As I write this I am sitting in a very nice but non-descript hotel room that could be anywhere in Southeast Asia. The reason for me being here is a conference of private bankers, portfolio managers, and the heads of family offices for the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. The idea will be to discuss new ideas and thrash out issues that we are having. The most heated discussion that we have had so far is on philanthropy and the art of giving.

For those giving some of your precious time or donating money or goods to a charity or foundation and those who have gone the next step and founded a charity or foundation, even if you do not make a penny for your actions, altruism is over. It’s a fallacy. It doesn’t exist. The sooner this is taken on board and understood, the further any money donated will go and charities and foundations will be more transparent.

Jenni Santi, the author of The Giving Way To Happiness and the philanthropic advisor to the region’s largest private bank, explained giving as a basic human need. It triggers the same pleasure centres of the brain that are stimulated by food, sex and drugs. You can’t get much more of a primeval instinct than that.

Noni Purnomo of Indonesian transportation company Blue Bird, which employs over 45,000 people in a business that started with just two taxis, answers her family’s philanthropism not as a corporate issue, but as a personal one. Rather than seeing it as a gift and tax issue, she sees it as a way of passing on her family values to her staff and therefore creating both loyalty and educated children while also empowering women to start their own small businesses.

I am a big believer in the giving of your time or your hard earned cash, but remember two things.  Firstly, be honest with yourself. It could be from a passion that you have to free a captive goldfish back into the wild, or it just gives you a nice feeling to give your time to a charity that rehomes alcoholic mountain goats. That doesn’t matter; just be happy that you are doing so. Secondly, research the charity or foundation and make sure that they are aligned with your thoughts. Do you want to give to a foundation that only spends 30 percent of its income on projects and the rest on staff salaries and expenses?  Just ask them, and if needed, just walk away, because there are plenty others that need your time or money.

Paul McLardie is a partner at Total Wealth Management. Contact him at