Giving News July 2017


We speak to Melissa Cortes, Senior Private Client Manager about a high-impact approach to philanthropy.

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Melissa Cortes is one of our Senior Private Client Managers. She works internationally with high net worth individuals to offer tax effective, high-impact solutions for their charitable giving. Here, she talks to us about her client portfolio and the amazing social impact being achieved with their philanthropy.

What do you find is the most enjoyable aspect about working in philanthropy?

I started at CAF two years ago and have learned so much from working with the Private Client team - they have a lot of experience so it’s been great to work with them. I’d say also that meeting some of the inspiring clients we have and learning about the projects they choose to support is the most amazing part of the job.

The CAF Private Client team has some remarkable clients - it’s inspiring to see the significant amount of money given away to good causes. Sometimes people immediately think of tax benefits as the reason why people donate money, but actually I’d challenge that. I would say, while it is definitely a factor, a more impactful effect is when the donor actually has their ‘aha moment’ of philanthropy and a light switches on when they see, firstly, what their money can do and, secondly, how much it can positively impact the beneficiary.

Without a doubt, the best part of my job is seeing how giving away money can quite literally transform clients once they see the impact they can have - their generosity is so powerful and humbling at the same time. 

How do you work with associates and partners?

Associates and partners of legal firms come to us to ask for guidance on their private clients’ philanthropic giving – sometimes it’s just a matter of sharing with them what a donor advised giving fund is and that their client can give via this option instead of setting up a foundation. In many cases philanthropy helps our introducers open up conversations with their clients about their families and legacies as well. This can help legal advisors to cement and even grow the relationship with the next generation of clients. 

One of our legal sector introducers worked with his client in a corporate capacity on his business affairs. Years into their business relationship, the client found out he had terminal cancer; subsequently he wanted to do as much as possible within his lifetime to ensure that his assets were structured in a way that allowed him to leave much of his estate to charity. His lawyer came to CAF and was able to open a CAF Charitable Trust on his client’s behalf, and years later was able to make a donation and fund cancer research in his client’s name. This is just one example of how we’ve worked together with a legal introducer to ensure their client’s philanthropic aims were met. 

Why would a philanthropist choose a donor advised giving fund over a registered foundation?

It depends on what the client wants – many of our clients are still busy engaging in business activities and want an easy way to do their charitable giving and experiment as a new philanthropist. A donor advised option allows the client to gift cash or appreciated assets while, at the same time, invest these funds to grow over time and involve their families, or even pass the fund down over generations. Donors who are looking for flexibility and minimal admin can use the donor advised giving fund to do this (and remain anonymous, or name it whatever they want!). 

Separately, some donors want to establish perpetual foundations, with their own board, registered with the Charity Commission, and they seek to retain more management control of how the foundation is run. This is a good option for a client thinking of engaging in philanthropy long-term and really investing a lot of time in running their own foundation. Both options are great, and the more money that goes to charitable causes is really what we’re trying to accomplish in the end.

Tell us a bit more about your client portfolio. What types of clients do you work with? What do they find inspiring? 

I steward about 120 clients from varied professional backgrounds - financial professionals, entrepreneurs, academics, engineers and many more. These clients donate anywhere from £100k to over tens of millions of pounds with CAF.

They are all very different in their approach to philanthropy - many of them have a more flexible approach and do ad-hoc donations, but I’d say the momentum is now moving towards donors who want to learn more about impact and how they can imbed that, not only in their philanthropy but throughout their activities. For example, through impact investing, the way they run their companies and taking on roles as trustees/board advisors to charities etc.

It’s a long term change but I think as new generations start to take on philanthropy, we’ll see a lot more of this and also the broader theme of making well informed philanthropic decisions using technology and data.

What is most important to your clients regarding their philanthropy?

Warren Buffett has said many times, “making money is far easier than giving it away effectively” - and I think donors also realise this when they start giving! This is one of the most challenging questions I’ve had to answer since I started at CAF - “How do you know your giving is making a difference?”  Sometimes this doesn’t matter to the donor but I think a lot of my clients in particular are starting to think about their giving in a more strategic way.

Measuring impact is gaining importance to many clients, especially those who want to be more innovative in their philanthropy. I would say that impact must be defined by the donor to start. Some donors take an absolute numerical approach and want to measure number of lives saved, quality adjusted life years (similar to the effective altruism school of thought) and so they have a very clear metric on outcomes they choose to measure.

Others have a more ad-hoc approach and will donate to causes they have been affected by or connect with on a personal level. We’ve managed clients who have been personally affected by devastating circumstances and have turned that into a reason to help others. 

From the conversations I’ve had with clients and advisors, I think the most important thing to take into account is to first define – What do I want to achieve?  What does success look like? - and go from there because all philanthropists are different.  


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