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The Profound Impact of Strategic and Personal Philanthropy With Ron Cohen

In this episode of the You Can’t Take it With You podcast, our very own Jim Dunlop sits sits down with Ronald (Ron) A. Cohen, Financial Planning Specialist at Clarity Financial Planning Group, to explore the profound impact of strategic and personal philanthropy. They discuss how generosity can ripple through individuals and organizations, creating a positive chain reaction of giving. Tune in to discover how Ron’s insights can inspire and guide your philanthropic journey, making a difference that extends far beyond monetary contributions.

The podcast comes out weekly, so make sure you go on over to https://canttakeitwithyou.com/ or your favorite podcast platform to listen!

Ronald (Ron) A. Cohen is a Financial Planning Specialist at Clarity Financial Planning Group, a member of the Northwestern Mutual Private Client Group. The group is known for providing comprehensive wealth management and financial planning strategies for individuals, families, and business owners, focusing on an integrated approach to protect and grow wealth. Ron has nearly four decades of experience fostering trust and generosity in his professional relationships. He’s committed to creating passionate investors whose contributions make a significant impact. Born and raised in Chicago, Ron spent around 30 years in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, working in higher education and philanthropy, before settling in Ashland, Oregon with his wife, Jessica. An accomplished marathon runner, Ron’s dedication to preparation, patience, and persistence is evident in his approach to financial planning and acts of generosity.

In this episode, Jim and Ron discuss:

  • Ron’s decades-long journey of generosity and philanthropy
  • Non-linear charitable planning and understanding donor motivations
  • How donors can effectively engage with organizations
  • The impact of small acts of kindness and connection
  • The value of asking questions to build relationships and understand perspectives
  • Pitfalls and mistakes in communication

Episode Summary:

How can strategic and personal philanthropy create a profound and lasting impact on individuals and communities alike? What role does open and empathetic communication play in building meaningful relationships between donors and charitable organizations?

According to Ron Cohen, a seasoned expert in philanthropy with nearly four decades of experience, the key to transformative philanthropy lies in genuine connection and strategic thinking. Ron emphasizes the non-linear nature of charitable planning, where life events can spark new thinking and motivations for giving. He also highlights the importance of asking questions, seeking understanding, and avoiding surprises in the world of philanthropy,  underlining that effective communication and empathy are the foundation of successful and rewarding philanthropic endeavors.

In this episode of You Can’t Take it With You, host Jim Dunlop sits down with Ronald (Ron) A. Cohen, Financial Planning Specialist at Clarity Financial Planning Group, to explore the profound impact of strategic and personal philanthropy. They discuss how generosity can ripple through individuals and organizations, creating a positive chain reaction of giving. Tune in to discover how Ron’s insights can inspire and guide your philanthropic journey, making a difference that extends far beyond monetary contributions.

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by Advent Partners — a financial planning partner dedicated to helping you make informed decisions that simplify your financial journey. 

Our seasoned team of professionals is committed to guiding you toward your financial goals. We offer tailored solutions based on your specific needs, from standalone financial planning to integrated financial management.

Whether you are planning for the future, investing for growth, or navigating financial hurdles, Advent Partners is here to provide insights, recommendations, and a clear financial roadmap.

To learn more about Advent Partners and how we can guide your financial success, visit AdventPartnersFP.com.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:00

Welcome to the You Can’t Take it With You show where we feature stories around generosity designed to inspire and encourage others to do meaningful things in their communities. Now, here’s your host, Jim Dunlop.

Jim Dunlop 0:17

Hi. Jim Dunlop here, a wealth advisor and host of the show where I sit down with people who get it when it comes to generosity. I’m excited to have guests who can give us stories on generosity to not only inspire our listeners, but to give us practical ideas on ways we can give. Today’s guest is Ron Cohen. But before it gets to Ron, let me share that this episode is brought to you by Advent Partners. Get ready for good. Advent is a financial planning team dedicated to helping you make informed decisions that simplify your financial journey. Advent’s seasoned team of professionals is committed to guiding you toward your financial goals. We offer tailored solutions based on your specific needs. From standalone financial planning to Integrated Financial Management, we help our clients get ready for good. Whether you’re planning for the future investing for growth or navigating financial hurdles, Advent Partners is here to provide insights, recommendations and a clear financial roadmap. To learn more about Advent Partners and how we can guide your financial success visit readyforgood.com. Today’s guest is Ron Cohen. Ron has been in the business of trust, generosity, and helping people for nearly four decades. He was born and raised in Chicago and spent about 30 years in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, working in higher education, philanthropy and now lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife, Jessica. As someone who has run 14 marathons, Ron understands the value of preparation, patience, and persistence, all of which can be really shown in acts of generosity too. Ron and I first met during my college days and spent a lot of time talking about career options. Ron is now an entertaining professional change, and is consulting with me about options. It’s a virtuous circle. So welcome, Ron. And let’s start off, could you give me a brief three-minute auto biography of Ron Cohen?

Ron Cohen 2:13

Thank you for having me. And yeah, beyond what you just said, you and I have known each other, over 25 years, probably closer to 30 years now. Now, maybe not that many. Because I was the vice president for advancement or fundraising at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. And that is where I was deeply involved in fundraising in ways that just let me become connected to people who were charitable, who were interesting people and whose motivations were kind of all over the map. And it was fun and continues to be fun as a consultant to try to kind of understand where those motivations come from, and why and how, you know, so many people are just attuned to wanting to be helpful. So that sort of did my day gig for a lot of years. I also referee high school soccer games on the side, where it is increasingly frustrating to run slower than 13- and 14-year-old girls, but you know, that’s my stage in life right now. And I love being here in Oregon with Jessica and our daughter, Sarah is a couple hours up the road from us. It’s been great, except when the wildfires burn out west. And I won’t trouble you with that. But thanks again for having me.

Jim Dunlop 4:05

So we’ll jump right into it here. I think as we were preparing for today’s show, you’ve had used to align and I’d like for you to maybe delve into this and it’s the idea of the non linearity of charitable planning and thinking about how life events spark new thinking and tell me a little bit about your thought on that non linearity idea.

Ron Cohen 4:34

So, you know, with and I’m going to start with the higher education frame because from a fundraising place, we start to think about people connected to a college or a university as prospective donors, sort of from the minute they walk across the graduation stage. While they are probably in the main least prepared to be doing that sort of thing, because they’re just getting started, they’re paying back. Student loans have other obligations, and yet they’re not uncharitable. It’s just that time needs to run its course in order for them to, I think, develop a capacity and an understanding and appreciation of what they can be doing. And, you know, we would see that happen as people got married, people had families, people became ill, and needed help and support in ways they could never have imagined and it changed their thinking, and their planning. And, you know, all the way up through the death of loved ones and friends. And, you know, it’s, I think, just generally, at a pace throughout your life that you can’t take it with you. And so what are you going to do, and at those moments when that message really starts to hit home? And so, you know, the other way I would describe it for you is I have been in so many conversations about giving with donors where their initial response has been, nope, that appreciate your asking, but no. And what happens, in many cases is getting a little bit deeper understanding of the know, helps to make clear that there’s still a path forward. And even and even when there doesn’t appear to be a path forward. Sometimes people would come back, and a year or two or five years later and say you remember that conversation we had a couple of years ago? And I told you no. Well, I just wasn’t ready to say yes, but way more ready to have the conversation now. And so that’s, that’s what I mean by the non linearity.

Jim Dunlop 7:33

So let’s, let’s flip the tables and say, I’m somebody that is interested in organization, or I’m involved in an organization. How do we? What are effective ways for folks who are connected in some way to all call it increase the likelihood of happy outcomes? And what I mean is, what will be the evidence that helps me see that my giving is making a meaningful difference? How do I as a giver? Or what should I be looking for in how do I connect with an organization to feel like I’m making a gift? And is it really making a difference?

Ron Cohen 8:18

Yep, yep. And so, you know, this is a tricky spot. Because for many people, the way they begin to give and support an organization or a program that is important to them, is with something small, in terms of dollars, right, I might be able to send 50 bucks or 100 bucks. And, you know, there are lots of organizations that receive a lot of those kinds of gifts. And so, you know, what you’re looking for, as the donor at that point, is probably low in terms of expectations, but still important. Like, you want to know that your organization has received what you said, and acknowledged it in a timely way, right? If you’ve sent something on Tuesday, and especially if you send it online, you ought to have something in your email inbox right away. And then it would be nice if you had something that came from a person within a couple of days that would tell you that people are paying attention and start to give you a sense that these are good stewards of gifts that are coming to them. I think where that goes next is if someone decides, I think I’d like to do more here, and they’re seeing in publication shins or maybe videos or you know, whatever the content may be that this organization really does seem to be making a difference. So I’m going to give them a little bit more, then I think your expectation as a donor should be higher in terms of the stewardship that the organization provides. And that you might get a call. Or you might get something in writing that feels a bit more personal than the kind of mass communication that you get back that just acknowledges a smaller gift. And over time, if you really are feeling like this is the place where I think I can make the greatest difference or one of them, right. You want to be talking with somebody at the organization, and having opportunities to look each other in the eye, and kind of go deeper than the checks or the stocks or, you know, whatever your gift vehicle is, and really get a sense of kind of value alignment or values align that trust, leadership, direction vision. Because that, for many people, is the combination of things that gets them excited. And that encourages them to kind of be all in in terms of their charitable activity, which I would say at that level. You or the donor probably considers it as much an investment as a guest. You know, there are expectations that investors have when they put money into investments. And I believe the more charitable organizations can think that way on the receiving the better they do with those individuals or organizations that are putting their trust and faith in the organization with their resources.

Jim Dunlop 12:23

So, Ron, this is a show, again, about generosity. And we’ve been talking about that. Do you have any stories from your work? Almost four decades, or maybe more than four decades in this space? That that kind of bring that idea together? That, you know, where somebody’s generosity became a good investment for them?

Ron Cohen 12:48

Yep. Yeah. Yeah, so this is a story from the university. And it started with the notion that, well, you’re familiar with students who go on internships, and those kinds of work experiences that contribute to their learning, right. And for a long time, internships were the purview of business and business students. And, you know, if you wanted an internship, that’s where you needed to go. And, you know, from the University side, we started raising the question of what about all the non-business students? What about humanists and scientists? And you know, where the opportunities are just political scientists. Case in point? How do we think about creating the same sorts of opportunities for them, and especially when in many cases, the types of organizations that might welcome them are not resourced in ways that, you know, could afford to pay them or provide housing or, you know, whatever the they would create a financial burden. And so we started to develop the thinking out and the president and I went to visit a graduate of the university, he ended up becoming one of the principal donors, where what got him in our conversation was when we said, you know, we have students who are making decisions about should I work the summer in the public library helping, you know, younger students, or am I going to flip hamburgers? And they were making the hamburger flipping choice because it was helping them pay for their college education, right. And this gentleman’s eyes just lit up. And, you know, he was like, I’m in, I get it. And fortunately, we had a second, it was a couple, we had two couples who both reacted the same way. And they gave in ways that they wanted, you know, they wanted to do some experimenting, but they also wanted to see a permanent impact, because they felt like it was headed in the right direction. And so we ended up with a permanent endowment fund, and that, you know, every year would generate some amount of spendable income. And students got to apply for those dollars to support, internship, non-business internships, or research could be research experiences. And, they were great, and we do reporting. And what I wanted to share, that was sort of the exclamation point on it was, we began to have these donors come to campus in the fall and meet with the students who had the benefit of these experiences in the summer that just ended. And Jim, there was one of these where I think there were probably 20 students in the room. And, you know, keep in mind, these are students who are getting anywhere from maybe 500, to $1,500. So we’re not talking a lot of funds. But the gratitude that those students expressed, and you know, we did it in a program sort of ways, so that they were talking to the donors was so meaningful that when, you know, we asked the donors, if they wanted to share anything back with the students, that they broke into tears, they just were so overwhelmed, seeing the good that was coming from what they had decided to do, that it brought tears to their eyes. And that’s the point at which we knew we had created a good thing and, and understood how the value could be communicated.

Jim Dunlop 17:16

Well, a lot about this story is that, and I’ve heard this story before. But what I love about it is, you know, this is a gift to the university, it directly benefits the students, but it also benefited the organizations, probably many of whom were nonprofits, and so on doing work in their community. So the student that goes out and works in the library is bringing value to these other organizations. So it just has an incredible rippling effect. And, you know, we’re not talking about billions of dollars, we’re talking about $500. Fifteen $100 payments that are sustaining these students over the summer. And it’s a return is more that return on investment is multiple, because multiple organizations beyond that the university have benefited. That’s pretty cool.

Ron Cohen 18:08

Yep, exactly.

Jim Dunlop 18:09

So I need to ask you, you’re telling me the story about your dad and the parking garage attendant.

Ron Cohen 18:18

So yeah, and you know, my dad was a pretty quiet, conservative guy. But he had this soft side.

Jim Dunlop 18:35

What was his name?

Ron Cohen 18:36

Bill, Bill Cohen. And Bill Cohen, excuse me, was a stockbroker for a lot of years. And you know, that term has, of course, gone away, in many respects. But my dad worked in Chicago. And for a while, was a commuter like a rail commuter, and then got to a place where he didn’t want to ride the trains anymore. So he drove, but he had to drive early because he didn’t want to get caught in traffic. And so he’d leave the house at six o’clock in the morning when he arrived, because if he left at 6:15, it was a 15-minute ride. Right. And, you know, there was an underground garage. He was, you know, right in the loop downtown. Excuse me. And so, you know, this was for a lot of years, and there was a year that I came home, I think I was in college. And I had gotten back early, and I showed up at his office and he was, you know, happily surprised that there I was, and we talked for a bit and he said, Well, let’s go home. And you know, kind of early for him because I was used to not seeing him home until 630, or something like that was about five o’clock. And I said, that’s great. So we walked out to the elevator bay, and just behind us was his boss, and his boss’s boss, so like the regional manager and the branch manager. And we said, hello. I’d never met these guys. And they, you know, said a polite hi, and then we’re in the elevator, and then we get off on the ground floor. And these two guys just raced away, you know, they just didn’t have any more time for us. So, my dad and I are about, you know, 100 yards behind them and going down the escalator and we get to the parking garage, and there’s a line that says, you know, 50 people along and waiting for the valets to, to get their, their cars. And so we’re, I’m talking with my dad, and one of the valets comes up, and says, Mr. Cohen, come, we have your car. So we walk to the front of the line, and we get in the car. And so what you don’t know, because I haven’t shared it, is when my dad would get to the parking garage at 6:15 in the morning, he always stopped to say hello to the valets, you know, somebody would take his car, but whoever else was there, he asked how their family was doing and how they were feeling about what was going on in their life. And I know that he connected with them in ways that not many people did, and I knew it for certain. And I forget what year it was. But the World Cup, it was 1994, the World Cup was in the US. And we had gotten tickets, and he had tickets that he couldn’t use. And so he went into work one day and asked the garage guys, “you guys use these because I can’t,” and they were just thrilled, you know, being able to go to a World Cup match was awesome. So as we walked to the front of the line to get the car, the looks on the faces of my dad’s boss, and his boss, were just priceless. And, you know, what I just took away and continue to take away is, it matters how you treat people. And there’s a direct, you know, effect on so many aspects of your life if that you just can’t know. And so take the time, say hello, check in with people. It’s the right thing to do. And you never know where it’s gonna lead.

Jim Dunlop 22:56

Yeah, that’s it. That’s great. And it clearly had such an impact on you. Because I think, you know, having known you professionally for a long time, that’s certainly part of your style. And, you know, I think one of the things we wanted to touch on today, too, is and probably connected to in coming out of the story is the idea or the value of asking questions. Your dad stopping and talking and asking these guys how they’re doing, how their families are doing. In knowing that, tell me a little bit more about the value of asking questions, particularly when it comes to generosity.

Ron Cohen 23:40

Yeah, I have sometimes wondered whether, like from the charitable organization side, and kind of over to the donor side. Like there’s often a wall that exists, and I think it’s, it’s kind of a lack of knowledge wall or just a lack of familiarity. You know, how does this work? How does the organization work? From, you know, the donor to the organization? Or I’m not sure I know. What is this donor’s life’s like, how do they work? I don’t know that. It’s always understood or valued or appreciated. And so, I have observed, and you know, come to believe that if people are willing to ask questions, even hard questions, what’s learned in the dialogue helps to diminish the size and the thickness of that wall, and just makes for better relationships. Um, and I, you know, have learned over time that, you know, sometimes there’s even value and asking permission to ask the question, right? It’s okay, if I asked you about this thing, because I’m signaling, I realize it may make you uncomfortable, or you may not want to talk about it, and I’m giving you license to come back at me and say, thanks so much for asking, I’d really rather not talk about it. And we avoid the discomfort of that. And I think, though, at the same time, we grow in appreciation for one another, because courtesy is being extended.

Jim Dunlop 25:43

So I think that’s so helpful. And I like, I mean, I like that idea; it is not anything new, but it’s so practical, that idea of can I ask you? Can I ask you about this? Or can I ask you a question about this? It can be very disarming, and the person can say no, and it’s probably a little less awkward than asking the question to begin with and leading to a bad place. So thinking about that, and in your time, or in working together? Is there a story of a pitfall or mistake, either that you made, or you saw made where perhaps good intentions went the wrong way? And it could have easily been avoided had there been maybe better communication or something like that?

Ron Cohen 26:36

How long is this podcast?

Jim Dunlop 26:42

Well, to the end of it here shortly.

Ron Cohen 26:49

Well, I’ll give you one and the specific example just kind of redounds out because it’s happened enough times that I think I’ve gotten better at it. But it’s kind of embedded in the notion of no surprises, sort of related to what we were just talking about. But I didn’t aren’t kind of in my early time at the university where I was part of the team that was preparing the president to go on a visit to a donor. And I had some information that I couldn’t even tell you now, Jim, why I didn’t get the information to the president. And when the president came back from the visit, he came to see me and said, “Did you know this?” And I said, “I did.” And he said, “Why didn’t I know?” And I didn’t have a good answer. And, you know, it wasn’t something that I withheld intentionally, I just sort of made a decision, that this maybe was not as important as other information that he needed to have. And it was a good, you know, many, many years later moment to realize that it’s not really about what I know, it’s kind of helping others to know what’s important for them to know, in order to be prepared in order to have a discussion in order to make good decisions. So I’ve always, you know, as a result, tried to be more generous and inclusive with information, rather than being exclusive and holding on to it.

Jim Dunlop 28:50

So Ron, I have one final question for you. And before we wrap up, I want to let people know that they can find you on LinkedIn is I think the best place and the handle on LinkedIn is Ronald A Cohen 1012. So look for Ron on and connect with him on LinkedIn. So as we wrap up, this has been a podcast about stories about generosity. When you think about it, who’s somebody that or is there a mentor somebody you admire? And, can you name them or just talk about them? And what’s some good advice that you’ve received from that person?

Ron Cohen 29:32

So many people come to mind. I think the one who I would lift up is the person who hired me and our university, Sara Kirkland. Were they and it’s funny because in ways what Sarah provided and what I learned from her or was the value of being prepared and organized, and not to assume things not to leave things to chance when you didn’t have to leave them to chance? I mean, there are times where it’s actually helpful to not have all the information right and walking into a conversation. But it’s those things. And then, you know, Sarah was so good on the follow through and the follow up and doing it all in ways that were deeply personal and meaningful. And I know because we’re still talking every once in a while that she retains connections and relationships to people who, you know, she first met on the job, so to speak, and who became dear lifelong friends so that that would be one and I appreciate the time. We spent close to 25 years together. Yeah. So be prepared. Be prepared.

Jim Dunlop 31:13

Very good. Well, thank you very much, Ron. We’ve been talking to Ron Cohen, truly a thought leader and philanthropy professional, and you can find him again on LinkedIn. It’s Ronald A. Cohen 1012. Ron, thanks for joining us.

Ron Cohen 31:29

Thank you, Jim.

Outro 31:31

Thank you for joining us to hear stories of generosity that remind us that you can’t take it with you. Visit our site at canttakeitwithyou.com for more details on today’s episode, and to subscribe to future shows.

Disclosure 31:48

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