“Charities in Singapore pulled in a substantial $2.9 billion in donations in 2016, the highest sum since at least 2008” ($2.9b Donated to Charities in Singapore in 2016, Theresa Tan and Cara Wong).
Analysis of the charity landscape in Singapore has rarely gone beyond the informational and financial snapshots offered by the Commissioner of Charities (COC) through its annual reports – such as the number and types of charitable organisations, overall income and expenses and how they may have changed over time, as well as reviews or investigations of governance processes and internal controls (ST, Nov. 14) – even though the online Charity Portal maintained by the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY) offers a rich database of charity data which could potentially be aggregated and analysed for a richer picture of the Singaporean charity landscape. Updating the portal and increasing data accessibility would therefore be productive.
Useful research questions, for instance, will include a better understanding of the charities which receive the most donations – beyond the obvious ones such as the religious groups, universities, and health institutions – in terms of the distribution of their income (from donations, government grants, investment income, and programme fees). The fact that 185 large charities with an annual income of more than $10 million account for close to 90 per cent of the total income of all the 2,263 charities can be studied too, by studying their sectors, their causes, and their organisational profiles. In this vein, segments which have been underserved or underrepresented could be identified, and the patterns of organisational expense subsequently tracked.
As it stands, the financial statements for example provide enough for the large-scale evaluation of financial efficiency (the programme, administrative, and fundraising expense percentages) and financial capacity (like the liabilities to assets ratio).
The challenge for such explorations, however, is that even though the COC and the MCCY have made such data and information – a charity’s organisational profile, financial information, annual report, and code compliance (beyond the observation that most charities, especially the Institutions of a Public Character, individually provide these details on their own websites) – available through the aforementioned Charity Portal, it is not possible to compare multiple charities at the same time, or to compare groups of charity by sectors and causes. In addition to the provision of datasets which would allow for the testing of pertinent research questions, visualisation tools in the style of the data.gov.sg platform should be considered for a wider and richer comprehension of Singapore’s charity landscape.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.