More Than Money
Issue #25

Working with Financial Professionals

Table of Contents

“Getting All the Help We Need”

by Anne Slepian

My friend Sara would like to commit $15 million to philanthropy -- but she can barely find time to return my calls, much less take on this formidable project. Dan, who gives away $500,000 a year, longs to start an innovative foundation to support sustainable development, but his desk is buried so high with papers he can barely function. Janet joyfully gives $10,000 a year and wants to give more. She suspects she doesn't "need" one of her three million, but her financial records are in such chaos she can't balance her checkbook, much less calculate her surplus. For many wealthy people I know--myself included--what most holds us back from contributing more is not the lack of good financial professionals, but the simple embarrassing fact that our lives are unmanageable.

I could scream! We're letting our money pile up and not doing more with it, not because we don't care but because... We've got so many errands? We're inundated by clutter? We don't think we're important enough to help? Help could be readily available. Whether on a per-project or ongoing basis, we could bring competent, trustworthy, kind people into our lives to help us create order and workability.

Tracy Gary, who has advised women with wealth for 25 years, has witnessed people bloom by working with personal assistants. She warns, "Starting the relationship can be rocky, as the person with wealth works through whatever shame she carries about the dysfunction in her life. But as a trusting relationship grows, I've seen people's whole lives become lighter and happier. A good personal assistant is a real partner, someone who helps you articulate your priorities and stick to them, and who cares enough to facilitate your effectiveness."

Wendy shares her personal assistant, Chris, with three other women she met through a women's philanthropy network. "Chris works for each of us one day a week," Wendy Says, "She pays bills, runs errands, watches my daughter, and makes phone calls. Her personality is ideal for the job and for my family, and she makes a huge difference in my life. I pay her $45 an hour for computer financial work, and $25 an hour for basic jobs like running errands. I also work with a professional organizer ($75 an hour) on my taxes, sorting all my papers, throwing out old bills. Both assistants have helped free up my time so I can focus more on philanthropy."

Of course, it takes persistence to build the right relationships. After trying several personal assistants, my friend Jane now prefers a monthly bookkeeper. Dan finally hired a philanthropy assistant yet still needs an organizer for his paper chaos. As for me, I'm still squeamish about hiring someone to help with such things. I ask, "Shouldn't I handle tasks myself? Would hiring help replay a pattern of rich people pampering themselves? Or is NOT getting help re-enacting a pattern of isolation and self-protection that keeps many of us from being more effective?!"

As someone committed to using privilege effectively to make a better world, I question whether my inhibitions are shortsighted. If I spend $10,000 on getting help that enables me to contribute even $30,000 that I wouldn't have otherwise (not to mention to be a happier person and better leader), isn't that worthwhile? If I aim to accept the joys and responsibilities of having wealth, might learning to be a fair employer be one of them?

One thing is clear: for most of us who read this journal, it is fully within our reach to get all the help we need, both from financial professionals (lawyers, bankers, investment managers) and from daily-life helpers such as personal assistants and professional organizers. With skillful, sympathetic help to carry out all our tasks, we can be more powerful stewards of our resources, and increasingly, more fully and joyfully ourselves.

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