The Super Bowl may be top of mind for many Atlantans the first weekend in February. But for financial and legal experts intent on making a positive impact on their communities, there’s only one name that matters: Balser.
Now in its 13th year, the annual Balser Symposium arrives at The Georgia Tech Global Learning Center, just down the road from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on February 1 and is one of the largest networking and educational events for charitable giving geared toward professional advisors (such as estate planners, tax lawyers and money managers) in the community.
Named in honor of Federation’s previous longtime Endowment Director Jack Balser, the Symposium is a joint effort between Atlanta Jewish Foundation (AJF), Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta.
However, the full scope of Balser’s mission isn’t limited to the Symposium alone. Under the umbrella of the Balser Professional Advisor Committee (BPAC) are the Symposium, the Philanthropic Advisor Leadership Institute (PALI), and the BPAC Giving Circle.
Every year, through these three disparate but complimentary avenues, Balser accomplishes two things: (1) Teaching advisors how to steer their clients toward good causes, and (2) making sure that advisors themselves can nourish their souls through giving back themselves.
Every year, the BPAC Giving Circle votes to award a $25,000 grant to an organization within a particular area of philanthropy. In 2017, the cause was Our House, an agency which offers services and housing to families experiencing homelessness. In 2018, the Boys & Girls Club of Thomasville Heights.
This year, they’re furthering the work of the eco-conscious Greening Youth Foundation, whose mission is to “work with diverse, underserved and underrepresented children, youth and young adults in an effort to develop and nurture enthusiastic and responsible environmental stewards.”
In many ways, of course, Symposium is the keystone.
Over the years, this major convening has evolved into an opportunity for financial and legal advisors to not only gain the requisite professional credits in their field, but also to broaden their understanding of need on the ground.
Out-of-the-box discussion highlights over the years have included Los Angeles-based Rabbi Steven Leder’s address on ethical wills in 2015, as well as the 12th Balser presentation in early 2018 on how generosity fuels personal fulfillment, led by Dr. Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?
“We have tried to morph the Symposium, to give it its own flavor and brand,” said former Foundation Vice President Itai Tsur, who helmed AJF from 2012 through 2018. “We have tried to be a little different about what we try.”
The ethical wills session by Rabbi Leder three years ago, Tsur said, was a “watershed moment, because it told us we don’t have to do the same event everyone else is doing. We can be a little more risky.”
This year is no exception, as Balser continues the trend of bringing in nationally recognized speakers with provocative topics to share with like-minded professionals.
On Thursday, January 31, Erev (the night before) Balser, will give attendees the opportunity to hear widely acclaimed presenter Marc Pollick, President and Founder of the Giving Back Fund, a national non-profit that “encourages and facilitates charitable giving by professional athletes, celebrities, high net worth individuals, existing nonprofit organizations, corporations and others who truly desire to give back.”
Pollick’s life story and trajectory is fascinating. Before he started the Giving Back Fund, he had already built an illustrious career in academic Holocaust Studies, working with Nobel laureate and survivor Elie Wiesel and founding The Elie Wiesel Institute for Humanitarian Studies.
Then, for Friday morning’s Balser Symposium keynote, speaker Margaret Hall, CEO and Founder of The GreenLight Fund, will give an address entitled, “Rising Up: Building a Strong Atlanta Together.”
The GreenLight Fund has pioneered an exciting five-step approach to philanthropic investing called the “Greenlight Method,” which looks at most urgent areas affecting a community, leverages the expertise of a Council comprised of “for-profit and nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and academics,” and identifies new solutions to these problems by investing where it will make the most impact.
As it turns out, the collision of the Balser Symposium and the Super Bowl on the same weekend actually isn’t as random as it might first seem, Tsur says.
“The Super Bowl only exists because you have a partnership between the city and the business communities,” he said. A similar dynamic exists between philanthropic giving, advisors and their clients, as seen in GreenLight’s strategy.
And Pollick, of course, has worked with a great number of star athletes, including football players, to ensure their ability to protect and sustain their charities.
So, while it may not boast a halftime show with Maroon 5, the Balser Symposium has plenty of team spirit, energy and investment behind it as well. With major impact areas both tangible and abstract, Balser is poised to carry Atlanta, and its legacy as a giving city, well into the end zone.
For more information about Balser, or to sign up to attend, click here.