Charities face new fund-raising reality amid pandemic

Some events go online while others are axed, as donation situation differs across charities

Guests attending ACI Singapore's fund-raising dinner via Zoom on May 29. The dinner raised over $500,000 for a new fund for projects that meet the needs of vulnerable groups in society, even beyond Covid-19.
Guests attending ACI Singapore's fund-raising dinner via Zoom on May 29. The dinner raised over $500,000 for a new fund for projects that meet the needs of vulnerable groups in society, even beyond Covid-19. PHOTO: ACI SINGAPORE

Three-course gourmet dinner, check. Performance by theatre group Wild Rice, check.

Fireside chat by the guest of honour, Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director Ravi Menon, check.

More than 500 guests turned up for a good cause during a fund-raising dinner organised by ACI Singapore - The Financial Markets Association on May 29, in the last days of the circuit breaker.

It was a novel gathering - everything took place remotely via videoconferencing tool, Zoom.

Meals from 23 top restaurants, such as Les Amis and Odette, were delivered to the homes of guests, as were the event T-shirts and door gift of a pot of edible plant.

Welcome to the brave new world of fund raising amid a pandemic in 2020.

Mr Leng Hoe Lon, chairman of the fund-raiser, said ACI has organised a charity golf event and gala dinner to raise funds for charity every year since 1994. This year, its fund-raiser was scheduled for last month, but with the Covid-19 outbreak and circuit breaker measures, the event moved online.

The dinner raised over $500,000 for the new ACI Trampoline Fund for projects that meet the needs of vulnerable groups in society, even beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Leng said guests experienced a sense of solidarity, even though they were each in their own homes. "Everyone was touched as we sang the National Day Parade song 'Together' for the finale."

Charities such as the Children's Cancer Foundation, SPD and the Singapore Children's Society said they have been hit hard as donations plunge during the pandemic.

A Lions Befrienders spokesman said: "In this Covid-19 climate, people are more conscious about how they are spending money, and donors, especially corporations and foundations, are tightening their budgets, given the current economic outlook."

Donations to Lions Befrienders fell by 50 per cent from January to last month, compared with the same period last year. The group cancelled three fund-raisers from March to this month. The same fund-raisers last year had garnered over $600,000.

The usual fund-raising events, from charity dinners to charity runs to flag days, were off limits during the circuit breaker period and are unlikely to be given the go-ahead in the next few months, charities said.

For example, the Children's Cancer Foundation's signature fund-raiser, Hair for Hope, where people shave their heads, will not be held this year owing to safe distancing precautions. This will be the first time the event will not take place in its 17-year history.

  • Fund-raisers go virtual

  • Charities are taking their fund-raisers online to survive the Covid-19 pandemic and the its restrictions on gatherings.

    The Singapore Children's Society, for example, had to cancel almost all of its fund-raisers this year, such as its charity dinner.

    So it plans to take its signature family fun walk and carnival, Walk For Our Children, online. Donors will walk at least 5,000 steps wherever they are for the fund-raiser.

    Lions Befrienders is exploring various virtual fund-raisers, such as a virtual charity run and a virtual vertical marathon.

    Participants complete the run, or race up a flight of steps, from wherever they are and record their results with a tracking app. The funds raised come from registration fees and sponsorships.

    Lions Befrienders is also hoping to tap birthday celebrations for donations.

    For example, donors can host a virtual party and their guests can donate to Lions Befrienders in lieu of gifts.

    In such a virtual party, the one celebrating the birthday can also invite seniors from Lions Befrienders to attend, and the charity will facilitate such an invitation.

    The charity is also considering using part of the funds raised to buy birthday cakes for seniors, many of whom have no one to celebrate the occasion with.

    Its spokesman said: "It will be a great gesture to let them know they are loved and cherished."

    Last Saturday, the Caregivers Alliance Limited launched its Climb for Mental Wellness fund-raising campaign.

    It aims to raise $250,000 by getting 2,500 participants to accumulate a total of 250 million steps - the estimated number of steps required to reach the base camp of Mount Everest.

    Theresa Tan

Care Singapore, which helps at-risk youth, received about $450,000 in donations from companies last year. It has pulled in only $83,000 from corporate donors so far this year.

Its head of enterprise Anthony Chng said: "If no funds are coming in, we will not last beyond 18 months even with the grants we get from the Government for the services we provide in schools."

But not all charities are singing the blues, as those for Covid-19-related causes have witnessed strong donor response.

Take Beyond Social Services, for example. It launched a Covid-19 Family Assistance Fund in February and by last month had raised over $1 million, or more than half of its $2 million target.

Needy families on the fund will get between $300 and $500 a month for three months.

A group of 10 tech entrepreneurs, including Grab co-founder Anthony Tan, banded together through its Tech SG Covid-19 Outreach campaign to support the Covid-19 Family Assistance Fund.

They declined to say how much they have donated to the fund.

Mr Prajit Nanu, co-founder of fintech start-up Nium, said: "The core of this campaign is to reach out to the group that requires the most financial aid and support.

"Most of the low-income households rely on one person working part-time or on a daily-rated income, and they are struggling to make ends meet."

The Government has also introduced measures to help charities struggling to raise funds.

Last month, it announced that the Tote Board's Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme will get an additional $100 million, on top of the $70 million already set aside.

Charities will be able to receive dollar-for-dollar fund-matching for eligible donations, capped at $250,000 per charity.

The Invictus Fund, set up by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), will also receive a top-up of $18 million from the Government.

The fund was set up to help social service agencies (SSAs) maintain service continuity, retain staff and adopt technology to transform their work amid the outbreak.

NCSS president Anita Fam told The Straits Times that she personally donated $1 million in early April to kick-start the fund after the Resilience Budget was delivered in March.

Ms Fam said: "Though it was a very generous supplementary budget with a broad reach, there was nothing specifically in there for our SSAs. I knew even by then that SSAs would need some form of support to tide them over as it was clear that donations would drop as everyone tightened their belts."

As of May 22, the Invictus Fund had raised $6.2 million, and 171 SSAs had applied for it during the first round of applications.

Charities contacted welcomed the extra help from the Government in these difficult times.

But Care Singapore's Mr Chng said: "The dollar-for-dollar matching is very timely and it is a potential lifesaver, but for one important factor: You need donors to first give for charities to benefit. For small charities, if no one gives, then the level of fund matching would not matter at all."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2020, with the headline Charities face new fund-raising reality amid pandemic. Subscribe