Charities must address long-term structural issues

With declines in global charitable behaviours such as donating and volunteering, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) is right to argue that Singapore's ecosystem of volunteerism and philanthropy needs to improve (What does 2017's global volatility mean for giving?; Oct 19).

Some short-term fixes have been mooted by the NVPC - skills-based volunteerism, micro-volunteering activities, and the cognisance that more Singaporean donors are doing their research before donating or volunteering - based on three trends which are changing the way donors and volunteers give their money and time.

The first trend is technological change, with more Singaporeans giving through the Internet.

While it is true that resource-strapped non-profits would struggle, skills-based volunteerism, or applying private sector expertise and professional skills in these organisations, is hardly the most effective solution.

I volunteer with charities here to do data analysis and to work on research or evaluation projects. Yet, I will never have the same level of expertise in working with the beneficiaries as social workers.

Neither do I have a deep understanding of the organisation or the ability to commit daily.

In this vein, the answer to being resource-strapped lies in the availability and accessibility of non-profit manpower and resources.

In other words, can the authorities like the NVPC convince funders to channel some funds to organisational capacity-building too, and not just to programmes and services?

This is related to the second trend - the "gig-ification" of giving.

In theory, micro-volunteerism appears useful for busy volunteers, but that presupposes the ability of non-profit organisations to create these micro-volunteering activities, and for the benefits of these activities to justify the manpower or cost involved. How many non-profits have full-time volunteer managers to do this?

Lastly, on donors who are more informed and involved, can the NVPC help them to better ascertain if a charity is effective? Certain metrics may be needed, through research and knowledge-sharing.

Short-term fixes, while having a place in a non-profit, are not the way to sustainably do good.

Long-term investments are needed within the non-profit organisations. Unless the longer-term structural issues are addressed, the social service sector will struggle to improve volunteerism and philanthropy in Singapore.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Charities must address long-term structural issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe