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Successful philanthropy: Doing good takes more than just giving

Beyond just managing your money to meet your needs, donating to support good causes can benefit you and the broader community. The key to successful giving, though, is choosing the right causes and giving the right amounts. Increasingly, there are a host of tools and resources to help you decide.

Beyond just managing your money to meet your needs, donating to support good causes can benefit you and the broader community. The key to successful giving, though, is choosing the right causes and giving the right amounts. Increasingly, there are a host of tools and resources to help you decide.


A good place to start is to figure out why you’re giving and what you want to support. And there are a variety of reasons people donate.

Some people are passionate about a particular cause, such as educating children, empowering women, saving animals and the environment, improving healthcare, or assisting the elderly. Others may want to support friends who are involved with a particular organisation, donate so they can become more engaged with people with similar interests, or gain public recognition for their generosity.

Whether you’re giving for one of these reasons or something else, taking the time to figure out your goal can lead to a more meaningful experience. As Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS) CEO Catherine Loh told TODAY, “it is important to find the right fit, taking into consideration your values, charitable goals and impact you want to make. Ask yourself, why do you want to give back? What causes do you care about most? What kind of difference do you want to make?”

It can also be important to look at the impact that supporting a particular cause will have. Effective Altruism Singapore, a local chapter of the global movement to alleviate poverty and promote animal welfare, suggests that donors look at whether progress on the cause will drastically improve a large number of lives, whether support for the cause can create a measurable difference, and how much the cause has been overlooked or undervalued.


Once you decide why you’re donating and which causes are most important to you, the next step is to select the specific organisations to support. There are more than 2,200 registered charities in Singapore as well as temples, mosques, churches and other non-profits that seek to benefit the community and the world, so there is no shortage of non-profits that need support.

While online searches can turn up a variety of options, a good source of information is, which lists nearly 500 charities and provides a short description of the organisations. The Charity Portal, run by the Commissioner of Charities, also enables individuals to search for charities and obtain basic details about them.

It’s then important to assess the quality of the non-profit. Rather than just doing what feels right, as the Center for Effective Altruism puts it, using evidence and careful analysis to find the best causes to support is essential.

Just Cause, a social enterprise that offers research and consulting services to the non-profit sector, has come up with The Excellence Framework, which offers a template for screening non-profits. It evaluates the quality and impact of charities using a set of criteria, and seeks to give an “objective” measurement based on global best practices, supported by detailed research and recommendations on which organisations to support. It is part of an emerging crop of consultancies that have sprung up to provide support services for screening charities.

US-based community engagement expert Lansie Sylvia also suggests using what she calls the “10 Year Rule”. “Will this organization still be around in 10 years, in a form that is better than the one it is currently in? If I’m unsure about that future, I keep my credit card firmly in my wallet.”


The final step is to decide how much to donate.

In an era when billionaires such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are giving away billions, it’s easy to assume that our smaller donations might not make much of a difference. In reality, even small amounts have a big impact.

For just $25, infant warmers can save the life of a new-born child, claims international children’s charity Embrace, and World Vision Singapore says that $50 can help feed five families by providing rice and vegetable seed starter kits.

Kathryn Dillman, founder of Make Our Day in Thailand, similarly writes that “a dollar a day can often make a huge difference to a charity’s beneficiaries. When you’re making a contribution that will buy a child a book, it’s not about adding to a school’s library, it’s about empowering students to take charge of their own futures. One book - one small donation - can absolutely change a boy’s or girl’s life.”

That said, you should analyse your finances to see how much you can afford. Giving small amounts is fine, if that’s what you can manage. Another alternative, CFS’s Loh suggests, is that “multiple donors can come together, pool their funds and support a programme”.

You can also tailor the amount to the impact it will have on the organisation. “A hundred bucks might not be a significant gift to your university,” Sylvia writes, “but it’s definitely going to be noticed by your favourite podcast.”


While donating to non-profits is admirable, making sure the money you give has the impact you want rather than simply giving based on emotions is important. By taking the time to figure out the causes you want to support, assessing the organisation and deciding how much to give, you can play an even better part in making our community and the world a better place.

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