Charities must examine how effective they are in achieving their goals: President Halimah

President Halimah Yacob said charities should also collaborate with each other, and include board members with different areas of expertise. PHOTO: SGX

SINGAPORE - Charities should adopt strategies that firms employ to future-proof their business, to remain relevant to those they serve.

They can do this by evaluating the effectiveness of their operations, increasing collaborations, and assembling boards with diverse skills and experiences, said President Halimah Yacob in a speech on Wednesday.

Speaking at an event by the Council for Board Diversity, which was set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2019 to have more women join the boards of companies, Madam Halimah noted that the charity sector has flourished.

Amid the pandemic, more than 130 organisations have registered as new charities since 2020. But even as they serve their communities, they must examine how effective they are in achieving their stated goals.

“A useful tool that charities can use is the Sector Evaluation Framework by the National Council of Social Service, which provides a repository of outcome metrics that can be used to measure the effectiveness of programmes, allocate resources appropriately and articulate impact to funders and potential donors,” said Madam Halimah.

The framework was introduced in September 2021 to help charities track indicators to improve their beneficiaries’ quality of life.

For instance, charities can get at-risk youth to complete a 15-minute self-assessment on whether they have developed the skills to achieve tasks, connect with others and thrive as people.

Madam Halimah said charities should also regularly review their direction and keep abreast of updates on the code of governance for charities and Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs).

The President said charities should also collaborate with each other, and include board members with different areas of expertise.

She said she has seen more partnerships between charities in the last two years.

For example, nurses from nursing homes had stepped in to take over the work of their counterparts in other nursing homes who got Covid-19 and had to be isolated during the circuit breaker in 2020.

She also cited how the Maintenance Support Central by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations had worked together with the Legal Aid Bureau.

They provided free videoconferencing services for those who required urgent support on legal matters over marriage and family issues during the pandemic.

The event on Wednesday saw board members of various charities discuss how charity boards can stay relevant. Madam Halimah was guest of honour at the event at The St Regis Singapore hotel.

Mr Hsieh Fu Hua, who chairs the National University of Singapore Board of Trustees, said boards can also hold themselves more accountable by issuing social impact bonds to fund their organisations.

With such bonds, the Government provides funding to charities to create a social impact and pass part of the returns to investors.

Mr Hsieh said impact investing drives change in a more disciplined way than donating, as it is increasingly important for donors to know where their money ends up.

On board diversity, Mr Hsieh said they should include women – who currently take up only a third of board seats in IPCs – as well as younger people to better serve their beneficiaries.

Dr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Charity Council, said boards should represent the beneficiaries, who may be families or young people. For instance, the board of a charity serving people with disabilities should have someone with disabilities to understand their needs. 

Ms Denise Phua, president of the Autism Resource Centre, said the board should have members and staff with diverse skill sets, knowledge, temperaments, and who have chemistry.

They need to have the same mission and the knowledge to work towards fulfilling it, she added.

For instance, if their mission is to maximise the life potential of people with disabilities and help them lead a dignified life, they should know what is happening – such as the Healthier SG initiative and government efforts on the disability front – as well as what is needed to address gaps.

Dr Ee, who also chairs the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), said in his closing address at Wednesday’s event that charities should be able to clearly articulate what they are doing, as people support causes, not organisations.

He is getting his AIC board members to visit low-income families living in rental flats to better understand their needs, as the board members come from a vastly different background from those they serve.

He added that charities should work to not just give handouts to vulnerable groups, but also strive to empower them to become independent.

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