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Our Views

Up to donors to make the most of their charity dollars

Philanthropy – E-Capture      2013/07/18

Edwin LEE king-yan, Philanthropy Advisor, WiseGiving , The Hong Kong Council of Social Service
Hong Kong people are generous: they ranked 19th position in the Charities Aid Foundation’s 2012 world giving index. And data from the Inland Revenue Department data confirms a willingness to give - charitable donations topped HK$9.2 billion in 2010-11 – with about 60% coming from individuals.

This culture of giving means the city has good share of charitable organizations – more thean 7,000 at the last count.

Giving to a charitable has become more convenient and spontaneous, and fundraising methods are now more creative and diverse. But with such a large number of charities, it ie not easy for the public to know which does what.

This is especially relevant given the uncovering of fake charitable organisations raising funds on the street and the debate about whether the government should donate HK$100 million to the Sichuan earthquake relief effort. Clearly, the public is becoming increasing concerns about accountability, transparency and how their donations are being used.

In Hong Kong, it’s largely down to the donors to make wise choices as to where their money should go.

To maximize the benefits to the public sector, philanthropy can be seen as a business. Donors have to decide how to maximize profits with limited resources, carefully selecting which causes to support. It requires mutual understanding and communication between donors and organizations.

Given the multitude of deserving causes both locally and internationally, the first step must be self-reflection: What values define the donor or donor family. Pinpointing these will help narrow the list of possible causes.

Next, the strategic donor educates himself about his chosen causes through research or talking to people in the know, in order to understand the root causes of the social issues he or she wishes to tackle.

Finally, a strategic donor combines the values he holds in his heart with the hard information he has acquired to come up with a strategic plan. And that doesn’t mean donating money; the donor should line up all his resources – time, expertise, relationships as well as dollars – to help.

One local family is a good example of this strategic approach. In 2002, members of the second generation of the Chen family began reflecting on their shared values and identifying areas for giving. At first, they adopted a fairly broad mandate, covering health, education and social services in mainland China and Hong Kong, which encompassed the areas that interested the family.

Inspired by Dr. Samuel So, Director of Asian Liver Center at Stanford School of Medicine, the family has prioritized hepatitis B prevention and eradication and set up their flagship project, the ZeShan Foundation.

The benefits of such a focused approach are twofold. The social impact of such philanthropy is far clearer than it would be if resources were spread too thinly. It also allows the donor time to cultivate long-term relationships with stakeholders, and this aids understanding of the social problem.

Giving effectively is by no means easy, but it is crucial in today’s world. There are limits to what governments can do, and civil society is increasingly relying on private donors to fill the gaps and, perhaps more importantly, take risks and try new approaches that the public sector cannot.

With self-reflection, due diligence and careful planning, the strategic donor’s work embodies the art and science that is philanthropy.

(* The article was published on the South China Morning Post on 10 Jul, 2013)