Crowdfunding an opportunity, not threat to charities

This is the 11th of 12 primers on current affairs issues that are part of the outreach programme for The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz.

Chances are, you have seen a post online appealing for help to cover the hospital bills of a person suffering from a serious illness or to assist a stranger's family who have suffered a tragedy.

Take for example, the plea to help commercial diver Jake Seet's family. The 33-year-old father of two children died in May while conducting underwater operations for a vessel. Another baby was on the way when he died.

His friends rallied around his family, started a crowdfunding campaign and raised more than $270,000 on for his widow and children.

Of course, there are requests of a less tragic bent. These might be appeals from charities or requests that are downright whimsical, like that of a young Singaporean who wanted to meet his foreign girlfriend in the United States before enlisting in the army.

Over 30 people gave him a total of about $500 on Go Get Funding, another crowdfunding site, to fund his travel expenses last year .

In the brave new world of crowdfunding, practically anyone can ask for monetary help on sites such as, and Simply Giving, potentially appealing to the generosity of scores of donors globally.

Q Why is crowdfunding gaining popularity?

A Crowdfunding has taken off here in a big way in the past few years, due to factors like its potential wide reach and ease of donating.

Besides, people also feel more comfortable donating through crowdfunding sites, said Mr Aseem Thakur,'s co-founder, and they appreciate updates on how the beneficiaries are faring.

Primary 2 student David Jap, seen here at home, set up a crowdfunding page on to raise funds for the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, which has raised more than $1,700. Crowdfunding has taken off here in a big way in the past few yea
Primary 2 student David Jap, seen here at home, set up a crowdfunding page on to raise funds for the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, which has raised more than $1,700. Crowdfunding has taken off here in a big way in the past few years, due to factors like its potential wide reach and ease of donating. For charities, crowdfunding is another tool to raise funds. and is especially helpful for small charities. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

  • About the Big Quiz

  • On Mondays, this paper's journalists will address burning questions in the Opinion section, offering unique Singaporean perspectives on complex issues. The segment started in April, and ends on Aug 6.

    The primers are part of the outreach of The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz, or The Big Quiz, which aims to promote an understanding of local and global issues among pre-university students.

    The primers will broach contemporary issues, such as energy security and sustainability in food and water. Other topics include an examination of how big data and analytics will affect the way people live and work in the future.

    Each primer topic will give a local perspective to help students draw links back to the issues' implications for Singaporeans.

    For the first time, The Big Quiz will go online, allowing all pre-university students to take part in the current affairs competition over three online quiz rounds.

    The online quizzes are based on the primer topics that preceded each round, and will be available for two weeks from the start date of each quiz.

    The third and final quiz round will be on Aug 6. Watch this space for more information on how to take The Big Quiz Online.

    The nationwide event is jointly organised by The Straits Times and the Ministry of Education, with Singapore Press Holdings Foundation as its presenting sponsor.

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Q How much is donated through crowdfunding?

A At, run by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), some $26 million in donations were collected for charities last year, up from $20 million each in 2015 and 2016. This is due to more people donating through, said the NVPC's director of digital innovation Andy Sim.

Since 2010, the site has raised over $100 million in donations for charities and garnered 240,000 hours of help from volunteers.

Meanwhile, collected $11.2 million in donations for fundraising efforts held here last year, up from $4.5 million in 2016 and $2.5 million in 2015.

Two to three fundraisers were started a day, on average, for the past three years on the platform.

Q How much can one raise from crowdfunding?

A A few rare individuals even raised million-dollar sums, such as the parents of three-year-old Xie Yujia, who was born with only part of her oesophagus. They raised about $1.2 million to help her get specialist surgery in the United States.

Quite a number have raised sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, a family raised over $400,000 for the cancer treatment of their five-year-old son, who is known only as Jake.

Q What are the concerns regarding crowdfunding? What has been done to address them?

A While these sites offer much promise by matching help-seekers with potential donors, they are also open to abuse, as help-seekers can give misleading or incomplete information to donors.

Hence in January, the Commissioner of Charities launched a Code of Practice for Online Charitable Fundraising to boost transparency and accountability for online giving.

It developed the Code with four major players,,, Ray of Hope Initiative and SimplyGiving, which have adopted it.

With the code's introduction, crowdfunding sites have to assess the appeal's legitimacy, give regular updates on the funds raised and make public the fees they charge.

Those raising funds have to give accurate information to donors, keep proper records of donations received and use the money for its intended purpose.

Q What does crowdfunding mean for charities here?

A For charities, crowdfunding is another tool to raise funds. Traditional methods include holding flag days, sending appeal letters and organising charity dinners.

Crowdfunding is especially helpful for small charities.

For charities interviewed, the key benefit of such sites is the ability to reach out to a lot more donors, especially new ones, and increase their exposure among the public.

Take for instance, the St John's Home for Elderly Persons, a shelter for the elderly poor in Potong Pasir, whose donors are traditionally in their 40s and older.

Its fundraising manager Alvin Ching said: "Crowdfunding sites give us the chance to reach out to younger folks that we may not have reached (on our own). It's tough to compete with larger charities for donors, gives every charity a fair chance to do so."

In the past few years, the home added at least 1,000 more donors. It raised about $200,000 last year from - or about 20 per cent of all donations to it. And the reach online can be phenomenal if a fund-raising campaign goes viral - which offline campaigns can never match, Mr Ching added.

While the sums given are often small - say $10 or $50 a donor - they do add up. The SPD, a charity that helps those with disabilities, said over 60 per cent, or about $150,000, of its online donations came from crowdfunding sites last year.

Its executive director Abhimanyau Pal said: "These sites have created new opportunities for outreach and exposure to segments of the population who may not be familiar with SPD or are looking out for causes to support."

Q What is the cost of raising funds through crowdfunding?

A One key advantage of crowdfunding sites is that the cost of fund-raising is almost negligible, said Mr Ching.

At, charities pay only 1.5 per cent of the donations collected to the site to cover credit card processing fees.

At, charities pay a fee of 3 per cent of the donation collected, plus the prevailing Goods and Services Tax. This fee covers bank charges and defrays maintenance costs, among other things.

Q Besides donations, what else can you crowdfund for?

A Money aside, some charities have also found crowdfunding sites like useful in helping to recruit volunteers. These charities include the Boys' Town, which has found volunteers to help with areas such as tutoring and flag raising.

Q Is the charity pie limited? Will more people raising funds through crowdfunding mean less donations to go round?

A One worry for some in the charity sector is that the donation dollar - or charity pie - is limited. There is only so much money to go around for the over 2,000 charities here, which includes religious groups, they say.

And with crowdfunding, scores of individuals have now jumped into the fund-raising arena.

But from what those interviewed have said, more people giving to individuals through crowdfunding sites does not mean that fewer people are giving to charities.

There is room for all to benefit.

Crowdfunding must be seen as an opportunity, not a threat, to charities' financial well-being.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2018, with the headline 'Crowdfunding an opportunity, not threat to charities'. Print Edition | Subscribe