Christmas is just a week away, but this season of giving has not been as fruitful as in years past, several charities told The Sunday Times.
Donations are down, and fund-raising groups are finding it hard to meet their donation targets. Some groups say that while the Singapore economy may have performed better than expected this year, people are still recovering from the slowdown in the past two years.
Early this month, the Boys' Brigade made an urgent call for donations and also volunteers to help with its Christmas Share-A-Gift charity project. More than 400 - or about 75 per cent - of delivery slots for volunteers to take items to beneficiaries were still not filled, it said. In contrast, almost half of the slots were already filled by the same time last year.
When it came to donations of household and food items, as of Dec 2, the organisation had met only 34 per cent of its target compared with 39 per cent at this stage last year.
Not just the Boys' Brigade, but other charities also said they found it harder to canvass for donations.
The Singapore Red Cross crossed only the 60 per cent mark of its fund-raising target in October, said its secretary-general, Mr Benjamin William. Money donated to the Red Cross goes humanitarian projects.
Fall in donations, but more volunteers give time and effort
Giving time and effort instead of money appears to be a growing trend.
Charities told The Sunday Times that while donations have come down, the number of volunteers has increased.
While one in 10 people gave their time to volunteer in 2000, one in three did so last year, according to a survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.
The survey also found that the total number of volunteer hours nearly doubled, from 66 million in 2014 to 121 million last year.
Mr Delane Lim, executive director of the Character and Leadership Academy, a charity for youth, has noticed the bump in volunteerism.
"In this generation, people are more willing to contribute their time," he said. "They want to witness the impact of their work rather than just donating money."
Mr Gerard Ee, executive director of Beyond Social Services, added that volunteering is important because those who do so can share their experiences.
This may in turn inspire others to also give their time or money.
"It's about keeping the work going, more than anything," said Mr Ee.
One who embodies the spirit of volunteerism is 22-year-old Dai Yi, who was a member of the Boys' Brigade for eight years and continues to volunteer with them.
"I think it's time for me to give back to society," said the Singapore Polytechnic student.
"After I delivered hampers to people's homes, I remember the reaction to the gifts.
"This old lady smiled so widely, it made me feel I was doing something right. It's so meaningful."
Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee added: "When you volunteer, you deal with people and connect with them. It isn't just about the beneficiary, but it also changes the giver in the process. It can be very powerful."
Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive officer of the Singapore Children's Society, which helps children in need, agreed that this year has been "quite a slow one" for charities. But he remains hopeful that more help will come in this month.
"Usually we get more donations in December," he said. "People get their bonuses and there is the festive Christmas mood. They are happy and that also makes them more generous."
A reason for falling donations could be the economic slowdown, he said, which has caused both corporate and individual donors to give less this year.
Mr Delane Lim, executive director of the Character and Leadership Academy, which helps youths, agreed that the weak economy has had an effect on donations. In the past two years, donations to the organisation fell by 25 to 30 per cent.
At Beyond Social Services, executive director Gerard Ee said the charity is about $250,000 short of its target of around $1.8 million.
"It is an ongoing challenge," he acknowledged. "What we can do is just to do our best, do our job well and hope that word spreads, so we have the confidence of our donors."
The number of donors to charities last year fell to 76 per cent of those surveyed from 83 per cent in 2014, according to figures released in March by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.
But it may not simply be a case of people donating less, but of increased competition for the donor's dollar, as new causes emerge on crowdfunding sites.
Of delivery slots for volunteers to take items to Boys' Brigade beneficiaries were still not filled earlier this month.
Portion of Singapore Red Cross fundraising target fulfilled by October.
Donors to charities last year, down from 83 per cent in 2014.
Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee said that instead of donating to large organisations, people might instead give to smaller causes, such as individuals who ask for help on social media. The Charity Council is an advisory body to the Commissioner of Charities.
"It is a competitive market, with many organisations asking for donations and help. It all depends on which cause is more appealing," he said. "It isn't just about the organisation, but about putting a face to the cause."
Indeed, charities said they were feeling the pressure to find new ways to reach out to the public, especially in the age of social media.
The Character and Leadership Academy's Mr Lim said he is looking at social media crowdfunding to see if it is a sustainable platform for getting public support.
Said Charity Council's Mr Ee: "Technology is a disrupter even in the charity market... People don't support organisations, but causes. They want to know why they're giving."