“With an increasing number of charities competing for donations, the National Council of Social Service is looking to help the smaller ones ramp up their fundraising capabilities” (NCSS Wants To Help Charities With Weak Or No Fundraising Capabilities, Kelly Ng).
The move by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to help charities with weak or no fundraising capabilities – especially in 2012 when “85 per cent of the total funds raised when to large charities with annual receipts of above S$10 million” (TODAY, Jun. 17) – is well-intentioned, and while in the short-term the smaller organisations may benefit from these services, in the long-term the NCSS should look to increase the size of the fundraising pie in Singapore. And besides larger amounts made available in general, Singaporeans should be encouraged to donate more critically, making contributions based on the effectiveness of the charities, the performance results they can show for, and the sustainable impact they may have on their beneficiaries.
According to the Commissioner of Charities, the number of charities has grown from 2,028 in 2010 to 2,142 in 2013, but its annual report last year revealed that the sum of tax-deductible donations in the country has fallen instead. It was S$970 million in 2014, down six per cent from the S$1.031 billion in 2012. Quantitatively the challenge is obvious for all charities. The “silent sufferers” notwithstanding – those who may not have the same support from the public – it is also not necessarily fair to criticise the fundraising disparities between the small and large charities, without taking into consideration the number of beneficiaries in each of these organisations. The quality of the assistance can be further evaluated too, and in some sense the growth or size of the organisation may be evidence of that quality.
Distinctions should also be made between corporate and individual donations: the former can be boosted by strategic planning or consultancy, yet the same can only be done for the latter if the general public is more cognisant of the work done by non-profits.
The NCSS undertaking to help the smaller charities ramp up their fundraising capabilities – “to review their focuses and communicate their causes in a compelling way” – would count for little, if the public is not in sync with these efforts. Before a donation, Singaporeans should look more critically at information provided by the organisations, taking inspiration from American charity evaluator Charity Navigator for instance. The independent non-profit empowers donors to make well-informed decisions along three dimensions: financial health, accountability and transparency, as well as mission-related results. In fact in Singapore, the charities portal provides data for the first two dimensions, though more work can be expected for the final one.
And such outreach can start from young. More often than not community service in schools is pragmatic, or students complete projects without understanding their motivations or the needs of their organisations. Comparisons can be made across the non-profits, based on their target audience and areas of influence. The eventual intent is for corporates and individuals to contribute larger amounts sustainable, and – armed with knowledge and comprehension of charities in Singapore – make wiser choices, funding the most effective ones in the process.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.