Cindy Hanson, CFP® has always had a passion for helping those around her. She started her career in the nonprofit sector helping her local community, and when she transitioned to financial planning, she quickly realized that her profession’s skills could be another tool to assist others. When a close friend confided in her about financial concerns stemming from a divorce, Cindy “pulled out some paper and a pen and helped her go through her finances, income, and monthly obligations. We figured out that she definitely had enough for her car payment. My thought: do people not know to do this? But she was so surprised and grateful. That’s when I realized that maybe my skills are a little unusual and could help others.”
A few years ago, Cindy became involved with Prepare +Prosper, an FFP grantee that helps low-to-moderate income individuals reach financial stability through tax aid clinics, a financial mentoring program, and more. Cindy began volunteering with their Money Mentors program, a program that pairs CFP® volunteers with Prepare + Prosper clients for a 6 month-long engagement, with meetings occurring once a month. Over the last few years, she has worked with a variety of pro bono clients, and has found that her financial planning skills easily apply to pro bono engagements. “As with any client, I sit down with them and find out what they need help with, what their goals are, and what they’d like to accomplish. We take an inventory of bills, draw up a cash flow statement, sometimes even a net worth statement, and figure out how to manage debt. If the pro bono client is in a position to start a savings goal, we figure out a plan to grow an emergency fund. These are really basic subjects that financial planners are good at and know how to talk to people about.”
In addition to her financial planning skills, Cindy has also found that empathy plays a huge role in working with pro bono clients. One of her most powerful engagements was with a woman who was fearful of her finances due to her amount of debt. The client dodged calls from creditors and refused to open any bills that came in the mail, tossing them onto a pile on her dining room table which eventually became unmanageable and overwhelming. Understanding how finances can result in fear and stress, Cindy offered to go through the bills with her. During their next session, the client brought in a bag of the unopened bills, which they laid out and sorted together. They kept only the current bills, reducing the pile to a small stack that the client felt she could now address and take care of, which brought her an incredible amount of relief.
Cindy says, “I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to come back from financial struggles. When someone says, ‘you owe us $10,’ it can be the same as saying ‘you owe us $1,000’ — If you don’t have it, you don’t have it, and you feel just as bad. There is so much shame and virtue tied up in money, and people feel their financial situation reflects on them. When working with pro bono clients, it’s super helpful to be aware of that complicated stew of feelings about money.”
Cindy’s advice to other planners? “Know that you can absolutely help. It might not be the kind of help you normally give to paid clients, but you absolutely can help. You may not be doing a full blown financial plan, but you can listen to them and you can help them move forward financially.” She also encourages planners to be patient, and understand that barriers such as childcare, public transportation, or job hours and duties may make it more difficult for pro bono clients to prioritize financial planning.
Final words from Cindy: “It’s very gratifying to help someone feel less stressed about finances; listening, having empathy, and providing some guidance can help people feel less shame and more pride about their financial situation.”
“There is so much shame and virtue tied up in money, and people feel their financial situation reflects on them. When working with pro bono clients, it’s super helpful to be aware of that complicated stew of feelings about money.”