If you've made the decision to get some help as you gear up your giving, this post will help you decide what kind of help might be the best fit for you.
Hired Help: They follow your direct instructions to paint inside the lines under your ongoing supervision. These are people who show up as having an E for “execute” on your decision-making chart. Think of administrative staff tasked to support the distribution of funds from your family foundation as part of their broader duties within your family office.
Faithful Steward: These people protect your interests while carrying out your decisions. They make sure the paint stays inside the lines while you are away. These are people who show up on your decision-making chart as having an E (execute) and also an I (inform). This means you need to inform your steward about decisions after the fact so they can effectively represent and advance your interests while you are away. Occasionally, you may also ask people in this role to propose specific actions to you for your consideration. This is most likely to happen around routine managerial tasks. A faithful steward might also be someone you consult prior to making certain decisions. Often, this is to get their views on whether the course of action you intend can be executed effectively under their oversight. Take, for example, how you might interact with a wealth advisor or senior client manager from a private bank. They will make sure that your bookkeeper and accountant are on the same page with your estate attorney. However, don’t confuse a faithful steward with a true, trusted advisor. A faithful steward’s role stops at helping you implement the decisions that you’ve made on your own. They are not there to point out your blind spots or otherwise save you from yourself.
Trusted Advisor: This is someone who focuses on what to get done and why, including advising you to paint outside the lines of your own comfort zone when they judge that would actually be the best way to advance both the social impact you are seeking as well as your own growth and personal fulfillment. A key way that trusted advisors are different from faithful stewards and hired help is that they have significant responsibility to propose courses of action to you. They might advise on everything from overall strategy to governance decisions to resource allocation for social impact and market return. Trusted advisors might also play a role in executing decisions once they are made, but they stop short of making major decisions. That is still your role. They might also have C’s and I’s in your decision-making chart if you consult them before making certain decisions or inform them after the fact.
Delegated Decision-Maker: This is someone with whom you have entrusted full decision-making authority over a defined area of your affairs. They decide what to do, how to do it, and ensure that it gets done. These are people who show up as having D’s on your chart, sometimes just in one column, such as resource allocation decisions for social impact and sometimes across all the columns. An example would be when you fully outsource the management of your financial affairs to an independent money manager. In this case, you are giving them full authority over the allocation of your funds across a range of investments. When you work with a delegated decision-maker, you may hold onto the C, meaning that you must be consulted before certain kinds of decisions are made or you may simply have an I, meaning that they have an obligation to inform you of a decision they have made after the fact.
How do you decide which kind of help is the best fit for you? Consider what role you honestly want to play in the decisions around your giving. If you want to retain the final say on all matters and you are prepared to stay involved overseeing day to day operations, then hired help may be all you need. That would be a fine solution if you just want an extra set of hands to help carry out routine tasks that are easily delegated. On the other hand, if you’d like to be able to step away from day-to-day oversight and have confidence that your directions are being well executed, then a faithful steward might be best. If you’re not sure what to do or how to maximize your impact and fulfillment but still want to make the final decisions, then you might consider a trusted advisor. If you want to step back much more and truly farm out your giving lock, stock, and barrel, then a delegated decision maker may be best for you.
Your choice about what kind of help to secure should also be connected to the nature of the problems you are trying to address. This is where it’s helpful to recall the distinction between simple, complicated, and complex problems. It’s important to match the type of help you bring on with the level of problem you are going after. Unless you are prepared to go pro and devote a truly substantial portion of your time to your giving, there are certain, minimum requirements for what type of help you need to be successful at each level of challenge.
Simple challenges can reliably produce certain outcomes. In this case, it’s not hard to convert your financial resources into a positive impact for other people. This means that with simple problems, it’s pretty easy to succeed on a DIY basis or with hired help if you’d like to save some of your own time. For example, it’s not hard to find a local food pantry to which you can donate resources. Those resources translate directly into feeding hungry people.
With complicated challenges, there are many steps and players in the causal chain. Still, producing impact here is a fairly linear process—you simply may need more help to keep track of it all. A faithful steward who can devote the time and attention to the multiple elements in the causal chain may be particularly helpful in this situation. Somebody has to make sure that the different steps are effectively connected and integrated, because if the chain doesn’t link up and/or breaks at any point, you lose impact. If a single component is faulty, the satellite doesn’t make it into orbit…. This is also where someone with practical proximity can really come in handy. They can more easily connect the pieces effectively, and they have technical knowledge informing them about what is needed to make effective linkages between different parts of the chain. For example, let’s say that you want to help get a supportive housing program going in your city. Suppose this involves a three-way partnership between a housing authority, a social service agency that provides case management services, and a local hospital system. It’s a huge asset to have someone on your team who has worked on the ground in one or more of these agencies; it’s important to have someone who deeply understands how the pieces best fit together and how to quickly improvise a patch in case of breakdown.
Complex, emergent challenges are an entirely different order of business. For example, let’s say you want to change public policy in order to establish a new civil right for children to access high quality public education. There are a lot of options for how you might go about this, from backing a ballot initiative campaign to amending your state’s constitution to supporting a broad coalition of advocacy organizations to lobby lawmakers. The path to achieving this outcome is not linear. Your strategy cannot be fully laid out in advance—it involves the need to adjust on the fly to emergent circumstances that no one can fully predict. This is why having people on your team with practical proximity to the system and its dynamics is so important, particularly when the object of your giving is to change a complex, dynamic system. Practical proximity to a system is associated with pattern recognition and a degree of predictive power in a highly uncertain context. So unless you bring those qualities yourself, it’s likely you’ll need a trusted advisor and/or a delegated decision maker on your team when you want to tackle complex challenges.
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