Those words immediately popped into Mark Weber’s mind when business magnate and investor Warren Buffett challenged the group of Omaha philanthropists to help make their community the most generous in the country.
Weber reflected on his 25 years as a successful financial advisor to answer Buffett’s challenge. The Creighton University alum had always made philanthropy a part of the conversation when working with wealthy families and individuals. He understood how vital an advisor’s role in helping clients understand the power of philanthropy and its impact on both donors, and the community.
Now, Weber felt committed to educating other advisors on how to navigate those conversations, giving them tools to confidently discuss incorporating philanthropy into tax, estate, and financial planning discussions.
Ten years later, Weber can proudly report back to the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway he succeeded in meeting his challenge of raising the level of philanthropy in Omaha by helping create a model for more strategically focused philanthropy for current and future generations. This movement continues to grow and gain momentum with each passing year.
“I approached the Omaha Community Foundation with the idea of partnering to host classes for professional advisors,” Weber said. “The curriculum we selected was from The American College of Financial Services.”
Students would earn the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®) designation by completing the nine hours of graduate studies. Since its inception, the program has produced 131 graduates, and Weber says these advisors are reporting that they are now more comfortable navigating philanthropic discussions with their clients and that their clients are finding more joy and satisfaction from their giving.
“When I started the program, I never considered the possibility it would continue this long,” he said. “The Omaha program has created a life of its own, and the momentum is strong.”
The small study group approach to learning makes Omaha’s program unique. Approximately 13 individuals are selected to participate each year, helping to create an intimate atmosphere where these accountants, attorneys, financial advisors, and nonprofit professionals learn alongside each other and share their individual experiences and knowledge while also growing their professional networks.
Weber estimates Omaha may have more CAP® advisors than any other city in the U.S., and the program’s success has led to other cities taking a similar approach.
The Omaha Community Foundation assists with the class administration and hosts the program. OCF President and CEO Donna Kush said the knowledge gained in the CAP® program is adding a whole new dimension to philanthropic conversations. More families are growing closer, and children will be better prepared when they receive inheritances.
“When you think of the multiplier effect of 131 professionals, the results are widespread impact,” Kush said. “Through the knowledge gained in the CAP® program, a whole new breadth has been added to client conversations.”
According to Weber, those improved conversations and the collaborative approach to learning are having an impact, and it’s measurable. He recently surveyed the Omaha program’s CAP graduates, and the responses indicated their clients have committed to giving more than $9 billion to charitable causes. It’s the second such survey Weber has conducted over the last ten years.
“Acknowledging the difficulty of collecting accurate information, we asked the attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors to isolate those client situations where their involvement may have favorably disposed the client to make a charitable gift,” Weber said. “Then, on a no-name basis, indicate the approximate dollar amount of the gift and whether it is a current gift, beneficiary designation, bequest by will, charitable trust, etc.”
The $9 billion amount stunned Weber. He followed up with several advisors personally to confirm the numbers he received. In reviewing the information, Weber believes several important factors have contributed to the impressive number.
“First, and most importantly, Omaha has a unique culture of giving back to the community, and we are blessed with some incredibly generous citizens. We have first-class counsel in our city, and clients tend to do their planning with local counsel,” Weber said. “Our program has attracted many of the top professionals in our city, and graduates are reframing the questions they ask and engaging clients in meaningful conversations.”
The strong results inspired Weber to write two books. The first, The Legacy Spectrum, was published about five years ago and was intended for advisors to share what they learned in the CAP® program with their clients in a non-technical way and help set the stage for future conversations. The book answers some of the questions Weber consistently heard in his years of practice. “How do I know when I have enough?” “How much should I leave my children?” “What will my legacy be?”
Through client stories, worksheets, and sample letters, the book helps guide conversations on what being a good steward of philanthropy means for each family and reinforcing its values for the next generation.
Weber’s second book, A Spectrum of Legacies, was recently published and again takes a similarly simple approach, using laypeople’s terms to help people consider how they will pass on their wealth. It is being distributed to advisors across the country looking for a way to begin initiating conversations about philanthropy and values as a part of the estate planning process.
“A book is merely a tool,” he said. “But I’m excited to see the influence it may have on traditional estate planning.”
The American College of Financial Services was particularly excited and interested in Weber’s latest literary effort. In a new partnership, the book is being used to develop an e-learning course to distribute to a wider audience.
“I hope that this information will find its way into the hands of individuals planning for the transfer of their assets to the next generation,” he said. “And parents will live the last years of their lives in a state of abundance and confident the money they leave their children will empower them to achieve their highest potential.”
What started as a challenge from one of the foremost philanthropists in the country ten years ago to make a more generous community has developed into a rapidly changing culture of estate planning under Weber’s watchful eye. The results are stronger families more focused on generosity.
“The ripple effects of his efforts will never be measurable. But it is incredible, and as significant as any monetary donation he could have made,” Kush said.