Raise awareness of transparency, governance of charities

In highlighting the fact that just over half of charity groups submitted an online checklist used to self-evaluate how well they have followed guidelines laid down by the Commissioner of Charities (COC), last Thursday's commentary raises valid concerns about the governance and transparency of charities in Singapore ("Holding charities to account").

Because the COC has yet to find a balance in the regulation of the sector, two recommendations can be considered.

First, strengthen public education on "informed giving", so that non-profit groups are accountable to donors and the public.

Second, nudge more of these organisations to focus on outcomes and results reporting.

Besides the self-evaluation process, there is a national charity portal, which provides some details about charities, their annual reports and statements of account.

These documents are often uploaded on their respective websites too.

Yet, what is less clear is how aware Singaporean donors are of these platforms, how often these platforms are used, and whether they are consulted when donors give them funds.

More needs to be done to raise awareness of the availability of such information, and people should be encouraged to turn to these portals before they decide to donate to an organisation.

Charities could also be pressured by more discerning donors, who may demand to know how their donations are used.

Charity Navigator, one of the largest charity evaluators in the United States, rates organisations in three areas: financial health, accountability and transparency, and results reporting.

In Singapore, the authorities can encourage charities that have submitted the governance checklist to give prominence to performance measurement and management.

"Evidence-based" giving can promote higher standards.

The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre has published independent charity analyses for a few non-profit groups, and the COC has worked to develop a transparency index, but more can still be done.

How a charity is managed - and by extension, its effectiveness - has implications throughout the organisation.

In the long term, more extensive recruitment efforts will be necessary to bring in more professionals, as well as to build a pool of manpower and resources to manage this part of a non-profit group's operations.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'Raise awareness of transparency, governance of charities'. Print Edition | Subscribe