Catch-22 as charities try to improve governance

Standards of governance of non-profits seem predicated on the unstated assumptions that an organisation has adequate resources to meet the standards and there is an unlimited number of individuals waiting to serve on the board or in the sector (Stronger non-profits need stronger boards, by Ms Winifred Loh; Forum Online, April 19).

From my understanding, more voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) over the years have been putting in place systems and processes to improve their governance practices, including board renewal.

If some VWOs are falling behind in capacity building in these areas, it may be time for us to ask why this is so.

There could be two reasons.

First, VWOs and charities face challenges in attracting the necessary talents to the sector, be it on the payroll or as volunteers on the board.

Social service is generally not the top career choice for fresh graduates. VWOs struggle to recruit and retain good professionals in areas such as finance, human resource and information technology to build a strong corporate support team.

Most donors do not recognise that good governance comes at a cost.

The sector struggles to convince grant makers and donors to channel reasonable resources to build its governance, risk management and back-end support.

Second, publicity on the misuse of funds by isolated charities has eroded public confidence in the sector.

While the few errant individuals are not representative of the sector, any adverse publicity inevitably affects the public image of charities as a whole, including those with good governance.

It propagates the perception that charities are not proficient in their management and corporate governance, or may even have questionable practices.

This may deter prospective board members from joining, due to potential liability concerns.

VWOs do not have the resources to invest in extensive marketing and publicity campaigns to re-establish their reputation and credibility or to correct the perception.

VWOs need more help to break out of this catch-22 situation. We need to re-instil confidence and positivity in the sector.

For a start, encouraging greater recognition of charities that have done well and showcasing good examples through the mass media would aid public understanding on how these charities are run.

Abhimanyau Pal

Executive Director