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Transparency key amid 'golden opportunity' for charities: Grace Fu

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From left: Commissioner of Charities Ang Hak Seng, Silver Ribbon's Leon Luai, HCA Hospice Care's Tan Poh Kiang, Club Rainbow's Sashikumar Ganapathy, Minister Grace Fu, SATA CommHealth's Theresa Goh, MINDSET Care's Jeffery Tan, Methodist Welfare Services' Fong Loo Fern, the National Kidney Foundation's Johnny Heng and chairman of the Charity Council Gerard Ee.

Singapore

THE widespread use of technology has lowered the barriers to entry for fundraising, making it a "golden opportunity" for charities to reach out to more - and new - donors, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu has said.

But she stressed that the values of being transparent and accountable to donors remain critical to the giving sector, despite the rise of such new fundraising platforms.

She was speaking as guest of honour at the Charity Transparency Awards on Thursday, where 47 charities were recognised for exemplary disclosure and transparency practices, an increase from the 35 charities honoured in the maiden edition of the awards two years ago.

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There were 2,247 registered charities in 2016, based on Commissioner of Charities (COC) figures. That year, registered charities attracted some S$2.9 billion in donations, up from S$2.7 billion in the previous year.

This year's winners include small charities like Touch International, Silver Ribbon (Singapore) and MINDSET Care. The medium-sized charities that were lauded include Club Rainbow (Singapore), National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and St John's Home For Elderly Persons. Winners among the large charities include the Kidney Dialysis Foundation, SATA CommHealth and Caritas Singapore Community Council.

In addition, three winners - SATA CommHealth, Club Rainbow (Singapore) and MINDSET Care - were singled out for the Charity Governance Award.

Another four received special commendations for good governance in selected areas: Silver Ribbon (Singapore) and The National Kidney Foundation, for clarity of strategy; HCA Hospice Care, for risk management; and Methodist Welfare Services, for governance and management.

Club Rainbow president Sashikumar Ganapathy, asked if he had any thoughts to share with other charities, replied: "Never lose sight of what truly matters to your charity."

Alex Newbigging, who chairs MINDSET Care, a charity under the Jardine Matheson Group, emphasised the need to subscribe to the same standards of governance in charities as in business.

All registered charities are automatically assessed once they meet the awards' eligibility criteria. The criteria include the charities having operated for at least three years and having a gross annual income of not less than S$50,000 in the preceding financial year.

The charities are judged on nine areas of disclosure, such as financial management and internal control, conduct of fundraising activities and management of conflict of interest. The assessors look at information the charities disclose on their websites, annual reports and financial statements, among other sources, to determine their extent of public disclosure.

In September, the COC introduced a Visibility Guide framework to list the kinds of information that charity organisations need to put out, such as the use of donations and activities of the charity, and to guide donors on each charity's causes and impact.

It was introduced, together with an annual report template for charities, to increase transparency and accountability in the sector.