For sustainability, charities must lead from the front

We thank Mr Edmund Khoo Kim Hock ("Ways charities can tackle funding squeeze"; Jan 12) for his suggestions, and National Council of Social Service chief executive Sim Gim Guan ("Rolling out initiatives to build a vibrant social service sector"; Jan 25) for his continued support of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre's (NVPC) work.

Attracting and retaining the right employees and volunteers by non-profit organisations (NPOs) is certainly required for better engagement and productivity at the ground level.

While NVPC continues to direct its efforts towards helping non-profits engage better with their volunteers, we also recognise that NPO boards, with the requisite professional capabilities and a clear strategy, play a critical role in ensuring a positive volunteer experience and efficient resource management.

A survey by the Centre for Non-Profit Leadership (CNPL), the part of NVPC that focuses on leadership transformation, has shown that non-profit boards generally have more representation from professionals with backgrounds in healthcare (14 per cent) and education (14 per cent), with only 9 per cent and 8 per cent from financial services and law respectively, indicating the need for a more balanced set of experiences on NPO boards.

As a first step towards building a high performance board, NPOs need to identify areas in their current leadership capabilities that need improvement.

The PulseCheck programme by CNPL, which is supported by the VWOs-Charities Capability Fund for voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) in the social sector, has helped 54 executives and board members to assess their current experiences, and develop action plans to reach their boards' desired states.

In addition to building on the existing leadership's strengths through training and coaching, NPOs can also strengthen their board mix by introducing experienced professionals from the private and public sectors on their boards.

Over the past five years, CNPL's BoardMatch programme has placed 554 volunteers in more than 200 non-profit boards across the health, sports, arts and social service sectors.

These trends are encouraging, as they show that Singapore's NPOs recognise the need to invest in their leadership to deal with a rapidly changing and competitive scenario, whether through building their own competencies, or by tapping expertise from the private and public sectors.

Efforts to fortify leadership capabilities can go a long way in providing direction to NPO employees and volunteers to serve the community better, and in boosting the confidence of donors.

Eventually, this can increase people's involvement in the non-profit sector and pave the way for a sustainable culture of giving in Singapore.

Winifred Loh (Ms)
Managing Director
Centre for Non-Profit Leadership

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline For sustainability, charities must lead from the front. Subscribe