Why Singaporeans don’t give and what we can do about it

This article is more than 12 months old

Singapore has long way to go in cultivating culture of donating, with many citing incentivisation as factors that would encourage them

With our rapidly ageing demographic and evolving social needs in the digital age, the imperative to provide much-needed social services will arise and result in the social services sector needing to play an increasing role.

Data from a recent National Council of Social Service survey revealed that this might be a challenge, with obtaining new and sustainable sources of funding cited as one of the major challenges that charities faced. Only 23 per cent felt they were able to obtain new funding streams easily and only 34 per cent had committed long-term funding to support their growth.

The Given Company commissioned a survey of 1,845 Singaporeans, conducted by Milieu, to help answer the question "Why Singaporeans don't give?" and uncover how they could be motivated to give more.

Despite the rise of alternative methods of fund-raising including crowdsourcing platforms, the reality remains that Singapore still has a long way to go in cultivating a culture of giving.

Top reasons for not giving to charity include Singaporeans not being able to afford to make donations (35 per cent) and scepticism about lack of transparency of donations (33 per cent).

Singaporeans are still relatively traditional in what they viewed as giving, and how they gave, as cash donations (82 per cent) still dominated.

It is fair to say that the culture of giving has yet to be ingrained in our society as only 30 per cent of Singaporeans surveyed said they give to charity regularly, and the majority (83 per cent) donate less than 5 per cent of their salary each year.

Despite our relative economic growth, our nation still has a long way to go to catch up to regional counterparts such as Myanmar and Indonesia, who outperformed Singapore in terms of frequency and relative size of donations, showed the CAF World Giving Index 2017.

While most people would not cite laziness or the lack of personal gain as a reason for not giving more, most admitted that convenience (62 per cent) and incentivisation (58 per cent) would encourage them to donate more to charity.


We also discovered that while those aged between 18 to 29 do not give as much or as frequently as older people, they were most likely to respond positively to incentivisation.

Sixty-six per cent of millennials said they were "likely or very likely" to donate more to charity if they stood a chance to win something in return, compared with 49 per cent of those 45 years old and above that responded the same.

The effect was even more pronounced when respondents were presented with our concept of "incentivised giving", where members of the public can make a purchase of ordinary goods such as T-shirts and stand a chance to win prizes like luxury cars, while making a positive difference by deciding which charity the profits generated from their transaction should benefit.

Seventy-nine per cent of those surveyed said they liked the concept - a figure that was relatively consistent across the different age and income brackets - and 70 per cent also said they were likely to donate regularly via this concept.

If true, this would be a material improvement, considering the baseline of 30 per cent that we established at the beginning of the survey.

While the concept of incentivised giving will undoubtedly have its detractors and there will be those who take the purist view that the act of giving should be done with absolutely no expectations of a return, this fund-raising model has proven extremely popular and effective globally, in countries like Australia and the US.

Singapore has always prided itself on its objective approach to everything, from foreign policy to town planning, and indeed, this has been a key reason for our success.

With charities searching for new, more sustainable ways to support the increasing demands for their services, perhaps it is time we embraced alternative models of fund-raising, which - if the numbers are any guide - should prove its worth with time.

The writer is co-founder and executive director of The Given Company, which is wholly owned by Raffles Place Technologies