“Moves are afoot to encourage people to volunteer regularly. While more Singaporeans are volunteering, many do it on a one-time basis” (Moves to Boost Regular Volunteering, Carolyn Khew).
For years the government has sought to encourage more Singaporeans to volunteer, and even though the focus is now on “volunteering over a sustained period of time” (ST, Dec. 1), no significant breakthrough has been achieved in recent years. Besides the lack of useful information about volunteer patterns and their impact – beyond the “Individual Giving Survey” conducted by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre and the more recent “World Giving Index” by the Charities Aid Foundation, both of which rely on survey data, or the anecdotal feedback gathered by the National Council of Social Service – strategies to get more individuals involved in the non-profit sector must be more specific, more targeted.
At the moment, the first challenge appears to be the matching of volunteers to more sustainable projects, given that “certain needs remain underserved while others such as organising Christmas parties for elderly residents and children in homes were catered to in excess”. One way to build partnership is to encourage schools and companies to engage with a particular charity over a few years, or with a particular sector – with at-risk youths or in eldercare, for instance – so that volunteers have a longer time-frame in mind. A constructive arrangement in this regard would be commitment to a regular, weekly engagement through which shifts can be rotated, supplemented by bigger events every once in a while.
A second trend perhaps worth looking at is the transition from the classroom to the workplace. The lack of time and bandwidth are oft-cited reasons for not volunteering, yet in theory the community service or service-learning programmes in the schools – under the Values in Action umbrella – should serve as springboards for adult volunteerism in the future. Retention rates in non-profit organisations should also provide clues, and finding a match between these organisations and volunteers can therefore be useful.
And finally, schools and companies – given the number of students and the manpower who can be mobilised are seen as platforms to boost volunteerism rates, when it could be argued that families or households play important roles as well. If it can be established through empirical studies in Singapore, that parents who are active in the community or in the non-profit space are more likely to encourage their children to do the same, that siblings can urge one another to contribute, or that volunteerism through the family is more effective or sustainable, then steps can be taken to further boost it.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.