Many of us make regular and often sizeable charitable donations supporting causes that are close to our hearts. It is part of what makes us human. But when does charity become philanthropy? The distinction is not always clear.

Charitable giving is often an emotional response to a cause that tugs at the heartstrings. In December 2021, an annual children’s charity concert, ChildAid, raised more than $2 million to support needy kids from low-income families and artistically talented youth from less privileged households in Singapore. Singaporeans also donated about $90 million to 3 charities in Singapore in the first five months of 2020. The generosity of the public is remarkable.

Around the world, a sizeable chunk of giving will have been made by philanthropic organisations and philanthropists. Philanthropy and charitable giving are on the same spectrum, but there are subtle yet key differences.

One of those distinctions sits with the individual’s motivations.

KPMG’s white paper on Disruptive Philanthropists suggests that philanthropists naturally embrace charitable giving but do so in a structured and targeted way. Philanthropists often say they consider their giving to be a “social investment” where a tangible “social return” is expected. Where does the shift from charity to philanthropy start?

Philanthropy and charitable giving are on the same spectrum, but there are subtle yet key differences.

Liquidity event

The decision to adopt a more strategic approach to charitable giving is often triggered by a significant liquidity event, such as an inheritance or the sale of a business.

While an individual may feel a sense of urgency to do something with that wealth, whether wanting to make a lasting difference to causes supported over many years or to aggregate giving, the need to pause and reflect is important. The major issues facing the world today have been created over decades, if not generations, and seem unlikely to abate or disappear anytime soon.

In the report, philanthropists explain how they turn to other philanthropists, visit projects and adopt the same rigour focusing on philanthropic activity as they do on their corporate roles — taking 12 or 24 months before deciding on a course of action is not uncommon.

Philanthropists are generous with their time and are often only too happy to help individuals starting their philanthropic journeys explore and find answers to these points.

Where do you sit?

A key consideration for individuals starting their philanthropic journey is structure. It is not uncommon for individuals to assume that a family foundation is the right and best approach to philanthropic activity. Foundations can be expensive to run, demand time and can constrain activity with too rigid a focus.

Philanthropists should ask themselves where they sit on the spectrum of involvement.

Alternative structures, such as donor-advised funds, social enterprises, family councils and straightforward charitable giving, can often provide philanthropists with a less rigid but equally impactful philanthropic wrapper. Time-poor philanthropists may well find, for example, that donor-advised funds are a perfectly suitable approach if donating cash to charities is a priority. Charities are almost always willing to involve significant donors in how money is used if greater involvement is desired.

Foundations may be a more appropriate solution if a philanthropist wishes to create and manage a particular programme or project over many years or wants to involve family members. KPMG’s white paper explores ways to involve the next generation in considerable detail, both in highly structured and more informal ways.


Whether you give via charitable donations or structured philanthropic structures, there is no right or wrong approach. Flexibility will be needed, both to allow new generations to explore causes that are personal to them and reflect the changing landscape. It is an ongoing and evolving discussion.

Whether you give via charitable donations or structured philanthropic structures, there is no right or wrong approach.

Obtaining support through this process from KPMG in Singapore and its member firms, which have the capacity to combine legal, governance and tax considerations, can be extremely helpful. We encourage philanthropists to explore key considerations including, but not limited to, what they hope to achieve, what the purpose of the activity is, how much time they are willing to invest and how they want to measure the impact of the activity.



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