In Asia, philanthropy is often used to engage the younger generation and introduce members to the family foundation. The younger generation, in turn, brings a more strategic, innovative and effective approach to the work

Hong Kong family charities and foundations have long been generous givers. The city ranked 18th for charitable donations out of the 146 countries and territories studied for the Charities Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index 2018.

The latest edition of the Million Dollar Donor Report, a Coutts and Chinese University of Hong Kong analysis of charitable gifts of more than HK$1 million, shows that of the HK$877 million given by 47 donors in 104 gifts in 2017, 45 per cent by volume and 40 per cent by value came from foundations. These days, though, writing a cheque isn’t enough. Foundations are becoming more purposeful in their giving, identifying priorities and investing strategically rather than just doing so ad hoc.

A new era in philanthropy

“From a lot of our conversations with families in Asia, and Hong Kong in particular, they want to be more strategic, and they want to see the outcome and the impact,” says Susan Sy, head of Asia-Pacific philanthropy advisory services for UBS. “It’s not just about giving and not knowing where it’s going.”

In Hong Kong, much of this is happening as a result of wealth being passed to the second and third generations of families, with millennials taking over the reins. Bernard Fung, head of wealth planning services for Credit Suisse Private Banking Asia-Pacific, says that over the past 10 years older generations have become increasingly concerned not just about giving but also about engaging their heirs in projects they care about.

“Firstly, donors are becoming more strategic in their giving and looking for ways to evaluate the impact of their philanthropy,” he says. “Secondly, they are using philanthropy as a way to engage their next generation, build family and generational cohesion, and ensure the family legacy. Some of these millennials then move on to drive the work of their family foundations.”

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Adds Felicia Law, head of wealth advisory in North Asia for JP Morgan Private Bank, “Millennials are playing an important role in this. They are more willing to devote time, attention and money to philanthropic initiatives they support. Some families involve their younger generations in philanthropic initiatives, creating opportunities for the younger generations to develop project management skills, investment knowledge and leadership skills. It also helps the younger generations to understand the family’s core values.”

They are using philanthropy as a way to engage their next generation, build family and generational cohesion, and ensure the family legacy.
Bernard Fung

Cynthia D’Anjou-Brown, head of philanthropy and family governance advisory services, Private Wealth Solutions, HSBC Private Banking, says those values are often unaffected by innovative approaches to giving. “In Asia most philanthropy is related to the family, and we believe that the new paradigm is multigenerational giving. Younger generations will change their ways of giving, but the values will remain the same.”

With this increased focus on personal passions, foundations’ giving is more likely to be aligned with areas family members are personally involved in already, and their involvement is more likely to involve their time and expertise as well as their money. “Most younger donors don’t want to be seen as a money machine. They want to bring their skills and abilities to the table,” says D’Anjou-Brown.

Keeping it in the family

An example is the Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation, established in 2003 by family members including chairman James Chen to honour the philanthropic spirit of his father, the late industrialist Robert Yet-Sen Chen, who was a generous, rather spontaneous giver; the foundation aims to sharpen that philanthropy’s focus.

“The foundation was set up by myself and close family members with the guidance of experts,” says James Chen. “At the outset, we felt strongly about establishing a strategic focus for the organisation where we could collectively make the biggest possible contribution. From those early discussions, we finally agreed on early childhood literacy.

“I believe in the power of catalytic philanthropy. As a family foundation, we have the ability to take risks on early-stage ideas where other institutional donors might not. Our objective is to contribute our time, seed funding and domain expertise to help them grow, and ultimately we want to see them thrive independently.

“Real philanthropy goes well beyond the writing of large cheques. It strives to match real money to real purpose and real change. This help is likely to be a combination of some funding, sharing of insights or even connections. This approach, coupled with a long-term commitment to a cause, will ensure a far greater ripple effect than any single contribution or short-term engagement.”

Real philanthropy goes well beyond the writing of large cheques. It strives to match real money to real purpose and real change.
James Chen

It’s part of a growing formalisation of philanthropy in Hong Kong, with a growing number of foundations established, more professionals appointed to run them, and more of them engaging the services of wealth advisers to guide them. “All the families we’ve met in Hong Kong have professionals as part of the family foundation,” says UBS’s Sy. “They hire people to make sure they’re run properly and efficiently.”

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The business of giving

Adds Credit Suisse’s Fung, “In recent years, there has been growing demand from our clients for more in-depth philanthropy advisory, and they are willing to invest the time and effort required. Many of our clients are entrepreneurs and they want to bring in the same professionalism and business principles into their philanthropic work.”

This includes more rigorous measurement of outcomes, says HSBC’s D’Anjou-Brown. “People are more empirical than they used to be. Younger philanthropists have more access to data and they think more systematically. But it’s not easy to measure success. What does success look like for you as a donor? You have to define that before you start.”

Family office RS Group, which was established in 2010 by founder and chair Annie Chen to fight income disparities and overconcentration of wealth, sees no reason why a philanthropic venture shouldn’t be approached with the same professionalism as any investment fund. 

“We have always believed the investment and portfolio management process of a sustainably invested portfolio needs to be just as rigorous as any other portfolio management process, which is why we built a professional team from inception, including expert advisers in sustainable investing and blended value, as well as team members with deep investment and philanthropy management experience,” says RS Group senior associate Joan Shang.

“We are constantly reflecting on our work and looking for ways we can be more impactful or move the sector further. We have remained true to our mission of ‘investing for the future we want to see,’ but have also been mindful that we remain flexible on how that mission is achieved.”

Shang adds that RS Group views the recipients of its giving as partners rather than simply grant recipients. “We take the time to engage deeply with potential grantees and investees to ensure we are mission-aligned and also to understand their needs and gaps so that we can provide the support needed.”

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