Volunteering is a noble way to spend your time; it can also provide opportunities to advance your career. If you work in finance, here are six charitable activities that could help you get something extra out of your donated hours.
Income Tax Assistance Programs
Peter Donohoe, a wealth management specialist for PRW Wealth Management in Quincy, Mass., has been volunteering with Quincy Community Action Programs (QCAP) for seven years in its Income Tax Assistance Program. QCAP is a local nonprofit that helps low-income people become self-sufficient. Its tax-assistance program uses IRS-certified volunteers to help low-income taxpayers with tax counseling and with federal and state tax-return preparation.
Donohoe's experience shows how volunteering doesn't have to be about enhancing your profile. Instead, it can offer a training opportunity that will help you in your career. "Before volunteering, the only tax returns I had ever completed were my own," he says. "While I had reviewed client tax returns, I had never completed their tax returns."
At QCAP, Donohoe works on approximately 50 tax returns per year. He says volunteering has given him a knowledge of tax issues that has helped him to better serve his clients.
Tim Shanahan, president and chief investment strategist of financial advisory firm Compass Capital in Braintree, Mass., says volunteering to serve on a local nonprofit board makes the most sense. "You can bring a skill set to help them that they most likely do not have, and it gives you a chance to build relationships and showcase your talents," he says. Building your credibility and making new contacts through this opportunity can lead to professional referrals.
"In my community I've served on the boards and committees of my children's elementary and high schools and churches and a local social club as well as the yacht club that I belong to," Shanahan says. In the school settings, he typically volunteers with the finance committee to help set the budget and tuition. "It's a visible position and shows leadership in our community," he says. "I've gotten a higher profile within the community, which helps when people are looking for a trusted financial advisor." In addition, some of his volunteer positions give him the chance to advertise in bulletins or event programs. "My service motivation is first to help, but the professional exposure is a byproduct," says Shanahan.
Other opportunities to help charitable organizations include volunteering with gifting programs, estate planning and direct funding. "Volunteering helps the financial planner's business because of the annuities, life insurance and money management that is needed," says northern Virginia-based financial advisor Larry Rosenthal, who sits on the board of Youth for Tomorrow. "Most importantly, the types of charities should be ones that the planner is passionate about," he says.
University Venture Fund
"The best volunteer opportunities for financial professionals are programs like University Venture Fund, the country's largest student-run venture capital firm," says Chris Kilbourn, owner, CEO and CFO of TOFU Marketing, a full-service Internet-marketing company based in Salt Lake City. He says volunteering with UVF was the best decision he made as a finance major in college; the program's mentors have connections with venture capital firms, private equity firms and the like, which can help students get jobs.
UVF gives college students opportunities to work with professionals on live deals at top-tier investment firms like Accel Partners, Benchmark Capital and many others. It also offers experiences that help students learn how to identify successful companies. During his time with UVF, Kilbourn worked on lengthy investment memos in collaboration with a team, performed market analysis for a top-tier venture fun and conducted research on numerous markets and industries.
A Local Community College or University
A good place for a financial planner to volunteer is at a local community college or university, says Jacob Gold, an independent financial advisor with ING Financial Partners. He is a finance advisory board member for the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, his alma mater. "Financial literacy is extremely low, and the need for it is extraordinarily high," he says. Call different educational departments to see if they need assistance.
Another opportunity at colleges and universities is volunteering to tutor students in math, economics, finance and accounting. "Over time, financial planners may be surprised by how much the educational department begins to ask for their opinions and insights," Gold says. Opportunities can emerge from this relationship as the school begins to trust you, he says.
Forums and Associations
Volunteering to host or speak at a forum gives financial professionals a chance to showcase their knowledge to a broad audience. For example, a financial advisor could speak about investment diversification at a public financial education forum. This exposure creates opportunities to attract new clients.
Amy Zhang, managing member of hedge-fund accounting firm Affinity Fund Services in San Francisco, serves as the board director of CalCPA's San Francisco Chapter and board liaison to its scholarship committee. She also co-founded the Financial Entrepreneurs Forum, which hosts monthly events.
Zhang says she chose CalCPA, a professional association of certified public accountants, because it gives her access to leaders in the accounting profession, keeps her informed of critical industry issues and trends, and increases her credibility as a sole practitioner. She also enjoys working with CalCPA's scholarship committee. "All industries need highly qualified accountants, and one way to meet such demand is to help our best accounting students receive the education they deserve," Zhang says.
She co-founded the Financial Entrepreneurs Forum when she realized that as a financial entrepreneur, she wasn't alone in missing aspects of the corporate life like having coworkers to brainstorm with. "We hold roundtable sessions to talk about operational, legal, marketing, all the issues that we financial entrepreneurs share," Zhang says. "It's a place for me to understand the investment firms' business practices better and meet new people with similar mindsets."
Anywhere You're Passionate About
Matthew L. Forester, chief investment officer of Creative Financial Group in Newtown Square, Pa., offers a different perspective. He says financial professionals should not do volunteer work to advance their careers. "Don't do it to meet new prospects or clients. Don't volunteer for the prestige of belonging to a high-status organization. Volunteer to help an organization or an activity that you care about," he says. "You'll need passion for the organization and its goals to put the hours in on a volunteer basis."
Forester recommends seeking opportunities with smaller non-profits where volunteers can make a bigger impact. Board and staff roles often overlap in these organizations, he says, and the staff are overwhelmed with responsibilities. "The people you meet will likely be more grateful for your volunteer service, but don't volunteer for the gratitude you'll receive. By definition, a volunteer gives without expecting something in return," Forester says.
The Bottom Line
Financial professionals should choose volunteer opportunities that are in line with their personal and professional interests and beliefs, says Zhang. "It is a time commitment, and one can only receive if one gives," she says.