Give It Away

Journal of Financial Planning; October 2014



Dan Moisand, CFP®, has been a practicing financial planner since 1991. He is a principal at Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo LLC in Melbourne, Florida, and former president of FPA and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Financial Planning.

The pages of this publication have provided us scores of articles extolling the virtues of financial planning as a true profession and predicting what it will take to achieve such recognition from the public. Among the items often cited that are important for the advancement of the financial planning profession is pro bono services. Some practitioner leaders even want to require some level of pro bono activity among planners. Lawyers have to donate some of their time and expertise. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath. Why shouldn’t planners also put themselves on the hook?

I am not going to implore readers to get involved in pro bono for the purpose of advancing the profession. Pro bono may indeed be that important to the profession, but I can think of many other reasons to participate in pro bono work that I find far more compelling.

The Power of Knowledge

Betty Quiroz is a survivor of both cancer and domestic violence. A licensed manicurist from Mexico City, she was struggling to the point where she and her two daughters were in a shelter for abused women. There, she learned of an organization called Women’s Initiative. Through them she learned to start, promote, and grow her own business. She learned how to navigate the American business system. More importantly, she gained self-esteem. Knowledge is what really empowered her to turn her life around. 

She is now the very proud owner of Yaquesita’s Nail Studio in San Francisco. Betty and her daughters are not just doing nails, they are paying it forward by training others. She recently expanded to a more spacious location and has been featured on Univision.

Jessica Nowlan was on her own at age 13. She has lived through periods of homelessness, group homes, and struggled to raise two kids as a single mother. When Jessica was 16, she was hired out of juvenile hall as an outreach worker for the Center for Young Women’s Development. When she later worked as a domestic violence counselor at Stand Against Domestic Violence, she started showing clients videos of success stories from Women’s Initiative. When funding for her position was cut, Jessica signed up for a Women’s Initiative business training program herself, even though it meant hardship because she would have to forgo public assistance.

Jessica’s dream was to build a company that would provide high-paying jobs for people like her looking to pull themselves and their families out of poverty. She had observed first-hand that they wouldn’t find these kinds of opportunities through traditional workforce development programs. 

Leaning on her days working as a payments processing sales agent, Jessica knew that many large banks use predatory practices that take advantage of small business owners. To put a stop to predatory practices and provide quality jobs, Jessica founded Hope Solutions in 2010 offering integrated payment technology and marketing services in Oakland, California and the Bay Area.

How Planners Help

Supporting pro bono efforts means supporting people with real financial planners. Women’s Initiative “fights poverty by building the entrepreneurial capacity of high-potential, low-income women.” Women’s Initiative’s programs are enhanced by pro bono financial planners helping these entrepreneurial women keep their personal finances in order. (Women’s Initiative programs are now being run by Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center.)

“I still have financial anxiety, but now I know that if the car breaks down, or the kids need new shoes, it isn’t going to break the bank; there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now,” Jessica said. “Since starting my own business, my confidence has gone way up. I find myself in rooms with people from top universities and firms, and it feels so good to be the one looked to for advice.”

The most compelling reason to participate in pro bono is to have a hand in helping people who might not otherwise solicit a financial planner. 

I had the pleasure to serve on the FPA board of directors with Louis Barajas, CFP®, who is known for being an uplifting force in the Latino community nationwide. I once asked him how he got lower income people to save money. He admitted it was difficult, but it can be done. If successful, developing that habit can have a great impact, but he called that a narrow view of pro bono work.

“Getting a guy who makes $20,000/year to save $2,000 is good and changes his situation,” Barajas said. “Now, if I can help that guy get the training, education, and support that enables him to make $40,000 a year, I transform his life.”

The planning profession can have enormous impact by partnering with community organizations and providing pro bono services. Women’s Initiative is just one of many organizations that receives grants from the Foundation for Financial Planning. Grants go to a variety of programs and initiatives, all designed to connect financial planners to persons in need. In addition to one-on-one programs, the foundation funds projects with leverage.

The organization Innovative Changes (IC$) in Oregon and southwest Washington state helps low-income individuals and families with financial needs achieve and maintain household stability. A lack of such stability can open a family up to terrible outcomes. 

To help more families, IC$ wished to establish seasonal financial empowerment clinics. The day-long events would be family friendly, open to the public, and focused on specific topics such as credit, long-term planning, or getting ready for tax time. The clinics intend to target disadvantaged and underserved communities including communities of color, single parents, female-headed households, and people with disabilities. IC$ wanted to connect community-based organizations with professionals.

Enter FPA of Oregon and SW Washington. This local FPA chapter has plans to create a financial empowerment clinic toolkit and website tools to be used before, during, and after events by volunteers and attendees, so the clinics can be replicated. This will lead to connecting more people in need with real professionals. That’s leverage.

Military-focused programs received some attention this summer. Congress tuned in to the alarming rate of suicide among servicemen and women that stems from troops’ financial issues. The Foundation for Financial Planning supports a number of programs serving the military and seeks opportunities to reach troops on a large scale.

More than 20,000 copies of Accomplishing Your Financial Mission, an informational financial management and planning workbook, released by the foundation and USA Cares, have been provided to organizations with more requested monthly. The Marine Corps Air Station Miramar distributed more than 500 copies in less than three months to servicemen and women across most military branches. The workbook is used in conjunction with the U.S. Marine Corps Standardized Personal Financial Management curriculum to help our soldiers and veterans better understand their personal finances. Prior to receiving the books from the Foundation for Financial Planning, the No. 1 request from class attendees was to have in-class examples and something to take home. The foundation filled that need. Even more leverage.

The Foundation for Financial Planning makes grants to FPA chapter pro bono programs. Check with your chapter—you may have a partner organization near you.
You may feel you don’t have time to deliver pro bono services directly yourself. I know the feeling. I found some time anyway, and my firm and I found the time to write a check. Do the same and your donation may be matched. You can even pay your pledge over time. 

The Foundation for Financial Planning is the only organization solely devoted to supporting pro bono financial planning. I may get a complaint that this column sounds like an ad for the foundation, but that doesn’t faze me because this is important—not just because it helps advance the profession—because it helps people like Betty and Jessica transform their lives and their communities.

General Financial Planning Principles