Singapore

Tough times ahead for charities

As economy slows, Charity Council chief Gerard Ee urges group to make causes clear

If 2016 was a year when charities started feeling the effects of a global economic slowdown, then they had better brace themselves for an even more pronounced impact over the next 12 months, said Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee.

Singapore's economic growth forecast for this year has been projected at between 1 and 3 per cent, with the world in the throes of rising political risks and tensions in international relations.

With more charities eyeing a slice of the pie, this spells tough times ahead.

Mr Ee, a social service veteran, told The New Paper: "It will be very challenging. All the more so, we charities will have to do our part and really be able to clearly articulate our causes.

"People now only support causes, not organisations.

"If you can't articulate what is it you're doing, what outcomes you're trying to achieve, it will be so much harder to get support. Unfortunately, this is something we are not terribly good at."

While official figures on donations received last year are not out yet, the Singapore Red Cross (SRC), which committed $50,000 to support disaster response efforts after last year's Aceh earthquake, recorded a 35 per cent dip in corporate monetary donations.

Non-governmental organisation (NGO) Mercy Relief also encountered the same trend, which executive director Zhang Tingjun attributed to the challenging economic environment.

People now only support causes, not organisations. Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee

The drop in corporate giving comes on the heels of a 17-year peak of $1.4 billion in tax-deductible donations in 2015 - a 24.6 per cent increase from 2014.

But Mr Ee said that significant jump was a one-off.

He explained: "It will not be appropriate for charities to compare the donations they receive with 2015, which saw extra tax deductions and the euphoria of SG50. Donations may be getting scarcer as companies struggle to even survive."

Some charities are already adopting a more creative approach to attracting donations.

Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society, which runs free meal centres and free clinics, has invested in 10 claw machines for about $10,000. The cost was fully sponsored by an anonymous donor.

Each try on the machines, which will be placed at AMK Hub and Northpoint for one to three months, costs $2.

SRC, meanwhile, is working with more corporate groups to channel their time and skills on a long-term basis. The charity saw a 50 per cent increase in corporate volunteers last year.

Mercy Relief's Ms Zhang said the NGO has seen a surge in skill-based volunteering.

They have tapped on volunteers like the legal team at Flint & Battery, the creative and communications team at Edelman and the IT support offered by CIO Academy Asia's give-back pillar CIO Care.

This has allowed the NGO to focus on aid relief and disaster management.

Corporates like Vanguard Interiors also supported the NGO by donating new office furniture for its new office.

Such non-monetary giving is not necessarily a lesser form of charity, Mr Ee pointed out.

"Every little bit counts. I don't think it's a zero-sum game," he said.

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