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Philanthropy - the 'leveraged giving' way

Matching donations from governments is one way to attract new donors, says Assisi Hospice chairman Anita Fam.

Panellists at the 7th Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum. (From left) David Zuellig, trustee, Zuellig Family Foundation; Anita Fam, vice-president, National Council of Social Service; Professor Tommy Koh, chairman, SymAsia Foundation Limited; Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore; Philip Ma, director, Tai Sang Land Development, Tai Sang Bank and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals; and Dr Gerardo Legaspi, director, Philippine General Hospital.

ORGANISATIONS that rely on donations to finance their activities need to go beyond just holding fund-raising events and work towards cultivating long-term supporters.

Anita Fam, chairman of Assisi Hospice, believes that one way to do this is to promote the concept of "leveraged giving", where the government matches private funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

As today's philanthropists are keen to maximise the impact of their donations, a model that produces two dollars for every dollar they give is an attractive one, she argues.

She cites the example of Assisi Hospice, which needs to raise about S$17 million every year to plug the gap in its funding. However as the government's Community Silver Trust initiative provides matching donations, the amount required is reduced to just S$8.5 million.

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"We used to just give with the heart, but donors today want to see their funds stretched in terms of impact and also in dollar terms. That's where the leveraged model comes in. I believe that is the way forward for philanthropy," says Ms Fam in an interview with The Business Times ahead of the Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum 2017 held on Nov 16.

Ms Fam, who is also the vice-president of the National Council of Social Service, spoke on a panel on healthcare giving at the forum. A former lawyer, she sits on various boards and committees including Caregivers Alliance, National Healthcare Group, SAS Foundation, SG Cares, Singapore Totalisator Board and St Andrew's Autism Centre.

A bigger role

With growing healthcare needs, she believes that philanthropists have to play a bigger role in this space. "Gone are the days that we can be totally reliant on the government for funding. The reality is we can't get all the resources we need from one place; there is a space for for-profits, social enterprises and philanthropists to support the innovative work in this space."

Ms Fam also touched on the importance of giving support to caregivers. "If you talked about caregivers 10 years ago, it was a fairly alien topic; they got very little support. But people are recognising more and more that if you support the caregiver well, then they can give better care to the recipient," she said.

For the philanthropic sector to develop in Singapore, Ms Fam urges donors to allocate more of their dollars to investing in professional talent for the agencies they support. In the longer run, this would result in more effective outcomes for their money.

"In the past, it was mostly the management and boards of charitable agencies that would raise funds. But that is an area that needs to be professionalised. Getting higher quality people in this space would mean more value," she explains. She cites an example of an agency which hired a senior fundraiser whose key performance indicator included not only raising enough funds to cover the organisation's deficit, but also to cover the person's own salary. She says: "This is the kind of thinking we need going forward."

On a personal note, she is heartened by the generosity of donors she encounters in her work. Earlier this year, for instance, a British couple living in Singapore left a S$6 million legacy to be divided equally among three charities here: Assisi Hospice, National Kidney Foundation and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

"It was a really heartwarming gesture from people who are extremely generous," she says. The hospice has named a hall used for staff clinical training, talks and seminars Essery Hall in appreciation of the couple's generosity.