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Building sustainable and progressive charities

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at the Charity Governance Conference

Dr Gerard Ee, Chairman of Charity Council

Mr David Gerald, Founder and CEO of Securities Investors Association (Singapore)

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. A very good morning to all.
  2. It is a great pleasure to be here once again. This is my second year at the Charity Governance Conference, organised by Securities Investors Association (Singapore) with support from the Charity Council.

    The work of charities is critical to building a more caring and inclusive Singapore

  3. Last year at this conference, I mentioned that the work of the charities is critical to our national drive to build a more caring and inclusive Singapore. We talked about this, and really want to see this on the ground. I think the levers that would make this work well is, fundamentally, how we govern our charity sector and how we instill a sense of confidence in the public.
  4. Since then, we have seen that the past year remained challenging and uncertain for many people in the community. We did this virtually online last year, and we are back here online again this year.

    a. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all charities and individuals involved in the charity sector. Despite the challenges, and risks in the community, many have faithfully continued to serve the disadvantaged and vulnerable. They continued to practice the concept of inclusiveness, to ensure that these segments of our society remain at the forefront of attention in these times.
  5. It is especially in times like these when the work of charities become more important and apparent, complementing the work of many government agencies.

    a. Not only do our charities provide tangible support to those in need;

    b. But collectively, our charity sector also engenders the sense that Singapore society cares, and that we will look out for one another, in good times and particularly in bad.

    c. No one in Singapore should feel that they have to get through these hurdles and struggle by themselves.
  6. Today, we have a strong and well-run charity sector that adapted well and rose to the occasion especially with the challenges in the last 18 to 20 months.
  7. Take for instance, the charity Food from the Heart, which distributes food to the needy.

    a. During the pandemic, they changed their volunteer sources, explored different and novel ways of delivering the food to their beneficiaries.

    b. This includes collaborating with a courier service provider which offered its platform and agents to deliver food free of charge during the circuit breaker.
  8. Many charities were able to respond to the new normal as well.

    a. This is due, in no small part, to the good work and foundations laid by the Commissioner of Charities (COC), the Charity Council, and members of the charity sector.

    Being prepared for uncertainties, and manage risks

  9. One thing which COVID-19 has taught all of us is the need for everyone to be better prepared for uncertainties. We talk about uncertainties as if it is something that’s going to hit us without us knowing. But today and every day is a day that is uncertain, with the only constant being we might not know what would happen tomorrow, next week, next month. 

    a. For individuals, this would involve things like having savings for a rainy day, and a strong social network to rely on.

    b. For large organisations such as charities, it is about being and remaining sustainable in the long term, which require progression. This also includes

    i. putting in place a robust governance framework to see the journey through rain and shine, good times and bad times,

    ii. planning for long term sustainability, and

    iii. adapting to new operating environments,

    iv. all these while staying true to your values and the original mission and vision.
  10. COVID-19 is not the only risk faced by charities. Other possible risks include:

    a. Decrease or uncertainty in donations and volunteers;

    b. Loss in public trust; or

    c. Shifting operating context and changing complexion and dynamics in the needs of society.

    Building a sustainable and progressive charity

  11. Hence, the theme today is “Towards Excellent Governance – Building A Sustainable And Progressive Charity”.

    a. This is an important topic which will help the charity sector plan and look long term.
  12. Before the pandemic, we have seen growth in the donation figures of our charities from $2.5 billion in 2014 to $3.2 billion in 2019.

    a. There is also a steady increase in the number of IPCs over the past 10 years, from around 540 IPCs to more than 640 IPCs today. This growth itself reflects a progression and an uplift in terms of governance standards.

    b. Tax deductible donations have increased from about $800 million to $1 billion in 2019.
  13. This would not have been possible if our charities had not worked hard to improve their own governance model, thereby boosted public confidence in our Charity sector. These efforts have been translated into tangible benefits for the charities.
  14. The government will continue to provide our fullest support in this endeavour to enhance governance and capability in the sector, and in turn building confidence in the sector.
  15. Last year, I spoke about:

    a. the Charities GoDigital Kit,

    b. the revised Charity Transparency Framework, and

    c. the four MOUs with the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, Law Society Pro Bono Services, Institute of Internal Auditors Singapore, and Shared Services for Charities.
  16. I’m happy to note, one year on, that these have been helpful to our charities.
  17. Today, I would like to highlight a few areas where the government stepped up focus over the past year.
  18. First, is in funding support for strengthening digital capabilities in our charities.

    a. Charities, like most sectors, now look to digital platforms as the place to be on. Most of us almost intuitively understand the need to invest in digital capabilities.

    b. But in some ways, charities do have to make difficult decisions – when allocating charitable contributions towards your beneficiaries, versus reinvesting in the organisation to improve.
  19. To defray some of these costs, we introduced a new category under the existing ICT grant as part of the VWO-Charities Capability Fund (VCF) last year. 

    a. Charities can tap on this category for digital solutions, in addition to the other ICT needs that can be met by the existing ICT grant.
  20. Many have already done so.

    a. For instance, an art charity has tapped on the ICT grant fund to set up a customer management system that includes communication tools and data management which is all the more essential in today’s environment.
  21. To further unlock funding support for the charity sector, COC has partnered with the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and Tote Board to expand the Tech-and-GO! Charities Funding to non-Social Service Agencies.

    a. Tech-and-GO! Charities Funding is a one-stop tech hub offering grants, advisory on how you can set up to go digital, enhance the platform and suggestions on pre-scoped IT solutions. NCSS has started accepting applications since August.

    b. It is now open to all charities from the Arts and Heritage, Community, Education, Health, Sports and Others sectors. More details will be shared later during the conference.
  22. Second, is in leveraging on partnerships which we have established over the years.

    a. More and more charities today do not operate in silos or in a vacuum. They operate as part of society. So, the more they are able to tap into, lean on and plug into existing networks, the better they will be.

    b. We have introduced the shared services initiative in 2018 to pool together essential resources and services to improve capability building in the charity sector, especially among smaller charities where the overhead costs may be less easily defrayed as there are no economies of scale.

    c. To date, over 7,000 charity representatives have participated in the training sessions organised by shared service partners.

    d. More than 300 charities have attended the various one on one consultation clinics for more in-depth advice. At least 40% who attended the clinics were small and medium charities.

    e. I encourage the smaller charities to use the opportunity and tap on the expertise of these professionals, so that they can look at exploring ways to raise their level of compliance and governance standard. This in turn will help to boost public confidence in these charities.

    f. Our partners stand ready to provide you with advice and training on governance, risk management and internal controls to support your charity to move ahead together with you.
  23. Some charities have been proactive at establishing partnerships by themselves.

    a. A good example is Caring for Life, a new charity that looks at rising mental health issues in Singapore, with the aim to establish a community approach to suicide prevention.

    b. They are collaborating with organisations such as the Institute of Mental Health, ground-up movement of SGFamilies as well as another charity, Samaritans of Singapore. And their efforts greatly complement government efforts in this area.
  24. So, I encourage charities to also look at partners. Look around you and the broader ecosystem because there are many helping hands in the community today. And the more we are able to link these helping hands – government, private sector and charities, the more beneficiaries can be served in a more holistic and enhanced way. 

    a. This will enable charities to pool resources and expertise, to fundamentally create a strong and sustainable longer-term future that is holistic in terms of service delivery and outcomes.
  25. Third, is in raising public confidence in the sector by promoting greater transparency in the administration of charities.
  26. Last year, MCCY shared that we will provide basic information upfront on charities’ profile pages on the Charity Portal. These will include clearly indicating the compliance status of the charity’s regulatory submissions, the charity’s compliance score for the Code of Governance for Charities and IPCs.

    a. This will imbibe a strong sense of public confidence and give donors and grant makers a quick overview of charities’ regulatory compliance to help them make informed giving choices.

    b. It will be a staged implementation, starting from the Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs).

    c. We have earlier conducted a small group consultation to gather some ideas, thoughts, and suggestions. We will also be seeking feedback from more stakeholders on how this can be rolled out and presented.

    d. I invite all charities and members of the public to share your views and suggestions with us as to how we can scope this better, with the objective of being more transparent, and in turn raising public confidence in our charity sector.


  27. As I close, let me once again urge all of you here today, all the different stakeholders in the charities sector in Singapore, to come together. I would like to emphasize the point I made earlier about partnerships. This is going to be increasingly important as we strive to build a stronger, more sustainable long-lasting charity sector, which in turn will support our efforts in Singapore as a place where people feel included. If they need help, they know there is a strong network of many helping hands to support them.
  28. All of you here at today’s conference make a clear indelible mark on our society. Let me thank SIAS, Charity Council, the many speakers and panelists for coming together, sharing ideas, giving suggestions, and boosting leadership in the Charity sector at the Conference today.
  29. It is no coincidence that we have people of repute and standing with us, and we are very grateful to all of you for taking time out to lend us your expertise and share your own experiences. These occasions help to build a far more sustainable and stronger charity sector.
  30. I wish all of you a fruitful conference. Thank you.

Last updated on 30 September 2021