An audit officer from the Brand Award Committee asked us whether we were committed to any charity work in the past three years. And if yes, they needed us to show them proof. In fact, I kept no proper receipts even though we have regularly donated to some organizations and on and off sponsored some charity activities.
Back in the day, I came across bitter experiences when soliciting donations during my school days. “Can my donation be exempted from tax?” was the very first question most company bosses that we approached would ask even though they donated to our extra-curricular activities.
During my university years, the funds allocated by the authority to each society were peanuts for the whole year’s expenses, far too low to meet the balance for the largest and most active society, which I joined and was a committee in my sophomore year. And the state-owned university made the fundraising harder when all societies were prohibited to open their own bank accounts, and all public donations had to go to a centralized university account.
Channeling the donated fund back to your society was the hardest process, we needed to file a lot of papers and answered a myriad of queries; furthermore the Student Affair Council had the rights to redistribute your fund to other societies. Even when you were lucky, the “discounted” fund would reach you definitely long after the activities had ended.
To solve the ‘problem’, we had to use our personal bank accounts when soliciting donation. There were some donors who agreed to donate without tax exemption letter but they would eye us suspiciously when we told them to issue the cheque to a personal account. As a result, we always had to work harder or on a tight budget to support our activities.
Hence, when big corporations make some annual tax-exempted donations usually to the orphanages and old folk homes, or much willingly participate in some high profile charity events that would be placed their photos in the papers, I choose to donate to societies and activities that are under privilege and low profile, or to some NGOs that promote human rights or some minority rights programs. And of course, the society that I joined during my university days is also in the recipients list. But it was sad to learn that after so many years, their predicament persisted.
Yes, I have more to say when it comes to charity work as part of the integral social responsibility. For example, the world applauded the formation of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiated by Microsoft boss Bill Gates with an endowment of USD33.5 billion as of 31 December 2009, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Nevertheless, I still think it would be better if Bill Gates can do more with the resources his company owned.
Become a philanthropist only after retired?
In fact, the devotion to charity work shouldn’t have come only after Bill Gates retired from his corporate life. It can always be a part of it. For instance, why not have Microsoft give away their older versions of the operating system and software to the people of the poor countries to narrow the digital gap between the rich and the poor? As Microsoft has still been dominating the PC market in the last two decades, this would be a more practical aid to help the world.
You might be a nobody or a somebody, you might earn only a little or you might be a multimillionaire, but when the conscience bell is tolled, don’t wait until someone entices you with a tax exemption letter, and don’t wait until you become a retiree; contribute in whatsoever way that fits you. Just like the Google Executive Wael Ghonim took the online activism to a new level when the revolution erupted in Egypt earlier this year, he doesn’t wait when his countrymen needed him.
And, I joined the Bersih 2.0 mass rally to call for a cleaner and fairer election in Malaysia on 9th July. Who says a Chief Executive Officer can’t take part in a street protest?
by Teh Hon Seng, CEO, FingerTec HQ