Greater Good Blog

What Good Is a Philanthropic Advisor?

Kate McAdams
What Good Is a Philanthropic Advisor?

[Editor’s note: Kate McAdams originally published this post on LinkedIn.]


I get this question fairly frequently: “Is a philanthropic advisor an actual profession?” Why yes, yes it is. And I’m proud to say I am one.

Recently, I was able to reflect on my experience when Fidelity Charitable sought my input on the development of A Guide to Working with Philanthropy Advisors—a new resource they have developed for families and individuals. Since the resource focuses on what is, for me, a basic existential question – “What is a philanthropic advisor and when/how/why would you ever use one?” – I jumped at the opportunity to contribute my point of view.

Through my work at the nation’s fastest growing philanthropic advisory firm, Arabella Advisors, I know firsthand the value that philanthropic advisors provide. Every day, I have the privilege to help donors maximize philanthropic impact, establish strategic partnerships, reduce operational inefficiencies, and more. For any donor who has both significant financial resources to commit to philanthropy and the inclination to tackle an issue in a serious way, engaging a philanthropic advisor is worth the investment. It can help you avoid recreating another funder’s pitfall or discovery, optimize personal time devoted to philanthropy, and be as creative as possible in using finances, personal expertise, donor collaboration, and (if you wish) your position and voice to advocate for the cause you care about. (As the Guide points out, if you use a Donor Advised Fund as your philanthropic vehicle, you can even pay for an advisor out of your DAF.)

The Guide touches on multiple points along a typical philanthropic journey when help from an expert advisor can be especially important, all of which I’ve encountered before with families and couples with whom I’ve partnered. At the start of the journey, for instance, donors often feel overwhelmed by incoming requests for support—especially if they haven’t yet honed a strategic focus for their giving. An advisor can help them find that focus. A little further along in the philanthropic journey, I worked with a couple who had established clear programmatic focus areas, but did not feel educated enough on the issues to move forward with grant making. I provided learning sessions that covered the national and local policy landscape surrounding the issue areas, introductions to peer funders, and connections to potential grantees, all of which helped to jump start their philanthropy.

Because philanthropy advisors focus on philanthropy full time—and, in my case, as part of a team of experts who work with thousands of donors annually—we can connect motivated donors with the newest innovations and best practices on a wide variety of issues, from equitable and inclusive grant making, to compliantly using funds for lobbying and advocacy, to engaging children in family philanthropy, to activating philanthropic capital through mission-aligned impact investing, and more.

Individuals continue to be the largest contributor to charitable causes, so tools like this Guide are incredibly useful. According to GivingUSA, for the first time ever philanthropy surpassed the $400 billion mark in 2017, with individuals a driving factor contributing 70% or $286 billion of giving. Not every individual, family, or foundation needs to partner with a philanthropic advisor. Donors with ambitious philanthropic goals, though, don’t need to navigate alone and can rely on a trusted advisor – as they do in many other aspects of their lives – to ensure their philanthropy achieves its greatest potential. To learn more, see Fidelity Charitable’s new guide here. Or drop me a line!

Kate McAdams is Managing Director in our Chicago office.

Back to Blog