Time for richer picture of charity landscape

Analysis of the charity landscape in Singapore has rarely gone beyond the informational and financial snapshots offered by the Commissioner of Charities (COC) through its annual reports, as well as reviews or investigations of governance processes and internal controls ($2.9b donated to charities in Singapore in 2016; Nov 14).

This is despite the fact that the online Charity Portal maintained by the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY) offers a rich database of charity data which could potentially be aggregated and analysed for a richer picture of the Singaporean charity landscape.

Updating the portal and increasing data accessibility would, therefore, be productive.

More research can be done to better understand the charities that receive the most donations in terms of the distribution of their income, such as donations, government grants, investment income and programme fees.

The fact that 185 large charities with an annual income of more than $10 million accounted for close to 90 per cent of the total income of all the 2,263 charities in 2016 can be studied too, in terms of their sectors, causes and organisational profiles.

In this vein, segments which have been underserved or under-represented could be identified, and the patterns of organisational expense subsequently tracked.

As it stands, the financial statements, for example, provide enough for a large-scale evaluation of financial efficiency of the programme, administrative and fund-raising expense percentages, and financial capacity, like the liabilities to assets ratio.

The challenge for such explorations, however, is that even though the COC and the MCCY have made such data and information available through the Charity Portal, it is not possible to compare multiple charities at the same time, or to compare groups of charities by sectors and causes.

In addition to the provision of data sets, visualisation tools in the style of the Data.gov.sg platform should also be considered for a wider and richer comprehension of Singapore's charity landscape.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2018, with the headline 'Time for richer picture of charity landscape'. Print Edition | Subscribe