“With more people taking an interest in meeting needs around them, the number of charities in Singapore has grown in recent years” (Charity Boom, Janice Tai).
While the surge in the number of charities – with 2,215 registered charities in 2015, “up from 1,807 a decade ago in 2005, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC)” (ST, Dec. 27) – may indicate greater awareness or interest in meeting needs, the surge must be matched by greater capacities within and around these organisations. In addition to the problem of duplication, when there are overlaps in service delivery to the same beneficiaries, charities will only be effective if they are able to attract the necessary manpower and resources for their activities. For instance at the present moment, as the report highlighted, the larger organisations continue to monopolise the annual receipts, and the same could be said about volunteers and social work professionals too.
And it may be presumptuous to suggest – from this growth alone – that “Singapore is becoming a more compassionate society”, unless other indicators such as the number of active volunteers (as a proportion of the population), the demographics of these volunteers, or the number of donors and the diversity in the sources of donations (not just the sum of donations) are taken into consideration. Besides tracking the newly-registered organisations in the past decades, it would also be meaningful to check charities which have deregistered in the same period, if any.
In this vein beyond the number of charities, evaluating the work they have done is important too. To determine their social impact, three domains should be considered: first, legitimacy, whether community issues of concern are addressed; second, effectiveness, whether the results achieved are resource or cost-effective; and third, accountability, whether the welfare of beneficiaries is improved. What follows are necessary studies on the inputs, activities and outputs, as well as the intended outcomes of the organisations. Some may be critical of the bureaucratic work, especially with the use of indicators or even targets, yet ascertaining the performance of charities can be productive for the sector too.
Two purposes can therefore be met. For the charities, healthy competition can improve service delivery, encouraging greater sensitivity towards the needs of beneficiaries. In fact, best practices – premised upon long-term evidence and data – can be shared, resulting in better outcomes for the sector. For Singaporeans, more information about the charities and their work could lead to better giving, with donors thinking more thoroughly about the causes and organisations they are supporting. This would not only challenge the larger charities and perhaps even diversify the sources of donations, but could also galvanise donors to become volunteers, or be involved with the organisations in other capacities.