Welfare groups need to build up public trust

Researchers say this will address lack of societal engagement in charitable efforts

Welfare groups must do more to address the "trust deficit" and spread awareness of their work here, researchers assessing conditions for philanthropic efforts in the region concluded in a report.

This is despite the fact that the report says Singapore outperformed 14 other Asian economies, in terms of policies such as tax incentives that encourage charitable giving, the researchers said. Individuals and companies enjoy a 250 per cent tax deduction for donations made in Singapore.

The co-authors of the report Doing Good Index 2018 Ruth A. Shapiro and Mehvesh Mumtaz Ahmed explored the reasons for this mismatch between a conducive regulatory framework that promotes philanthropy and the lack of societal engagement during a presentation at the Singapore Management University (SMU) yesterday.

SMU conducted a survey of 48 for-profit and non-profit organisations that address social needs here to help in the compiling of the report. An overwhelming number of the organisations - 94 per cent - agreed that there was a public perception that non-profit employees should earn less.

Sixty per cent of those surveyed also felt that the level of individual giving remained low.

"People don't want to give because they don't trust the organisations to use their money," said Dr Shapiro, who is also the chief executive of the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society (Caps), a Hong Kong-based philanthropy think-tank that published the report in January.

"They (organisations) have to measure what they do, they have to put information on their websites, they have to be better at telling their stories and impact of their efforts," she added.

Ms Ahmed, who is also a research director at the think-tank, said that conducive policies in Singapore contributed to its strong performance in the index compiled in the study.

But she warned that because the Government was doing so much to promote charitable giving, society was merely being pulled along and lagging behind.

"You can lead a horse to water, (but) you can't make it drink," Ms Ahmed said

Many of the organisations surveyed - 84 per cent - also indicated that they had difficulty recruiting skilled staff.

"I have friends who tell me they cannot survive if they come into this sector; people will expect them to take a salary cut," said Madam Joyce Lye, the founder and honorary president of Kampung Senang, a charitable foundation that provides education and eldercare services.

Madam Lye, 66, used to hold a senior position in a bank, earning more than $20,000 a month nearly 20 years ago, before leaving to set up the organisation with her own savings.

She said she has had to look for overseas professionals or those passionate about serving even if they are not trained.

She believed that such staff deserved more pay rather than less because many go out of their way, often beyond normal work hours, to help take care of less fortunate children or the elderly.

Mr Dhana Sekar, a 40-year-old IT engineer who donates $50 to charity each month, agreed with the suggestions of the researchers.

"If I give you $100, my next question is what are you going to do with it," he said, adding that organisations here could regularly conduct independent audits and post their projects online.

"Trust comes when there is transparency," Mr Sekar said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2018, with the headline 'Welfare groups need to build up public trust'. Print Edition | Subscribe