Charitable funds boost donations in a tough year for giving

Aug 6, 2020

SINGAPORE – More wealthy people are setting up charitable funds that give at least six-figure sums to their chosen causes.

There were 143 donor advised funds set up with the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS), disbursing $20.2 million to charitable causes in the non-profit organisation’s financial year that ended in March.

This is double the 70 funds giving out $11.7 million in the financial year that ended in March 2015.

Donors pledge at least $200,000 to set up a donor advised fund with the CFS, which manages the money, advises donors on the various needs in the community and disburses it according to the donor’s wishes.

Its chief executive officer, Ms Catherine Loh, told The Straits Times there is a greater awareness of the CFS’ work and preference to give through donor advised funds, which allows donors to give in a more informed, structured and sustained manner over time. And donors get to name their fund.

For example, the donated sum can be held at the foundation in perpetuity and invested, with invested returns going to the charitable causes over time.

Ms Loh said more people are also setting up legacy funds, like those in memory of a late loved one, adding to the rise in donor advised funds. Or donors may set up a fund to be disbursed after their deaths.

So far, the largest sum donated to start a fund has been $24 million, set up by a family in their late father’s name, Ms Loh said without giving more details.

She noted that such funds have been especially needed during the current Covid-19 pandemic, where more people are in need and many charities say donations are falling.

Since February, the CFS’ donor advised funds have given out about $1.2 million for purposes related to Covid-19, such as topping up phone cards for migrant workers and buying masks for charities caring for seniors.

Many donor advised funds, however, are set up to give to specific causes that donors and their families care about.

Mr Lien Ber Luen gave $200,000 in 2018 to set up the Lien Shih Sheng Foundation, which gives to educational causes among others, in memory of his late grandfather, the editor-in-chief of Chinese newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau. Mr Lien Shih Sheng was a literary pioneer here, involved in many arts, education and cultural activities, his grandson said.

The Lien Shih Sheng Foundation has funded scholarships at Raffles Institution for children from low-income families and it will also support a new programme to give financial aid to children from under-privileged families to attend pre-school regularly.

Mr Lien, who is in his 40s, works in a local asset management firm and is married with two children, said: “He was a doting grandfather and a role model for me. I set up this fund to remember him and to continue his legacy of contributing to the community.”

Like Mr Lien, over half of the funds at the CFS were set up by donors aged between 40 and 60, ranging from working professionals to those with inherited wealth, Ms Loh said.

While supporting education and helping the sick and the poor are evergreen favourites, causes relating to environmental and sustainability issues are also becoming more popular. Donors are also more savvy.

She said: “We have seen donors asking more questions and moving away from just chequebook philanthropy over the years.”

Instead, they are keen to understand the root causes of social problems and to find ways to tackle them, instead of simply handing over their money.

Besides the CFS, the SymAsia Foundation, which is established by private bank Credit Suisse for its clients, also offers donor advised funds.

The SymAsia Foundation did not reveal the number of such funds, but said its clients “typically make a commitment of $1 million for donations”.

Ms Young Jin Yee, CEO of SymAsia Foundation, added: “I would say no other cause has brought our donors together like the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

She said about a third of its donors from across the Asia-Pacific region have stepped up to alleviate the difficulties brought about by the virus. This includes giving financial aid to students in Singapore whose families were affected by Covid-19, and supporting the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus being jointly developed by the Duke-NUS Medical School and an American pharmaceutical firm.

Source: The Straits Times

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