In The News
Your Money / Your Life -- Set For Life: Giving Wisely
By Steve Mollman
17 September 2004
The Asian Wall Street Journal
© 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. To see the edition in which this article appeared,
click here http://awsj.com.hk/factiva-ns.
A FRAMED PHOTO ON JENNIFER MOYER'S desk says a lot about her. Ms. Moyer, an executive director
at a global investment bank in Hong Kong, enjoys hiking through remote parts of Asia . And
whether it's in Bhutan or Cambodia, she particularly likes meeting children in the rural
villages she passes through. But the poverty in such places, she says, is often
In the photo, taken in a provincial area of southern Vietnam, a group of kids stands smiling
and waving in front of their new school. Ms. Moyer didn't take the picture. She's never been
to that part of Vietnam, but she did help build the school, by donating to Room to Read, a
charity that helps educate underprivileged children in Asia.
For Ms. Moyer, giving to the charity was a no-brainer. Besides being moved by the poverty
she's seen first-hand in Asia, "I added up what my husband and I make and thought it was
really pathetic how little we give away," she says. Though Ms. Moyer doesn't use a
formula to determine how much money she should donate (such as 10% of her income, as some
religions stipulate), she sees philanthropy as essential to wise personal financial
The problem for Ms. Moyer -- and many others -- is simply finding out about charities in Asia.
Since moving to Hong Kong from New York six years ago, the amount Ms. Moyer donated had
steadily decreased. One big reason: marketing. In the U.S., she says, finding a deserving
cause can be as simple as opening your mailbox and reading the direct-mail appeals.
In Asia, by contrast, finding worthy charitable organizations can be a daunting research
challenge. While there are thousands of regional and local charities -- in Taiwan alone, there
are 530-plus registered with the government's Social Welfare Administration -- language
barriers and lack of transparency in accounting practices can be showstoppers.
Fortunately, there are some useful resources for finding good organizations -- and strategies
for giving to them wisely.
Ms. Moyer learned about Room to Read through word of mouth, but for those without the benefit
of wise counsel, one of the best sources of general information is the Web site of the
not-for-profit Asia-Pacific Philanthropy Consortium ( www.asianphilanthropy.org ), according
to Michael Liffman, director of the Melbourne-based Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and
Social Investment. The site offers broad overviews and detailed information on philanthropy in
12 Asian countries, including the Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia . Links to other
online resources, including specific charities, are provided under categories such as Health,
Environment and Social Services.
The organizations linked to, however, are not necessarily endorsed by the Asia-Pacific
Philanthropy Consortium. As an investor, it's your responsibility to ensure that your funds
are being used wisely. That isn't easy. The accounting transparency found in many Western
charities isn't as common in Asia, and even in the U.S. public confidence in charitable groups
is significantly lower now than it was in the summer of 2001, according to the Brookings
Institution, an independent research organization based in Washington.
It can help, therefore, to see which charities an Asia-based intermediary or umbrella
organization trusts. On the Asia-Pacific Philanthropy Consortium site, a link entitled
"Philanthropic Intermediaries and Voluntarism Promotion" leads to such organizations
in each country. In this category under Hong Kong, for example, you'll learn about the
Community Chest, a nonprofit organization that distributes donations to various types of local
charities on behalf of contributors. By calling Community Chest, or visiting its site
(www.commchest.org), you can learn which organizations it contributes to.
Elsewhere on the Internet, there are sites that serve primarily to link to as many charities
and volunteer organizations as possible within a particular country. In Asia, sites include
Hati.org (www.hati.org.my), which focuses on charities in Malaysia, and Ho-Sum
(www.ho-sum.org), which covers Hong Kong.
For Ms. Moyer, Room to Read was a good match. Not only does it help educate kids like the ones
she encounters on her hikes, she says, but it also "makes effective use of dollars, gets
the community involved and has smart expansion plans."
Once you've decided on where to give, the question of how to give needs consideration. Ms.
Moyer donated to Room to Read both by writing a check and using the credit-card form on its
Web site ( www.roomtoread.org ). But there are other strategies worth considering.
Elsa Pau, managing director of Hong Kong-based Tai Fook Wealth Management Group, suggests
setting up a low-risk investment in which the charity is the beneficiary. The investment could
be a combination of global equity, bond and reserve funds. After a 10-year period in which the
investment grows at, say, 5% annually (turning US$35,000 into more than US$50,000), have small
monthly increments sent out to the charity while the rest of the investment continues to
accrue interest. This approach encourages fiscal discipline on the part of the charity, and
leads to a larger donation overall.
You could also, Ms. Pau notes, take out a term life insurance policy, with a charity listed as
a beneficiary. This option is particularly attractive for healthy singles who don't have large
estates. Should you die prematurely, the charity will get the payout. Or, through a will, you
can divvy up the insurance payout however you wish, perhaps giving to a mix of charities and
relatives. The cost of the policy can be quite small, says Ms. Pau: if you're a healthy
nonsmoker in your 40s, a payment of US$130 a year could generate US$130,000 in the event of
your death. The drawback: you could outlive the term of the policy, in which case it loses its
Finally, if what's confusing you isn't how or where to give, but why, consider "Rambam's
Ladder" (Workman Publishing, 2003), by Julie Salamon. The book draws upon the wisdom of a
12th-century Jewish sage to show how, in the end, we are measured not by what we have, but by
what we give.
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Set for Life, Personal Journal's personal finance column, explores the more emotional aspects
of wealth creation, from dealing with money conflicts within relationships and saving for your
children's education, to collecting.