Active Philanthropy

A financial planner encourages clients and alumni to give beyond their families.

Sean Yu, AM’02, is grateful for the critical-thinking skills he learned at UChicago. Based in Pasadena, California, Yu founded a group at Morgan Stanley that provides wealth-management services to high-net-worth Chinese and Taiwanese American clients. His master’s degree in international relations, he says, “helps me to understand the world from a social, economic, and political standpoint.”

Philanthropy has always been at the top of Yu’s own investment goals. When he joined Morgan Stanley in 2003, he was donating $100 a year to the University of Chicago, despite his share of student loans. Giving back “is what made this society so strong,” he says. “A value system that will move you to give something—even five bucks—means a lot.”

His value system comes from personal experience. When Yu’s parents separated after emigrating from Taiwan to California, money was tight. He studied business and political science at California Polytechnic State University, and then his grandmother and uncle encouraged him to apply to UChicago. “I was lucky enough to get in,” he says, “but without a fellowship had to take out several loans—including a personal loan with a very high interest rate.”

Now Yu helps provide students with the kind of support that would have lowered his loan burden. In May 2012 he established the Sean Yu International Relations Fellowship by directing a gift from his donor-advised fund, and this past June he named that fund as the beneficiary of his 401K- and Morgan Stanley-deferred compensations. Although he’s provided for his family through personal accounts, he’s chosen a different approach for his retirement funds. “If my wife and children were the beneficiaries on my 401K or IRA account,” he says, that money would be taxed. “Instead, designating the University or other nonprofits as beneficiaries ensures that the full value of my account will be utilized.”

Most of his Asian American clients, Yu notes, want to leave all their money to their family, a cultural tradition he wants to help change. “There should be some inheritance to children and heirs,” he says, “but not more than what is reasonably needed to get by.” He hopes to inspire classmates and clients to cultivate a philanthropic value system. “I can teach people techniques to save money on taxes and encourage them to donate,” he says, “but I can’t stimulate values that aren’t there to begin with.”

Sean’s Philanthropy Tips

  1. Talk to the right individuals: Office of Gift Planning, CPA, a trusted lawyer, or a financial adviser with expertise in philanthropy.
  2. Evaluate your assets.
  3. Explain your goals to your family.
  4. Think about your values and interests—then share them. Only then can a financial adviser or gift-planning officer help you support your passions.
  5. Consider different vehicles for giving, like a 401K, IRA, or a donor-advised fund.

You can name the University as beneficiary of part or all of your retirement account simply by requesting a form from the plan’s custodian. If you have already taken steps to do so, we encourage you to let us know. All donors who support the University through a planned gift are invited to join the Phoenix Society.

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