More bottom-up approach required to boost charitable efforts here, says researchers

Ruth Shapiro and Mehvesh Mumtaz Ahmed address the public perception of the nonprofit sector and the need to build trust between welfare groups and individuals.

The Straits Times

Low De Wei

Welfare groups must do more to address the “trust deficit” and spread awareness of their work here, researchers assessing conditions for philanthropic efforts in the region have concluded in a report.

This is despite the fact that Singapore outperformed 14 other Asian economies in the report in terms of policies such as tax incentives that encourage charitable giving, they said. Individuals and companies enjoy a 250 percent tax deduction for donations made in Singapore.

The co-authors of the report-“Doing Good Index 2018”, Ruth A. Shapiro and Mehvesh Mumtaz Ahmed, explored the reasons for the mismatch between a conducive regulatory framework that promotes philanthropy and the lack of societal engagement during a presentation at the Singapore Management University (SMU) on Thursday (June 21).

SMU conducted a survey of 48 for-profit and non-profit organisations that address social needs here to help in the compiling of the report.

An overwhelming number of the organisations – 94 percent – agreed that there was a public perception that non-profit employees should earn less.

Sixty percent of those surveyed also felt that the level of individual giving remained low.

“People don’t want to give because they don’t trust the organisations to use their money,” said Dr. Shapiro, who is also the chief executive of the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS), a Hong Kong-based philanthropy think-tank that published the report in January.

“They (organisations) have to measure what they do, they have to put information on their websites, they have to be better at telling their stories and impact of their efforts,” she added.

Co-author Ms. Ahmed, who is also research director at the think-tank, said that conducive policies in Singapore contributed to its strong performance in the index compiled in the study.

But she warned that because the government was doing so much to promote charitable giving, society was merely being pulled along and was lagging behind.

“You can bring a horse to water, (but) you can’t make it drink,” Ms. Mehvesh said

Many of the organisations surveyed – 84 percent – also indicated that they had difficulty recruiting skilled staff.

“I have friends who tell me they cannot survive if they come into this sector, people will expect them to take a salary cut,” said Mdm Joyce Lye, the founder and honorary president of Kampung Senang, a charitable foundation that provides education and eldercare services.

Mdm Lye, 66, was a senior banker earning more than $20,000 a month nearly 20 years ago before leaving to set up the organisation with her own savings.

Mdm Lye said she has had to turn to overseas professionals or those passionate about serving even if they were not trained.

She believed that such staff deserved more pay rather than less because many went out of their way, often beyond normal work hours, to help take care of less fortunate children or the elderly.

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