Charities in Singapore go online to raise funds amid Covid-19

Singapore Red Cross chief executive Benjamin William said last year was an “exceptional year”, with the organisation receiving $12.3 million – nearly double the $6.2 million it collected in 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Charities are turning to all things virtual when it comes to raising funds as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches into its second year, rendering traditional fund-raisers like charity dinners and flag days off limits.

Despite the sharp economic downturn brought on by Covid-19, some charities collected more donations last year (2020) than in 2019.

In March this year, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) piloted an e-flag day for charities, where a charity can send a QR code to donors on WhatsApp.

The donor can then give a donation using PayNow and can also forward the QR code to friends.

An NVPC spokesman said: "Amid this Covid-19 situation, we now need to embrace the increasing use of technology and our reliance on social media as a means of communication, especially for the younger generation.

"The use of social platforms for peer-to-peer fund-raising also enables supporters to become fund-raisers themselves to bring attention and donations to the causes or charities that people care about."

Among the online fund-raisers, virtual races, virtual charity dinners and even virtual concerts are becoming increasingly common.

Take, for example, Limitless, a small charity that helps youth with mental health issues. It organised a virtual run last year where runners paid a fee to participate and had a week to clock a certain distance. The event raised about $60,000.

Or the St John's Home for Elderly Persons, which organised a virtual charity dinner in October last year.

It raised more than $320,000 from the event, where donors bought gourmet meals delivered to their homes and watched a virtual performance. Last year, the home collected $2.9 million in donations, up from $1.7 million in 2019.

It was not alone, as other charities also raised more funds last year than in the year before.

One of them, the Singapore Red Cross (SRC), collected $12.3 million in donations last year - almost double the $6.2 million in 2019.

SRC chief executive Benjamin William said that last year was an "exceptional year" as it had received more donations from companies and the public for its Covid-19-related causes.

Some members of the public also donated their $600 Solidarity Payments from the Government to the SRC.

The HCA Hospice Care collected $4.6 million in donations last year, up from $3.4 million in 2019.

Its spokesman said: "Sometimes we need to be a little more courageous to test new ideas and new approaches to doing things, and not be too afraid to fail."

It began promoting birthday fund-raisers in July last year by encouraging donors to ask their family and friends to donate to HCA Hospice Care, instead of giving birthday gifts to them.

It raised close to $30,000 through the initiative.

But for some charities, it was a dismal fund-raising year.

The Sian Chay Medical Institution, which runs 12 clinics, saw donations plunge from $17 million in 2019 to $13.2 million last year.

The Sian Chay Medical Institution saw donations fall from $17 million in 2019 to $13.2 million last year as its online events fared less well than its physical fund-raisers. PHOTO: SIAN CHAY MEDICAL INSTITUTION

Like other charities, it has had to pivot to virtual fund-raisers since the pandemic started, but the response to its online events was not as good as its physical fund-raisers, its chairman Toh Soon Huat said.

For example, its online charity concert in January featuring getai singers raised about $260,000 in donations, but only $800 came from an online donation platform. The rest of the money was raised from reaching out to donors through other means, such as appealing to Mr Toh's personal network of contacts.

He said: "People are not used to us seeking donations online. It will take time for donors to get used to it."

We Care Community Services, an addiction recovery centre, raised $119,000 last year, less than half the $282,000 it collected in 2019, as the charity was unable to conduct any fund-raiser last year because of the pandemic.

Over at Cycling Without Age Singapore, which takes seniors on trishaw rides, its seven staff members took a 25 per cent pay cut in May and June last year.

Cycling Without Age Singapore, which takes seniors on trishaw rides, raised over $90,000 in donations last year, more than the $80,000 in 2019. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

They did this to minimise operating costs as donations were not coming in during that period, said executive director Addie Elicano.

In the end, the charity pulled through and raised slightly over $90,000 in donations last year, more than the $80,000 in 2019.

Ms Usha Menon, executive chairman of the Usha Menon Management Consultancy, said several factors differentiate the successful online fund-raisers.

For example, they are agile in taking advantage of emerging opportunities and are able to come up with appealing content to raise funds, instead of putting out "an insipid please support type of message".

Charities interviewed by The Straits Times expect this year to be even more challenging than last year, as companies and individuals cut back on their donation budgets as a result of the downturn.

During the Budget debate in February, the Government announced various initiatives to help charities tide through these difficult times.

Among them, the Tote Board's enhanced fund-raising programme will be extended by one year.

Through this programme, charities can apply to receive dollar-for-dollar matching for eligible donations raised from projects in the 2021 financial year, up to a cap of $250,000 per applicant.

Adding to the fund-raising challenges, the number of people seeking help continues to grow, the interviewed charities said.

Mr Yeo Teck Guan, chairman of resource mobilisation and partnerships committee at SPD, which helps people with disabilities, said: "The already crowded digital space has become even busier with more stories, products, information and appeals.

"With so much calling for attention, there is an increased challenge to create even more novel posts."

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