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The charity connection

Matt Pais

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Swofford creates strong bonds with clients by coming together for good causes.
Photo by Kelly Myers

An 89-year-old client doesn’t know how to use Zoom. It’s not likely she will learn in time to virtually celebrate her great-granddaughter’s first birthday.

So Aleen M. Swofford, CLU, ChFC, got involved. Her team taught the client how to access the platform to participate in the practice’s virtual bingo event. Thanks to their help, the client got to attend both the social activity and the birthday celebration.

It’s incredible how many stories like this there are for the 32-year MDRT member from Knoxville, Tennessee. They show how her business — with three advisors and four administrative staff handling comprehensive planning for about 300 clients age 55 and older — creates the sort of warm, personal relationships that nearly every advisor wants but may not always achieve.

“When clients get to know you as people, they want to do business with you,” Swofford said. “Our average client’s been with us over 15 years. That says a lot.”

What drives these relationships? Let’s start with the virtual bingo event. After Swofford’s team member found the online game for purchase, Swofford reached out to a top client with a very active social group (many of whom are Swofford’s clients via referrals) to get their take on the idea. The client loved it and incorporated the game into a regular Thursday afternoon virtual happy hour. Soon Swofford expanded the games for any interested clients, creating new bonds between people who didn’t previously know each other.

We want to enlighten people about what these organizations do in their community and see if we can reach some of our clients who are looking for meaningful activities.

That also happened as Swofford, who is on the board for an organization called Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT), started a fundraising event for which several clients volunteered. Through those efforts, the clients have now integrated into their respective social circles, creating a support system for each other and their four-legged children. And the auction itself raised $30,000 to expand the organization’s programs, one of which brings animals into senior centers and connects children who won’t read out loud to people with animals (who they will read to). All together they’ve raised more than $150,000 for HABIT.

In fact, Swofford’s 8-year-old Cavachon named Eli often spends time at her office, and he previously had a “Yappy Birthday” party at a doggy day care that was attended by 30 clients and 15 of their dogs. For the event, Swofford also brought in two charitable organizations.

“We want to enlighten people about what these organizations do in their community and see if we can reach some of our clients who are looking for meaningful activities,” Swofford said. “I never thought of philanthropy as a means of acquiring clients, but when you share a passion with another person, there is a natural attraction.”

It’s not hard to see how Swofford makes this happen when you learn how she got started in the financial services profession 36 years ago. She was serving on a nonprofit board when the executive director was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Fortunately the director’s financial planner had helped establish enough life insurance that her then 8-year-old son could maintain his lifestyle and attend college.

“I saw the career path that the advisor had taken as one of significance, that had the ability to positively change lives, provide security and create peace of mind,” Swofford said.

Those priorities have benefited Swofford, her clients and the broader community in so many ways. At holiday parties, she used to give away items like pens and golf balls that she knew clients might not use. Now, Swofford instead asks clients to suggest charities to incorporate into the event. This led, to name just a few examples, to clients donating more than 100 winter coats for kids,
as well as toys, books and much more.

At the parties, client musicians perform holiday and dance music, and Swofford invites clients to write down their favorite charity and their connection to that organization. Then three charities are drawn out of a bowl of names, and the practice makes a $100 donation to the charity in the client’s name.

“They love supporting their charity, and their charity now knows that our practice cared about their clients enough to ask them what was important to them,” said Swofford. She encourages other advisors to think about what they’re passionate about, ask what their clients are passionate about and then figure out how to take action in their community.

A virtual philanthropy event for the local food bank raised $1,000 by inviting clients to a webinar and encouraging them to invite friends, with the practice donating $10 per client and another $10 for the friend.

“We got to meet a few new people, which is one of the most difficult things to do during COVID-19,” Swofford said.

They also send out a local bakery’s famous lemon cookies for clients’ birthdays. That might even include folks who are no longer clients, like an older couple who moved their assets from Swofford’s practice to a national operation that the out-of-state children dealt with.

“They are people that we cared about, and we want to continue to let them know we still do,” Swofford said. “Whether clients are in our office or we’re seeing them virtually or we’re delivering mailed items, we want them to know that they are valued and are our most important asset.”

Contact: Aleen Swofford


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