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6 min read

‘Whatever I give, I get a heck of a lot more back’: Casey Tan on his giving journey

Generous, community-minded, and with years of experience in the finance and not-for-profit sectors, Casey Tan is no stranger to charitable giving.  

It’s something his father ingrained in him from a young age, Casey says, and it’s why he’s dedicated years of his life to giving back. 

“My dad gave me the idea of what charity is all about, and taught me that when you have enough, you’ve got to share,” says Casey. “Money has to be used for a purpose”.  

Casey’s family values shine throughout his professional and personal life, with the retired Finance Director and former Australian Communities Foundation Board Director currently serving as Rotary District Community Service Chair at Rotary District 9800, where he supports 63 Rotary Clubs and 16 major programs.

Upon deciding he was ready for a more structured approach to his giving, Casey determined the best giving vehicle was a Named Fund with Australian Communities Foundation, and opened the Tan Family Fund in 2006. 

In this recent conversation, Casey elaborates on the ways structured giving through a community foundation has helped him achieve his giving goals, and why he “gets a heck of a lot more back” whenever he gives. 

 Watch: Fundholder Casey Tan discusses his giving journey.

You’ve been involved in charitable giving for decades now. Which causes are closest to your heart and have your interest areas changed over time? 

CT: When I first started the Tan Family Fund, the top-of-mind causes were family violence, especially violence against women, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights. I feel a strong affinity with those causes and felt I could do a lot of good.  

You’re always looking for how you can achieve maximum impact for what you give across different areas. My involvement with the Carlton Rotary Club since 1985 and Wesley Mission gave me a wide understanding of what certain needs are both locally and globally. So, my interest areas have changed over time, but I do like to do a bit of seed funding so that something can get bigger. I choose whatever I think could do the most good, at that particular point in time. 

Where do you think your sense of social justice comes from and what motivated you to get started with giving?

For me, it flows down. As a child, my dad was an orphan refugee in Singapore and had a really tough life. So, as I was growing up, there was always the idea of charity in the back of my mind. I remember when I was young and lived in Malaysia, he used to let a homeless person sleep in our shop overnight, while we slept in the house upstairs; he’s just always doing different things to help other people.  

So, that’s why I think it’s important to talk to your family about giving, get them interested. It’s not how much you give – every little bit counts. 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your giving journey? 

For whatever I give, I think I get a heck of a lot more back. Because what you get is a network of people who share similar interests and values in life.  

Lots of studies show that people who are engaged with community – people who are volunteering, people who are giving – have happier, longer, healthier lives. And I’ve found it’s true; it works for me. I’m happier, I’m doing things with my life, and I’ve got more meaning to it.  

When I was younger, I was very focused – a workaholic to a large extent – and these giving activities got me out of my shell, exposing me to issues and people’s values and beliefs that were beyond what a career could have offered me. 

What do you enjoy most about giving with Australian Communities Foundation? 

Australian Communities Foundation has a fantastic website that gives me a lot of background information. You’re kept in touch with not just what you’re doing, but the rest of the giving community and what they’re doing.  

There are also donor events that highlight some of the critical areas we can get involved in. There is a lot more support than what you could do by yourself, and we share our knowledge with each other. 

Responsible investing is also important to me. The fact my funds are responsibly invested through the Foundation means I can do good while still deciding what I want to do with my money 

What do you enjoy most about being part of a national giving community?

There are a lot of events happening; you get to meet both the staff as well as other donors. And getting involved gives you lots of information – like how to have maximum impact with the money you’re giving.

There is a good pool of very experienced, knowledgeable people who you can work with. You can call up, talk to people, read reports, access the database, look at how you give, what you give to, and which areas. 

What’s something you wish more people knew about philanthropy?

You don’t need a lot of money to start. I think a lot of people are thinking of doing it but worry it’ll take too much time or money. They think ‘I haven’t got $5 million’, or what have you.  

One advantage of Australian Communities Foundation is that you can start small and accumulate funds – you can start by putting $100 aside every month from your bank account into a Gumnut Account and then see that build up. And when your fund gets to a certain size, it’ll mature into a Named Fund.  

You can also encourage fellow colleagues, friends, and family to donate to the fund to build it up. And that allows you to share the idea of what philanthropy is all about so that you can get more people interested. 

How has the community foundation model supported your giving?

Australian Communities Foundation makes giving a lot easier, a lot smoother, because if I were to do a lot of things that ACF does now, it would have cost me a lot more in time and money.  

With ACF, I get an annual report, I have access to the website, to the database, what I’ve granted, what’s been happening over the years. Everything is set up so it’s very easy to use, and the investment is done by ACF – I don’t worry about it.  

ACF researches and is aware of not just current issues, but emerging issues, and so ACF is giving me fresh granting ideas – I’m constantly learning new things. 

So, if you’re time poor, Australian Communities Foundation can give you a quick, easy way of keeping in touch on the issues – people, causes, how to do it, and a means of doing it. 

Learn more about opening a Named Fund here.