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Government’s dollar-for-dollar matching for donations helps, but charities have manpower and other concerns

SINGAPORE — Social service agencies and charities said that they are grateful to be getting dollar-for-dollar matching on donations raised, and yet, they are fully aware that such handouts will not be enough.

Donation dollars have shrunk as individuals and corporations reprioritise their budgets and charities are feeling the losses keenly.

Donation dollars have shrunk as individuals and corporations reprioritise their budgets and charities are feeling the losses keenly.

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SINGAPORE — Social service agencies and charities said that they are grateful to be getting dollar-for-dollar matching on donations raised, and yet, they are fully aware that such handouts will not be enough.

There are still hurdles ahead in thinking anew about how to raise money and get projects going while working around the restrictions on social gatherings and other regulations such as safe distancing.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the Government will match money raised by charities and social service organisations to counter the impact of falling donations. This will be for fundraisers done from April 1 this year to end-March next year, capped at S$250,000 for each charity.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Ho Siew Cheong, chief executive of Reach Community Services, said that the social service organisation typically needs about S$1.5 million a year even after funding support from the Government, in order to cover operating budget deficits.

The sum it needs is usually raised across four events: A flag day, a charity golf event, a sports event and a charity dinner. 

But with the first half of this year lost, and the scale of such events would likely have to be severely scaled back, the organisation that runs six community touchpoints, including family service centres and senior centres, might end up in a situation where it is “very short of funds”, he said.

“It just doesn’t make sense to do a charity dinner if we can only have 10 or even 50 people… If we cancel the fundraising campaigns, we raise no money, and we also get the double whammy of having no matching funds from the Government or the Tote Board,” he said.

“With much gratitude, I must admit that the Singapore Government is already doing a lot. But the impact of Covid-19 in shaking up Singapore society is also very significant. 

“Typically the social service sector gets very busy coping with the aftermath when the national economy is not doing well.

“Government and private organisations and individuals need to work together to keep the social service sector intact so that recovery — not just economic, but also the psycho-social state of her citizens — can be quick.”

Mr Ho added: “If charities fail, social ills are not attended to, and the gap between the average citizen and the people in the lowest level in the social structure — the least, the lost and the lonely will get even bigger. Society will become weaker as a result.”

WHAT SUPPORT IS BEING GIVEN

The Government will be injecting money injected into fundraising programmes under the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board) and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

For one, the Tote Board's Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme will get S$100 million more besides the $70 million set aside earlier.

From the Tote Board, a registered charity will get dollar-for-dollar matching — capped at $250,000 — on eligible donations from fundraising projects rolled out within a year from April, including donations raised through approved online channels such as Giving.sg.

After the S$250,000 limit is reached, the charity will still be able to get another 40 per cent in matching grants for eligible projects, at a maximum of S$100,000 for every project, which is the present threshold.

To be eligible for the dollar-for-dollar matching issued through the Tote Board, the fundraising projects must not have benefited from other matching funds provided by the Government.

The Government will also provide a top-up of S$18 million to the Invictus Fund, set up in April by NCSS, to support social service agencies in maintaining their operations and manpower as well as adopting technology for work. The fund is supported by donations raised through the Community Chest.

PROPOSALS FOR BETTER SUPPORT

Mr Ho said that the matching of funds is a chance “to catch up on lost time”, to continue to find creative means to do fundraising and to explore new and innovative platforms to diversify funding sources.

TODAY reported in March that charities are receiving less in donations and sponsorships as anxiety over Singapore’s economic outlook grew after the Covid-19 outbreak earlier in the year.

Some charities saw up to a 60 per cent drop in donations in February, while some expected donations to nosedive by 80 per cent come end-March.

Speaking to more than 10 charities this week, TODAY found that the situation for most has remained largely the same in April and May.

The few that had not experienced a drop in donations said that they are not anticipating things to get better so soon.

Mr Jason Foo, chief executive officer of Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA), disclosed that donations have fallen by 55 and 66 per cent in March and April, compared with the same months last year. 

He also said that the matching of funds announced this week will not benefit the association as much. “If ADA were to apply for the latest dollar-matching, this will mean that we will need to reduce the donations put up for the other matching programmes (linked to the Government). So, to us, there is no additional funding or benefits per se.”

Mr Foo suggested that the Government consider giving charities the highest tier of wage subsidies under its Jobs Support Scheme, because manpower costs are usually the main expense item for most charities, and for such help to continue until some months next year. 

Under the Jobs Support Scheme, there are three tiers of support for government co-funding of the first S$4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to each Singapore employee in a 10-month period. 

Charities or social service agencies are not listed in the top two tiers that would receive 75 per cent or 50 per cent co-funding, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore stated on its  website. Firms in unlisted sectors will receive 25 per cent co-funding.

Another proposal that Mr Foo gave is for the Government to give interest-free loans to charities, similar to how it is helping small- and medium-sized enterprises with their cash-flow challenges.

“This will not only help charities continue to provide quality services to our clients, it will also help us retain our staff who play critical roles in our organisations,” he said.

ADA has more than 6,400 beneficiaries, comprising persons who have dementia as well as their caregivers.

Ms Zarina Yusof, acting executive director of AMP Singapore, a non-profit organisation serving the Muslim community, hopes for a grant similar to that introduced in 2015 when Singapore marked its 50th year of independence: The Care & Share Grant. 

The grant was part of a national fundraising and volunteerism movement led by the Community Chest to recognise the contributions made by social service organisations. The Government’s matching grant then was up to S$500 million.

“Such a grant could provide funding for capacity and capability building, new programmes, as well as meet critical existing needs such as for recurring and fixed costs,” she said, adding that AMP, which supports about 13,900 beneficiaries, runs programmes all year round that may not be fully supported by donations.

HANDOUTS WILL ‘NEVER BE ENOUGH’

Mr Yong Teck Meng, national director of Habitat for Humanity, intends to “fully reach” the maximum matching grant of S$250,000 to make up for the charity’s lower takings, which have gone down by about 50 per cent.

“This is a significant help to us. We should have the space to catch up when things return to normal.”

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit that builds homes and improves living conditions for the needy.

Mr Yong is realistic about the help that can be extended to charities and welfare organisations.

“The Government has always taken the ‘self-help’ route, so that charities do not wait for handouts,” he said. 

“Charities are organisations that deal with a bottomless-pit situation — there will never be ‘sufficient’ money because there is so much to do… Still, we appreciate that not every Government can provide this sort of serious support.”

Over at St John’s Home for Elderly Persons, an extra S$250,000 will help pay for more than 15 per cent of its yearly expenditure.

Its chairman, Mr Woon Wee Yim, said: “Of course, direct funding would be an ideal scenario as many charities lack the manpower needed to do fundraising. However, we appreciate the measures taken by the Government to help in this respect.”

Ms Sim Bee Hia, chief executive officer of Food for the Heart, said that the dollar-for-dollar matching will allow her charity, which continued to distribute 8,500 food packs to seniors and needy families this month, to be “self-sustaining and self-reliant”. 

“By building our fundraising capability, we can provide help to the needy in the long term,” she said, pointing out that the Job Support Scheme had already helped the charity cover its manpower costs.

Ms Dorothy Ng, chief operating officer of HCSA Community Services, which supports ex-offenders, abused teenage girls and single parents, said: “We believe that the dollar-for-dollar matching encourages charities to step up and co-own the fundraising effort, instead of relying on handouts from the Government.”

Ms Peng Hai Ying, executive director of the Children’s Cancer Foundation, urges the public to see that “a little goes a long way”.

“We hope that as our Government take the lead to help charities here, more Singaporeans will also be encouraged to dig deeper into their pockets to give during this time of need.”

Related topics

Covid-19 coronavirus Charity social services donations Tote Board NCSS

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