New way to support regional needs

For years, Australians who wanted to donate to overseas causes and charities had few options. To some, it made sense: global humanitarian disasters ranging from wars, to famines, to drought and floods were the appropriate triggers for Australian generosity. But this approach prevented Australians from supporting their favored overseas charities, even when the cause was just as urgent.

Then, last November the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission gave charitable registration status to Give2Asia Australia, the local arm of the US organization that has been a conduit for overseas giving for 20 years. The ACNC’s decision means that Australian-based corporations, foundations and individuals will be able to give to qualified overseas non-profits using the Give2Asia network. Next week, Give2Asia Australia will formally launch with high hopes that it will be able to work closely with our Asian neighbours by offering tax deductions to stimulate Australians’ individual and corporate giving.

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls,
a grantee of Give2Asia

Give2Asia’s Chief Country Representative Anita Toy explains that receiving DGR1 status will help more Australians support causes and organisations they care about.

“The barriers are starting to come down, and Australians are some of the most generous people in the world and we are so close geographically to our Asian neighbours,’’ Anita says. “If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re living in a very lucky country with strong regulatory framework and systems. We’re in a position to support our region, and our charitable giving options shouldn’t be constrained by our borders.’’

“Providing donors with tax-deductibility on their overseas donations is attractive, especially if the donation is made from a structured giving vehicle,” she adds.

Give2Asia has a strong reputation in the Asia-Pacific region, and since 2001 it has facilitated more than $350 million (US) of grants across 23 countries.

Keith Weissglass, Director of Marketing at Give2Asia, traces the organization’s success to its capacity to engage those donors who wanted to support communities where they had direct links, through family or their own experience.

“By giving to overseas communities they know and care about, our donors are able to support the causes they care about in a really effective and efficient way,’’ Keith says. “That money’s going to a locally led charity that is hiring local people, has access to all the local resources, and has relationships on the ground to do the work.’’

The potential for that kind of philanthropy in Australia is hard to gauge. In 2018, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University released a report entitled Asian-Australian Diaspora Philanthropy that identified great potential for philanthropic growth among the 9.3 percent of those living and working in Australia who considered themselves of Asian origin. On the face of it, however, there is a difference between giving in Australia and giving to an overseas charity. Keith is not so sure.

“The good news is that people don’t have to choose,’’ he explains. “You can still support your kids’ school, still support the local causes you care about. This just opens up a new door for giving, particularly for those donors who already have pre-existing relationships with those countries, for corporates who have employees or customers in other countries, and for savvy donors who want to do the most good from the amount they have to give.’’

A key point of difference in this instance is likely to be the personal connection. “I think the real difference is getting to choose an organization that speaks to you and having a say in what’s that funding,’’ Keith says. “When you are giving to a small organization, it can be a bigger impact because you’re a bigger donor to them. And you can have that personal connection with the charity—and in some cases the beneficiaries—whom the charity is serving.’’

That personal connection can be as obvious as family or as transitory – but affecting – as a tourist experience, to Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam. Or it could be the power of a particular issue in the country or region that galvanizes individual acts of philanthropy. And it is those last two categories that push the giving potential beyond the Asian diaspora, to include those donors whose connection to the region is based on experience and engagement, rather than heritage.

Photo courtesy of Bangladesh Environment and Development Society Fund,
a grantee of Give2Asia.

And the additional incentive for donors to become involved is the potential impact they can have with a comparatively small amount.

“If you can imagine the difference between giving a $1000 to your university in San Francisco or in Sydney versus what that $1000 could do to a village where half the people don’t have clean drinking water, you can really do a lot of good if they’re prepared to support those projects,’’ Keith says. “It’s an efficient way to give money and it helps grow the non-profit sector in that country.’’

For prospective donors, working with Give2Asia Australia provides some comfort and guidance. As Anita points out, the organization understands the region’s rules and regulations, the root causes of issues, plus the capacity and reputation of local charities, all well beyond the rudimentary information donors could source from their own desktop research. “We have country advisors on the ground across Asia, who are our eyes and ears, who have the local knowledge and local networks to help us navigate all of the complexities that come along with international giving,’’ Anita says. “And that helps with accountability and transparency.’’

 It also helps when trying to understand the broad arc of international giving, how the circle of generosity works. In the wake of the Black Summer in Australia in 2019-20, there were many US donors who gave to Australian charities supporting the nation’s bushfire rebuild.

“There were donors from the US who had travelled to Australia or had connections or family there, and they wanted to help,’’ Keith says.

“By working with Give2Asia, they could support projects on environmental restoration, or support firefighters who were out in the field. We’re excited to give Australians that same opportunity, by making cross-border giving more like giving domestically.’’

Learn more about Give2Asia Australia here

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