Giving back: Wealthy turn to professionals for help

Charities not keen on accounting for how they spend dollars received

Wealthy families in Asia are increasingly keen to give back to society but finding worthy causes for their charitable dollar is not that easy.

Many families have been forced to turn to professionals and advisers to help them with their philanthropic efforts.

A forum on the issue yesterday organised by Credit Suisse heard that a big stumbling block is the difficulty of finding organisations that can account for how they spend the dollars they receive.

"Good partners are hard to find, and even harder to find when you want to make them accountable," said Ms Wei Sinclair Ngo, the charities coordinator of her family's foundation.

"They have to submit their annual reports and we look at how they have spent the money, how effective the money has been."

Many charities that the foundation has approached over the years have been happy to give the family a list of their needs, "but the minute we ask them to be accountable, they're not interested", said Ms Wei.

Even today, 20 years on and with a board reviewing all donations before they are disbursed, the foundation still makes mistakes sometimes, and has sponsored "duds", she added.

It helps to outsource some of the work to professionals, said Ms Serena Kao, deputy president of San Teh Philanthropic Foundation, a charitable organisation founded by her family.

Their foundation offers scholarship grants and education aid to needy students in China, Taiwan and Singapore, and hires professionals to conduct due diligence on the aid recipients.

Ms Kao said the foundation also hires professionals to help with different aspects of its infrastructure projects in China, which involve rebuilding whole areas to improve access to rural villages.

At the Mayapada Group, chief executive and Indonesian tycoon Tahir, who goes by one name, had been donating to charitable causes and helping out his own staff on an informal basis.

But over the years, as the reach of his philanthropic work widened, he had to look at making his foundation more professional, he said at the forum.

Dr Tahir recently matched US$100 million (S$124million) donated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation towards the eradication of third-world diseases.

"It involved a lot of agreements and arrangements with a lot of social groups... so now we're starting to build up the professionalism and making it more effective," he said.

Mr Hans-Ulrich Meister, Credit Suisse's global head of private banking and wealth management, told the forum that the bank has seen a rising interest in philanthropy among its clients.

"There is a growing desire among philanthropists globally to shift from the traditional model of leaving behind legacies towards giving while living," he said.

This has resulted in a more active and engaged philanthropy in Asia, leading to an increased demand for more philanthropy-related advisory services, he added.

Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam, noted in his opening address that philanthropists globally are looking for ways to ensure their donations are channelled to intended recipients for the maximum impact.

"Not every donor has the means to assess and evaluate where their donations could make the greatest difference," he said.

"Therefore, I am glad to note the development of advisory and intermediary services for donors."

yasminey@sph.com.sg