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Beyond ‘Doing Well’: Giving Strategically in Singapore

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

For the second time, Singapore tops the Doing Good Index (DGI 2020) in Asia - a league table published by our partners, Center for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS), that benchmarks and analyses countries according to the policies and practices that support giving.

Across the 18 Asian economies in the index, Singapore is positioned in the top cluster of ‘Doing Well’ with favourable enabling conditions for philanthropy and one of the highest rates of giving in the region. Social delivery organisations (SDOs) in Singapore, for example, receive more funding from the government than in any other country (70% compared to the next highest country of 49% in Taiwan) and corporate and individual giving are among the highest in Asia too, where 63% and 83% of SDOs receive funding from corporates and individuals respectively.

But a key question for funders in Singapore and across the region is how can this giving be more strategic and sustainable? This post explores possible solutions and highlights 3 concrete ways in which donors can channel their support and form partnerships with SDOs to drive greater, lasting impact.


Invest in core capacity

The non-profit starvation cycle is prevalent in most countries surveyed in DGI 2020, where there is a chronic underfunding of the core administrative, operational and training costs that are essential to delivering programmes and services effectively. Across Asia the DGI survey found that only 17% of SDOs consistently receive capacity building support from their donors. The situation is better, but still far from ideal in Singapore, where 41% of organisations say that their donors support capacity building.

While traditionally donors have focused on programme costs and have little appetite for line items related to human resource investments and other overheads, there is a growing number of foundations pledging funds to support core capacity costs. COMO Foundation, for example, has transitioned from funding programmes to supporting whole organisations with a strong focus on nurturing long term partnerships with its grantees. The focus of their support includes capability building for teams and leaders, and strengthening organisational systems like HR and data management. It’s this type of support that is critical to increase programme and organisational effectiveness and as they reflect on its 15th Anniversary, COMO Foundation says: “Today, our partners demonstrate excellence in their work and have a thirst for growth. They value accountability, impact measurement and efficiency. Their funding for programmes is steady.”

Measure Impact for Learning and Improvement

Another way to give more strategically is to invest in and integrate impact management and evaluation in all grant-making and project cycles. Yet only 14% of SDOs in Singapore report that their donors ask for project impact evaluations. Actually finding the resources for impact measurement and evaluation is also a struggle for SDOs in the region where only 32% of SDOs have donor support to cover these costs. There needs to be greater prioritisation and investment in collecting meaningful and timely data on impact both for accountability and learning. Assessing, reflecting and learning about what is working and what is not is even more important in times of COVID-19 where SDOs have to quickly innovate and adapt to meet emerging needs.

Some funders in Asia are playing a key role in enabling and supporting their SDO partners to measure and reflect on their impact. Multi-year, unrestricted funding has allowed Resolve Foundation Hong Kong, for example, to invest in building their organisational capacity to deliver and assess their Social Justice Fellowship Program. Impact management was a key area of investment which involved ‘“an ongoing process of assessing our impact, based on quantitative and qualitative evidence and adapting our work.” This was critical in growing their impact through refinements to their programmes and increasing their ability to communicate this impact effectively with funders.

Commit to Two-Way Partnerships

A welcome trend in the overall DGI 2020 findings is the increased government consultation with SDOs; giving voice to diverse actors and helping make laws and policies more understandable and functional. In Singapore, 80% of SDOs reported being involved in policy consultations - higher than in Taiwan (76%) and Hong Kong (71%). However, as we consider how to go beyond good practice to best practice (or even “next practice”) for donors, it’s time to look beyond consultative processes, which typically focus on just asking for input.

Participatory grant-making may be a way forward here. We are starting to see more participatory processes and shifts in the donor-grantee power dynamic where grantees are supported to co-develop programmes rather than tasked with meeting prescribed KPIs. The Macquarie Group Foundation, for example, works collaboratively with non-profit organisations that support young migrants in Asia to achieve better migration outcomes. Prospective grantees, together with Macquarie and, importantly, migrant workers themselves, actively participate in facilitated Theory of Change workshops to jointly scope and develop programmes. Underlying motivations, risks and assumptions are openly discussed, establishing mutual trust and allowing Macquarie as a funder to also share their insights, expertise, and networks. This collaborative way of working shapes and strengthens the programme and partnership from the very start of the grant-making process.

In Singapore and the region more broadly, there lies a great opportunity to build up the strength of non-profit organisations, develop trust-based partnerships and nurture genuine collaborations. Non-profit organisations have deep experience, exciting ideas and boundless passion. They can achieve great things when provided with the right support and strong enabling environment. At Just Cause, we believe the solutions and innovations lie in investing in people and future talent, strengthening core organisational capacities and systems, and taking the leap towards new ways of working together.


Please get in touch to share with us how you are giving strategically and building trust-based partnerships.

Just Cause is the official Singapore partner for the DGI 2020. The full report can be downloaded here, all statistics in this post can be found in the report.


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