Balser Event Builds Philanthropic Culture

Balser Event Builds Philanthropic Culture

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

The upcoming Balser Symposium might not seem exciting: St. Louis lawyer Lawrence Brody will speak about the use of insurance in charitable planning.

But the program Friday morning, Jan. 29, for professional financial advisers is more than just a chance to learn about the sophisticated ways the wealthy can integrate life insurance as an asset into estate planning and philanthropy.

It’s also a chance for the United Way of Greater Atlanta, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s newly renamed Atlanta Jewish Foundation to pave the way for the growth of local philanthropy.

“As much wealth as Atlanta has, it’s not as philanthropic as, say, the Bay Area,” said Itai Tsur, the senior director of the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, which until this month was Federation’s Planned Giving and Endowment unit. “There’s just no history of really big philanthropy. We hope, with advisers’ help, to push people in that direction.”

Those professional advisers, such as estate planners, tax lawyers and money managers, are the target audience for the Balser Symposium, which in its 10th year is expected to draw 200 to 250 people. The symposium draws a consistent crowd each year because advisers know they will hear good speakers and can count on the event to fall at the same time each year, Tsur said.

The three large charitable organizations behind the symposium want to educate those advisers on the means and value of giving money to nonprofits and how donors can maximize the impact of their gifts, said Brent Eden, Balser’s chair. “How do we get people to change their minds and give more?”

“For us, it’s a numbers game: The more people we can expose to these ideas and kind of reinforce the need to talk about them, the better off all of the nonprofits in town will be,” Tsur said.

He said the three organizations can work together because they’re not competing for donations. “Our competition is consumerism. As Alicia Philipp, the head of the Community Foundation, once said, it’s that third cruise around the world that a wealthy donor chooses to take instead of learning about their own philanthropic interests and funding them.”

People get hooked on philanthropy, Tsur said, especially when they see the impact they can have on causes they care about instead of paying the money to the government as taxes. “It provides that sense of satisfaction that a new car would, but for a longer time,” he said. “It’s completely selfish, which is fine.”

The Balser brand has long included Erev Balser, a smaller, less formal dinner and discussion with the guest speaker the night before. Now the symposium organizers are adding the Balser Philanthropic Advisers Committee, or BPAC, a giving circle for a select group of perhaps 50 advisers.

Those who participate will pool money for donations, learn the criteria and follow the process the Atlanta Jewish Foundation uses to assess nonprofits, and decide which organizations receive contributions. BPAC will have a different theme each year, to be announced at the symposium.

“We hope they’ll enjoy the process … and discuss with their clients their own philanthropic giving,” Tsur said.

Eden said BPAC appears to be something unique in the nation, just as the symposium itself is. “As far as we know, there is not another educational symposium or event for financial professional advisers in the country that is presented by a collaboration of multiple major nonprofit organizations like this.”

He said the collaboration says something about the three organizations and about symposium founder Jack Balser.

The 10th annual symposium will include a presentation to Balser. Tsur said symposium planners wanted a big-name speaker as well, but the cost was prohibitive for three nonprofit organizations focused on wise financial planning and giving.

Besides, Brody is well known in his area of expertise, and with the right speaker, even life insurance can be entertaining. After all, life insurance for estate planning is all Eden’s firm does. “If it’s interesting to him,” Tsur said of the Balser chairman, “it’s interesting to our target audience.”

What: 10th annual Balser Symposium

Who: Estate planner Lawrence Brody

Where: Georgia Tech Global Learning Center, 84 Fifth St., Midtown

When: 7:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 29

Cost: $50, including parking;


What: Erev Balser

Where: Selig Center, 1440 Spring St., Midtown

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28

Cost: $25;

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