Forgive me for feeling a bit full of myself right about now, but I just successfully completed the third and final exam toward my designation as a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®) from the American College in Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania.
I officially now have more letters after my name than in my name, which I might add, is no small accomplishment, and requires me to switch to a smaller font on my business cards. So please don’t deflate my bubble by telling me you never heard of the CAP® designation. Few people actually have, which begs the question – if a professional earns an unknown designation, does it make a sound? More to the point – how important is a designation in a field that is still trying to find itself? (As one rather arrogant attorney put it to me once “there are more crap designations around……”)
Many people are involved in the nascent profession of “gift planning.” And like the financial planners of 25 years ago, the professional status of gift planners and philanthropic advisors appears to be tied directly to the fields from which they emerge. Right or wrong, accountants and attorneys may tend to get more respect as gift planners because they are perceived as technicians cobbling together tax and estate plans that encompass philanthropy as one piece of the puzzle. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they get more respect than, say, life insurance or wealth management professionals who may be perceived as more product-focused and less client-focused. And development officers working for the charities themselves, well, we all know what they want! (If you don’t believe me, check out this fascinating discussion in the Chronicle of Philanthropy group on LinkedIn.) So because we all come from different backgrounds and pedigrees, I believe that a really good argument can be made for the development of a professional designation that attempts to reach across all of these professional silos and achieve common ground. Isn’t that part of the growth of any profession?
So, what can I do now with the CAP® designation that I couldn’t do before as a “mere” CPA? Not much. But studying for the designation has enhanced my technical knowledge of some tax tools and techniques and it has also helped me develop a more global perspective on the field of philanthropy. I have new appreciation for the work done on the other side of the table by development officers and fundraising executives. But most important, I have newfound respect for the philanthropic impulses that motivate many of my clients. What we do as technicians is help our clients select and develop the most efficient tools for the transfer of wealth to their families and suitable charities, but those techniques are the mere tools of the trade and we cannot forget that. Understanding what motivates our clients is far more important because that will enable us to plan more effectively for the optimal solution. As Phil Cubeta, the Sallie B. and William B. Wallace Chair of Philanthropy at the American College has written: “The purpose of CAP….is to bring advisors and fundraisers together in common purpose around a shared body of knowledge and to help our donors and clients do great things for the charities they love and support while also taking care of the family’s financial needs.”
That sounds like a winner to me.