#100 Five-Step Process to Creating a Philanthropic Budget, With Jason Okrent Vice President and Financial Advisor in the Seattle office of Bernstein Private Wealth Management

Oct 24, 2022

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We are joined by Jason Okrent who discusses how he helps people with wealth, both in their investment strategies and also by helping them think through how to give back to the community through donations. Jason shares the tips and tricks that his firm offers for donors to be able to give effectively.

Episode Highlights:

  • Defining your values
  • Connecting your values to causes 
  • Create better outcomes.
  • Track your progress.
  • Inform your loved ones about your plans


Jason Okrent Bio:

Jason Okrent is a Vice President and Financial Advisor in the Seattle office of Bernstein Private Wealth Management responsible for leading our Foundations and Institutions advisory practice in the northwest region. He provides wealth planning advice to individuals and families as well as trusts, estates, foundations, and tax-exempt organizations. Jason is a board member for the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Seattle and at Hillel of the University of Washington. Prior to joining the firm, Jason served as director of investor sales at Integral Development, a start-up specializing in foreign exchange and digital asset trading. Jason holds a BA in business administration from the University of Washington and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.

Links referenced in this interview

Bernstein Private Wealth Management:  https://www.bernstein.com/



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#73 Sybil Speaks: It Takes Time to Make a Difference


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Full Transcript

Jason, I am just really pleased that you're on my podcast and it's so funny, I didn't think you'd come on. You're like, I don't know, I don't know, but I just think you have so much to offer my listeners because you work with a firm that you'll discuss that helps people with wealth, both in their investment strategies and also by helping them think through how to give back to the community through donations. 

And I've been looking at, I'm on your e-mail, you have these little e-mail blasts that you send to people, and I find them very helpful, and I just really like when I see another firm doing things similar to what I'm doing. We also talked about how we're complementary. We do similar things and also different things that can help donors. And we'll talk about that today too, but I just think you'll have really valuable advice for my listeners first to talk about investment strategies and then your tips and tricks that your firm offers for folks to be able to give effectively.

So, before we get into all those interesting tips and tricks, Jason, let's tell my listeners who you are and what got you motivated to help people and help people with wealth give back.

Thank you, Sybil. Thank you so much. First of all, thank you for having me on the show. I was nervous about it because you just have such remarkable guests and I'm humbled to be a part of it now. And hopefully, I can contribute my piece to this puzzle. But yeah, it was a little intimidating, but I’m happy to be on the show. When it comes to my journey, is it cliche to say that it starts with my parents?

Not at all. Not at all.

My mom, who works in the nonprofit sector in low-income housing and homeless housing, and my dad work in public service, and they both very explicitly do a lot of social good in their professions, and growing up, they taught us that it was really important to serve the community. And we serve those who are less fortunate than ourselves. And so, for me, they also taught me that financial success was important, but not at the expense of others. That was like a key lesson in my life. After graduating from the University of Washington, I moved to Seattle. Uh, I worked in New York and financial services for 10 years, but it was missing that service component. So, when I returned to Seattle with my family, I purposefully wanted to do something good for my family, to do my good, which is the name of the podcast.

And, during my interview with Bernstein, they were very clear about how you can do well by doing good. And I thought that was cool.

I love that. I love that.

Thank you. And I just ran with it. So, today I lead our philanthropic practice at Bernstein in the Northwest. So, I do work with nonprofits and foundations on one hand. And then, for this podcast, I also work with individuals that come from all different places, entrepreneurs who come from a business background, corporate executives, and medical professionals.

But the thing that they have in common, very explicitly, is that philanthropy is deeply rooted in their values. They want to have an outsized impact, and they want to do that through charity. 

Jason let's talk about that, and it's so nice and good that you brought it back to your family too, in terms of your family instilling that goodness in what you want to do in the future. And I have one son of my own and then three stepkids who I also consider my own. And I try to instill that in them, and I'm hoping, they're younger now, but I'm hoping that someday they might be on a podcast and say the same thing. Wouldn't that be so nice? 

Let's talk now about your role at Bernstein. Can you give me some stories about donors you've worked with? And when you think about these donors that you've worked with, what are some success stories in terms of ways you've been able to help them think through how to give back?

So, I think when I'm thinking of a particular story that came about. I think the typical relationship that we have is a donor-advisor relationship. We end up being the last step in the process where the donor comes to us and says, "How can I make this happen? This dollar amount is a gift to XYZ organization. In the most tax-efficient manner possible”, and that's a really good question to ask. But I also think we're missing out on a lot of value by starting from that place. So, I recently had an experience with a donor who came to me, and they were trying to understand their philanthropic budget, and we went through a four-step process that we put together.

So, the first thing that I like to do in developing relationships with clients is to help them define their North Star, their values, and the core things they care about as it relates to philanthropy.

So, steps One

Step 2: Apply those values, connecting them to the causes that they care about. It could be environmental because it could be something related to the community. And then, what are the catalysts for those causes? So, are they giving because of a natural disaster? Are they giving because of a personal appeal and then defining a budget? So, what is our philanthropic budget for the year? It's a really important topic of conversation and something that we're going to define within the Bernstein framework. 

Step three: Let's create some better outcomes. What we did with this client was align their investments with the time horizon for their gifts. Sometimes clients will want to give multi-year gifts. Sometimes they know that that campaign is coming up in the future, and they want to be able to match that campaign to a certain time. The other piece of it isn't aligning how you invest with the cause. So maybe the investments you're making are related to the mission of the organization that you want to benefit, and then, of course, selecting tax-efficient investments is important. That could be low-basis stock, which people also talk about. But as part of the content that we've been sending out, giving as part of your required minimum distributions from a retirement account is an effective way to gift if you don't need that money for your lifestyle.

And then the fourth piece of it that I do with my clients is to track their progress.

Did they meet their objectives? If not, do we need a course to be correct? Or do we need to change the goals? And that whole process for me, it's usually a series of two or three meetings, but for others listening to this podcast, it really can just be a 15-minute conversation with yourself.

So that's kind of what? I've been doing it later if that answers your question.

It certainly does and I've been lucky enough to receive the regular e-mail updates you have all this nice like it's the 5th step you have here. See, I did my homework.

Is it also your intention to inform your loved ones about your plans? So, so that other folks know where you're going and what you're going to do, and I like the four-slash-five-set plan that your firm has put together. It seems like it could be really helpful if you experienced any time when those steps were taken. Nothing is ever in, you know, it's never that simple, right? When you've worked with someone where it's been challenging, any of those steps have been challenging and you've helped someone get through some of those challenges to see the other end and still be able to do a good giving strategy,

Yeah, I'm thinking about a case. You know, a lot of times I ask clients, especially new clients that are coming in after a liquidity event if they sold their business like we were talking about later, and they have an idea. There's this central concept that this one person had, and I think a lot of people have, which is that at the time they had this great good fortune happen to them. They also want to be able to give back at the same time. And so, this person wanted to give in the year that they had success, but they didn't know where yet. They didn't even know their passions, and they needed to define them. 

So, what did we do in that case? very simple. We weren't able to go through all five of those five steps correctly, and certainly not in the right time frame. So, we reserved that money and there are opportunities to do that through a private foundation, through a donor-advised fund, to be able to take advantage of giving the money today but disburse it over a long time.

And in that case, I introduced that client to somebody like you so they could have a deeper conversation and have a consulting experience to define their passions in a meaningful way.

Jason, that’s great, that's great advice because I love the discussion around donor-advised funds or funds like that, and my friends at the Seattle Foundation and the Oregon Community Foundation, you know, they're experts on that kind of work where you can essentially create a daff and get a tax benefit and have some time.

I think that to think through how to be an effective giver, I think it's so important to have that buffer because you know you can't. You've probably seen this too. I mean, you can. I've seen people do more harm than good. But with their good intentions, they are just putting too much money into the system without considering how it can be most beneficial to the people who truly require assistance and support. So yeah, that's a great piece to talk about.

The community foundations, are so wonderful working with the Seattle Foundation, and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, with whom we have an event coming up in November, really wonderful resource for donors to be able to take the time to give time and have a facilitated experience around how to best allocate their dollars, and yeah, I just wanted to say that.

Yeah, yeah, no, that's why I'm glad you're emphasizing it. So, let's talk more about you. You're a firm. You're helping people give money away, but you're also a firm that helps with, it sounds like, the financial side a little bit. Two, can you talk about that as well? You know, I've seen this with other firms now as well.

I work exclusively on the giving side, not as much on the financial side of things, but I think that it's really interesting for my listeners to hear about your model, your business model, in terms of what you're doing.

Thank you for allowing me to share. So, Bernstein Private Wealth Management is a global research and investment management firm, and that's all we've done as an organization for 50 years.

So those two things we are not a bank, I think, and I kind of think about it. I mean, you could tell I'm excited about where I work. I think we're at Goldilocks in the investment industry because we have the size to do original research like what we've talked about in the non-profit space and family engagement, and we also offer direct access to markets as investors.

But we're also very client-focused in everything that we do, and it's about creating trust and deeper relationships with our clients. So, we do investment management, typically as a multi-family office. So, where's your chief, where's your outsourced? That's been an officer philanthropic advisor, but we may be a co-philanthropic advisor with someone like us.

We provide guidance on trust and estate planning on tax. I'm planning on helping with a family engagement like we've already talked about, and connecting the dots between multiple generations, even creating things like family mission statements. So, it's a full-service firm and investment management is the last piece that we do, which offers access to the market.

Yeah, that's it. I'm just looking forward to working with you more, Jason, on all these different things, because I just feel like there are a lot of synergies between what we do and how we complement each other in terms of that kind of work. And so, Jason, before we go today, do you have any other words of advice for donors who are thinking about giving money away effectively and thinking? I am thinking through these complex problems, and I would love to hear any other thoughts you might have before we go.

Thank you for the opportunity. Let's talk about donors. Charitable giving reached record levels during the pandemic. I think you know that, but unfortunately, all signs point to a dramatically different year this year. The market is down. There's a lot of economic uncertainty.

We've had some of the steepest losses in the market since 1970. On the nonprofit side, inflation is a big problem. We have the highest inflation we've ever had in 40 years. Wages are increasing. The cost of doing annual events is increasing by 25–50%. So, it's not all dire. Many people are doing well and saving money. So, my advice, wisdom, and possibly blessing to donors is to not take a step back reflexively. Engage in a process to understand how much you can give both in good and bad markets. And give that amount consistently.

So just to wrap that up, I would say don't let the economic bad vibes overwhelm your good intentions this year.

That is such a great quote, Jason. Thank you for that, and thanks for all your time today, and the best of luck to you. My listeners can have links to your website and how to get in touch with you and how to maybe get on the Web e-mail stream because you always have such great information there. Folks will look there and thanks so much for all your time again, Jason, and your words of wisdom.

Thank you, Sybil.