“While Singaporeans have become more generous overall, fewer are volunteering their time and efforts for a cause” (Singapore Ranks 28th in World Giving Index, Ng Huiwen).
To be busy is the norm in Singapore, so findings that more Singaporeans donate than volunteer their time – in the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre’s “Individual Giving Survey” in 2014 which found that only 17.8 per cent of Singaporeans volunteered, and in the “World Giving Index” by the Charities Aid Foundation which found that only about 20 per cent of Singaporeans did so – are not surprising. “While Singaporeans have become more generous overall, fewer are volunteering their time and efforts for a cause” (ST, Oct. 27), the second study noted.
A higher rate of volunteerism is often correlated with a more active citizenry, especially through interactions with the disenfranchised and subsequently through evaluations of socio-economic policies. Yet endeavours to get more Singaporeans volunteering must go beyond mere appeals to altruism or to general benefits of civic participation. To encourage those who may be short of time – a common explanation for not volunteering – highlight the pragmatic benefits: meet new people and expanding networks, develop skills when organising events and mobilising manpower, and even involve family members or colleagues in these projects.
Concerns that such attitudes are antithetical to the non-profit sector and the work of volunteers are somewhat valid, though I would argue that what matters is whether over the long-term – after those initial pragmatic motivations – the new volunteers continue to commit, allowing themselves to be shaped by the experience. Nine years ago as a high school student I started my community service involvement with the intent of boosting my curriculum vitae, so as to present myself to colleges and scholarship boards as a selfless, engaged applicant, but years into stints with charities, learning from social workers and beneficiaries and doing my bit, the intent of my volunteerism has shifted and even broadened.
A final point: To have the time and ability to volunteer is a privilege, and thus an expectation to have everyone involved would not be reasonable. As far as possible, however, getting more to volunteer must start from a young age, and subsequently reaching out to those with the means or the willingness to volunteer their time, and not just to donate money.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.