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An Interview with Bob Pittman, CAP®

An Interview with Bob Pittman, CAP®

The American College of Financial Services
September 10, 2020

Written by Laurie P. Morrow, PhD, CAP®


Why do we wait till someone has passed away to honor them?

That’s the question Seattle area attorney, talk radio show host, and Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®) Bob Pittman asked in frustration nearly 40 years ago.   

Bob and his wife Diane wanted to honor Al Hayes, the much-loved principal of Tacoma’s Stadium High School who had been forced into early retirement by a serious heart condition – and they didn’t want to wait decades for their wills to achieve this charitable giving end. With Bob in the early years of his law practice and Diane a teacher, they didn’t have the financial means to make a grand gesture of philanthropy. Was there some meaningful yet affordable way to honor Principal Hayes through planned giving before he – or they – passed away?

The answer was provided by nonprofits: specifically, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF), then in its infancy. With the Foundation’s help, Bob and Diane created their first planned giving venture – a scholarship fund named after Principal Hayes which would be administered through the Foundation.

Thanks to the GTCF’s financial planning savvy and commitment to helping people with modest means achieve their charitable giving goals, Bob and Diane were able to do what seemed impossible. With their initial gift of $1,000 and their promise to make annual gifts to the fund at this level, the GTCF was able to award the first scholarship within a few months and ensure it would continue to be awarded every year, meeting their highest aspirations for giving.

And so, a few months after meeting with the GTCF, and then every year until Principal Hayes passed away, Bob and Diane had the pleasure of bringing the man they had honored to Stadium High School’s annual awards assembly, where the scholarship created in his name was awarded to a student who was then able to thank the man who inspired such generosity.

This was not Bob’s only charitable giving effort. As Evelyn Ryberg, Senior Director of Philanthropic Services at the GTCF observes, Bob “makes [philanthropy] a part of everything he does” – including, for example, talk radio. Angered by scam artists selling low-grade annuities for a high profit to the elderly, Bob realized that part of this problem was the failure of attorneys and financial advisors – including himself – to help clients by educating the public about the law. The Letter to the Editor he wrote to this effect sparked multiple invitations to be an expert guest on Seattle talk radio. These appearances were so successful that Seattle powerhouse radio station and CBS affiliate KIRO offered Bob his own call-in talk show about legal issues. Through his show, Legal Line with Bob Pittman, Bob helped thousands of listeners comprehend the law relevant to whatever civil problems they were grappling with, such as landlord-tenant disputes or wrongful termination from a healthcare plan. Although Bob wouldn’t give legal advice over the air, listeners would come away from the discussion with a clearer understanding of their problem and the resources they could turn to for additional guidance.

Among the most unforgettable of the thousands of listeners who turned to Bob for help was the widowed father of an infant. Bob was broadcasting live, on location, from Seattle’s Kingdome sports arena, with the game in progress. Rather than take his chances calling in on the phone, the distraught man, clutching his baby, used some of his last few dollars to buy a ticket in the desperate hope that if he got to the stadium box Bob was broadcasting from and appealed to him in person, Bob might take his question – and Bob did. The newly widowed man, overwhelmed by his late wife’s medical bills, had fallen behind on his rent. When he returned to his apartment, he found his landlord had locked him out – an entirely illegal act that the landlord felt safe performing with the knowledge that his tenant didn’t have the money to hire an attorney and assert his rights. Bob was able to secure appropriate legal help from an area agency for this frightened and suddenly homeless father.

Bob’s efforts to educate the public about the law through his radio show were so successful the he was honored by the Washington State Supreme Court in a special Court Resolution. Bob also received the Excellence in Legal Journalism Award, conferred by the Washington State Bar Association, and the Consumer and the Law Journalism Award, presented by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.

Bob’s passion for philanthropy is also reflected in his law practice, which focuses on estate planning. Bob enjoys helping his clients find active ways for parents and grandparents to teach children about wealth management and philanthropy. “How else can you have so much fun for so little money?” he jokes. One such client – we’ll call her “Grandma Jane” – created a charitable giving learning experience Bob took part in which he found especially moving. Grandma Jane had given each of her three grandchildren $100. “You’re each the CEO of your own philanthropy,” she explained to them. “Find a charity where you’d like to spend that money.” The next time she got together with her grandchildren, she asked each child to tell the story of the charity the grandchild had chosen, explaining why they chose those nonprofits and what they would be doing with the $100.

What especially touched Bob was the field trip the family took to a clothing bank one child had chosen as the recipient of their planned giving. After leading Bob and Grandma Jane on a tour of the facility, the young donor announced, “Now [my classmate] doesn’t have to come to school in the same shirt every day.”

Bob is optimistic that Grandma Jane’s strategy will have lasting results, imagining warmly, “When Jane’s grandchildren are 50, what will they be like?”

In response to Bob’s account of this venture into philanthropy, Dien Yuen, J.D., Blunt-Nickel Professor at The American College of Financial Services and CAP® program faculty member, observed, “Never underestimate the power of the small planned giving gesture!”

In 2015, while serving as a Board Member for the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Bob learned about The College's CAP® program from Evelyn Ryberg, the GTCF’s Senior Director of Philanthropic Services. Evelyn had heard about the CAP® designation from colleagues at other community foundations and recognized how its unique curriculum could enhance her organization’s ability to serve their community. When Evelyn described the program to Bob and asked if he’d like to join her as part of the Foundation’s first cohort of students to pursue this continuing education designation, his response was an enthusiastic “Yes!” Both Bob and Evelyn were awarded their CAP® designation in 2016.

For Bob Pittman, what drives effective philanthropy isn’t wealth management or connections or technical expertise: it’s respect – respect for donors, for clients, and for the communities their charitable giving uplifts. Bob has become a champion of the CAP® designation program because the coursework reflects and promotes such respect among professionals across different segments of the philanthropic space. By breaking down the silos that traditionally separate financial, legal, and nonprofit professionals, the CAP® designation program creates the conditions that enhance philanthropic uplift. “There’s nothing like it,” Bob asserts.

When Bob worked with the GTCF to set up the Al Hayes scholarship decades ago, little did he know that his generosity would someday come full circle. In gratitude for Bob’s service on their Board and for the Pittmans’ unflagging service to their community, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation has created a scholarship in their name to assist students enrolled in the CAP® designation program with tuition costs. Because of Bob and Diane’s special commitment to helping individuals and communities of color, the scholarship is designed to help advisors of color and nonprofit professionals who serve diverse communities.

On the wall of his office, Bob has a beautiful watercolor of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Marshall’s reflection on philanthropy – like Bob Pittman’s life – reflects the spirit that informs the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® program and inspires those who hold this designation to make philanthropy a more responsive and more respectful enterprise: “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

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One of the keys to philanthropic success is proper financial planning. Through the three-course Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®) designation program, you will learn how to help philanthropies maximize their donations and resources. The CAP® is designed for experienced professionals in both the financial services and nonprofit sector, and gives you the power to do more with your career.

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