Growing up on a farm in Nebraska, Ron Carson witnessed financial hardship firsthand. During the farm crisis of the 1970’s, crop prices were at rock bottom, many farmers had debts they couldn’t repay and family farms were going out of business, replaced by larger, more industrialized operations. “There wasn’t a lot of help for farmers in those days, and I always wanted to give back when I was in a better position to do so,” says Carson.
Carson made good on that promise.He transitioned from farm life to financial services in 1983 with the launch of Carson Wealth Management Group. From humble origins, the firm has grown dramatically over the past three decades. Today, the firm employs more than 62 advisors and manages more than $6 billion in assets under advisement. Carson donates considerable time and money to charity, while encouraging his employees to do so as well.
Employees are referred to as “internal stakeholders,” and receive paid time off for volunteer work during business hours. The firm also matches employees’ charitable gifts up to $500 annually. “We view our paid time-off program and employee-matching-gifts program as an investment in our team members,” says Carson. “Getting out of the office and into the community helps our internal stakeholders feel recharged and energized while also allowing them to choose volunteer opportunities that speak to them individually.”
Carson himself has created a family foundation for charitable giving, as well as a nonprofit called The Dreamweaver Foundation that focuses on providing financial assistance to impoverished elderly neighbors. “There are people in our community who are alone later in life with meager financial resources. The Dreamweaver Foundation provides support and services for those in need at a time when some people may be extremely vulnerable,” says Carson.
Carson and his wife, who both grew up on farms, were initially fairly private about their charitable work in the community. However, the firm’s client advisory board encouraged the couple to open up about their nonprofit and volunteer work with clients. “Our clients told us they genuinely wanted to know what causes we support and how they could get involved,” says Carson. The firm currently shares information about its community involvement and projects through its client newsletter and websites.
Recognizing that successful business owners are often invited to support abroad range of worthwhile issues, Carson suggests that advisors maximize their impact by focusing on one or two causes that are close to their hearts. “Choose something you feel excited about, something that will get you out of bed in the morning,” says Carson. “Activities related to your personal mission, interests, or history–these are all good places to start.”
Creating a Giving Plan
JNBA Financial Advisors is a family-run enterprise with offices in Minneapolis and Duluth, Minn. The firm currently has 24 employees and manages more than $650 million in assets. Kim Brown, president, oversees the creation of an annual giving plan for the firm. “Just as we advise our clients to be very deliberate in their charitable giving, our goal is to create structure within our firm for how and when to give,” says Brown.
Under Brown’s guidance, the firm takes a proactive and collaborative approach to identifying organizations that speak to the firm’s values. “We look for organizations that we personally feel are making a big impact in our community and that could benefit from our help,” says Brown. That help can take the form of strategic planning, volunteer work, and direct donations. One organization the firm currently supports is the Angel Foundation, a nonprofit providing financial assistance to families dealing with a cancer diagnosis
When a client approached Brown several years ago about getting involved with the Angel Foundation, she knew she wanted to learn more. Brown had a grandfather who died of pancreatic cancer and understood some of the challenges families face when supporting a loved one with cancer. She also knew that cancer’s reach is wide-ranging and that it had also touched members of her team and client families. Brown met with her client outside the office for coffee and conversation.
“I quickly realized that I wanted to get involved financially, but more important, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and do the work so I could really see what the organization is about,” says Brown. Brown has served on the board of the Angel Foundation for the past six years, running the resource development committee. She also volunteers with the Angel Foundation’s summer camp for children whose families are impacted by cancer, helping kids spend time in a supportive environment.
Despite maintaining an extremely full schedule of work and volunteer commitments, Brown finds that doing volunteer work can lead to a more balanced and enjoyable life. Instead of seeking “work-life” balance, Brown says she’s now more interested in “life-work” balance. She views community involvement as an integral part of her life’s work. “I find I’m able to stretch my time a lot further if I integrate my priorities instead of trying to compartmentalize them. Philanthropy and volunteer work become the fabric of your life, part of who you are,” says Brown.
To share her volunteer passions with clients, Brown invites clients to attend charitable events with her and her husband. “If we’ve purchased a table at an event, we’ll occasionally invite clients to join us as our guests,” says Brown. “We say up front that we just want to enjoy their company for the evening and that we’re not looking for donations.” She approaches these invitations the same way she would for a dinner party at her home, inviting people who are likely to get along well together and have common interests. “Inviting people into our world of philanthropy has created lasting friendships, while building goodwill in our communities,” she notes.