NVPC sees green wave in volunteerism; donations to charitable causes double to $2.18b

The study found the proportion of green volunteers grew from 7 per cent of survey respondents in 2014 - when the last survey was done - to 14 per cent in 2016.
The study found the proportion of green volunteers grew from 7 per cent of survey respondents in 2014 - when the last survey was done - to 14 per cent in 2016.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SINGAPORE - There has been a green wave in volunteerism here, going by the findings of a biennial survey that aims to find out how people in Singapore open their hearts and wallets to social causes.

Over the past two years, volunteers supporting green efforts such as gardening, environment protection, recycling and haze relief have doubled, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) said on Wednesday (March 15) during a briefing on the findings of the latest study.

The study found that the proportion of green volunteers grew from 7 per cent of survey respondents in 2014 - when the last survey was done - to 14 per cent in 2016.

Anti-haze volunteer group PM.Haze (People's Movement to Stop Haze) has benefited from the trend.

When it was founded in 2014 with the aim of getting people to make sustainable purchases of palm oil or pulp and paper products, it had five volunteers. Now it has 40, its co-founder Tan Yi Han told The Straits Times.

"We have been fortunate to attract a steady stream of volunteers of about one every one or two weeks, even when there is no haze. Most of our volunteers have busy lives juggling work, studies and family, but they wish to volunteer because of their concern about the threat our planet is facing and hope to contribute to a more beautiful world," he said.

Donations and volunteer hours have also climbed.

Donations to organisations almost doubled from $1.25 billion in 2014 to $2.18 billion in 2016. Total number of volunteer hours saw a similar increase, from 66 million hours in 2014 to 121 million hours in 2016.

However, hours put in by each volunteer has dropped from 93 hours in 2014 to 84 hours in 2016.

The survey also found that the elderly, children, those with disabilities and those from lower-income groups, have been the main beneficiaries of volunteerism and philanthropy.

But NVPC director for knowledge and advocacy Jeffrey Tan said some sectors remain underserved, such as helping migrant workers and people who are terminally ill.

NVPC said the gap can be bridged by people passionate about the cause, who can work with organisations such as NVPC on outreach activities.

Another key finding - most volunteers tend to serve with people they know. The ninth edition of the study, called the Individual Giving Survey 2016, showed that only one of every four volunteered alone.

Most instead volunteered with friends, colleagues and family. Founder of social movement Stand Up for SG Wally Tham said serving with friends can help volunteers overcome social anxiety and the fear of not knowing what to say to beneficiaries.

The study also found that volunteers are choosing to help beneficiaries directly, without going through charities.

For example, neighbours could be banding together to form community networks to look out for seniors themselves and separately, instead of helping animals through animal welfare groups, people could be out feeding stray dogs and cats themselves.

Almost three  in four have volunteered or donated in this way, said NVPC.

"This reflects a positive trend for civic participation in Singapore as more people are starting ground-up efforts or volunteering directly," NVPC said.

The survey found that working adults between the ages of 35 and 54 were an important pool of volunteers and donors with 48 per cent of those aged between 35 and 44 volunteering while 84 per cent were donors.

A similar number was reflected for those aged 45 to 54 years old.

NVPC said those between 35 and 44 years old would have a stable income and an established career, and may be thinking of giving back to society. But there is a high volunteerism drop out rate for those between 25 and 34 years old and many of those above 55 years old have never volunteered before.

NVPC said volunteerism can strengthen both family and societal bond and raise values of empathy and compassion.

NVPC chief executive Melissa Kwee said: "We see the signs of a new revolution in the giving space where Singapore is seeing a greater informal and peer to peer action with the rise of ground-up movements, social enterprises and purpose-led businesses.

"This year we will see Singapore Cares, a national volunteering initiative, seek to encourage and inspire to do our own small part for others, whether through organising ground-up efforts, caring for our neighbours, or volunteering with friends informally or with non-profit organisations. We are coming together to build our home in the city of good," she added.

The survey was conducted by Consulting Group - Asia Insight and covered a total of 389 respondents aged 15 and above, including Singapore citizens, permanent residents, as well as non-residents such as work permit holders. The survey excluded mandatory community work in schools and was done through face to face interviews.