Convene committee to help small charities manage donations

Posed photo showing donation tins and the hand of a donor.
Posed photo showing donation tins and the hand of a donor.PHOTO: ST FILE

I began volunteering actively with my wife in the mid-1990s and, since then, we have seen first-hand how the whole social service ecosystem has evolved.

While the system is still far from perfect, the good work by the Government and the various agencies, such as the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and the Community Foundation of Singapore, supported by an enthusiastic full-time social worker community, has made a difference to many lives.

Increasingly, however, there seems to be more overlap in the areas of focus between some of the agencies as each continues to grow organically.

For example, the mandates of NCSS' Community Chest Venture Philanthropy Partners and NVPC's Company of Good do not seem distinct enough; both are targeting companies in hawking their advisory services in Singapore.

Other organisations, such as the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, have also pitched aggressively to businesses to provide their services and advice.

While I am all for competition, the missing big picture is that in the midst of providing top-notch advisory services to donors, we may not have dedicated enough resources to what really matters - the beneficiaries themselves.

Over the years, the various partners may have tried to reduce the unnecessary overlap, but more urgency and concrete steps are needed at the leadership level.

The beneficiaries, not the donors, are the reason why the whole charity ecosystem exists, and not the other way round.

One low-hanging fruit in focusing on the beneficiaries is to manage the donations of the numerous small charities in the ecosystem.

The perceived and real challenges of small charities to effectively manage their donations with proper corporate governance continue to be a key challenge.

To address this, a case may be made to convene a national-level investment committee, just like what we have seen in the combined endowment funds of hospitals.

The recommendations from this committee can be shared with all charities.

While charities have the option of not following the recommendations, small charities would find it useful to have a standard investment policy and a pre-selected list of fund managers to choose from.

This would ensure that charities, regardless of their size, are given unbiased investment recommendations that are suitable for their respective risk profiles.

Tan Chin Hwee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline 'Convene committee to help small charities manage donations'. Print Edition | Subscribe