Why It Matters

Keeping trust in fund-raisers

Thinking of appealing for donations on social media to help a loved one who is seriously ill?

The fund-raising rules apply if you are in Singapore and raising funds online, no matter how small the scale. You have to give clear and accurate information about the appeal and be accountable for the funds raised.

Changes to the Charities Act passed on Tuesday include one which made clear that all fund-raisers - big or small, online or offline - are subject to regulation. The clarification is important, given the growing popularity of crowdfunding and how some people who ask for help online may not realise their legal obligations to donors.

But more than that, the amendments to the Charities Act give the Commissioner of Charities more power to keep charities and fund-raisers in check. For example, the commissioner can now stop a fund-raiser that has been found to be improperly run, such as when they lie about beneficiaries' circumstances. Previously, he could do so only after investigations are over.

Also, the commissioner can now permanently bar a person from working in a charity if he is found to have mismanaged the charity's assets. The person can also be barred from holding a key position in another charity.

Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee said: "The amendments serve to strengthen the governance and accountability of charities and fund-raisers."

Singaporeans are big givers, with charities - which includes religious groups - getting $2.7 billion in donations in 2015, the latest annual report from the commissioner showed. Key to that generosity is that Singaporeans trust that the sums they donate are well used. This could explain the need for more powers for the commissioner to safeguard confidence in charities in the evolving landscape of philanthropy in Singapore.

As Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said: " Reputation is key in the charity sector and one bad apple can erode public trust and confidence in the whole sector."

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Keeping trust in fund-raisers'. Print Edition | Subscribe