What can happen when we put away our presentations and connect with people in a different way?
Leadership philanthropy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Individuals and families of wealth have many advisors — and there’s much to learn from the experience of those professionals about building relationships of trust and influence.
Go behind the scenes with Jay Hughes, high-level advisor and confidante to families of wealth. His mentoring of Charlie Collier, leading philanthropic advisor at Harvard, has had a lasting influence at the highest levels of the development profession.
Take-aways here for all development officers who want to strengthen their own influence as trusted advisors.
The opportunity almost everyone misses
For many years, Jay practiced law in New York. Families he advised would ask him to sit in on “beauty contests” — the selection of a new investment manager, counsel, or other professional.
“They would come with their heavy books and deliver a skilled presentation,” Jay says. “Fifty minutes to present, five minutes for questions, and then we had to scoot them out of the room so the next group could come in.”
“Almost always, there would be one person who’d come with a book they never opened. Instead, they’d begin the conversation by saying something like, ‘Who are you?’
“I can say from sitting through many, many of these meetings, they were the ones who got the business. They were not slick people. And they were no smarter than the others. They were interested and curious.”
When you think about it, it’s not surprising that the families chose the person who showed genuine interest in them. And yet most of the candidates chose to waste their one opportunity to connect with the people they wanted to serve.
A shift to “qualitative relationships”
Along these lines, Jay tells of a time when he mentored an up-and-coming investment manager. Eager for growth and development, the investment manager wanted to take a “road less traveled” and create what Jay calls “qualitative relationships” with clients.
Jay’s mentee called him one day and said, “Jay, a gentleman in Chicago has invited me to meet with him. I want to try out this ‘new me.’ I don’t care if I get the business. I want to do something different, see if I can practice what you and I have been talking about.”
Jay offered some suggestions, a possible approach, a question that could be asked. A week went by and Jay got an email: “I’ve got to talk to you.”
Jay thought, “Well, OK. This could have gone very well, or gone very badly.”
The two got on Skype. Jay asked, “Well, how did it go?”
His mentee replied, “Well, I did exactly what you suggested, Jay, I asked that one question. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in years. Then I was quiet. I didn’t say one more thing. After a few moments, the man looked at me and opened the door to an in-depth conversation — not about his money, but about his family, his goals, his aspirations.”
And, of course, the end of the story: “You know, I got the business.” (In fact, he got more assets than the man had originally intended to assign him.)
It took courage for Jay’s mentee to take that leap into a different kind of relationship. Courage that was bolstered by his relationship with Jay and their shared exploration of new ways of relating.
Qualitative relationships meet quantitative results
What an insight this offers for the development officer who thinks only about presentation, without allowing their own curiosity, their own empathy to show up. How many opportunities are missed to make this about the other person, rather than about the development officer or the institution?
It takes a bit of courage to shift the focus from “How can I get my story right, as good and as polished as I can,” to “Could I just listen to their story?”
All the more so in the face of institutional demands, metrics, and expectations. Again, mentorship can play a big part, as when Jay mentored Charlie Collier in his work at Harvard.
Jay’s relationship with Charlie began at a conference they both attended, many years ago. They didn’t know each other, they just knew of each other.
At the time, Jay was just starting to experiment with family conversations that went beyond money. “Charlie was tremendously excited by the conversation he heard me convening, this different way of working with families,” says Jay.
When Charlie went back to Harvard, he started to put the insights from Jay into practice. “He used a kind of systems approach, looking at all aspects of the family’s life in a very gentle, very humane way,” Jay recalls. “He would go out and visit the families that were generous to Harvard or might be interested in being more generous. As a response from Harvard, Charlie would take them through their value systems and their decision-making. In effect, he would ask: ‘How can I help you and your family prosper?’”
“And it was incredibly successful. For Charlie, because it fulfilled his mission of service. And very successful for Harvard, as I understand it.”
Charlie’s work also began a conversation about the quality of life of development officers. Could they have a quality of professional life that focuses on meaning and transcends metrics, without detracting from their quantitative results?
When such questions are raised in the development profession, most people say, “Let’s just get on with the work.” Or maybe, “Well, that’s all very interesting and you pulled it off, but I’m sure if I try it, it’s going to slow down my conversations with these families. We won’t get to the heart of the matter, which is getting them to write a check, and I won’t meet my dollar goals.”
Those responses are understandable. But at least for Charlie and those who have followed his example, they found that the quality of their lives was better and the results they obtained were better, too — because they were connecting with people in a more significant way.
“There was no doubt that Harvard was sending Charlie out with a mission,” as Jay puts it. “But Charlie exercised a kind of altruism. He brought thoughts, ideas, and techniques to families that helped them be more effective among themselves — without in any way diminishing his responsibility to Harvard.”
“Maybe not everyone can pull it off. I’m not saying everybody is Jim Lord, and I’m not saying everybody is Charlie Collier. Of course not. But I think there is, in Charlie’s life, a way of being that can open up for some people. Most of these really good things that happen, happen without much fanfare. They happen because somebody thinks, Gee, there’s a better way to do this. I’m doing all right. But it’s not satisfying to me. I don’t feel the human connection is sufficient. Between you, Pam, myself and Charlie, is this larger view of what’s really going on.”
Jay Hughes, renowned advisor to families of wealth, is a philosopher and frequent speaker on the growth of families’ human, intellectual, social, spiritual, and financial capital. His many writings include the acclaimed classic Family Wealth. (Jay attended a workshop with us to envision his own contribution to society and we’ve been in close conversation ever since.)