Challenges of working in the charity sector

It is good to see some talk about the giving landscape in Singapore ("Make giving a part of our DNA" by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre; Wednesday).

Hopefully, it will bring about confidence in the charity industry.

As a full-time staff member of a charity organisation, I find it a challenge to get people to give with no strings attached.

People also give to causes they are familiar with, or when a cause seems glamorous or timely.

Unfortunately, there are far more causes and organisations than what is seen in the mainstream media.

Each of these causes has manpower costs and other resources to pay for.

Lucky are those that have regular and long-term corporate sponsorship. Blessed are those that have government support.

But there are also a number of organisations that do not receive such support.

The plight of staff working at charity organisations may vary.

For the young who have recently graduated, they come in with bright ideas - albeit sometimes far-fetched ones. Such young folk are easily defeated and move on to other industries while they are still marketable.

Then there are those who have been in the industry for a long time. These senior workers are close to retirement.

They have spent all their working life at one or more charity organisations and are resistant to change. They have seen the ins and outs of charities, the good and bad.

And then there are those stuck in-between - the workers who are neither young nor old enough to retire. For fear of rocking the boat, they toe the line, sometimes forgetting their original reasons for choosing such a career path.

How much is done to help those who work at charity organisations, especially when their salaries will never be the same as those of other working adults? These people will need assistance, too, after providing assistance to others all their working lives.

The National Council of Social Service has benchmark salary scales for charities to meet.

But few may be able to meet the numbers. And many staff at charity organisations, in a bid to hold on to their jobs, accept lower pay, with few options for leaving the industry.

Will for-profit companies recognise the skills and experience of those in charity organisations? Will charity organisations have the capability to pay their employees better?

Will the public help by donating more, even though a portion of their donations may not reach the beneficiaries but, instead, pay for staff who devote their careers to helping the less fortunate?

Do policymakers know the true plight of those working in the helping industry?

Lim Khoon Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'Challenges of working in the charity sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe