Top of main content
Father and daughter

Trust-based philanthropy the Asian way

House views
Philanthropy
Portfolio allocation
Climate

Trust-based philanthropy the Asian way

May 1, 2024

Over the next decade, some 70,000 high net-worth individuals in Asia are set to pass on an estimated USD2.5 trillioni, an amount that is almost equivalent to the GDP of Franceii. This wealth transfer is taking place in a complex socio-economic context. Global issues such as food security, climate change, water scarcity, and equity are gaining greater attention, especially amongst the wealth-inheriting generation. In addition to investing in start-ups and enterprises, philanthropy, when done well, can contribute to tackling these challenges. But how does one “do philanthropy well”? 

The rise of trust-based philanthropy

Every decade or so, a seemingly new idea that brings the promises of reinventing philanthropy catches the attention of the philanthropic community. Compared with government spending or resources in the business sector, philanthropic capital is small. As such, donors are eager to explore new ways to be more effective in their giving, as they want to make sure that their capital is making a difference. 

With multiple disruptions taking place over the past few years - the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, extreme weather events and so forth - donors started to experiment with trust-based philanthropy as they sought ways to disburse their funds quickly and in a manner that could reach impacted communities effectively.

Trust-based philanthropy doesn’t mean using legal trusts: it refers to the traditional meaning of the word – that is, confidence in the probity, intentions and capabilities of the recipient. In practice this means providing unrestricted funding to non-profit organisations (NPOs). It is not a completely new idea. It is based on some of the values and practices that have guided philanthropy throughout history, whereby donors believe in an organisation’s mission and provide funds to help them realise it. 

Practitioners of trust-based philanthropy spend time getting to know an organisation, conduct due diligence on the NPOs up-front, and assess how the NPO’s mission fits with their giving strategy. There is no lengthy grant application process, nor extensive reporting requirements. These unrestricted grants offer NPOs flexibility in allocating funds to areas with the greatest need. It could be used to cover general operating costs or be channelled towards a new initiative to address an immediate community need. The decision on how to apply the funds rests with the NPOs and allows them to make decisions to respond to the dynamic world that we live in.  

The way trust-based philanthropy is practiced varies by donors’ preferences. Mackenzie Scott in the US has a team of advisors and consultants who identify and screen NPOs. If the NPO’s work aligns with her giving strategy, a donation will be made. Donors can also take a comprehensive approach that strengthen both organisational and talent development – key elements that enable organisations to thrive. 

In response to the impact of the pandemic, The D.H. Chen Foundation in Hong Kong launched “Project Fuel”, which provided funding for small-sized NPOs to cover their core operational expenses, and a co-learning fellowship programme for NPOs selected to join the project. Grounded in the foundation’s value of compassion, the fellowship program included mindfulness, self-care practices, and mutual peer support. The application process only required NPOs answer four questions and some basic documents such as registration. In addition to the regular due diligence process, the foundation’s team spent time getting to know each applicant before making a decision. Fifty organisations out of 513 that applied were selected to join the project.

A counterpoint to “philanthrocapitalism”

This “no-strings attached” approach contrasts sharply from the practices popularised by proponents of “philanthropcapitalism”, which advocates for discipline and the application of managerial practices from the business sector to the non-profit sector. The movement introduced concepts and practices such as “social return”, key performance indicators, extensive reporting, and external evaluation requirements. Their grants also tend to be earmarked for the planning and implementation of specific programmes or activities, and overhead is viewed unfavourably. If funds are deemed not being spent effectively, a remediation plan must be in place or funding could be cut. Many donors, who are successful business leaders or entrepreneurs, embraced this concept.

Meeting the reporting and evaluation requirements resulted in NPOs being tied up in bureaucracy. Many established dedicated teams to complete grant application forms, manage donor communications, conduct impact assessments, and fulfil reporting requirements in specific formats that different donors prescribe. The restricted funding approach, i.e. earmarking funding for specific projects, also means NPOs may not have sufficient funds to invest in organisational development. As a result, many face long-term planning, hiring and retention challenges. 

Not surprisingly, the business-minded donors question whether it is possible to know the impact of trust-based giving when there is less oversight, feedback, and evidence in the trust-based approach. With high-profile scandals that hit the non-profit sector every now and then, some also argue that the trust-based approach undermines accountability and transparency by giving too much discretion to nonprofit organisations, which could squander the funds. 

However, data gathered from the NPOs shows the contrary. The Center for Effective Philanthropy in the US surveyed 632 NPOs that received funding from Ms. Scott to understand whether her gift increased their impact, how they allocated the funds, and whether there were downsides to receiving the gift.iii Almost all respondents stated that these grants had strengthened their organisation’s ability to achieve their mission, their ability to innovate, and their ability to reach communities where they seek to have impact.

The 50 NPOs that participated in Project Fuel, meanwhile, reported that not only did the funding help them survive the effects of the pandemic, it boosted staff morale, and enabled NPOs to explore other means to be more efficient and innovative to carry out their mission. The fellowship programme also strengthened participants’ wellbeing and led to policy changes at the organisational level. The NPOs formed a tight-knit circle of trust that accelerated knowledge transfer and cross-pollination of ideas, and some even formed new collaborations to address underserved needs.iv

Worthy of trust

These examples show that the impact of trust-based philanthropy can be measured, and that unrestricted funding furthers a NPO’s mission.

Of course, giving needn’t be entirely based on one or other approach: philanthropists should maximise the best elements of both schools of thought. A sophisticated investor diversifies; similarly, philanthropists can allocate a portion of their giving budget for trust-based practices while elsewhere maintaining their targeted approach that requires clear outcomes and metrics.

Using food security as an example, a targeted approach could take the form of making nutritious meals available in schools, in shelters, and community centers. A donor will be able to track the number of meals delivered, the number of beneficiaries, or the number of food banks established in neighbourhoods with fewer resources.

To address the root cause of food insecurity, donors could apply the demographic data gathered in the targeted project to inform policy development. They could engage in educational campaigns to reduce food waste or increase public awareness of the effects of climate change on food security.

For policy advocacy, public awareness and behavioural change initiatives, though, these are longer term initiatives where hard metrics such as “social return per dollar” are difficult to establish upfront. A trust-based approach would enable NPOs to adapt and adjust their work to respond to constantly shifting end-user preferences and socio-economic contexts.

A portfolio-based approach that combines targeted approach with clear outcomes and metrics and a trust-based approach that offers NPOs flexibility can achieve great and diverse things.

A contribution piece by Dorothy Chan, Regional Head of Philanthropy Services and Advisory, Asia Pacific, HSBC Global Private Banking. A version of this piece was first published in The Business Times on 3rd April 2024.

i Preservation and Succession: Family Wealth Transfer 2021 – Wealth X. Available here

ii Investopedia. Available here. 

iii Center for Effective Philanthropy, “Emerging Impacts: The Effects of MacKenzie Scott’s Large, Unrestricted Gifts” available here 

iv The D.H. Chen Foundation, “Project Fuel: Impact Report” available here 

The following may be subject to local requirements.

 

This is a marketing communication issued by HSBC Private Banking. This document does not constitute independent investment research under the European Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (‘MiFID’), or other relevant law or regulation, and is not subject to any prohibition on dealing ahead of its distribution. HSBC Private Banking is the principal private banking business of the HSBC Group. Private Banking may be carried out internationally by different HSBC legal entities according to local regulatory requirements. Different companies within HSBC Private Banking or the HSBC Group may provide the services listed in this document. Some services are not available in certain locations. Members of the HSBC Group may trade in products mentioned in this publication.

 

This document is provided to you for your information purposes only and should not be relied upon as investment advice. The information contained within this document is intended for general circulation to HSBC Private Banking clients and it has not been prepared in light of your personal circumstances (including your specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs) and does not constitute a personal recommendation, nor should it be relied upon as a substitute for the exercise of independent judgement. This document does not constitute and should not be construed as legal, tax or investment advice or a solicitation and/or recommendation of any kind from the Bank to you, nor as an offer or invitation from the Bank to you to subscribe to, purchase, redeem or sell any financial instruments, or to enter into any transaction with respect to such instruments. The content of this document may not be suitable for your financial situation, investment experience and investment objectives, and the Bank does not make any representation with respect to the suitability or appropriateness to you of any financial instrument or investment strategy presented in this document.

 

If you have concerns about any investment or are uncertain about the suitability of an investment decision, you should contact your Relationship Manager or seek such financial, legal or tax advice from your professional advisers as appropriate.

 

Market data in this document is sourced from Bloomberg unless otherwise stated. While this information has been prepared in good faith including information from sources believed to be reliable, no representation or warranty, expressed or implied, is or will be made by HSBC Private Banking or any part of the HSBC Group or by any of their respective officers, employees or agents as to or in relation to the accuracy or completeness of this document.

 

It is important to note that the capital value of, and income from, any investment may go down as well as up and you may not get back the original amount invested. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. Forward-looking statements, views and opinions expressed and estimates given constitute HSBC Private Banking’s best judgement at the time of publication, are solely expressed as general commentary and do not constitute investment advice or a guarantee of returns and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other market participants and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ materially from the forecasts/estimates.  When an investment is denominated in a currency other than your local or reporting currency, changes in exchange rates may have an adverse effect on the value of that investment. There is no guarantee of positive trading performance.

 

Foreign securities carry particular risks, such as exposure to currency fluctuations, less developed or less efficient trading markets, political instability, a lack of company information, differing auditing and legal standards, volatility and, potentially, less liquidity.

 

Investment in emerging markets may involve certain additional risks, which may not be typically associated with investing in more established economies and/or securities markets. Such risks include (a) the risk of nationalization or expropriation of assets; (b) economic and political uncertainty; (c) less liquidity in so far of securities markets; (d) fluctuations in currency exchange rate; (e) higher rates of inflation; (f) less oversight by a regulator of local securities market; (g) longer settlement periods in so far as securities transactions and (h) less stringent laws in so far the duties of company officers and protection of Investors.

 

You should contact your Relationship Manager if you wish to enter into a transaction for an investment product. You should not make any investment decision based solely on the content of any document.

 

Some HSBC Offices listed may act only as representatives of HSBC Private Banking, and are therefore not permitted to sell products and services, or offer advice to customers. They serve as points of contact only. Further details are available on request.

 

In the United Kingdom, this document has been approved for distribution by HSBC UK Bank plc whose Private Banking office is located at 8 Cork Street, London W1S 3LJ and whose registered office is at 1 Centenary Square, Birmingham, B1 1HQ. HSBC UK Bank plc is registered in England under number 09928412.  Clients should be aware that the rules and regulations made under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 for the protection of investors, including the protection of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, do not apply to investment business undertaken with the non-UK offices of the HSBC Group. This publication is a Financial Promotion for the purposes of Section 21 of the Financial Services & Markets Act 2000 and has been approved for distribution in the United Kingdom in accordance with the Financial Promotion Rules by HSBC UK Bank plc, which is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

 

In Guernsey, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Banking (C.I.) a division of HSBC Bank plc, Guernsey Branch which is licensed by the Guernsey Financial Services Commission for Banking, Insurance Intermediary and Investment Business. In Jersey, this material is issued by HSBC Private Banking (Jersey) which is a division of HSBC Bank plc, Jersey Branch: HSBC House, Esplanade, St. Helier, Jersey, JE1 1HS. HSBC Bank plc, Jersey Branch is regulated by the Jersey Financial Services Commission for Banking, General Insurance Mediation, Fund Services and Investment Business. HSBC Bank plc is registered in England and Wales, number 14259. Registered office 8 Canada Square, London, E14 5HQ. HSBC Bank plc is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

 

In France, this material is distributed by HSBC Europe Continental. HSBC Private Banking is the private banking department of the HSBC Group in France. HSBC Europe Continental is subject to approval and control by the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution [Prudential Control and Resolution Authority] as a credit entity. HSBC Private Banking department of HSBC Continental Europe, Public Limited Company with share capital of 491,155,980.00 €- SIREN 775 670 284 Trade and Companies Register of Paris Bank and Insurance Intermediary registered with the Organisme pour le Registre des Intermédiaires en Assurances [Organisation for the Register of Insurance Intermediaries] under no. 07 005 894 (www.orias.fr) - Intra-community VAT number: FR 707 756 702 84. HSBC Private Banking - HSBC Europe Continental – Registered office: 38, avenue Kléber 75116 Paris- FRANCE- Tel. +33 (0) 1 49 52 20 00.

  

In Switzerland, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA, a bank regulated by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA, whose office is located at Quai des Bergues 9-17, 1201 Genève, Switzerland. This document does not constitute independent financial research, and has not been prepared in accordance with the Swiss Bankers Association’s “Directive on the Independence of Financial Research”, or any other relevant body of law.

 

In Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM) by HSBC Bank Middle East Limited, ADGM Branch, 3526, Al Maqam Tower, ADGM, Abu Dhabi, is regulated by the ADGM Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA). Content in this material is directed at Professional Clients only as defined by the FSRA and should not be acted upon by any other person.

 

In Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) by HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) S.A., DIFC Branch, P.O. Box 506553 Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which is regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) and is permitted to only deal with  Professional Clients as defined by the DFSA.

 

In South Africa, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA’s Representative Office approved by the South African Reserve Board (SARB) under registration no. 00252 and authorized as a financial services provider (FSP) for the provision of Advice and Intermediary Services by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority of South Africa (FSCA) under registration no. 49434. The Representative Office has its registered address at 2 Exchange Square, 85 Maude Street, Sandown, Sandton.

 

In Bahrain and Qatar, this material is distributed by the respective branches of HSBC Bank Middle East Limited, which is locally regulated by the respective local country Central Banks and lead regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority.

 

In Lebanon, this material is handed out by HSBC Financial Services (Lebanon) S.A.L. (“HFLB”), licensed by the Capital Markets Authority as a financial intermediation company Sub N°12/8/18 to carry out Advising and Arranging activities, having its registered address at Centre Ville 1341 Building, 4th floor, Patriarche Howayek Street, Beirut, Lebanon, P.O.Box Riad El Solh 9597.

 

In Hong Kong and Singapore, THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT HAVE NOT BEEN REVIEWED OR ENDORSED BY ANY REGULATORY AUTHORITY IN HONG KONG OR SINGAPORE. HSBC Private Banking is a division of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. In Hong Kong, this document has been distributed by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited in the conduct of its Hong Kong regulated business. In Singapore, the document is distributed by the Singapore Branch of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. Both Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited and Singapore Branch of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited are part of the HSBC Group. This document is not intended for and must not be distributed to retail investors in Hong Kong and Singapore. The recipient(s) should qualify as professional investor(s) as defined under the Securities and Futures Ordinance in Hong Kong or accredited investor(s) or institutional investor(s) or other relevant person(s) as defined under the Securities and Futures Act in Singapore. Please contact a representative of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited or the Singapore Branch of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited respectively in respect of any matters arising from, or in connection with this report.

 

Some of the products are only available to professional investors as defined under the Securities and Futures Ordinance in Hong Kong / accredited investor(s), institutional investor(s) or other relevant person(s) as defined under the Securities and Futures Act in Singapore. Please contact your Relationship Manager for more details.

 

The specific investment objectives, personal situation and particular needs of any specific persons were not taken into consideration in the writing of this document. To the extent we are required to conduct a suitability assessment in Hong Kong where this is permitted by cross border rules depending on your place of domicile or incorporation, we will take reasonable steps to ensure the suitability of the solicitation and/or recommendation. In all other cases, you are responsible for assessing and satisfying yourself that any investment or other dealing to be entered into is in your best interest and is suitable for you.

 

In all cases, we recommend that you make investment decisions only after having carefully reviewed the relevant investment product and offering documentation, HSBC’s Standard Terms and Conditions, the “Risk Disclosure Statement” detailed in the Account Opening Booklet, and all notices, risk warnings and disclaimers contained in or accompanying such documents and having understood and accepted the nature, risks of and the terms and conditions governing the relevant transaction and any associated margin requirements. In addition to any suitability assessment made in Hong Kong by HSBC (if any), you should exercise your own judgment in deciding whether or not a particular product is appropriate for you, taking into account your own circumstances (including, without limitation, the possible tax consequences, legal requirements and any foreign exchange restrictions or exchange control requirements which you may encounter under the laws of the countries of your citizenship, residence or domicile and which may be relevant to the subscription, holding or disposal of any investment) and, where appropriate, you should consider taking professional advice including as to your legal, tax or accounting position. Please note that this information is neither intended to aid in decision making for legal or other consulting questions, nor should it be the basis of any such decision. If you require further information on any product or product class or the definition of Financial Products, please contact your Relationship Manager.

 

In Luxembourg, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Banking (Luxembourg) SA, which is located at 16, boulevard d’Avranches, L-1160 Luxembourg and is regulated by the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (“CSSF”).

 

In the United States, HSBC Private Banking offers banking products and services through HSBC Bank USA, N.A. – Member FDIC and provides securities and brokerage products and services through HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., member NYSE/ FINRA/SIPC, and an affiliate of HSBC Bank USA, N.A.

 

Investment products are: Not a deposit or other obligation of the bank or any affiliates; Not FDIC insured or insured by any federal government agency of the United States; Not guaranteed by the bank or any of its affiliates; and are subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal invested.

 

Australia

If you are receiving this document in Australia, the products and services are provided by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (ABN 65 117 925 970, AFSL 301737) for “wholesale” customers (as defined in the Corporations Act 2001). Any information provided is general in nature only and does not take into account your personal needs and objectives nor whether any investment is appropriate. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited is not a registered tax agent. It does not purport to, nor does it, give or provide any taxation advice or services whatsoever. You should not rely on the information provided in the documents for ascertaining your tax liabilities, obligations or entitlements and should consult with a registered tax agent to determine your personal tax obligations.

 

Where your location of residence differs from that of the HSBC entity where your account is held, please refer to the disclaimer at https://www.privatebanking.hsbc.com/disclaimer/cross-border-disclosure for disclosure of cross-border considerations regarding your location of residence.

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, on any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of HSBC UK Bank plc.

 

A complete list of private banking entities is available on our website, https://www.privatebanking.hsbc.com.

 

©Copyright HSBC 2024

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Listening to what you have to say about services matters to us. It's easy to share your ideas, stay informed and join the conversation.