Donors must ask more questions before giving

Even though the abuse of crowdfunding websites in Singapore appears to be the exception, rather than the norm, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) is right to develop a set of best practices for such sites (Sorting the needy from the greedy; Nov 30).

Yet, missing from this endeavour is a more concerted call for donors themselves to exercise greater discretion when giving money and to hold non-profit causes and organisations to greater account.

Given that the Singapore-based crowdfunding sites such as Giving.sg and Give.Asia do not charge a service fee, it is not reasonable to expect these sites to shoulder the responsibility of determining whether an appeal is worthy.

At the moment, the suggested "education initiatives" by the COC seem a little too imprecise, especially in comparison to the best-practices proposal for the sites.

To help donors make more informed donation decisions, a recommendation could be to publish past cases of abuse - together with analytical information about common features of these cases - to indicate how donors can spot them. Successful and genuine cases of assistance can be highlighted too.

In addition, a handy checklist of questions should help donors make quick but informed decisions, for instance, whether government or other non-profit avenues have been exhausted; whether verification in the form of photographs, documentation, and other finance-related proof has been furnished; and whether the recipients commit to disclosing overall receipts and expenses when the crowdfunding concludes.

Such discretion should extend to the donors of charities or non-profit organisations too. It may be inconvenient, but it cannot be assumed that these organisations are channelling donations to the programmes and services which create the most impact.

Donors should be challenged to seek out more information beyond personal interest in the cause.

To provide donors with useful and actionable details, intermediaries such as the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre could model an initiative after United States-based charity watchdog Charity Navigator, which rates charities across the three dimensions of financial health, accountability and transparency, as well as results reporting.

Ultimately, turning to platforms such as crowdfunding sites should be the last resort.

If it is the case that more Singaporeans with genuine causes are turning to these sites, then deeper questions must be asked on a systemic and policy level.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on , with the headline 'Donors must ask more questions before giving'. Print Edition | Subscribe