Exploring key considerations for giving across borders.
Council on Foundations with BNY Mellon and Give2Asia


Wealthy philanthropic families are more geographically spread out than ever before.

Not only does this create logistical hurdles, but rifts can develop within families, separating family members by more than just distance. For families committed to philanthropic giving, this both poses problems and presents opportunities that deserve further examination.

Conducting global family philanthropy is often filled with traps for the uninitiated. Depending on where donations are coming from and where they are going, scores of legal restrictions, tax dilemmas, and other concerns can be triggered despite the good intentions of donors. A plethora of vehicles and structures can help families give internationally, but each comes with its own unique challenges and can differ drastically depending on the countries involved.

Yet, global family philanthropy can be an extremely rewarding experience and is vital to today’s philanthropic ecosystem. In the U.S., family foundations number in the tens of thousands, and the number of organized family philanthropic ventures in countries like India, China, and Singapore has grown rapidly.

While significant gaps still exist in the data we have about family philanthropy around the world, families with a global footprint need to have reliable information and advice about giving across borders.

This publication brings together the experiences of three organizations involved in global family philanthropy and addresses some common hurdles that global families face. With both practical insights and deeper explanations of legal processes, it seeks to contribute to an area of research that needs more data and information. The paper provides an overview of the common vehicles that are available for global family philanthropy, such as family foundations, donor advised funds, and giving circles. It also addresses issues of tax, exploring how different countries offer tax benefits for charitable giving and how this can affect where philanthropic capital resides. The paper dives into some of the most challenging regulations that arise when conducting cross-border giving.

This paper is most relevant for readers with an interest in philanthropic giving within and among the United States, United Kingdom, Greater China, Singapore, and Canada.

Over the next 30 to 40 years, wealthy families around the world will participate in the largest transfer of wealth in human history. According to Accenture, that transfer will total US$30 trillion in assets in North America alone.1 As families look to manage cross-generational wealth, many are also contending with the challenges associated with being a global family. 

With family members and assets spread across multiple countries, they are exploring how to create a charitable legacy and how to mobilize those assets to support values and causes that are important to their family.

Over $4 trillion assets are held by more than 10,000 family offices in the world.

There is significant wealth residing within families. EY estimates there are more than 10,000 family offices in the world, while Camden Wealth says there are more than $4 trillion assets held by family offices. This is just a glimpse at current family wealth, but there are many other families who are not structured in this way or do not have the sizable assets required for a family office. Regardless, with wealth being developed in more countries and with families becoming more dispersed, we are witnessing the rise of family philanthropy globally. Whether it is U.S. citizens working in the United Kingdom or Chinese students attending U.S. universities, people are increasingly crossing borders, establishing roots, and creating charitable legacies in their new homes.

Indeed, charitable giving outside of a home country is one of the faster growing segments of family philanthropy.

Private giving for international causes increased by 7 percent, adjusted for infation, from 2017-2018 and now represents 5 percent of all giving in the United States, according to Giving USA data for 2018.3 Meanwhile, the 2018 CAF World Giving Index showed that giving in developing countries rose by almost 2 percent, demonstrating that philanthropy often increases alongside economic development. Multinational families continue to seek ways to engage in cross-border giving to bond with family members who live in different countries. Helping people around the globe is one way to establish priorities that resonate across borders as part of the overall family wealth management strategy.

However, despite enthusiasm for giving back and the desire to do so in a collaborative way with family members around the globe, multinational families are confronted with many challenges. Sources of advice are few and difficult to find.

This paper explores:

  • Regulatory and geographic challenges that make cross border philanthropy trickier than domestic giving.
  • Structures and models for managing charitable assets across borders.
  • • New strategies and trends in how families are using their wealth for social benefit.

Explore the full report below.