By Younas Chaudhary
When do you begin giving your money and time? I began when I developed a sense of social responsibility—when I felt the keen obligation to share my net income with people and communities in need.
Philanthropy is rooted in American culture, and it is radically different from where I came from. In Asian societies, people give mostly to religious organizations and to close family members who express need. Rich Asian immigrants sometimes find it difficult to part with their money, and many sleep with it under their mattresses without leaving a clear legacy. This has left their successors, especially their children, to squander their parents’ money—buying luxurious mansions and expensive cars, without helping people in need or giving back to the communities that gave them opportunities to build wealth.
America has taught me new ways to give generously with my hard-earned money. I started out by helping individuals in need who were referred to me by friends and family members. However, over the last few years, I have been trying to make my Foundation, the YBC Foundation, more strategic in its giving. This year, I focused on helping larger groups because of the immense current needs in Houston. The pandemic has impacted a lot of people, and I felt I should do my small part, so I selected around five local organizations and gave them donations.
My yardstick for giving to nonprofits is quite simple—they need to have social impact and connect directly with people in need. They must be fiscally responsible and transparent, and they must spend most of the funds raised directly on helping people, rather than on operating costs to pay high salaries, host expensive fundraising galas, or support huge travel and entertainment costs. As a charity, they should show and behave like a well-run non-profit organization whose mission is to truly and directly help people in need.
Investing in our community benefits all of us and enhances the quality of all of our lives. In this season of generosity, a cause that has touched my heart is Parkinson’s Disease. This has been personal to me, as every day I can see its debilitating effects on my wife’s life, including the memory loss and the pain she has to endure. A once sharp, caring, well-dressed woman and great entertainer now sits pensively in one side of our home. A person who enjoyed long walks on most days now cannot take them. This reminds me of a saying that “only you can feel the pain in your stomach, but the rest of the world will think you are perfectly fine because you can’t show that.” She likes someone to sit next to her and spend time with her. I am mostly around her, and she has caregivers around her, but I often wonder how life would be for others who do not have the resources and the support they need to manage Parkinson’s Disease with dementia.
The past few years have taught me that giving and donating your time, talent, and treasure are perhaps the most worthwhile and rewarding things you can do in your lifetime.
Helping the community
In 1985, there were few of my community members living in Houston. We gathered during weekends at a clubhouse in my neighborhood. As more people from our community started making Houston their home, we outgrew the space at the clubhouse and moved to a property with a small hall on the northside of town. That was a temporary solution to our increased numbers, but it was still a small space, located on an unknown street in a poor location.
I wanted to help our community find a long-term solution so that they could congregate in a larger space. So, in the late 1990s I purchased five acres of land on a main road near I-45 and Rankin/Spear Road and donated it to the community. My hope was that they would build a place of faith at that location. Yet two years went by, and they told me that they had been unable to raise any funds to do so.
So, I made a promise that I myself would build a mosque for the community on that land. Unfortunately, I too did not have the funds on hand to make such a huge cash outlay. But rather than waiting indefinitely for those funds to materialize, I simply asked my wife if we could take a mortgage on our home to finance the project, and she agreed. So, we began construction and surprisingly, within a few months, my finances improved, so I ultimately was able to complete the project without taking a loan on my home!
In March 2004, I handed over the keys to the new mosque that accommodates over 800 people. What started out quite small in 1985 is now the backbone of our community, and I have often wondered how I was able to accomplish such a major feat at that time. I feel that the blessings from a higher power led me to donate the land and complete the project without any financial hurdles. I am deeply humbled seeing how the community is benefiting from it today.
This led me to start thinking seriously about my philanthropy. I began to understand why giving generously of your money for a good cause, without standing to gain any personal benefit, provides infinite inner-joy. So, I established the YBC Foundation in 2004 and decided that a percentage of money from my businesses would go to help others and to the YBC Foundation. My estate planning was even modified so that this legacy of giving to others would continue in perpetuity even after I am gone.
Here are few tips for being generous in giving to others:
- Make giving a habit. Allocate a portion of your income to support good causes helping people that you feel are important to you.
- If you are wealthy, consult your financial advisor and find out how you can find ways to leave a legacy by leaving a portion of your will to a nonprofit of your choice.
- Think of establishing donor advised funds at entities like your local bank or brokerage firm so that your giving can continue even after your lifetime. You can also work with local community foundations to establish endowments.
- Teach your children the importance of philanthropy at a young age. Lead by example and involve them in your charitable giving.
- Carefully evaluate the nonprofits you give to so that you can be confident that your money will be used for a good cause after you are gone.
- Stop giving your money to nonprofit organizations that do not acknowledge your gift. It is your hard-earned money, and those that do not acknowledge and appreciate your effort do not need your help.
- Remember that giving your money, talent, and time are the most worthwhile and rewarding things in your life when you do it for others without seeking any personal gains.
You can read more by purchasing my best-selling memoir “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.