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Charity starts at home page
Published on Thursday, 04 Aug 2011
Through iDonate.com.hk, Bonita Wang informs the public on how donations are spent.
Photo: Berton Ch

When Hongkongers want to check out the city’s dining scene, they usually consult their favourite website. But when they want to make a donation, they have no idea where to look for advice.  With this in mind, Bonita Wang quit her job at a private equity fund and put up idonate.com.hk, one of the first local charity watchdogs that help donors make the right choice.

How did you come up with the idea for idonate.com.hk?
When I was working at a private equity fund, I volunteered at the Fullest Salon, which provided juvenile delinquents hairstyle training. Through this programme, I got to know many generous individuals who were keen on helping the needy. However, they were not united and had limited power. I then thought of setting up idonate.com.hk to unite them.

What’s your goal?  
The website serves as a platform for the public, companies and charity groups to interact.  There are many Hong Kong residents who want to donate money but they do not know which charity to help. The big groups are doing fine, but there are many small charity groups that deserve more attention. My job is to connect them to companies and the public.

I plan to get corporates to fund and run social responsibility projects together with small charities and attract donation from the public. I hope to create a win-win-win situation, with charities able to get funding, corporates able to foster corporate social responsibility, and the public able to donate to worthy charity organisations.

How did you start and what have you achieved so far?
It is a new organisation. I began in December 2010.  I spent two weeks building a Google site, then I set up a database with the help of a freelance programmer. I began by evaluating charities then started the Good Deed Campaign, which encouraged the public to leave some comments.  Now there is a Facebook page and iPhone apps for idonate.com.hk. So far, I have rated more than 175 charity groups. It is still a long way to go. There are more than 1,000 charities that have yet to be rated.

How does the idonate.com.hk charity rating system work?
It uses “Charity Navigator”, the largest and most widely used guide in the United States, to evaluate charities. It looks into the fund-raising efficiency – the ratio of fund-raising expenses, charitable project expenses, staff salaries and administrative costs to total expenditure – of a charity to determine its operational efficiency. Each factor is rated using a 10-point system. Fund-raising efficiency measures the cost of generating every HK$100 charitable contribution. Charities that use less than HK$10 to generate HK$100 of donation are awarded 10 points.

What obstacles have you faced in running the website?
Some charities are uncomfortable with the idea of idonate.com.hk because they feel that they are under surveillance. But getting charities to be more transparent with their finances is the future trend. The public demands to be informed and the government is going to introduce a law to tighten control over charities.

I have received feedback from charities complaining that their grading is too low. Most of the time, they are willing to provide more information to help me with a more accurate grading. Also, connecting small charities with corporates is not easy, as some corporates have concerns over the calibre of small charities.

Who are your inspiration?
I take inspiration from Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, and US neurosurgeon Ben Carson.  Jobs said: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” You cannot see the results now, but everything you have done is preparation for success later. When Jobs dropped out of college and went to learn calligraphy, nobody thought he was being constructive. Little did he know that later, the calligraphy knowledge would help him develop the different fonts used in Apple. I felt inspired when I read Carson’s book, Gifted Hands. The hardships he had overcome and the miracles he had experienced would make you think that there are no unsolvable problems.  “God will never get you into something that he cannot get you out of,” he wrote.

What is the future of local charities?
I think they will be more transparent with their finances, allowing the public to learn more about how their donations are used. I also predict they will use social platforms and mobile phone apps to raise funds.

What are your plans? 
At the moment, I am running idonate.com.hk with my own funding. I hope it can bring in some income to balance its cost. For now, I am the only full-time staff but I hope to employ a full-time programmer later and rent an office.

I am a believer in crowd donation and I am starting a campaign to encourage Hong Kong people to donate 12 per cent of their HK$6,000 [tax rebate] from the government to help fund projects in the “Love Ideas, Love HK” programme. With only the money from the Li Ka Shing Foundation, a mere quarter of the projects can happen. But with contributions from everybody, all the projects can come true.