Ebenezer Scrooge got it right when he woke up a reformed character on Christmas Day and ordered a turkey the size of a small boy for his long-abused clerk Bob Cratchit. In doing so, Charles Dickens' famous character was focusing his philanthropic intentions on a cause close to his heart, one that he could get involved with and could continue to follow as the years went by. Making a money decision based on your emotions is not something financial professionals usually advise. However, the consensus is that it is a good start when deciding which charity you want to donate to - whether as a one-off cash sum or a continuing commitment. Melanie Nutbeam, a director at the financial planning company ipac, said looking at your own values and what you want to achieve in life was one of the best ways to choose a charity. 'Our chosen charities often reflect our values and our life experiences, so where I have clients who had cancer in the family or an autistic child, they are more likely to involve themselves in those charities.' Following your heart was a good start for anyone considering becoming a philanthropist, agreed Henry Hirzel, managing director of UBS Wealth Management in Hong Kong. 'People are successful in their philanthropy when they choose a [charity] topic that is really close to their heart. That way they really get involved and really understand where the money goes,' he said. In his experience, it is not uncommon for those who have made money to want to give something back and, in doing so, first go back to their roots - to the villages and schools they came from - as a starting point. 'What we actually see with regard to the big donors is that first they give money away without particular structure or ideas. Then they start to think about how they can create the biggest impact.' One of the key factors in creating that impact was strategic planning, Hirzel's colleague Christina Tung Lai-ying, who heads philanthropy services for UBS North Asia, said. This is something UBS helps big-money philanthropists with through a specialist partner, who inspects the chosen charity on the client's behalf, looking at its finances, performance and project development. But for the average would-be philanthropist, checking out the charity was equally important, Tung said, and could be done relatively easily by conducting a company search at the companies register or by consulting the charity's annual report. 'To be a philanthropist in an effective way, you actually need to do your research and make sure you have picked a decent, good charity before you commit,' Tung said. 'You need to find out if a charity is properly registered, what its finances look like, how it spends its money, what proportion of donations goes on administration costs ... [and] look at its governance, performance and transparency. 'If it is a well-managed charity, it should be able to provide all this information. A registered charity will prepare an annual report, and this will include financial statements and details of their programmes.' Ipac's Nutbeam said doing your homework was especially wise if you wanted to know how effective every dollar you give was going to be. 'Charities have come under far more scrutiny in the last few years, especially following the [2004 Asian] tsunami, when there was a lot of media coverage about whether the money raised went to the needy.' Knowing whether a chosen charity was properly registered was also important, Nutbeam said, if you wanted to benefit from the tax incentive in Hong Kong, which made donations to registered charities - from HK$100 to 35 per cent of your income - deductible. 'You should also carefully consider your donations in the wider context of financial planning and what your gift-giving capability is,' Nutbeam advised. 'You don't want to compromise your other goals, for example your children's education or retirement lifestyle, because you have been over-optimistic about your ability to make donations. 'People who are serious about financial planning and achieving their goals should work out how much of their family budget can be used to sustain gift-giving.' Nutbeam suggested involving the family in this decision-making process, even setting aside a proportion of the amount earmarked for birthday and Christmas gifts for charity and encouraging children to take part. 'You can help your children develop a community conscience.' When and how specifically to make donations depends a lot on individual circumstances and choices, Tung said. 'Most donors don't set a specific time for their donations; it could be throughout the year,' she said. 'Some clients choose to set aside a certain percentage of their investment income each year and so, usually by the end of the year, they know how much they have made and how much they can donate. 'But the amount varies. Some families have a foundation, so all the income that family makes in that particular year goes to charity. While for others, it comes from a general fund for things like education. It could be 10 per cent or 7 per cent. It really does depend on the individual.' Whatever the amount, as Scrooge discovered, the rewards of giving are immeasurable and need not be on a grand scale, Nutbeam said. Instead, she suggested, would-be philanthropists could consider the message of ipac's founding director, Arun Abey in his book How Much is Enough. 'While the resources that each of us has will vary,' he writes, 'if you make a difference to just one person, the impact on the well-being of both of you can be similar to those whose reach extends to millions'.