Ways charities can tackle funding squeeze

Homes run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) have long waiting lists, given the limited number of subsidised beds.
Homes run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) have long waiting lists, given the limited number of subsidised beds.PHOTO: ST FILE

Even though the National Council of Social Service has benchmark wage scales for charities to meet, many non-profit organisations are unable to do so because they do not enjoy long-term government support or corporate sponsorship ("Challenges of working in the charity sector" by Mr Lim Khoon Min; last Saturday).

Offering more attractive remuneration and a defined career path for staff in social service organisations should be the first step in having the right people on the ground.

In order to sustain enthusiasm, the voluntary welfare sector must stop living in the shadows and must boldly tackle the challenges of the squeeze in public sector funding and competition for donations.

It is important for voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to recruit and retain the best talent at the senior management level to set the groups' direction.

Instead of winning the battle for top commercial management talent, VWOs need to tap the different skills and experience of a full-time management team and board comprising of volunteers.

The management must attract the right people on the ground and develop and nurture them.

Charities must get back to basics; listen to the beneficiaries and ensure their needs are being met.

Most funders are overwhelmed by the level of demand from charities, so resources have to be tightly managed and monitored to keep costs low.

Staff must be kept motivated with clear goals and objectives to work towards, instead of remuneration alone.

Have an adequate training budget and tap complimentary courses conducted by organisations such as the Social Service Institute.

VWOs will save on recruitment costs by developing the commercial abilities of their employees.

Social enterprises can bid for and deliver both public and private sector contracts, with profits directed to the charity they support.

They must also make more creative use of their reserves. Allowing money to sit in the bank with little interest is asking for trouble.

Many not-for-profit organisations also do not engage in regular fund-raising activities because these are labour intensive with little payback.

This can be overcome by motivating volunteers to learn new fund-raising skills and put them into practice on the charity's behalf.

What the not-for-profit sector needs is stability, and it needs to generate its own income - perhaps through a social enterprise - in order to fund overheads and charitable causes.

The key is flexibility in being able to diversify and being proactive in taking opportunities.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Ways charities can tackle funding squeeze'. Print Edition | Subscribe