Watchdog introduces transparency guide for charities

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu launched the Visibility Guide framework at the 2018 Charity Governance Conference yesterday.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu launched the Visibility Guide framework at the 2018 Charity Governance Conference yesterday.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Charity organisations will be in a better position to present their financial information, use of donations and activities with a new Visibility Guide framework introduced by the Commissioner of Charities (COC).

The framework not only helps charities put out key information to its stakeholders in a simple manner, but it also guides donors on each charity's causes and impact.

It was introduced, together with an annual report template for charities, to encourage transparency, responsible practices and accountability in an expanding charity landscape that has seen the number of charities increase by more than 20 per cent in a decade.

There were 2,247 registered charities in 2016, based on figures from the COC. In 2015, registered charities attracted about $2.7 billion in donations.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu launched the Visibility Guide framework during the 2018 Charity Governance Conference yesterday.

To encourage more giving, trust is crucial, and to build trust, good governance is necessary, she said.

To this end, amendments were made to the Charities Act to strengthen the regulatory framework for charities. In January, the COC's Code of Practice for Charitable Online Fund-Raising Appeals was launched to enhance transparency in the online giving sphere.

 
 

The Visibility Guide framework and the annual report template "will complement our efforts to enhance transparency and make more information available to the public", said Ms Fu.

Commissioner of Charities Ang Hak Seng said the framework will help charities explain to donors what they do.

"One of the challenges small charities shared with us is that they have difficulty in communicating the good work done by them," he added.

Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee said that the framework "helps donors to discern and decide which charity they want to support. There are so many charities today, and donors actually agonise as to which one should they be supporting, where should they give the money".

The annual report template will include both mandatory obligations as well as good-to-have information to complement the Visibility Guide.

Ms Fu said that by the end of this year, the COC will also introduce regulations on electronic filing of annual submissions, including annual reports.

She added that report requirements will be streamlined to make them easier for charities to follow. More details will be released next year.

Ms Saleemah Ismail, the 49-year-old co-Founder of New Life Stories, an initiative to help former women inmates bond with their children through reading, said: "The easy-to-remember framework is also a good tool that can be used to educate staff throughout the organisation because it is clear, precise and compact.

"It helps communicate the outcomes to not just the public, but even staff throughout the organisation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2018, with the headline 'Watchdog introduces transparency guide for charities'. Print Edition | Subscribe