Hong Kong donors showed a greater tendency to give mega grants in 2014.

Family philanthropy continues to become more strategic and professional, with a clear focus on sustaining financial, human and social capital.

Thinking bigger

More mega-grants

Thinking bigger and longer term.

The number of mega-grants (donations in excess of $100m) given by Hong Kong donors has been on the rise since 2012. Yet while the continued global economic recovery may make such gifts more likely, this does not explain why donors of a similar level of wealth contribute differently.

As a shared characteristic, donors who gave mega grants were those with a long history of engagement with the philanthropic sector; most having made repeated million dollar gifts in the past. Such donors also had more structured philanthropy, with a clear vision and mission known to the public. As the donors were not new to philanthropy, their mega grants were less likely to be motivated by a desire to increase their visibility in the community, and more by their wish to bring material change to their chosen causes. Having already witnessed the changes possible with previous funding, they were more confident in their giving and more inclined to make mega-grants[1].

In a few cases, age awareness also kicked in as entrepreneurs realised they would like to leave a legacy to society after their retirement.

Mega-grant donors also seemed to have larger and longer-term visions, as highlighted by our case studies. For example, Ronald Chao is intent on improving Sino-Japanese relationships through scholarships and friendships developed in cross-cultural exchanges. For both the Chao family and the Institute as a whole, the immediate impact of their work may be less important than the longer-term goals of nurturing future Asian leaders and endowing them with an  appreciation and respect for other cultures. Similarly, Sam Tin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Tin Ka Ping Foundation, has carried on the legacy of his father, Dr Tin Ka-ping (a mega-grant donor in 2012), in promoting China’s fortunes through education. His programmes have developed a sustainable model for education and school improvement. In both these cases, the founding entrepreneurs used an endowed foundation to drive their long-term goals, trusting the next generation to carry on their work. 




Year Donor Donor Type Recipient Recipient Location Amount / US$ million
2012 Dr Tin Ka Ping Individual Tin Ka Ping Foundation Hong Kong $258
2013 Li Ka Shing Foundation  Foundation Tsz Shan Monastery Hong Kong $192 
2013 Li Ka Shing Foundation  Foundation Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology China $130
2014 Joseph Tsai[2] Individual SymAsia Foundation  Singapore $1,184
2014 The Morningside Foundation  Foundation Harvard University United States $350 
2014 The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust Corporation  The Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong $167 
2014 Galaxy Entertainment Group Limited  Corporation  Galaxy Entertainment Group Foundation Macau $167 
2014 Ronald Chao Individual  Bai Xian Education Foundation Limited Hong Kong $150 

[1] C. K. Cheung and C. M. Chan, 2000, ‘Socio-cognitive Factors of Donating Money to Charity’, Evaluation and Program Planning, 23(2), 241-253.

[2] Tsai injected 15m share options of the Alibaba Group into the intended trust. The options were held by the SymAsia Foundation Limited, an NGO based in Singapore, awaiting Tsai’s instruction to designate the recipient charitable trust. SymAsia does not beneficially own any shares. The value is calculated by the closing share price of USD103.94 on 31 December 2014 less the option price of USD25.

Generational transfer of capital

Sustaining capital in family philanthropy

Building and transferring financial, human and social capital across generations.

Family is an enduring institution, with Chinese society in particular holding it in high regard, often worshipping their ancestors. Family philanthropy provides a reason for a family to stay, learn and evolve together across generations. It can strengthen family values and provide a platform to engage their heirs.

Given their long-term orientation, business families often have an interest in giving back to their surrounding communities. To achieve success in their philanthropy across the generations, families need strategic and professional management of their financial, human and social capital, and a number of business families in Hong Kong have established their own foundations with this in mind. Good governance is key to yielding the right results, and we have listed below some thoughts on managing and governing philanthropic capital based on our case studies:

· Many family foundations run on an endowment gifted by the founder(s) when they were established. David Fong, Managing Director of the family-owned land developer Hip Shing Hong Group, advises families to consider reviewing the investment strategies for their foundations and taking appropriate risks to yield the required returns, despite external influences such as low interest rates. Families should also locate new sources of recurring income for their foundations and consider newer approaches such as impact investing and venture philanthropy.

· Developing human capital for family philanthropy is especially important, including non-family professional teams and next generation family members. Examples include hiring professional non-family managers and funding education programmes to develop the skills and abilities of key staff. Families should plan ahead to engage the next generation in family philanthropy early on and offer hands on learning rather than just fact-sharing. Next generation members are usually more willing to get involved when it is presented as an opportunity rather than an obligation.

· Utilise your social networks and reputation in pursuing your philanthropic initiatives. Families are in a natural position to use their business connections in philanthropy, such as creating advisory structures for their foundations. This brings in valuable experience, allows ideas and good practice to be shared and opens up wider networks. Political connections can be particularly useful for philanthropy in China, where project monitoring and auditing can be less readily available. Families should also boost their social giving, by multiple donors joining together to make a single contribution or bundle of contributions[3]. While a few families may see social giving as diluting the founding family’s influence on philanthropy, engaging other donors can create a larger fund to achieve a bigger goal. The negotiation process can also provide useful validation of the family’s philanthropic ideas.

[3] J. Gerstein, S. Landres, and Joshua Avedon, ‘Connected to Give: Risk and Relevance’, 2014.



Hong Kong's cultural traditions place an expectation on people to give to those in need within their communities and networks. The emphasis on the family unit also means that philanthropists in Hong Kong tend to give to causes with which they have a connection rather than universal ones. And with a focus on complete altruism, many philanthropists (both in mainland China and Hong Kong) keep a low profile and prefer to give anonymously.

The British colonial government, which steered the development of Hong Kong from 1842 to 1997, relied on churches and other volunteer organisations to provide fundamental social services for the needy; mostly new immigrants who supplied cheap labour to fuel the economic growth of Hong Kong[4].

In recent years, the philanthropic sector in Hong Kong has grown dramatically. The number of registered tax-exempt charitable organisations ballooned from 3,435 in 2000/01 to 8,044 in 2013/14, an increase of over 130%[5]. Hong Kong experienced a number of crises and economic downturns during this time. Despite these obstacles, the total amount of approved charitable donations receiving tax exemption more than tripled during the same period[6].

Today, Hong Kong is home to a large number of charitable organisations, which can take various legal forms. More than 70% of registered charities are considered corporations, and a smaller proportion is classed either as a society (12%) or as a trust (8%). Each legal structure requires a different set of registration procedures, and is subject to different regulations. As a result, there have been calls to change the current system and create a unified approach to charitable organisations[. The Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong submitted a report on charities in December 2013, but the society is yet to see any suggestions implemented[7].    

Despite the number of charities in Hong Kong, the distribution of donations is very concentrated, with 82% of donations going to just 5% of organisations[8].

As the charities sector in Hong Kong is well established, watchdog groups such as WiseGiving and iDonate have been created to rate them. These groups push for transparency; for example, by disclosure of charities’ financial reports[9]. Million dollar donors can use these resources, as well as their own philanthropic or financial advisers, to ensure that they are giving to reputable organisations.

The government of Hong Kong plays a major role in providing for its citizens in terms of education, health care and social welfare. Hong Kong is not viewed as a welfare state in the same way that countries such as the UK are, but it does stand out among its Asian counterparts because the government finances and provides a number of services instead of simply regulating them[10]. Government spending in these areas comprises approximately 49% of the total government budget for 2015/16, channelled largely through non-governmental organisations (NGOs)[11].  The total value of one-off relief payments by the government in response to the public’s desire for social welfare provision has grown significantly, from $2.2bn in 2009 to $10.3bn in 2013[12].

Another way in which the Hong Kong government has affected philanthropy is to adjust the legislation governing trusts. Trusts are typically established by the very wealthy to preserve and distribute their wealth after their death. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of charitable trusts in Hong Kong decreased by 33%, from 406 to 270[13]. In a bid to address this, the government passed the Trust Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 with the aim of modernising them, although the practical results have yet to fully appear.

Tax savings are not likely to be a major consideration for philanthropists in Hong Kong, due in large part to its relatively low tax regime (capped at 15% on salaries for personal tax and 16.5% on corporations in 2014/15). There are also no investment income or capital gains taxes, which means there is potentially more disposable income available to be directed towards charitable causes[14].

Donations and corporate social responsibility initiatives by entrepreneurs and corporations with substantial operations in China may help build the political connections necessary for seeking government support and subsidies in business development in China[15], though the effect could be less significant in Hong Kong.   

[4] ‘UBS-INSEAD Study on Family Philanthropy in Asia’, 2011.

[5] Registered under Section 88 of the Inland Revenue Ordinance, per the Inland Revenue Department Annual Report, 2014.

[6] ‘Inland Revenue Department Annual Report’, 2014.

[7] ‘Report on Charities’, by the Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong, 2013.

[8] iDonate.

[9] K. M. Chan and T. Yuen, ‘China Charity Development Report’, 2011.

[10] E. W. Y. Lee, ‘The Politics of Welfare Developmentalism in Hong Kong, UNRISD, 2005.

[11] T. Yuen, ‘Strengthening Philanthropy in the Asia Pacific: An Agenda for Action, Hong Kong Background, 2001.

[12] P. Alto and P. M. Wong, ‘Adopting the London Principles: Policy Considerations to Grow Impact Investing in Hong Kong’, 2014.

[13] Hong Kong Trustees’ Association and Society for Trustees and Estate Practitioners, Trust Laws for the 21st Century’, 2007.

[14] ‘UBS-INSEAD Study on Family Philanthropy in Asia’, 2011.

[15] K. J. Lin, J. Tan, L. Zhao and K. Karim, 2015, ‘In the Name of Charity: Political Connections and Strategic Corporate