Financial Advisor Q&A: The Foundation for Financial Planning

The recent economic fallout has highlighted the financial insecurity many Americans face every day.

In 2019, nearly 40% of American adults surveyed by the Federal Reserve said they did not have enough savings to cover an emergency. By April 2020, the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of white adults and three-quarters of Black and Hispanic adults did not have enough savings to cover three months of expenses.

The unfortunate reality is that those who need the help of a financial planner the most are often the ones who can least afford it. That’s where organizations like the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) come in. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is devoted to supporting the delivery of pro bono financial planning and advice to at-risk populations nationwide.

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We spoke with FFP’s CEO Jon Dauphiné about his organization and how pro bono work can help financial planners and clients alike. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What does the Foundation for Financial Planning do? Why is your work especially important now?

Dedicated to powering pro bono financial planning, FFP has provided close to $8 million in grants to national and community-based pro bono programs, bringing help to almost 500,000 Americans. FFP has worked with partners to activate more than 22,000 financial planners to volunteer their time and talents and acted as a leader and catalyst to foster a rich tradition of pro bono service across the financial planning profession.

As millions of Americans are grappling with reduced cash flow, prioritizing debt, accessing newly available benefits and other issues that a pro bono planner can assist with, FFP’s mission to bring great financial advice to at-risk people has never been more important.

How does doing pro bono work for moderate- and low-income Americans help an advisor grow their practice? What other benefits do advisors get from doing pro bono work through the FFP?

Advisors who do pro bono work report that it helps develop their hard and soft skills by exposing them to new issues and types of clients, while at the same time positioning them as good citizens of the community. Many planners tell FFP that doing pro bono work reminds them why they got into this business in the first place and is among the most personally gratifying work that they do.

Data suggests that younger planners, female planners and planners of color are more passionate about providing pro bono service to those in need. This indicates that advisory firms that offer workers the opportunity to do pro bono (work) may be able to improve recruitment, engagement and retention of these demographics.

What time or other commitment is required of participating advisors?

There are a wide variety of pro bono programs in the country, and the time commitment can vary depending on the program type. For example, FFP grantee Britepaths, based in northern Virginia, offers one-hour financial clinics where underserved members of the community can meet for free with a financial planner. The firm has also initiated a financial mentoring program where an advisor may meet with a pro bono client monthly for up to a year and the volunteer can select the time commitment that is right for them.

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FFP’s Financial Planning for Cancer program requires approximately six hours of time per pro bono client, and advisors are asked to help two to three families per year. The CFP Board’s 2019 certificant survey showed that the average yearly time commitment for pro bono work was 31 hours.

For FFP-funded programs, we require that volunteers offering one-on-one planning and advice be a certified financial planner in good standing with the CFP Board, and that they take our free one-hour Pro Bono Financial Planning Volunteer Training — good for one continuing education credit. Many programs also offer volunteer opportunities to paraplanners or CFP students who work in conjunction with the CFP volunteer.

How would an interested advisor connect with your program?

Interested advisors can sign up to volunteer at FFP’s, where they can create a profile and browse volunteer opportunities posted by nonprofits. If they see something of interest, they can connect to the nonprofit, sign up and volunteer. FFP’s Financial Planning for Cancer program partner, Family Reach, has posted opportunities here, as have other nonprofits.

Is there anything else advisors should know about the FFP and the work you do?

As the nation grapples with (the recent) economic fallout, pro bono planning has never been more important. FFP provides a Coronavirus Pro Bono Planning Resource Center and printable guide. We’re rallying the profession to respond by developing new programs to help hard-hit groups like seniors and making emergency grants, and fueling all these efforts with our new COVID-19 Financial Resilience Fund. The Charles Schwab Foundation is currently matching all qualified gifts to the fund, dollar-for-dollar, making this a really easy way for advisors to have an impact on families that are struggling financially. They can learn more and donate at

What is the most important trend influencing your business today?

The pandemic has created a burning platform for FFP’s mission. Prior to the crisis, about 40% of Americans reported that they could not afford a $400 emergency expense. Those are the lower-to-modest income people who we assist. Today, millions of Americans without a financial cushion are struggling, shining an even greater spotlight on the need to plan and save and to have access to an expert who can help you do that.

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We believe that if the advisory sector responds to this great call to assist, we’ll power a pro bono movement in the profession that will lift practitioners while bringing desperately needed help to more American households.

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