite diverse – some are wealth managers, some are development professionals, some are philanthropy advisors from community foundations, and some are advisors who work in a philanthropy consulting firm like me. Interestingly, there is a growing group of attorneys who are also CAPs or taking on the program. During the event, Prof. Phil Cubeta, Chair of the program, reminded us that our work is not about our clients or donors; the real purpose of our work is to help people and our community. With this incredible trust and sense of purpose then, should philanthropy advisors (in any capacity they act in) receive some form of accreditation in order to provide philanthropy advice?

Wealth advisors, attorneys, accountants, and fundraising professionals (especially those in planned giving) have been advising individuals for decades. Their advice is usually limited to the giving vehicles or the technical “how-to” side. Conversations on values and legacy have only been pushed forward recently, with studies tracking how often advisors have “philanthropic conversations” with their clients and whether the client or the advisor brings up the topic. These conversations can be complex and the CAP program is one attempt to provide (or supplement) the advisor with a basic framework that helps guide the client in their philanthropic work.

Successful philanthropy advisors without the CAP designation rely on their knowledge and experience in the philanthropic sector. I find that people with experience of working in a nonprofit or grantmaking entity are usually better advisors – not because they are smarter, but because they can provide a practical perspective of whether a project makes sense. Most philanthropy advisors are generalists, but there are some that specialize in a particular area – such as global philanthropy.

Philanthropic advising is in the process of becoming more institutionalized, formalized, and recognized. It now has a membership organization dedicated to the field. Like other professions such as lawyers or accountants, those who hold themselves out as philanthropy advisors should be held to some standards. Unfortunately, not all philanthropy advisors have the CAP designation so enforcing a standard of any kind is difficult to do. The CAP program is still gaining momentum and philanthropists are not familiar with this professional accreditation.Therefore, philanthropists may not be able to actively seek out such a professional or compare the services of one advisor over another.

It remains to be seen whether accreditation is the answer but of all the degrees I hold, the CAP degree is one I am quite proud of. What I find valuable are the connections I have made and the brilliant conversations that have started by a simple question – “What is a CAP?”

See also: Creating and Professionalizing the Philanthropy Advising Field in Asia

About the Author

DYuenWebsiteDien S. Yuen is Founder and Managing Director of Kordant Philanthropy Advisors, a social venture firm dedicated to more effective, impactful and joyful philanthropy. As an advocate of donor education and the strengthening of the philanthropic sector in the U.S. and Asia, she speaks at many events and her insights are often quoted in leading publications, including Forbes Asia, New York Times, Family Office Review, San Francisco Business Times and Economist Intelligence Unit reports.

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