Many Singaporeans give to charity, but few actually take the time to find out more about the group they are giving to.
The Commissioner of Charities is hoping to change that by launching a campaign to encourage donors to conduct their own checks before they part with their money.
The commissioner, Dr Ang Hak Seng, said: "As more people do their checks, it's harder to abuse the system. When donors have more trust (in fund-raising appeals), they will also give more."
Dr Ang said the Safer Giving campaign, with the tagline "ask, check, give", was not triggered by any particular case or an increase in fund-raising fraud.
In fact, his office receives fewer than 30 complaints about fund-raising appeals a year - a number which has held steady in the last three to five years.
He said of the complaints: "Many are not out to scam donors, but they may not know how to keep records or do proper disclosure."
Before making a donation
The Safer Giving campaign advises donors to charities to ask, check, give.
Here is what donors can do.
Some questions to ask before giving:
• Who are the beneficiaries?
• What will my donation be used for?
• How can I receive updates?
How to check if the fund-raiser is legitimate:
• Go to the Commissioner of Charities website charities.gov.sg to find out if the group is registered as a charity.
• Use your phone to scan the QR quote on the fund-raising permit which the fund-raiser carries to find out if the charity has a valid permit to raise funds from the public.
• SMS FR (space) licence number, the permit number or the name of organisation to 79777. You will get an SMS reply to verify if the fund-raiser is legitimate.
The campaign, which starts today, will educate the public on the checks they can do when approached by fund-raisers. These include questions to ask or how to find out if the appeal is legitimate.
The campaign will be conducted both online and offline, through roadshows, for example.
It comes after the commissioner did a survey last year of over 1,000 Singaporeans and found that 86 per cent made donations in the past year, but only 6 per cent would ask questions before giving or contact the charity or fund-raiser to find out more about the cause.
The reasons for not doing checks include donating only small amounts, trusting that the charity genuinely needs to raise funds and being comfortable donating without the need for checks.
Take for example, housewife Huang Shi Mian, 43, who usually gives $2 or $5 to flag day collections. She said: "I don't usually ask questions before I give as I don't want to make it difficult for the person raising funds. Also, it's a small sum, so I don't see the need to ask questions."
Besides educating the public, the commissioner is also coming up with a guide to help charities put out key information asked for by donors in the survey, such as how donations are used.
Charities welcomed the new campaign, saying that it would boost donors' confidence in giving if they did their checks.
Said Ms Katherine Sng, deputy director of community partnerships at SPD, an organisation which supports people with disabilities: "Such practice may then ensure that fund-raisers are rigorous in their governance and transparent with their disclosures, which in turn builds trust between donors and the beneficiary."
And with more charities appealing for help and more individuals turning to crowdfunding to raise funds, those interviewed say that checks by donors are key to ensuring that the money goes to legitimate causes.
In June, the commissioner barred Ashlee Chua Jermaine, 32, from raising funds for charity after she allegedly cheated mothers with seriously ill children of monies raised for them through online appeals.
To boost transparency and accountability in online giving, the commissioner launched the Code of Practice for Online Charitable Fundraising in January.
Crowdfunding sites which adopt the code 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 their intended purposes.
Singaporeans are generous givers. In 2015, the latest figures available, according to the commissioner's annual reports, charities here received some $2.7 billion in donations, up from $2 billion in 2011.