Every year, Simon Quick Advisors sponsors a golf tournament from which all proceeds are donated to a local charity in New Jersey. Any employee can nominate a charity of their choice, and submissions are reviewed by the Management Committee, which selects the ultimate recipient. Over the years, Simon Quick has raised more than $700,000 for local charities through these golf tournaments. Past recipients have included Bonnie Brae, Nourish.NJ, Covenant House NJ, and JBWS.
The annual golf event is but one example of the multiple ways in which the financial advisor’s culture is imbued with the spirit of philanthropy and volunteerism. Simon Quick management encourages employees to participate in non-company sponsored volunteer activities by providing them with paid time off for such endeavors. One of the company’s core beliefs is that serving local communities, both financially and through active volunteerism, is a key part of its responsibility as an organization.
The philanthropic DNA in Simon Quick’s culture was instilled from the top. Managing Partners—Peter Simon, Les Quick, and Joe Belfatto—are extremely generous donors to charitable causes, active volunteers, and members of numerous boards of charitable organizations. Through leading by example, the three leaders have influenced the firm’s employees and the way in which its financial advisors interact with clients. Let’s hear their stories.
As with so many of our core values, philanthropy is typically inculcated in children by their parents. “I always saw my father put money into the collection basket on Sunday,” recalls Les, who was expected to follow suit when he earned some income from delivering newspapers. By the 1980s, his father was wealthy enough to donate generously to education, health, and religious causes. His parents established a charitable foundation, for which Les and his six siblings consulted on where donations should be made, and ultimately served on boards of the causes to which they contributed. Thus, giving back was a practice he valued from a young age. "All people deserve respect, and I have been very fortunate in my life. But for the grace of God, I could fall on hard times or be in need of a handout, something that I frequently remind myself' Les says.
Peter had an excellent role model in his father, William E. Simon, who earned a considerable fortune in the 1980s as a pioneer in the leveraged buyout industry. Peter and his brother went to work for their father in 1988, and at close hand observed him giving to various charities and talking about nonprofit topics over the years. The William E. Simon Foundation over time has donated hundreds of millions of dollars. “My father was very appreciative of the good fortune he had—he earned it—and his charitable giving philosophy was to help the poor help themselves,” Peter says. He also recalls becoming inspired when he read “The Gospel of Wealth,” a seminal essay written by Andrew Carnegie that is considered a foundational document in the field of philanthropy.
Joe’s experience was a bit different. “Charitable giving became important to me as a result of my wife being diagnosed with breast cancer,” he says. “It opened my eyes.” Initially, he and his wife focused on donating to the cause of breast cancer. In 1997, Joe’s wife Deb Belfatto founded the North Jersey Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a national breast cancer organization. The couple dedicated significant time and money to the cause, and helped to raise over $20 million, 75% of which went back to the local community in the form of grants and 25% to national research. Joe recalls that, as they sought donations for Susan Komen, the potential donors they contacted drew them into their networks and introduced other charitable organizations, which is a very common pattern in charitable fund raising.
Investing Both Time and Money
One thing all three agree upon is that the practice of philanthropy confers many rewards. “There is psychic income from it; you meet a lot of wonderful people doing the same thing that you are,” says Les. Joe says he finds philanthropy very gratifying, particularly when he can observe its impact on the lives of recipients. “It becomes part of your being, how you think about your life, time, energy, and financial resources.”
Not surprisingly, all three partners taught their own children to value charitable work. “The sooner you can start getting your kids involved in philanthropy, the better,” says Joe. Peter recalls how he used to discuss different charities at the dinner table, including the reasons why he supported some and not others. He made certain to bring his kids to dedication ceremonies for different charities to which the Simon Foundation had donated funds. Indeed, running a foundation as a family can help to bring and keep a family together. “It’s been a glue for us, as a family all working together to accomplish dad’s wishes,” says Peter. “It’s been very fun.”
Contributing to charity is good, but investing time and energy is also important. Les remembers his father telling him, “It’s probably more important and valuable to give your time than just writing a check and not caring about it.” He estimates that he spends about 15% of his time on charity. Joe observes, “It’s most impactful when it becomes part of your everyday life. Think about it that way.”
Peter says he spends about 8% to 10% of his time on Simon Foundation work and another 20% to 30% participating in volunteer work at charities and serving on multiple boards. He looks at charity as almost a business, and he takes the same rigorous approach in analyzing the mission statements, governance, and efficiency of charities that he would in studying a potential investment. “Efficiency is really important to us,” he remarks. “We don’t want more than 10% going to administrative costs, and we prefer 5%.”
Different Causes for Different Folks
There are innumerable charities, of course, and donors are passionate about different causes, whether it’s education, the arts, medicine, or reduction of poverty or other noble social goals. For example, Les donates generously to his alma mater, St. Bonaventure University, and is proud to say that he was the youngest-ever board member of the university. “The lives it’s touched over the years is very satisfying to me,” he says. The arts center on campus is named after Les’ mother, and his donations have enabled many first-generation college attendees to matriculate at the university. Another one of his favorite causes is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hudson, Essex & Union Counties (for which he sits on the board), whose programs dramatically boost participants’ high school graduation rates. “A mentor opens up a new world to them; it’s life changing for a lot of these kids,” he explains. Philanthropy is an integral part of Les’ life every year. “It will be much more fun to give it away while I’m alive than when I’m dead,” he quips.
The Simon Foundation makes hundreds of charitable gifts each year, which Peter says are principally for education, faith, and family bolstering. The Simon Business School at the University of Rochester is named after his father. He contributes to causes addressing addiction, abuse, hunger, and family-building—largely through Catholic Church-based programs—in needy areas such as the Bronx. Simon family donations also funded the Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center.
Working with Clients
As an advisor to high net-worth individuals and families, Simon Quick carefully integrates charitable giving into comprehensive client financial plans that include investment, tax, and estate planning. Most of the firm’s clients are already charitably involved, but some may need a bit of coaching. “Philanthropy is not a natural thing; it’s got to be taught,” says Les. Joe remarks that some people want to be philanthropic but haven’t identified a cause. To help guide clients towards appropriate charitable causes, advisors might inquire what—apart from work—they are truly passionate about, which will start a discussion. To provide real-life examples, partners and advisors can speak from their abundant personal experience. “I tell them what I did and hope it plants a seed,” comments Les.
Most clients have become wealthy through hard work, whether by starting and building a business or serving as a corporate CEO. Peter says he prefers for them to become involved in philanthropy in their wealth accumulation phase. “I believe it’s your responsibility as a steward of wealth to use some or all of it to help others,” he says. “We do what we tell others to do and lead by example.” Joe looks at it like this, “You have your business core values and your personal core values. The philanthropy one is personal.”
The firm advises clients on all types of charitable trusts and foundations. Typically, Simon Quick will recommend that a client set up and contribute to a donor advised fund (DAF) at a custodian such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab. A DAF permits people to take a tax deduction when contributing assets, which then compound in value in an investment account prior to donation to a charity. Not surprisingly, the partners also encourage clients to bring their children into the picture. Les and his wife Eileen, for instance, funded a DAF that his four kids manage the investments and donations for, which was a way of teaching them to work together.
Therefore, whether it’s large-scale donations by the partners, active volunteerism by the employees or the routine discussion of philanthropic causes with clients, Simon Quick Advisors is an organization permeated by the spirit of charitable giving of time and money. As Peter puts it, “We’re in the business of giving 12 months of the year.”
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